Kayak to visit with Crystal River manatee

Kayak to visit with Crystal River manatee

posted in: Adventure, kayaking, Tips, Travel | 0
We love kayaking and wildlife. Since we were parked about a half hour from Crystal River, Florida, an area well known for its wild manatee population, we decided to combine these two activities into an amazing morning on the water.
So, here are our tips to see the Crystal River manatee up close and personal from your kayak.

Crystal River

First, a little about the town built around these magnificent mammals, Crystal River.

Crystal River is well known for its manatee population at the heart of the Nature Coast of Florida. The city is situated around Kings Bay, which is spring-fed and therefore, keeps a constant 72 °F temperature year round. You will see signs for “swim with the manatees” all over town.

As more and more people come to Crystal River to see and interact with manatees, the Fish and Wildlife Service has tightened regulations in an attempt to protect this threatened species. To start they close the area directly surrounding the spring November 15 – March 31. They also have a lot of volunteers watching the area to help protect these fun animals.

Kayaking to Three Sisters Springs

First, the Fish and Wildlife Service have a map that shows areas off-limits to boats. We recommend checking it out to know what’s off limits.

Our personal Crystal River manatee experience

Put in location

In mid-November we put our kayaks in at Hunter Springs Park in Crystal River in the hope of seeing manatees.

From the park we paddled out towards Kings Bay (to the right). You head around the marina, keeping it to your left and take your first left under a bridge. This will take you to Three Sisters Springs.

Keep your eye out for manatee all along the way. They could be in Hunter Cove near the city park where you put it. We did see about 5 there.

Remember from November 15 to March 31, you can’t kayak directly into Three Sisters Springs. However, outside the spring entrance is another roped off sanctuary called Idiot’s Delight Spring. There you are pretty likely to see manatees floating undisturbed. They may even swim around your kayak. The manatees will move up into the Three Sisters Springs with the tides; it’s too shallow during low tide.

Crystal River Manatee Spotting 

We saw quite a few in the canals around Three Sisters Springs including calves and mom, manatee feeding, sleeping and one even gave a friendly nudge to one of our kayaks. So fun and exciting! They are curious creatures.

When we first arrived to the sanctuary, there were about 20 manatee in the immediate area!

Yes, that’s right. 20 manatee and the season had only just begun!

There was also a volunteer with the Fish and Wildlife Service in his kayak just outside the sanctuary area. He is there to keep an eye on behavior of people, but he is also a wealth of information. Feel free to ask him questions.

After about 20 minutes or so the area got busy and we noticed the manatees dissipate a little. So keep in mind that seeing manatees in a place where everyone else comes to see them isn’t a serene, personal experience like you might imagine. You could be surrounded by swim-with-the-manatee tour boats, snorkelers and other kayaks circling around. While we were thrilled to see manatees expect to be around other like-minded people.

Our tip: Get there early! We were there by about 8:30am and it was definitely quieter earlier. By the time 10am rolled around, there were tour boats and quite a few other paddlers/snorkelers around.

Where to put in

Hunter Springs Park has pay for parking ($5 for 12 hours), clean rest rooms and picnic tables, as well as a small swimming beach and a good put in spot for kayaks. You can rent kayaks there too.

While Hunter Cove is not a particularly natural setting (it’s surrounded by houses and seawalls), the water clarity is good and the springs attract manatees consistently. You should start to see some manatee immediately. Look for dive boats or other tour boats. They will clue you in if there are manatee in the area.

You may even be able to swim out from the beach into the cove and see manatee immediately!

We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the tables provided in the park after our kayak, so we thought it was well worth a stop here.

Three Sisters Springs Manatee

As stated earlier, you can’t kayak into Three Sisters Springs in winter (November 15-March 31). However, you can swim.

If you arrive in your own kayak, there is a location outside Three Sisters Springs where you can tie up and swim into the springs. The water near the tie up is shallow so it should be easy for kayak re-entry when you’re done swimming.

