With Vaughn and the bigs on a little road trip to Georgia this week, the littles (some of which aren’t very little) and I have been doing our own thing - Tuesday it meant a little-bitty road trip of our own. We drove the 55 miles to…De Soto National Memorial, which is a small park (acreage-wise) just south of Tampa, FL. While the park does not cover a lot of ground, it is beautiful, and a very interesting place to explore.When we got to the park, the very first thing we did was to go to the visitor’s center to pick up Jr. Ranger booklets. The program here is exceptional! The books were colorful and engaging with varied activities. One of the things that I loved about the booklet was that it covered the expedition, chronologically, throughout the book. The kids loved it too! The kids had to do 6 activities, plus a madatory walk/map reading activity. The friendly ranger gave the kids special De Soto pencils and small, colorful compasses for the activity. The kids really enjoyed the map activities; and Emma especially, was really intrigued by the compasses and was always telling us which direction we were currently walking in!After we picked up the booklets, we hurried back to where we had parked, right next to the reenactment camp. Every hour, on the hour (until 3pm), the park hosts ranger-led talks. We attended 2 of them, one on disease and the other on weapons. The ranger was very interesting and informative, and obviously loved his job, which always means a better program!
There were lots of hands-on items for the kids to check out, like this sea-bean necklace — we have found sea beans on Padre Island – now we know what to do with them! LOL!The kids all got into trying out the chainmail and armor….…I think that we spent the most amount of time here…and had lots of other people,. who did not want to try out the armor themselves, taking pics of the kids in it. At each talk, the ranger would fire off the musket. He told us about the origin of the saying, ‘lock, stock, and barrell’ – long ago, if you wanted a rifle, you couldn’t just go to the sporting goods store and buy one, you had to have individual parts made by three different craftsmen: the watchmaker would make the lock, the blacksmith would make the barrel, and then you would take the metal parts to the carpenter to have him fit them into a single piece of wood called the stock. We will always think of this demo when we hear the term, ‘lock, stock, and barrel’ now The park is on a point in Tampa Bay. There were a lot of people visiting the park to utilize the walking paths, or to just sit on the benches that overlook the ocean and relax.We enjoyed the cheerful February flowers!After attending the interesting ranger programs, and watching the park’s informative film (do this first if you visit the park), we decided to walk part of the nature path. The park has a nature walk with several different routes; you can pick the length of your jaunt. We chose to do the short .5 mile walk, which should have taken my little walkers about 20 minutes, but we found the path so fun, that it took us nearly 2 hours! LOL! On the boardwalk we checked out the fiddler crabs, huge spiders, and tons of lizards. We went the few steps out to the beach to check out the shells and watch yet more lizards (humor us, we don’t have wild lizards in Montana )…We picked one shell off the beach to keep, but we picked up several handfuls of other shells. Down here in Florida, there seems to be a shortage of rocks, and when we would use gravel back home, they use shells down here. So, the packed material, bedding the trail, was small seashells, usually .5 to 1 inch in length. They are so detailed, perfect replicas of the larger shells that are coveted by beach combers. We picked up several handfuls of these shells – they are the perfect size for collecting given the space constraints of RV living We told the rangers that we collected shells, but that they were off the path instead of the beach, and for some reason, they found that funny!?!? We stopped and read plaques and looked at exhibits.We also stopped by and checked out the ruins from the ‘tabby house’. The nature walk is wheelchair and stroller friendly, and has benches available periodically throughout the walk. There are even a couple of picnic tables along the route if you would like to take along your lunch. (or dinner – you can access the walking paths after park hours – just be sure to park outside of the entrance gates so your vehicle does not get locked in for the night).
And when we arrived back, from our short but time-consuming walk, we worked on our Jr. Ranger booklets – now that we could concentrate on them since the reenactment area was closed for the day In the visitor’s center is a small book/gift shop, an area with a few maps and exhibits, a theatre that runs the park’s introductory film every half hour, and an area for kids that includes costumes and activity sheets…
After the kids had completed their booklets, we took them into the ranger to check. We found every park employee and volunteer to be so cheerful, informative, and pleasant! They were very engaging with the kids, and obviously loved the park and their jobs! (a positive atmosphere makes or breaks any destination when traveling with kids!!!)
The kids received their Jr. Ranger badges, and we thanked the ranger and went back outside for one last, quick, look around before the drive ‘home’ (which just happens to be Wauchula, FL.this week.).
Outside, in front of the visitor’s center, are several huge, gorgeous trees…We had such a great time at the park that we are considering bringing the rest of the tribe back this weekend! After all, we were only able to hear 2 of the 10 ranger led programs and we missed checking out some of the exhibits!
My bigs will be back tomorrow evening; they have been working a tornado clean-up in Calhoun, GA, with Samaritan’s Purse for the last 3 days. The work crews got so much done that they are wrapping it up in Calhoun. Many of the volunteers are heading to Hattiesburg, MS; my guys are torn – they would LOVE to go to Mississippi to help some more - but it’s 16 hours from there to MS to here. (which is actually only 4 or 5 extra hours) – if it were earlier in the week, they would definitely be joining the SP convoy to MS!
As it is, tomorrow (Valentine’s Day) is Daddy’s birthday, so we are extra excited to be getting him home a little early! Caleb has been out of sorts since the bigs all left; he saw a pic of Beth on my phone today and got so excited, then talked to daddy on the phone tonight and stood there for the longest time listening with a big smile on his face. We do like it better when we all go to the build/clean-up areas, but this was a great experience for my bigs too – I’m so glad that they went (and they promised me they are bringing back lots of fabulous pictures!)! Still, it will nice to be all back together, in our little 400′ rolling home, tomorrow night.