Florida's West Coast

Sunday, 31 December 2006, Baton Rouge, LA
We had planned to take our time up the west coast of Florida after we left the Everglades, but had no real idea of what there was to see there. We stayed at the Collier Seminole State Park near Naples for 2 nights and drove around Naples a bit on Friday. We had heard it was a pretty city and it did have some nice buildings, but nice buildings aren't enough for us these days, especially if they are full of tourist shops and it is not really possible to feel the identity of the city underneath its tourist face.
On Friday evening we had an unexpected call from Joanna and Jim, a couple we had met at James Island while we were in Charleston. They were now in Florida also, and only a couple of hundred miles north of us. If we could make it they would love to have us for Christmas. We checked on our maps and worked out that we could easily make it if we drove the interstate. This would mean leaving out quite a large chunk of the west coast, but we decided we needed to spend time with people, not sights - which, chances are, would resemble the over-developed tourist towns we had already seen enough of!
On Saturday we drove the interstate 75 from just east of Naples, through Fort Myers and then left it just south of Sarasota to once again drive the coastal route - the continuation of the 41 - which would lead us to some more barrier islands off the coast from Sarasota. We were disappointed by this detour and decided that we had made the right decision to leave out most of this coastline. It was so uninspiring that we didn't stop to take one photograph! But just north of Sarasota we drove off at Palmetto to the Emerson Point Conservation Preserve. This point is at the bottom end of Tampa Bay. The Preserve is managed by the Manatee County, and the conservation of this area is a credit to them. As well as taking care of the flora and fauna of the area, the Preserve contains the Portavant Temple Mound and a number of shell middens. The mound is about 1200 years old and the largest Indian mound in the Tampa Bay area. There are a number of interpretive signs and a boardwalk and we found the information very interesting - although a lot of it is archaeological conjecture. We spent that night at Little Manatee River State Park, but didn't see the river or any manatees!
On Monday morning - Christmas Day - we woke to hear that there was a tornado watch. We packed as quickly as possible, as it really looked like rain, and managed to reach the interstate and drive a few miles north before the rain started - then it poured all the way to Micanopy. This is a small town, a few miles south of Gainsville, where our friends were house-sitting and working. We arrived in the early afternoon, just as the rain eased right off.
It was a pleasure to arrive and to be so welcome. We sometimes miss the ongoing relationships with people in our lives that we take for granted at home. Seeing Joanna and Jim again was fun and gave us a little of that interaction that we miss. They took us sight-seeing around Micanopy, which is very much 'old Florida' - that is, unspoilt by over development. We also went out to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park with them, which seems to go on as far as the eye can see. We spotted some wild horses quite close to the observation tower and lots of birds, but it seems that the walking trails here take you right out in to the middle of it and wildlife viewing opportunities increase.
We had a sumptuous feast for Christmas dinner and lots of hilarity to go with it. It was a fairly early night because they had to leave for work at 6.30 the next day. We toyed with the idea of staying around for a few days, but we woke on Tuesday morning to a fairly severe weather change and decided to move on. Had they not been working it would have been fun to stay, but Mexico still beckons.

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