This is from a road trip in 2012. I wanted to share it on my blog as it was a great trip with some very happy memories to share. And of course, if anyone of you are looking for a fun adventure, this would be a good one.
A friend suggested we revisit the Manatees at Crystal River. Another friend of ours, one of South Florida’s best fossil hunters had also invited us along for a fossil find at the Peace River this weekend. This got me to thinking, and planning and came up with a road trip. As my dive buddy had not dove Manatee Springs and I had, I thought this would be the perfect time to have a long weekend combining two of our favorite past times: diving and fossil finding.
While my dive buddy Dave made arrangements for the Manatee snorkel and a dive on Crystal River, I worked on the fossil hunt and Manatee Springs plans. After a little discussion we decided to head out on Friday, around noon, drive to Crystal River (a 6 1/2 hour trip for us), meet up with American Pro Divers http://www.americanprodiving.com/ for a snorkel with Manatees and afterwards a dive at Kings Springs. Plan was to then leave there, head back North for the hour drive to Manatee Springs. Then head back down and be in Venice on Saturday night to be ready to fossil hunt at 7 AM on Sunday, heading home on Monday.
Friday did not go quite as planned, we got a late start and didn’t arrive in Crystal River till around 11 PM. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express in Lacanto, Florida. No problem. On American Pro’s website they suggest two Holiday Inns, one in Crystal River, one in Lacanto. They have a deal worked out with both motels to offer a discount and you have to have their coupon which you can get after you register for the trip. Both motels will allow a little bit later check out so you can get back and take a shower and both offer free breakfast. We had chose the motel in Lacanto as it was about $10 cheaper. It was nice and no complaints. Next time though we will use the one in Crystal River just because it is a little closer.
We arrived at American Pro Divers at 7 am as told. This is a 3 to 4 hour excursion. There were several people who had also made arrangements for this dive and the shop was full. A good thing about American Pro divers is they have a couple of boats offering several trips out. We wanted to go early in hopes the viz would be best. Both Dave and I had our cameras and Dave hoped to get some videos. Our Captain and DM for this trip was Zack. We all drove to a nearby dock where parking was $5. Off we go to see the graceful sea cows.
There were many people out even at 8 am so viz wasn’t as great as I would have liked. I did get a wonderful photo of a baby Manatee who swam up to me at the end of the snorkel. In fact I was supposed to be going back to the boat to gear up for the dive but it was just too good of an opportunity to interact with the baby to miss! No one else around to hone in on my encounter! I had to put the camera down at one point (very hard for me to do) so I could scratch it’s back. That made my whole day!
All the divers met back on the boat and snorkelers were able to stay in the water if they wanted. Some and did, some got back on the boat. This was January and a bit chilly, but not too bad. As snorkelers who rented gear were given 3 mils i can see that they were probably cold by this time. Dave and I had colder water wet suits on so were good. We dove Kings Spring which was right near where we were snorkeling. My initial take on this was that it’s was “OK”. I feel that if it hadn’t have been so full of snorkelers and mucky then the dive would have probably been much more enjoyable. I just don’t like what I call “muck” diving. The cavern would have been much more interesting to me if I could have seen something. With that being said, I would like to try it again in better viz, maybe when the manatee and snorkelers are gone. But for my own personal comfort level, I don’t like being in a cavern, in close quarters, with no viz. I would like to dive this spring with a group of more experienced divers as I was uncomfortable with the divers who were with us, who for the most part had limited experience. Just my opinion. I worried about those other divers, guess it is just the “mom” in me.
We were back on the road again right after the dive. When we started making these plans, we had no idea that this was the weekend of the Crystal River Rotary Club’s Manatee Festival. This now explained why the river was so crowded early in the morning. I remember when our boat road by Three sister’s spring it was totally packed!
After our dive, we went back to the motel, packed and started heading toward Cheifdom, Florida for another dive. When we went through Crystal River though, we saw the festival and decided to stay and enjoy that. Was a lot of fun. Bought lots of honey, ate lots of samples of food and dips, kettle corn, and such. I did learn that there is something Dave won’t eat! Fresh Pork skins!!! lol. Wouldn’t even try it 🙂 We decided that we would change our plan to dive Manatee Springs in Chiefdom on Monday on the way home.
We left there and headed to Venice, Florida in preparation for our fossil hunting trip with Debra aka: fossilbabe on Sunday. It was good seeing our friend as we hadn’t seen her in about 2 years. She is so knowledgeable about fossils! We got to hang out in her lab for awhile the night before, looking for fossils through some of the matrix. I always learn so much when visiting her. Dave & I hunt for sharks teeth in a local Alabama River during the summer and some of the things she points out we would have thrown away out of ignorance. And even though I’ve seen her “museum” of the various fossils she has found over the years, I always love seeing it again, and again. Everything from a huge mammoth leg bone to an ancient turtle shell at least 3 feet wide is on display. and of course there are the teeth!!! SO many huge Megladon teeth!!! Hopefully we’ll be finding some goodies like this tomorrow!
Sunday – Our day began at 6 am. There were some other fossil hunters who were supposed to meet by 7 am but due to some vehicle issues they were not able to make it and instead met us in town around 7:30 am. We had a group of 11 for this trip. Canoes, shovels, kayaks, screens, and various other hunting tools all ready to go. We parked our vehicles at Crews Riverside Park in Wacala, Florida on the Peace River. we loaded up the kayaks, and canoes, and headed down the river to our spot. This was so much fun. Yes, the water was cold but as we were only in to up to about 2/3 feet of water in most places it was manageable.
Most of us were wearing wet suits and dive boots to keep us warm. I found a fossil horse tooth! so cool! after years of doing hunting, this was a first for me. Everyone had a great time and found lots of fossils. I recommend this trip to anyone who likes to fossil hunt and everyone should go with Debra at least once in their life if for no other reason than she is such a wealth of information.
