Monday, March 16, 2009

Enjoying Florida

Yeah, I know I'm lucky. While most of my readers are struggling to shovel the snow out of their driveways, I'm enjoying yet another weekend of 80 degree heat and lovely sun. So it only seems right to take advantage of the good weather and hit the outdoors.

So, on Saturday, Barry and I visited Historic Spanish Point. It's a local historical/archaeological site in Sarasota, FL. The site covers prehistoric human activity all the way to colonial gardening - and it is beautiful. There are a variety of flowers and other plants all around you. My personal favorite area was the butterfly garden, which was almost magical (that's Barry in the garden on the right).

Amazingly, native species are more than 50% of the sites' flora. Most of the beautiful scenery was put in and taken care of by Mrs Potter Palmer, whose decedents deeded the area to the Gulf Coast Heritage association in 1980. As a photographer, I was drawn to all the beautiful flowers all around me.

But the point doesn't just offer flowers. It's other appeal is historical. Native people lived on the point over 3,000 years ago, and evidence of them still lasts today. One of the first things you sees as you enter the point is a burial mound. But the most impressive feature is the large shell midden that underlies the majority of the property. Made by literally piling shells for thousands of years, the midden raises to an amazing 18 feet above sea level at its highest. Which, of course, the later residents decided was a great place to build their homes, too, for the breathtaking views. To get to the midden, you can take a footpath over and in the mangrove swamps that line the bay side of the point. On the left, you can see exactly where the natives found so many shells (it's a photo of the oyster beds)

Of course, there's more to Florida than archaeolgical sites, and what would a weekend in Florida be without seeing a Gator?

So, to seek the holy grail of Floridian reptiles, Barry and I decided to trek Myakka. But, since we've been just about everywhere in the normal park, we decided to do a special hike. Myakka has a different protected area across from its main park which you can only access with a special permit, and they only give out thirty such permits a day, so you have to get there early, especially on weekends, to get the chance to explore it. The best part: it's practically deserted. Unlike the rest of the park, you can go for awhile without seeing another person. The worst part: it's hot, and it's over 2 miles in the blazing sun to Deep Hole, where its rumored there are always a plethora of gators. On the plus side, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to see the native scrubland.

While most people think of Florida as swampy, the truth is most of it looks like the photo on the right. It's dry. It's thick. And boy, does it burn. Everywhere you look there is evidence of past fires. I particularly liked this shot because you could see the stages - in the front are the grasses ready to burn, but as you look further back you can see where fires have already hit, and the green scrub has grown back into the scorched earth.

What few trees stand above the scrub are draped in spanish moss. Personally, I find it quite beautiful. Spanish moss is an epiphyte, not a parasite, so it lives off of the moisture and nutrients in the air without directly taking anything from the tree. Anyhow, as you walk along this wide open path in the scrublands of Myakka towards Lower Myakka Lake, the scenery changes. As you get closer and closer to the lake, the trees become more frequent, and eventually you're enclosed in a mossy tunnel through the forest. The stunning scenery opens again as you hit the water.

Now, when you first get to the water, you're not at Deep Hole yet. Deep hole is a special sinkhole at the south end of the lake. The main lake is stunning. It's a beautiful area. Though, we noticed, gator free - we didn't see one. So our hopes were starting to feel a bit dashed.

Then, of course, we got to deep hole. Upon first glance we could count upwards of thirty gators.



Here's the best shot I could get of the lot of them:

They were just chillin'. The lot of them, hanging out, in the water, on the banks... all over.

We found a shady spot on the edge to have some water and watch the water for awhile. There was something oddly serene about the gator infested waters. There they were, en masse, only meters from us, and yet the ambiance was so calm.

In the shade where we sat there were a lot of vultures. It seemed odd, especially when all I could think of was the scene from Ice Age 2 when Sid asks "What do you think they're thinking?" and they break out into song about Food! Glorious Food!

Turns out I wasn't far off. After sitting there for a bit, we noticed the birds seemed to be fighting over things. Those "things" turned out to be dead fish. I was morbidly (and nerdily) fascinated by their squabbling. There must have been twenty to forty birds in the trees around us - they were everywhere. More flew in as some flew out. Apparently it was the best restaurant in town, and a hip place for a vulture to chill.

So we sat, cooled off, and I took various photos of the gators and birds:

After awhile, we'd rested enough and decided to trek back the two plus miles to the car. On the way out, there was a prime example of Florida's fire-dependent ecosystem in action, which I thought was quite beautiful:

PS: you can see all my photos, bigger and better, at my Flickr photostream.


Anonymous said...

Awesome Trek Christie! We'll have to do this again sometime when I'm back down. --Brian

Penguin collector: I keep the wounded... said...

re: "Yeah, I know I'm lucky. While most of my readers are struggling to shovel the snow out of their driveways, I'm enjoying yet another weekend of 80 degree heat and lovely sun. So it only seems right to take advantage of the good weather and hit the outdoors."

... picking on me sweetie? (wink)