While driving north along I-95 heading from Orlando to Savannah, Georgia, Mom made a very interesting discovery on the map. We were going to drive by St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spain.
She had read many positive things about St. Augustine while researching this leg of the adventure, but mistakenly thought that it was located in South Florida near Miami. St. Augustine had not made the list since we had not planned on driving that far south. A quick browse of the internet on the iPhone (seriously, how did we travel before smart phones) and we found many interesting things to see including making a last-minute reservation with St. Augustine Eco Tours to take a dolphin cruise.
The Matanzas River is part of the inter-coastal waterway that feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. It is saltwater, and thus is full of all sort of interesting marine life. The main goal of our trip was to see dolphins and we were not disappointed, seeing our first one about 30 seconds into the trip.
Captain Adam informed us that there are usually around 100 dolphins in the river during the Winter months and around 300 in the Summer. We are not sure how the dolphins tell the difference since it was the last week in February and it was 80 degrees. Later in the trip we got to float alongside a pair of dolphin swimming up river. The kids and the parents thought this was pretty cool.
Captain Adam took us up into a canal in search of jellyfish, but unfortunately none were to be found on this day. We then headed farther up river to see the bald eagles that have made their nest in a tree here for the last 17 years. We were able to get a long distance shot of one of the parents, but the two chicks were not visible due to the fact that it was a very windy day. The nest was about eight feet across in the top of a tree around 125 feet tall. Quite impressive!
The boat also came equipped with a hydrophone (a microphone that allows you to hear under water). We were unable to hear the echolocation of the dolphins we followed, but we were able to hear the sound of pistol shrimp on the bottom snapping their claws together.
We also got to view egrets, herons, pelicans, and seagulls. The trip was great and lasted around 90 minutes. We would have enjoyed the boat ride even if we had not seen any of the wildlife.
After the trip, we headed next door to have lunch at the Santa Maria Restaurant. The food was great, but the thing everyone enjoyed the most was feeding the seagulls. Old bread is provided to feed to the birds through trapdoors they have installed on the window ledges. The gulls obviously dine here often and know the drill.
After lunch, we walked through the old narrow streets of the town to see some really cool old houses and Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine Catholic Church built in 1565.
Next up was the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. This is the oldest fort in the United States and was set up by the Spanish. It has defended against pirates and seen action during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and many other skirmishes.
The kids enjoyed going to the top of the building to see where the canons were fired. The National Park Service does daily canon firings, but we were too late to see one.
On our way out of the park, we ran into Ranger Fritz, who graciously gave the kids a 15 minute private history of the fort which we greatly appreciated. The kids did not have enough time to complete the Junior Ranger books, but we can mail the finished books back and the Rangers will mail us the badges.
Once the park closed we headed onto our original destination of Savannah, thankful for the unexpected stop in St. Augustine. It has been one of our favorite places so far on any of the trips.