Swimming with the manatees: Is it ethical?

We did not swim with the manatees. Personally, we think it’s invading their space and from our observation when people got in the water, the manatees dispersed. You decide, on your personal ethics, if you want to swim or not.

We love and agree with this quote “A close encounter can truly be a life altering experience.  It can be even more special knowing that you’ve done no harm.

Is it ethical? That’s for you to decide.

Remember these are a protected species.

Many argue that it is better for the mammals to remain wild and without close contact with people. The operators of Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company have chosen to forgo the more lucrative swim with the manatee programs in favor of a more environmentally friendly, passive observation approach. Do your own research and use your own judgement here.

More reasons we chose not to swim with these wonderful creatures. This post really struck a note with us. We agree that we shouldn’t chase them out of their home and natural habitat.

Please do not touch or approach a manatee. It is illegal! They are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They are wild animals. Keep them wild.

Manatee near Paul’s kayak

Honestly, we were so excited to see them from our kayaks that it was enough for us. They will swim around your kayak and get up close. However, we did see quite a few people swimming with manatees none of whom were overly excited by the experience.

Tips before you swim with Crystal River Manatee

While we can’t recommend a particular outfitter, the wildlife refuge offers a list of licensed companies. Prices aren’t cheap, but they do included wetsuits and snorkeling gear.

We noticed tour operators gave their swimmers less than 20 minutes in the water. If that’s enough for you, then go for it. If you want more time, you’d better get there on your own.

The number of people and nature of the activity makes this a bit of a chaotic scene. Set your expectations appropriately. Remember the manatee might leave an area if too many people are in the water. Again, is it ethical to chase them away from their home?

You should be a good swimmer.

Swimming into Three Sisters Springs is a challenge, even for good swimmers. The springs empty into a beautiful narrow spring run, so swimmers move upstream against a strong current.

You’ll want a wet suit. Swimming in 72 degree water is chilly.

Kayakers can tie up their boats outside Three Sisters and swim in.

Any time the Three Sisters Springs becomes packed with manatees during cold weather, they will close it even to swimmers.

Wildlife Refuge boardwalk

If kayaking or boating isn’t your thing, don’t fret. You can still see the Crystal River manatee. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge has a lovely boardwalk rimming Three Sisters Springs that gives you good views of the springs and manatees, if any are present.

However, there is no parking directly at the refuge. You must take a trolley to visit. For the full schedule and ticket prices visit their website.

The boardwalk includes an elevated viewing area of the mouth of the spring, where you have an excellent vantage point of Idiot’s Delight Spring. There are also volunteers on the boardwalk who will happily answer questions for you.

Other things to do in Crystal Springs

There are other activities besides manatee viewing in Crystal River. Here are a few other ideas:

Copp Winery and Brewery: We enjoyed visiting here after our kayak. They offer a free tasting of 3 wines from their list. The glasses are totally reasonable and you can sip on a glass outside on their patio. In addition, they serve food, if you’re interested.

Heritage Village: This is a small historic downtown with a few cute shops, a historic train station/museum and a beautiful street lined with live oaks planted by the women’s club 100 years ago.

Crystal River Archaeological State Park: This park preserves an ancient Native American ceremonial site located in a beautiful setting overlooking the wide Crystal River. There is little known about the people who built this place starting 2,500 years ago. A small museum has interesting artifacts and the picnic tables along the water are a great place to relax.

Crystal River Preserve State Park: This is adjacent to the archaeological park. It has several trails with forest, marsh and water views. Explore. Relax. Hike.

Get out and explore on your own. Sometimes, it’s fun to see a new place from your own perspective and stop at whatever catches your attention.

So overall, we spent $15 to enjoy 4 hours on the water and a wine tasting afterwards. That’s pretty reasonable. Plus, it was an experience we won’t forget. Feel free to share your own experience with the Crystal River manatee.