A word of advice, and not to self: If going to the Crews Riverside Park, plan on using a restroom else ware. “Nasty ” does not come close to describing the “accommodations” (see pictures).
Our original plans had been to stay in Venice on Sunday night but since we had not yet made it to dive Manatee Springs, then we decided to load up and leave from the park after the hunt.
Doing the unplanned or unexpected is often one of the most fun and interesting parts of any road trip and this one was no exception. After leaving the fossil hunt and heading back North toward Chiefdom & Manatee Springs, we drove through the town of Ft. Mead, Florida. This is a small town and on a Sunday very quiet. We saw a sign for two drive in dinners and decided to give the first one we was saw a try.
This was John Minor’s Dive In. If you’ve never ate at a real, old time drive in diner – and Sonic doesn’t count – you have really missed part of small town America. We drove into a parking lot in front of a large menu. Very quickly a young, smiling, waitress came out to meet us (no buttons to push, no bells to ring). She asked if we were there to pick up a call in. No we said and she politely said she would give us a few minutes As we had both had soft drinks in our ice chest for after our hunt, we asked if we could just have some ice while we waited. She was back within just a few short minutes with our ice, took our orders and walked back into the kitchen. Forget the healthy eating, we wanted Onion Rings and hamburgers! Oh, and our orders came with two sides so along with the O rings, we both ordered slaw.
While waiting for our orders we discussed the weekend up to this point and enjoyed even a bit of country music on a local radio station. I began to notice just how much like “Mayberry” this town might be. Nearby, there were two children playing on a side street. Not mischief as often seen, just good plain child like fun, laughing, running, and kicking a can. On another side we noticed the Sheriff’s office. Of course not quite like Andy’s office with big wooden doors, instead some glass windows, and a glass door and in an older building which had seen probably other uses in it’s past.
On my left I noticed that while watching the children play, there was an elderly woman in a wheelchair, with her granddaughter who had “parked” her wheel chair into a parking space. Quickly the smiling waitress came out and took their order. She spoke for several minutes with the elderly woman and appeared as if this was a normal occurrence. Talk about “curbside” service!
And all done with a smile. I decided that I needed some more photos of this friendly place and walked to the front of the building and noticed, for the first time, that there was ,in addition to the curbside service, a sit down restaurant inside. I took a few shots of the sign and restaurant and peeked in the window and noticed a couple waving a friendly “hi”. I waved back and walked back to the car where our order was just arriving.
Soon our order arrived and it was well worth coming for. One of the best hamburgers we’ve had in awhile and the O rings were beer battered and awesome!! While enjoying our meal, I began to notice, for the first time, that there were no sounds of sirens in the back ground, no honking cars, in fact, no loud noises of distractions. It was at that time that I realized how noisy much of the other towns we had been through this weekend had actually been. I think that at least once, in every town we went through this weekend, I had heard at least one siren in the background, somewhere.
With our stomachs full we move forward, on toward Manatee Springs to dive in duckweed!! Since getting there would mean arriving after dark, we were in no hurry. The spring closes at sundown and plans were to dive in the morning and head on home. So we took our time and enjoyed the ride. We saw so many orange groves that we eventually decided we just had to stop and steal an orange 🙂 Nothing better than eating a fresh orange, off the tree, in an ill gotten way lol. Of course we would never make good thieves as while we were at the tree playing “tourist” taking an orange and many photos, two trucks came by, pulled up into a small road right beside where we were! They must be used to crazy tourist taking photos and a few oranges as all they did was look, and continue driving down the road.
Back on the road again I began to notice the many squished oranges along the road which more than likely had fell out of a truck along their route to the processing plant. The nearer we got to the city of Bartow, Florida, the more “car flattened” oranges I noticed along the route. Once we got into Bartow I noticed the amazing smell of oranges! We soon passed a processing plant where the wonderful aroma or oranges stayed with us for several miles.
We eventually made it to Chiefdom, Florida and found a Best Western near Manatee Springs state park. It was located on Suwannee Valley Lane and was $79 a night. Nice, clean place, and friendly staff on duty. We plan on staying here again in the future. This place had wonderful beds and those nice thick, comfy blankets/bed covers. Wonderful, free, full breakfast in the morning. They even have a griddle.
Manatee Springs State Park – We checked into the spring around 10 am. You need to go into the office and sign the dive waver and give your C card to them. Leaving your C card with the rangers is a way of them being sure you came out. When you leave the park don’t forget to pick up your card. We were given a map of the area and paid the $6 for both of us. There are no air fills here so have your tanks filled before you arrive, much like most other Florida state parks. As this was a Monday morning there were not a lot of people around. There was a group of 3 cave divers who arrived about the same time we did. We did our check of the site and geared up.
Given it was the time of year for Manatees, there was several campers in the area who were there to look for manatee. There were two elderly couples who saw us gearing up at Catfish hotel how asked many questions about diving, and what it was like in the spring. Of course we were happy to answer and it always makes me feel good when others are interested.
First looks can be deceiving. We highly recommend this state treasure for a day of diving. Start off with diving catfish hotel, the view from bottom looking up is well worth it. There is a lot to explore for just us open water divers. After the dive in catfish hotel, we dove in Manatee springs to rinse off and check it out. While there, the other cave divers had come through from catfish hotel. This should NOT be done by open water divers! These guys were equipped and certified for cave diving. The best way to describe this dive it to just show you pictures so be sure to click on the photos of “manatee Springs”.
If you really want to add in another dive, Troy Springs is about an hour away and should be done at least once but as we had a 5 hour trip home we decided to forgo Troy springs for another trip.
Till next time………safe diving to all! ~oceanbound