2015 Trip 1, Feb. 25-26, Florida in Winter

Steinhatchee FL Wednesday and Thursday Feb. 25-26

Wednesday Feb. 25

Travel is educational. For instance, although we lived in the East for several decades, I always had this impression of lumber coming from the West and northern Midwest. Growing up in Minnesota and hearing stories of the timber harvests there and in Wisconsin, and then in the Northwest, I tended to minimize Eastern forests. Big mistake. The little data I have found on-line indicates the eastern U.S. produces more lumber than the West, and numerous Eastern states produce more than MN and WI combined.

Florida lumbering has been evident throughout this trip, from the panhandle over through the north central part of the state. As we drove to Gainesville yesterday, we passed logging roads, trucks with logs, sawmills, recently harvested tracts of forest, and plots of newly planted trees. In some ways the ride was boring, the flat sandy soil was not covered with wildflowers or blooming gardens. Small towns that were less than vibrant. The state and county roads were flat and straight; it was surprising that there were so fewer speeders. We saw very few state troopers out; on I-75 and I-10 they had been everywhere.

One very small portion of the butterfly specimens at tthe Museum of Natural History Gainseville

One very small portion of the butterfly specimens at the Museum of Natural History Gainesville

Our Gainesville destination was the Museum of Natural History located on the campus of the University of Florida. The exhibits were informative, covering Florida fossils, native Americans, butterflies, waterways and wildlife, etc. They have one of the largest butterfly research departments and specimen collections in the world. We did not visit the butterfly garden, it was raining and the staff indicated the butterflies don’t particularly like the rain and seek shelter. Thus, the viewing was projected to be poor.

a part of the 60 acre nature area at the university of Florida campus

a part of the 60 acre nature area at the University of Florida campus

Instead, after the museum we walked around their 60 acre outdoor natural area. This tract of land is used as a teaching laboratory for ecology and biodiversity. We had to turn back from one path since it was being used by students in a forensic biology class.

The day was finished with a trip to the Harn Museum of Art, also on the campus. The art museum was having an exhibit on Monet and American Impressionism. There were only four Monets that I saw, the major emphasis was on American painters and how they interpreted Impressionism. A quick walk through several other galleries ended the Gainesville adventure.

Mother Nature provided a further adventure that night, though. Rain was off and on during the day but as the evening went on winds increased. Thunderstorms were projected and a tornado watch was in effect. Most of the action occurred from 10 PM to 2 AM. The storm reminded me of our adventure houseboating on Lake Powell in AZ/UT last May when there were concerns by some that the houseboat would float away from its moorings.

Thursday, Feb. 26

A nature day. Of course, we had to decide to choose Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge which requires traveling over an hour to reach this specific nature site rather than somewhere closer to our lodging. By the time this trip is over, I believe we will know Florida better than most of its residents.

The Suwanee River

The Suwanee River

The refuge was established in 1979 and protects the lower 20 miles of the Suwanee River. It is one of the largest undeveloped river-delta estuarine systems in the United States. It has hardwood forests, swamps, tidewater marshes, scrub ridges, etc. The river starts at the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia which we visited last April. The Suwanee is the second largest river in Florida and more than 50 springs contribute to its flow.

Nature trail at Lower Suwanee with recent  prescribed burn area at right

Nature trail at Lower Suwanee with recent prescribed burn area at right

The refuge is on both sides of the river, which is not a problem if you have a boat. We did not. We stayed on the south shore of the river, starting at the ranger station and taking a nature hike to the river itself. A couple of guys were out hunting wild pigs without any luck.

looking up a section of the Shell Mound at Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

looking up a section of the Shell Mound at Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

close up of shells making up Shell Mound

close up of shells making up Shell Mound

After a nine mile nature drive through the refuge, which other than being a dirt road, had scenery similar to most of the roads in this part of Florida, we drove to the Shell Mound unit. This area right along the Gulf was a site for early Americans. There is a 28′ tall mound exposing millions of shells used by the ancient cultures to build the more than five acre mound. The mound was constructed between the period of 2500 BC to 1000 AD. Much of the mound is covered by vegetation but you can see that the “soil” is primarily shells and not sand.

Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

We hiked along trails going into the woods and back along tidal marshes. The day had cleared up and the temperatures were in the high 50s F. A great day for walking and very few insects.

Looking out from Cedar Key island

Looking out from Cedar Key island

A late lunch was at Annie’s Cafe in Cedar Key. Cedar Key consists of several small barrier islands connected by causeways. As usual, it too has a claim to (past) fame. The Florida Railroad Company built the first cross-state railroad from Fernandina Beach (Jan. 2013 trip) to Cedar Key in 1861. The shipping business made Cedar Key the second largest city in Florida for a while. Now its population is 700 and 95% of the U.S. farm raised clams are grown in the waters around here.

There is also a Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge consisting of 13 islands. Since you need a boat to reach the few islands open to the public, we did not partake of that opportunity.

Ed and Chris Feb. 26 8:30 P.M.

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