7 Reasons why the Balloon Fiesta should be on your bucket list

7 Reasons why the Balloon Fiesta should be on your bucket list

posted in: Fulltime RV, Travel | 0

Attending Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta has been on my bucket list for a long time. Since moving into an RV fulltime, it somehow seems a little bit easier to accomplish some bucket list items. Well, this year attending balloon fiesta is no longer a dream.

It’s a reality!

First off, what is the International Balloon Fiesta?

For nine days in October the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta creates an enchanted world of special shape balloon rodeos, twilight balloon glows, and vibrant balloon filled skies. Brisk autumn mornings in the Rio Grande Valley create an otherworldly backdrop for the breathtaking majesty of the most popular event, Mass Ascension of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The experience of watching hundreds of gentle airy giants take flight is at once humbling and inspiring. It’s the allure of these magical moments and more that continue to bring ballooning fans worldwide together for over 45 years.

Why should it be on your bucket list?

1. It’s amazingly beautiful and fun!

There’s activities going on all week long from glows to fireworks to mass ascensions. Don’t worry there’s time during the day to relax, work or enjoy some of the city sites.

2. Every morning balloons ascend

The best part – you never know which ones will take off that morning. More importantly there might be some that land right next to your RV!

Yes. This really is part of the charm. Most balloons take off from the fiesta park. However, when Yoda lands right near you in the RV parking area, it’s super exciting!

3. You’ll meet incredible people

This is, of course, totally up to you and what you choose to get out of the experience.

We met full-time families. Vacationers here to fullfill that bucket list item. People we laughed, oohed and ahhed with over the many balloons. It’s definitely a shared experience with people from all over the world attending.

We also enjoyed talking to the pilots on the field. They were friendly and happy to answer questions about ballooning.

Plus, there are rallies of all sorts that attend and it can be a party atmosphere.

4. Albuquerque is an amazing city filled with tons of activities

There’s everything from bike trails to museums to art galleries to casinos to breweries to golf to history and more!

Really there’s something for everyone and I highly recommend you take the time before or after balloon fiesta to explore this beautiful area.

5.Experience of a lifetime

Did I mention it’s like being a kid in a candy store?

It’s magical and captivating. You don’t know where to look. Balloons are all around you.

Never have I seen so many hot air balloons in one place! The sky is filled with them, as many as 550! They are all shapes, colors and sizes. There are special shapes like penguins, Yoda, Darth Vader, a rocket ship, an octopus, lions and more. Every one that inflates and heads for the sky is unique and fun.

We enjoyed being at the park for lift off, glows and fireworks. But don’t forget about simply staying by your RV. Typically the wind patterns move the hot air balloons right over head and many will land in the parking area. Many RVers help with the landing. It’s really a hands on experience like no other.

From what I understand every year is different, so what are you waiting for?!?!?

6. There’s fair food

You can get anything from coffee to fried dough to New Mexico breakfast burritos. Go hungry and enjoy a bite to eat during the festivities.

7. Photography is amazing

From what I understand this is the largest international balloon festival in the world! It’s simply magical. It is also the most photographed ballooning event in the world.

That’s right the most photographing balloon event in the world.

Get out your camera – phone, point or shoot or fancy DSLR and be ready to take a lot of photos!

Bring extra batteries, memory cards and your creative side. Get the lift off. Get the landings. Get the crew working. Get the crowd. Enjoy the details and the flames. Attend a glow and see the flicker. It’s all amazing and so much fun to capture on film and video.

For more photography tips visit Diamond Photography.

Tips for attending

Boondocking

Standard RV parking is boondocking. You should either have a generator or solar for your needs. In 2017 the cost per night is $35. We thought it was well worth staying on premises. It allowed us to take in the whole experience.

Premium sites

There are premium sites available at a higher cost which includes the use of electric and water.

Services available

They do provide trash bins and porta potties which was nice. They also run free shuttle buses from the RV area to the fiesta park grounds. We enjoyed biking over and used the free bike valet provided by fiesta. Keep in mind it’s about 1/3 of a mile to the grounds. Once at the grounds you will walk and walk. Afterall, Balloon Fiesta Park is over 360 acres!

