Cedar Key Day Trip

Tired of not finding any pig sign, I’ve decided to try a new direction for our next adventure.  It looks like there is some interesting hunting land straight west of Astor.  I want to go check it out, see if it’s worth visiting at a future date.  It’s early, we’ve had breakfast so I pack up the family and we hit the road, headed for Florida’s west coast. 

Almost half of the journey west is through the thick, lush Ocala National Forest, and I make note of at least half a dozen good looking spots to check out for pig worthiness.  Somewhere between the forest and Ocala, the scenery changes.  Among the long list of recreation activities Florida has to offer, it is also known as a hot bed for Equestrians, and the horse capital of the world.  Rolling hills, lined with intricate wooden fences, filled with acres of green blankets—we’ve entered a stallion playground paradise.  The view is simply breath taking with dozens of beautiful Arabians and Quarter Horses dotting the perfectly manicured ranches.

I forgot to bring coffee with me for the morning ride. Desperately needing a caffeine boost, I stop at Gilberts Hardware and General Store at 225A& West 326. Step back into the past, to the days of cowboys, ranchers and front porch business discussions—you’ve got Gilberts.  Their great service staff brewed a fresh pot of coffee for me and filled my thermos extra full, for less than a buck.  After that,  Laurel Lane, Paradise Farms,  Dark Horse Farm, Hidden Pond Ranch and Bridle Wood Farm, were just a few of the horse farms I passed.  Beautiful acreage, amazing top of the line horses scattered throughout each.

As I approach the intersection of  27 to 24, I spot signage for Dakotah Winery.  Hmmm, it’s just up ahead a few miles—no, keep going!  It was all I could do to stay on course and remain focused.  Good thing I did, because I was soon transported into a stretch of wilderness abundant with wildlife.   Finally.  Abundant wildlife.  Deer, springing across the road, causing me to slow way down.  Eagles, flying overhead nesting in treetops along the road.  Three turkeys scoot off the shoulder into the brush.  Wow, in the few minutes I’ve been on 24  I’ve seen more wildlife then the entire time I’ve been in Florida.  Where am I?

Devils Hammock, Wildlife Management Area. I see an information station and stop.   I’ve entered a whopping 7, 635 acres of land set aside and available to hunt, fish and enjoy.  What a perfect place for a potty break.  I get all 3 kids out and we stroll down a trail.  The temperature has cooled considerably.  The wind has picked up.  The sky is overcast.  The tall pines shelter us from the bulk of the wind.  It’s a beautiful woods.  I wonder if people use treestands here?  We keep the walk to “taking care of business”, and I grab a brochure at the post.  This place looks awesome, but from what I was reading, I was too late for Deer season, too early for pig season.  Off we go.

In less than an hour the road brings us straight into an extremely understated little “ghost town” bordering the Gulf of Mexico, called Cedar Key. Not much is stirring here.  I’m not seeing any landmark sights like a McDonalds.  There are almost no cars or people in sight.  It starts to drizzle.   I cross a bridge and there is a dock area to the left side.  I pull off and park, and investigate the dock.  There are tiny islands scattered across the waters.  An airboat off in the distance is bulleting towards shore.  One lone angler on the pier, states he’s not had much luck as of yet.  I get back in the car and drive toward the main town.

A great way to learn about a town is to find the local Museum.   For a couple bucks I get out of the drizzle and get the whole story about Cedar Key at the Museum and State Park. 

Cedar Key became a settlement in the 1840s, and by the 1860s the rail was in place.  This made industry more assessable and allowed Cedar Key to become highly productive in two major industries, pencils and fiber mills.  They had many Cedar, Pine and Cypress trees.

During the War of the States, Cedar Key was providing the Confederacy Army supplies, food, and most of their much needed salt. Then, in 1862 the town was captured by Federals–which stopped all their production.   After the war, the town went back to logging Cedar, Pine and Cypress, but it wasn’t the same.  John Muir, a noted conservation leader and naturalist, lived in Cedar Key in 1867 and described what he saw in his journal as “The traces of war, are not only apparent on the broken fields, mills and woods ruthlessly slaughtered, but also on the countenances of the people.”

The people of Cedar Key started to rely on harvesting oysters, fish and crabs for their livelihoods.  All were abundant on their magnificent shoreline.  But soon, even this industry failed.  The ships were getting bigger, there was a growing need for deeper waters to dock in, and eventually, Cedar Key was unable to maintain their commercial value. They have not been able to establish and maintain a strong industry niche since.

There remain a few farms raising clams along the pristine shoreline banks, and several commercial fishing, and crabbing operations, but they are low key  The people of rustic, sleepy little Cedar Key are just fine with that.

It’s starting to rain harder.  Now I can say I’ve been to Cedar Key.  If I want to be in camp before dark, it’s time to head back!

How could I possibly drive past that Dakotah Winery sign twice in one day without stopping?  I can’t, so I turn onto 27 and within minutes am pulling into their parking lot.

What an adorable winery!  This father and son operation was started in 1985.  They have some acreage here in Chiefland along with the store, and another 20 acres in Fanning Springs.  But here is where the wilderness retreat is found.  The building is surrounded by their own wildlife refuge.  A deck, veranda, grape arbors, a koi pond and woods make this the perfect rest stop for any traveler.  So peaceful .  Deer, turkey, Fish, Wood Duck and Canadian Geese all call Dakotah Winery home.  So very serene.  They even have a pet exercise and picnic area.  And besides all that, I have experienced the most amazing Blueberry dessert wine! Well, ok, so I experienced about two cases worth of amazing wines to bring home.   I was assisted by Son Rob Rittgers for my wine tasting experience, and Father Max Rittgers, helped with hauling my treasures to the truck.  He thanked me for the business and handed me his business card. Attached to it was a piece of pottery shard over 200 years old, with an Indian head penny over 100 years old attached to it. This was a piece of original art—a special gift.  A special family.  A special place.  Really good wine, too.

As I drove back down highway 27, I spotted a produce stand on the left that looked too  good to pass up.  One last stop.  I pull in and park for a quick look.

Wow! The best fresh produce stand I’ve seen since the wholesale place in Pennsylvania.  They had everything; awesome strawberries, a full spread of fresh veggies – even Pommelos.  I picked out asparagus, onion, tomato, potato, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, and of course a box of strawberries and a couple Pommelos.  There. Christmas Eve dinner and more.

Now, finally, we head back to camp in the dark.

 

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