EPISODE NUMBER TWENTY – FLORIDA, DAYS FOUR TO SIX AT FLORILOW OAKS CAMPGROUND
NOVEMBER 4, 2007
HOMASASSA SPRINGS WILDLIFE PARK
I want to make the most out of having a car for a week, so took off for Homasassa Springs Wildlife Park, about 50 miles west of the campground on
the Gulf Coast. This is a park that used to be the winter home of animals used in films and which was purchased by the state to make into a park featuring Florida indigenous animals. All the original animals were sold off except for Lu, an African hippo who has been at the park for 41 years. In order to qualify him as “indigenous”, the Florida governor declared him a citizen!
The park is a haven for injured and orphaned Florida animals, and features six manatees, all of whom bear the scars from motorboat engines and other man-
made objects that injured them. Three times a day a keeper does a talk while feeding the manatees carrots and sweet potatoes, so I grabbed a front row seat a half hour before the scheduled feeding time. They are bigger than I had thought and just wonderfully gentle animals. Amanda is the largest and weights 3000 pounds! She also is a glutton and got all of the sweet potato treats. The manatees have a huge lake in which to live, along with fish that enter from the ocean through a grate, to feed on the remnants left by the manatees. There is also an underwater viewing area.
Keeper feeding Amanda manatee
The majority of the exhibit areas were quite spacious, but I would have liked to see more room for the bobcat, black bears and Florida panther
(a highly endangered cat which has almost disappeared from the wild). The birds have a great area on a river that meanders through a part of the park and features species such as wood stork, roseate spoonbills
, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, pink ibis, white and grey pelicans, bald eagle, several species
of owls, caracara, kestrel, and hawks. If I were a birder, instead of a birdwatcher, I could have added quite a few species to my list!
The otters were having great fun cavorting in their pond;
the alligators were impressive; I enjoyed the wildlife encounter area where a volunteer brought out a diamondback terrapin and a Virginia opossum and talked about them.
The pavilion was powered by hydrogen and the process was explained in a video.
There were many volunteers scattered around the park, ready to answer questions, many of whom are snowbirds who enjoy their volunteer job.
All in all, the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park was mostly quite impressive, but the shrieking child in the small cafeteria did not help to end the day well! I did, however, buy a little manatee and a little otter statues in the gift shop, to add to the gorilla, meerkat, turtle and African ornament that I keep in my bedroom.
On the way home I stopped off at TMaxx and discovered it was very similar in nature to our Canadian Winners store, featuring all kinds of unusual “stuff”. I was able to buy a French press coffee maker to replace the one that has fallen apart. It makes the best coffee!
I received the usual exuberant greeting from Ripley when I returned, and took her over to the dog yard again. However, when she ran, she re-injured her right leg and went down screaming again. Later on, during the night when I let her out for a pee, she hurt herself again going down the step on the RV. If it is no better tomorrow, I will find a vet
NOVEMBER 5, 2007
It was cool enough last night that the furnace came on several times.
Ripley is limping only slightly, so I’m pretty sure that she has just sprained her leg. I’ll keep her on the leash for the next day or two so that she can’t go racing around, and see if it improves.
I had fresh Florida orange juice today. Wonderful!
Today is a catch-up day – email, writing blog, laundry, reading the paper, bicycling around the park and generally just taking it easy.
I joined the Happy Hour again today and met some more people, including a retired farmer from West Virginia. Al is a bit of a devil and likes to tease.
When I first let people know that I planned to take this trip, some reacted by asking me if I wasn’t afraid, and thought that I was very brave to do this. However, I can confirm that many, many women travel on their own, as I am doing, and no one thinks twice about it here. It is quite a normal thing to do. I have to say that it is taking me quite some time to break down the barrier of thinking that I must be doing something every minute or else feeling guilty if I just relax. I talked to Larry about this, and he has been retired for 14 years now. He assured me that, in time, I will stop feeling like I am on the clock.
NOVEMBER 6, 2007
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
There are many, many attractions to lure the tourist in Florida. One that really stood out for me as a “must see” is the Kennedy Space Center, located east of Orlando on Merritt Island. I expected it to be interesting, but I wasn’t prepared for the spectacular nature of the exhibits. I had a coupon from one of the brochures that I had previously collected at the Florida Visitor Center, so I got in at a discounted price of $36.
What I hadn’t realized previously is that the Kennedy Space Center is a working facility. To begin with, tourists first walk into a complex specifically for visitors where there are a number of exhibits, including genuine rockets and shuttles,
an IMAX theatre, buildings featuring Early Space Exploration; Nature & Technology (the Center is in the middle of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge – mostly off limits to people); an Astronaut Encounter (where you can actually meet an astronaut at specified times); Children’s Play Dome; Space Walk of Honor; NASA Art Gallery; Launch Status Center (where a staff member gives a presentation on the status of current and future launches; Shuttle Launch Experience (duplicating the thrill of an actual launch – there was a warning not to go in if you have back or neck problems or high blood pressure, so I didn’t risk it); Astronaut Memorial; Exploration in the New Millennium (where you can touch a real Mars rock and experience the future of space travel); restaurants, a huge gift shop; and two children’s exhibits.
