April 27, 2011

4/25/11 - De Soto NM

American History was a long, long time ago.  (Hmm…I guess that’s a pretty good definition of “history”, isn’t it?)  Well, as I was saying, I remembered de Soto, sort of, but I couldn’t have told you where he explored.  He was Spanish—I remember that, as if the name wasn’t a dead give-away.
The De Soto National Memorial is in Bradenton, FL, where the Manatee River, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico can all be seen.  Once again, our timing was bad:  there’s a really cool replica camp set up where costumed interpreters do demonstrations of the weapons and give talks about the expedition.  The last reproduction was the weekend before we were there…
There’s a huge gumbo limbo tree near the monument 400-year.  Gumbo limbo.  Isn’t that a cool name?  I don’t know whether you’re supposed to eat it or dance under it!
At the Visitors Center we watched a video about Hernando de Soto and his expedition of 1539.  The conquistadors were not nice people, especially those who were in search of gold which they were sure the natives knew about. 
There were conquistador artifacts, and really knowledgeable volunteers to answer the myriad of questions I had.  My favorite was the section where they had dress-up armor for kids to try on.  I tried it on.  J
Just outside the back door is the start of the Memorial Trail.  It’s a self-guided nature trail, with numbered posts that correspond to descriptions of plants on the brochure.  They have life-sized photograph placards of the conquistadors and natives along the trail, so you can get a glimpse of the living history players—you know, the one we missed.
I saw my first mangrove forest there! We learned about 3 different kinds of mangroves (they come in red, black and white); strangler figs and Sea Grapes, as well as other trees and plants along the way.  Sea Grapes have big leathery leaves, and de Soto’s men used them for playing cards.  Until the postal regulations changed, tourists wrote on the leaves and mailed them as post cards! 
Before we left, we cleaned the lovebugs off the front of the truck.  They're black bugs with a red patch just behind their heads.  It's mating season, and after mating they remain coupled for 3-4 days, flying slowly around together, and becoming a major nuisance!  They congregate in masses alongside the roads and swarm in such numbers they can totally clog a car's radiator, so you have to be careful.  Their body chemistry is acidic and if they're not removed immediately they can pit the paint on the car.  They don't bite, but they're still a pain when you sit outside.
 Link to more pictures:  DeSoto NM

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