Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 72 - De Soto National Memorial

I always check the "Things To Do In xyz" lists whenever we get to a new spot.  High on most of those lists for Bradenton is the De Soto National Memorial.  This was about a 20 mile drive from the campground.  It gave us a chance to see the wilds of Bradenton on the way over.  I wouldn't exactly call it wild (except for the traffic and the stupid driving tricks we encountered).  I did notice the "trailer park of doom" next to one of the pretty rivers here.  This  development was set exactly at the same level as the water.  I believe that an unusually high tide would put the place underwater.  Yet people live there; lots of people live there.  The De Soto National Memorial is at the end of a residential street (with very high end homes) right on the water.  In addition to a nice little visitor center, there is a one mile nature trail and an area where re-enactors do historic stuff during the high tourist season (i.e., Dec. - Apr.). 

A volunteer met us at the door of the center and gave us quite a bit of information about the park and about De Soto.  When we said we would be interested, she took us to a small theater and started up a 15 minute film that discussed De Soto's expedition to America in more detail.  This film was very well done as were the interpretive displays.  I love interpretive exhibits.  Even if they aren't done by the best artists but have some kind of useful information, I applaud them.  If I'd know there was such a career, I think that I would have become an interpretive exhibit designer. 
We had the opportunity to try on one of the helmets worn by Spanish soldiers (imagining how hot these must have been in the Florida sun) and to wear about twenty pounds of chain mail.  The chain mail turned out to be useful against arrowheads but not so much against the cane arrows which would splinter, embed themselves in the soldier and then cause him to die of some infection or other.  Plus I bet those babies were hot in the sun too. 

Maybe De Soto's mother or De Soto's wife thought that he was a good man.  I do not.  He became a wealthy man on looted gold during his expeditions to Peru.  Once he tasted the rewards of conquest he dreamed of matching the deeds of the conquistadors.  When he got a license to explore La Florida he thought he would do so well that he would be awarded a governorship of a territory.  After landing somewhere near Tampa in May 1539 his army spent the next four years traveling some 4,000 miles across the southeastern United States.  It was a futile mission, doomed by unfamiliarity with the land, hostile Indians (of course they were hostile, he kidnapped and killed a whole lot of them) and the overzealous pursuit of riches.  De Soto lost half his 700 soldiers to sickness and Indian retaliation.  He found no gold and established no colonies (the king had requested that he do so).  After three years, he died of a fever and was buried in the Mississippi River.  What was left of his army abandoned the mission and got themselves back to Mexico.  This expedition was inconsequential for the Spanish but devastating for the Indians it encountered, leaving behind disease and social dislocation.   I was interested to hear the park volunteer speak so openly about the failures of the man and to see that the National Park Service literature does not gloss over his acts of inhumanity. 
De Soto's army traveled with 700 soldiers, 400 horses, 2 women, a few priests, some pigs and war dogs.  These huge dogs were trained to hunt and eat humans.  If a conscripted (read kidnapped and enslaved) native guide gave bad information, De Soto turned the dogs on him. 

Now imagine that you are a hapless tourist who had just heard this tidbit and you are beginning your walk down the nature trail.  Also imagine that you were not informed that life sized interpretive "people" were placed all along the trail.  Let me say that I was glad we were pretty much the only folks walking around when I turned the corner and saw these two.  Again, I salute the exhibit designers at this park.  What a genius idea to place these figures out in the mangroves to give you another perspective.

The park has an absolutely gorgeous Gumbo Limbo tree.  This is also called a Tourist Tree because it stands in the sun, turns red and peels.

There is a mile long nature trail that takes you out through the mangroves and along the river's edge.  The trails are exceptionally well groomed and there are plenty of benches along the way should you feel the need to rest.  Fortunately for me, today was a cloudy day with temperatures in the mid seventies.  I had no problem making the walk.

We really need to plan our sight seeing and eating times to coordinate with each other.  As is common with us, we somehow manage to begin at around high noon and then in a couple of hours are starting to become fiercely peckish.  Such was the case again today.
Brett, ever alert, spotted a Five Guys and needed to eat there. 

Since we don't have any in Maine (that I know of) and we've never eaten at one before we decided to go ahead and give it a try.  I was surprised to see the peanuts.  You grab a paper dish and scoop some nuts for snacking while you wait for your burgers.  There's a sign that says "because of allergies" you cannot take peanuts out of the building.  The burgers were okay and the nuts were a treat.  But this was 2:30pm and it put a serious damper on dinner plans.  Before we left I put chicken breasts with a mushroom, wine sauce in the crock pot.  That went into the refrigerator for another night. 

Brett's stupid driving trick of the day was to pull off the highway way too quickly when he spotted diesel for 3.72 a gallon.  This was the best price we'd seen but he used the credit card and ended up paying 3.83 which is the price at most of the other places as well.  It wasn't really worth the stunt driving after all.  But I still love him.  He did spot an eagle for me on the way home!

Another kid incident:  The little guy who camped next to us and mistook Brett for his grandfather was having a raging hissy fit outside.  His own grandfather discovered the problem.  Little dude was drinking orange juice, and like a good healthy Floridian he was drinking juice with pulp.  One of those little bits of pulp had plugged up his sippy cup.  This ticked him off big time.  Can't say as I blame him. 

Tomorrow is another travel day.  We are headed south towards Naples, FL where we will spend Thanksgiving.  And it looks like we will not be homeless RV'ers starting the Friday after. There must have been a few cancellations and I was able to book two nights near Melbourne Beach and another two nights at Fort Clinch near Jacksonville.  So yay!

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