All of that is just for starters! I wanted to get on one of the shuttle buses, so I only sampled a small portion of all those exhibits mentioned before getting on the bus to be taken to three different departure points. While the bus is moving, a video is shown with various staff members explaining their jobs.
The first stop is at the Observation Gantry that overlooks the actual launch sites
of various missions. We were shown into a theatre where there was a duplication of Mission Control, with all the instruments flashing lights, etc.,
followed by a moving history of the space program. Visitors can then climb up three flights of stairs to the top of the observation area. Besides seeing the launch site, I was also treated to the sight of an unidentified bird diving for fish in the nearby lake, as well as the sight of dolphins leaping out of the water. We also passed the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building where the rockets are prepared for launching and also passed the crawler transporter that moves the rocket to the launch site.
The second stop took us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center where we entered a theatre that realistically showed the steps taken to reach the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Through a combination of audio and visual special effects,
we watched the tense build-up as there appeared to be problems with the moon landing, and then the actual landing, followed by the famous “That’s one step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind”. Very inspirational.
The theatre led into a huge area housing a Saturn V rocket and visitors are able
to walk all around, touch it and see just how huge it is. But the area that the astronauts are in is very small in comparison. There are memorial flags for each of the Apollo missions, setting aside a special place for Apollo 1 which didn’t make it back to Earth.
Here it was possible to maneuver small versions of the moon crawler,
look at the planets, meet a retired staff member who had worked on building the rocket,
test your memory on various aspects of space flight – and have your photo taken. I couldn’t resist, so have a look at me in a space suit!
Then, we moved on to the International Space Station Center where we again directed into a theatre presenting the explanation of how the Spacelab is being built. After this show, we were directed into the next room where mock-ups of the present spacelab and a full-sized Apollo shuttle were on display, as well as the gantry leading to the building where staff members are currently working on building the next parts to go up to the Spacelab. We were able to look down on this through a window, and it was very exciting to see the Canadian flag on
one piece of equipment! This is when it really hit home that I was in the centre of a working facility.
Model of Space Station
We then boarded the bus back to the Visitor Complex and I had the misfortune to be sitting just in front of a young boy who coughed all over me as we drove back. It was obvious that he was quite sick, but didn’t have the presence of mind to cover his mouth, despite my giving him some dirty looks! I really hope that I don’t get sick as a result. That may seem very selfish of me, but I have a compromised immune system since my hip surgery and can’t seem to fight off viruses like I used to.
In any event, we got back to the Visitor Complex, and I knew I had time to see only a small left before it closed for the evening. Yes, I had been there most of the day and hadn’t yet seen many things. As mentioned before, I decided to forego the “pleasure” of the shuttle launch experience, and headed to the Shuttle Explorer, where a deck led visitors inside the shuttle. Besides viewing the control area, the cargo space held a Canadarm!
There are several graphics describing the benefits here on Earth developed as a result of the space program, and it gave me a better appreciation of this side of things – everything from apparatuses to allow deaf people to hear to computer technology.
I quickly went over to the Astronaut Memorial, which is a space mirror listing all the names of people who have been lost in the name of space exploration. It seems that it was the astronauts themselves who put up this memorial and
there was a sign seeking funding.
Then I just had time to take in one of the two IMAX shows. The one I wasn’t able to see was narrated by Tom Hanks, entitled “Magnificent Desolation – Walking on the Moon”. I’m sure it is a wonderful show, but it had already started, so I opted for “Space Station 3D” narrated by Tom Cruise, and featuring footage taken by the actual astronauts and cosmonauts at the Space Station. It was absolutely breathtaking! Because it was in 3D, I felt as though I was there with them as they worked inside the station in weightlessness, and as they ventured outside to install new pieces as they arrived on the next shuttle. Some of the footage was very funny and some just plain exhilarating!
The sun was setting (I hate this change in time). One quick stop at the main gift shop to purchase some Christmas presents, and then I was on my way back to Florilow Oaks.
I wish that I could have stayed longer; It was a truly an inspirational day. And the Astronaut Hall of Fame down the road was closed as I drove by. I must admit that I hadn’t really paid much attention to the space program since the moon landing, but I certainly will now! It’s just a shame that I was a day early to watch the latest shuttle landing back from the Space Station.
Unfortunately, because it was now dark, I did not have the opportunity to go on to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, as I had planned. It will have to wait for another day.