Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Georgia Museum of Agriculture; Manatee Springs

The day after Thanksgiving the temperatures dropped, so we loaded up and headed south. I found a state run "campground" at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village in Tifton. Right off the highway, the campgrond was just a parking lot, but just $20/night for full hookups. The noise and light from the highway was surprisingly non-intrusive, and the facility grounds provided great dog-walking opportunities. As we walked several large flocks of sandhill cranes flew overhead in V formation, which was really cool to see.

The next day we toured the museum and historic village. A steam train carries passengers from the main office to a couple of stop in the village, which was fun.
After dropping us off the conductor climbed up onto the engine and swung over a pipe from a water tower and topped off the water in the engine - not something you see every day! The village, a living history exhibit of authentic or replica structures, was only partially staffed, but we got to see a blacksmith at work, talked to a 90-year old farmer, and got a great demonstration of a water-driven grain mill where they turned corn into grits or meal. There was also a turpentine still and a large cotton gin. Here is Nancy next to a couple of 500lb bales of cotton:

Also on site were some livestock, including this inquisitive bull:

Still a chill in the air, so southwards once again, crossing at last into Florida! It seemed like just crossing the state line the temperature jumped 10 degrees. It felt great. Our destination was Manatee Springs State Park, and we arrived to navigate among the cypress and hickory trees to our campsite. Small white-tailed deer wandered all around and the dogs erupted into frenzied barking, which took all of the fun out of backing in, but it was great to see them at such close range.

We took a walk down to the spring and gazed down into the pure clear water, bubbling up out of the ground at a rate of 100 million gallons per day at a constant 72 degrees. It forms a stream which flows out to the Suwannee River:

At night we heard many rustlings outside, which I thought at first were the deer. But it became obvious that it was not deer, so I fetched a flashlight and turned it on to illuminate: an armadillo! Toby's got a new favorite animal that he'd like to catch, and he spent the rest of our stay watching for them. On one hike he flushed one out and came within inches of its armored hide, but they are very quick little buggers!

We launched our kayaks in the spring and paddled to the confluence and the air was full of buzzards! They roost in the trees all around the mouth of the spring - hundreds of them weighing down the tree branches, squawking, grunting, barking. There were both turkey vultures and black vultures. I haven't seen this many ever, not even on the elephant carcass in Africa!

And then there were the manatees! Eight of them were hanging around where the spring waters flowed into the river, either at rest on the bottom or lazily swimming here and there. When they came up for air just their nostrils would break the surface and you'd hear the breath from their massive lungs, then they'd slip below the surface without a ripple. It was awesome to be able to get so close in the kayaks, often drifing right over one or two, most as long as the boat and many times heavier.

Here is Nancy next to a mother and calf:

Another item of note: we arrived at Manatee Springs SP to find that we had very poor cell service and no internet. A real test for our new Wilson Electronics amplifier and antenna which I installed for just this type of scenario. We plugged it into the Verizon Air Card and presto! Internet! It works great, and transformed a campsite where Nancy could not have worked into one where she could. Just what the doctor ordered!

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