There is also a pay for water delivery and sewage pump truck. You have to sign up for those services. We didn’t need them during our stay, so I can’t speak of the cost.

Be aware of noise levels

Each morning for ascension news helicopters circle the area. The shuttle buses start running early and aren’t quiet. RV’s are packed in, so chances are you’ll hear children, dogs, people talking, traffic, etc. Be aware of it, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying your time at the festival.

Entrance Fee

To get into the Balloon Fiesta Park there is a $10/person cost. However, you can buy a 4 pack at Costco for $27.99 or buy 4 tickets and the 5 is half off. You decide what is worth or how much you want to spend.

Albuquerque

While it’s not the capital of New Mexico, it is the largest city. It is situated at 5,000 feet (1,539 meters) above sea level and a prime location for hot air ballooning because of the “Albuquerque Box.” Albuquerque is home to over 850,000 residents, and its vibrant culturally diversity can be seen in the many aspects of daily life. The area has a unique and varying landscape, including majestic Rocky Mountains, red rock mesas, high desert vegetation and the picturesque Rio Grande river valley. The area is also one of the nation’s most dynamic art communities.

Albuquerque Box Explained

You might hear the term “Albuquerque Box” in reference to the hot air balloons. What does this mean? Well, the cool Albuquerque morning temperatures in October create a set of very predictable wind patterns that can be used to navigate the balloons — at low elevations the winds tend to be southerly, but at higher elevations they tend to be northerly. Balloonists use these winds to navigate in a vertical box — this is beneficial to ballooning because then the balloon can take off and land in almost exactly the same spot. Balloon pilots do not have a way to steer their hot air balloons. While they can control where the balloon flies vertically (by heating the air in the balloon to go higher), they rely on the wind to determine their direction. Pretty neat, right?!?!

 

One thing we’ve learned from full-time RVing, be flexible and go with the flow

One thing we’ve learned from full-time RVing, be flexible and go with the flow

posted in: Adventure, Fulltime RV | 0

 

If there’s one major thing we’ve learned from being on the road, it’s the ability to be flexible and go with the flow. Even the best-laid plans sometimes need to change at the last minute. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened too many times in our year on the road. Recently we hit a major snafu. Read on for the whole story.

The wind gets us

What happened, you ask? Well, we planned on boondocking and had scouted an area on maps. We start the day with no issues. Then we cross a Colorado mountain pass and the other side is super windy. We’re talking 40-50 MPH gusts.

Think about it.

We’re driving a high profile vehicle that’s 13’ tall. The wind gusts push us around almost like the tumbleweed blowing across the road. Ok. Not that bad, but it is nerve wracking and tiring keeping the 5th wheel straight on the road in high winds.

We take a break for lunch to give Paul a break from driving while also determining our boondocking location is less than 30 miles away. We can make it!

Failure

Arriving at the BLM land, we drop the trailer to scout a good spot. Driving dirt and some paved roads for almost 2 hours we finally like a spot. So we hook up the trailer and head towards the spot.
It is too sandy for the truck to pull the weight of the trailer. With only the truck, it pushed through fine. So we back up through a cattle gate and go to our second choice.

Fail #1.

Second choice is too sandy as well except this time we become totally stuck. Moving the truck only drives it deeper into the sand. Now what?

Fail #2.

It’s 4:30ish and we can see a wall of rain moving our way in the distance.

Thankfully we use a dolly to pull our 5th wheel and it comes with a winch. Immediately Paul springs into action and 2 hours later we find ourselves, trailer and truck on firm ground.

The best part? We didn’t damage the trailer!

We high five, kiss and rejoice in our success. Then we quickly step into action as that wall of rain is dropping drizzle on us. Yes, we found a parking spot on firm ground and manage to get level and everyone inside before the skies open. Phew.

