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Adventures in North Florida

March 21st, 2022

North Florida is a completely different region than south Florida. For those who want a more authentic old Florida experience, with less crowds, more small towns, and more space, this is the place!

Day 1

Withlacoochee Park, in Dade City, is an inviting scenic area. As part of the green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, the park offers nature trails, picnic area, a playground, fishing, canoe launch, birding, and whimsical wood carvings. As we walked over a bridge, we spotted an alligator taking a swim! We did some bird watching, but only saw buzzards, ducks, and geese. The oak trees and Spanish moss were beautiful! We tried to visit the Dade City Depot, but found it closed. We did enjoy looking around the outside, with the 1950s style station wagon loaded with family and citrus, and the old truck with the driver.

Brooksville, in Hernando County, is another of Florida’s Main Street, USA towns. It was the Florida’s Outstanding Rural Community of 2000. We browsed through the 5 buildings of Rogers’ Christmas Shop! Rooms are arranged to show living rooms in a holiday setting. Decorations for any taste and budget are available. Perusing the decorations was fun! We came away with ideas for Christmas dancing in our heads. The town is full of old fashioned homes and stores. We ate at the Main Street Eatery. We had the best Cajun Hamburger Bean Soup! Service and atmosphere was friendly! Our meals included a half sandwich for MaryJo and a Cuban for Greg, and 2 iced teas. Cost before tip was $19.

What archeological site has 6 mounds and is the longest continuously inhabited Pre-Columbian Indian site? If you answered Crystal River, you’re correct! The population may have been as high as 7,500. Today, the history of the Native Americans is highlighted in the Visitor Center, with a timeline, displays of tools and a diorama. A midden (a heap of discarded household goods), burial mounds, and a ceremonial stone on which offerings were placed help us to understand more of the lifestyle that began about 500B.C. The site was used until about 1300 A.D. Whys did they build here? It’s one of History’s Mysteries. Excavations were begun in 1903 by Clarence Moore. Tours and Ranger Programs are available. Visitors may also fish in the waters, and bird watch. This is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Allow about 45 minutes, more if you plan to picnic. Admission is only $3 per carload. The park is off Rt. 19 near the town of Crystal River. Florida State Parks have been awarded the Best Parks in America. We enjoyed our visit!

A train display surprised us along Rt. 98, near Gulf Hammock in Levy County. It recalls the Patterson-McInnis Railroad, prominent in the area in the early 1900s, and part of the Patterson-McInnis Sawmill. The engine often pulled 30 or 40 cars piled high with logs. Logging was an important Florida industry. A small stream just behind offers shade and a moment of tranquility. This is an example of the surprises just ahead when traveling the back roads.

Another surprise was a scene of giant sea creatures in front of a lawn ornament or business ornament shop. Huge sharks, crabs and fish hung in the air or climbed on the fence. Right across the street was a lighthouse representing a church.

The end of the day was coming, with dinner at BBQ Bill’s in Chiefland. MaryJo couldn’t resist the sampler platter, a delicious combo of chicken, ribs, beef, and pork. Leftovers provided the next day’s picnic lunch! Greg had a taste for a porterhouse steak, also scrumptious. Three sauces were all tasty, although Greg preferred the spicy one. Two soft drinks with refills completed the meal. Our waitress was cheerful and efficient. Total was $34 before tip.