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Florida Road trip, January 2012
oceanbound - 2/25/2012 9:48 PM
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Category: Travel
Comments: 2
Florida Road trip, January 2012Road Trip: Manatee
Springs, Crystal River, & Venice,

Dave suggested we revisit the Manatees at Crystal
River. A 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 Dave 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 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
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 sisters" it was totally

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. I did learn that there is
something Dave won’t eat! Fresh Pork
skins!!! lol. Wouldn’t even try it :)

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. Someone brought a
waterproof radio on the trip and we listened to some blue grass and made jokes
about "deliverance" lol. 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"

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 Sherriff’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. &nbs​p;

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
- 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
. 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.
I have a new blog now so please check it out:

Till next diving to all! ~oceanbound


Greg - 3/07/2012 4:19 PM
Great article, love the pics. I loved our Manatee adventure as well. Everyone must do this at least once in their lifetime.
SaintsReturn - 2/28/2012 6:10 AM
Fun read! Glad you guys had so much fun!