The wind

Remember when I said it is windy outside. Well, picture sand blowing at you in the wind. It’s in our hair and our eyes. It really is quite uncomfortable being outside. I literally found sand in my ears upon getting inside. Our clothes are sand covered and it’s in our shoes. Oh joy.

How we ignored this fact to get ourselves out I’m not quite sure, but we did.

Lastly, we are proud to say that not only did we recover from this predicament, we did so without screaming or fighting with each other. I guess we’ve both learned to go with the flow and remain calm even in stressful situations.

Be flexible and go with the flow

When living in an RV, you must learn to go with the flow. Remain calm. Plans can change. There will be breakdowns, wrong turns, reservation mix-ups, etc.

Think through all possible scenarios. Remember the tough times as great stories for later. Laugh.

Remember, be flexible and go with the flow. Take a deep breath. Assess the situation. Remind yourself it could probably we worse. Remember what’s important to you in life.

Finally, sit down afterwards to reward yourself with a glass of wine (or treat of your choosing).

Yes. That’s exactly what we did after jumping for joy that we made it out of the deep sand all by ourselves without it the rain hitting us. It might have taken 2 hours and it might have started raining the minute we stepped inside, but we did it!

Anyone else have any fun boondocking stories to share?

 

 

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

posted in: Hiking, Travel | 0

We’ve always been drawn to water and that includes hot springs. We couldn’t resist taking a day adventure to find some natural hot springs in the area. Who doesn’t enjoy a good soak in natural hot springs? Well, we can happily say we thoroughly enjoyed Jerry Johnson Hot Springs.

While parked in Hamilton, Montana, we decided a visit to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho was a must do. These are popular with the locals with only being about 1 and 1/2 hours from Missoula. This is a day use only area!

There are campgrounds in the area and even a nice little lodge. Plenty of forest service roads so there may even be dispersed camping around. You’d have to explore that avenue on your own. That’s part of the adventure, right?

How to find Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

Drive west on route 12 from the intersection with 93 in Lolo. You’ll summit Lolo pass with a forest service visitor center and bathrooms. From there it is about 23 miles to the Warm Springs Trailhead. You’ll see a parking area on your right hand side with a dumpster and a vault toilet.

After crossing the Lochsa river on a suspension bridge, you’ll take a right onto trail 49. Hike for about a mile or so through beautiful cedar forest on a very well used trail. The first pool is down a steep bank to the river. If this doesn’t suit your tastes them move on to the next ones. The next several pools are in a flat area alongside the river. The largest pool has a boulder in it which is pretty easy to spot.

Go past these and there is a decent size pool all by itself which about 8-10 people cans fit in it. This last pool overlooks a meadow and is really quite serene.

Try out the different pools until you find a temperature that’s right for you. Be prepared to soak with strangers. Some might even be without clothing! Spend the day relaxing and taking in the beautiful scenery, then pack it all up and head out the same way you came in.

Our experience

We had read that the hot springs were flooded out in late winter of 2017. We stopped at the forest service office to confirm they were usable. The springs have definitely returned from whatever flood happened and we were not disappointed with our experience.

While they may not be the same as they used to be prior to the flood, they are natural. Isn’t that part of nature to change and evolve?

In any case, we went on a weekday. It was quiet and peaceful. While we did see several people on the trail, we sat in the hot springs all by our lonesome for well over an hour! It was an absolutely lovely way to spend an afternoon/evening.

We have heard that these hot springs are heavily trafficked, so we recommend visiting mid-week or early morning to avoid any crowds.

We also enjoyed seeing a new bird for us – an evening grosbeak male and female. Keep your eyes open to wildlife.

Remember to bring water! When soaking in hot springs you don’t realize how dehydrated you can get. Pack more than you think you’ll need. You can enjoy these hot springs au natural or with a suit. That’s up to you.

On a serious note

This area is heavily used resulting in abuse of the land. There is a problem with trash, broken glass, and clothing left behind. For this reason, it is a day use only. Please help protect and keep this area clean! Respect the land and leave it for others to enjoy in the future.

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