Quoting from the De Soto National Memorial Website: “De Soto’s quest for glory and gold would be a four year, four thousand mile odyssey of intrigue, warfare, disease and discovery that would form the history of the United States.

I can empathize with De Soto on the length and drama of his quest. We always try to fit too much into one day. We never seem to know when to quit and today we really paid for it!

For this part of the adventure we are staying at Timberline RV Park and Resort in Bradenton, Florida. The office staff here are so very nice and welcoming. The park has a forest feel with lots of trees and a beautiful pond where Anhinga birds like to dive and fish.

Today we plan to drive the Keys down to Venice Beach, stopping first at De Soto National Memorial. They have another stamp to add to our National Park Passport.

De Soto National Memorial is a small park and it’s drizzling during our visit. No one knows exactly where Hernando De Soto landed when he came to explore North America. This site was chosen in 1948 and a park created as a memorial.

Activities here include living history programs, kayak tours, hiking paths, beaches and camping. Re enactments of the De Soto landing take place annually. Outdoor exhibits show the dwellings and lifestyle of the Native Americans who greeted De Soto.

De Soto’s North American expedition was a huge undertaking which ranged through the American southeast. He was searching for Gold and for a passage to China or the Pacific Coast. He landed in Florida in 1539.

The story of the expedition is a complicated one involving enslavement of Native Americans, new diseases brought to the country and warfare. Hostilities between the indigenous peoples and De Soto’s crew raged from one end of the country to another. Harsh winters and low food supplies left the explorers weak. De Soto died of a fever in 1542. Spain considered the expedition a failure. They acquired no gold, nor founded any colonies, but there is no question that De Soto’s journey affected the relations of Europeans to Native Americans from that time forward. Most of the Native Americans fled into the mountains and surrounding swamps and no longer lived in their ancestral lands.

The expedition did contribute greatly to European knowledge of the geography and biology of the New World. Some of the swine brought by De Soto escaped and became the feral razorback pigs in the southeastern United States. Although De Soto planted no colonies, he did claim large parts of North America for Spain and therefore the Spanish concentrated their missions in the state of Florida and along the Pacific Coast.

The visitor center offers a very well made and interesting film which details the intricacies of the De Soto expedition.

Exhibits showing armor and guns, such as De Soto’s party would have used and the weapons and clothing of the Native Americans, can be found in the next room.

A huge, false front ship dominates the main room.

Behind the ship is a dress up area for photo ops.

Our explorations of De Soto’s memorial complete, we headed out highway 64 toward the Keys.

During my research of things to do in the area, I came across a company that offers “swimming horse” rides. The horses used are Drum and Gypsy Vanner horses, a very rare breed. A breed I’ve always wanted to ride. Unfortunately we’re covering so much ground in one trip that we can’t fit everything in.

Low and behold, as we cross the bridge to the Keys, there they are!

A quick, out the window, picture. The company is called C Ponies.

Go ride one for me!

Crossing the bridge, driving along the little towns…

Lots of unique mailboxes along the way.

Only in Florida!

At St. Armands we have to cross back to the mainland to continue to Venice Beach. St. Armands Key has a unique history. John Ringling (of circus fame) bought the circular island in 1917. He envisioned the circle as an exclusive shopping center surrounded by expensive homes. He worked quickly on building a causeway to the mainland, sometimes riding circus elephants to bring in some of the building materials! In 1927 the causeway was complete and Mr. Ringling had a band parade across it.

Ringling placed many Greek and Roman statues from his personal collection in the center of the town. They are still there along with a group of newer ones that total over 30. Unfortunately when the market crashed in 1929 Ringling’s plans for the town were interrupted. He died in 1936 and never got to see the completion of his vision. Today there are over 140 different boutiques, galleries and restaurants throughout St. Armand’s circle. If crowds are any indication of success, then Ringling’s dream has become a reality!

We would have liked to get out and walk around but there was no parking whatsoever to be had. It was as crowded as Disneyland on a summer day so I had to satisfy myself with pictures out the window.

And that is that!

Across to Siesta Key, a few more sights and some editing fun.

We finally made it to Venice beach. We heard that it’s easy to find fossilized shark teeth on this beach. That’s why we’re here. This is where it gets interesting. I’ve mentioned the love bugs in a previous post, well they were positively swarming this beach. Looking down at the white shells, looking for black shark teeth but most of the black is bugs! We’ve been able to move down the beach to avoid them but they eventually catch up and we move again.

A relatively clear spot.

Found a sand crab. Well camouflaged.

Continuing down the beach to avoid the bugs, we are pretty far from our car when we look up and notice this.

Well that doesn’t look good!

This does not look like any California storm we’ve ever seen. We figured it might be a good idea to head back to the car. About the time we make the decision to leave, the sky positively OPENS UP! I have never experienced rain like this in my life! At least it’s warm, as we slog our way as fast as we can to the bathroom shelter.

We are drenched to the skin. The love bugs know what’s up. They all swarmed up to the shelter with us. The walls and floors are black with them. They’re piled several inches thick in the corners. You can see some of them on the fence behind us. Everyone else who was on the beach left before the rain started. In the shelter it’s us, the love bugs and a group of teenage boys who seem as clueless as we are. From here, we can see our Jeep in the parking lot ,at the end of the covered walkway. To get there we’ll have to get wet again.

We thought about trying to wait out the storm but it shows no sign of stopping and the parking lot is flooding. Someone appreciates it.

In the end we decided to make the rush to the Jeep. The storm eased up as we drove inland.

My haul for all that trouble, a couple of broken shark teeth and an unknown. Maybe a piece of a giant tooth or other fossil?

Another lesson learned, take Florida storms seriously!

Lesson two, love bugs, along with cockroaches will outlive us all.

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