When we decided to spend Winter 2014 in Florida one location we definitely wanted to see was the Crystal River area and the manatees who also flock here. This area is known as Florida’s Nature Coast. Well, we never made it to Crystal River but the beautiful spring and river at Rainbow Springs State Park was an excellent choice. Once a privately owned RV park that has been renovated this is one of the few state parks offering full hookups. Our site was roomy, private and had great satellite reception. The RV park is about two or three miles from the State Park. During the warmer months when the river is a popular tubing area a tram runs between them. For now, we’d have to drive, bike or walk. The only problem was we hit a cool, rainy week.
We were to have met up with friends from North Carolina but last minute illness caused them to cancel. As luck would have it, Steve struck up a conversation with neighbors shortly after setting up. A couple from the Buffalo, NY area, Ann and John became new RV friends and we spent several evenings together. They told us about the Florida Cracker Festival at Rainbow Springs and said it was very interesting. Off we went the next day.
Our thought was that the term “cracker” was a bit of a derogatory term akin to redneck. Not so. People descended from the Georgia pioneers who drove their cattle into northern Florida are proud of their heritage. The term “Cracker” we were told may have come from the whips used to drive the cattle and/or their use of cracked corn as a staple grain. Several living history venues were set up explaining the history of the area, the way food was prepared, how they lived, their music and even the Catahoula Leopard.
The Catahoula Leopard is a working (herding) dog breed thought to have descended from the wolfhound. Named for a parish in Louisiana they were used by the Crackers to round up stray cattle in the swamp. A common feature of this breed is a “glass eye” where they have one blue eye with a distorted pupil.
We also learned how the Florida Crackers were the main source of beef for the Confederacy during the Civil War. With ports blockaded by the Union imports were limited. The cattle from Florida could be driven back through Georgia to the Carolina’s and Virginia to feed the troops.
We strolled around the festival chatting with the participants, bought stone ground grits and listened to two harpsichord players. While listening the husband of one of the players noticed my camera harness and we began discussing photography. Then we learned they are RVers too who spend summers in the NC mountains. Within five minutes we’d made new friends. Soon an invitation. “Would we like to take a ride on the river in his boat?” Yes, yes, yes! The following video is a sample of the beautiful Rainbow River and the many birds and other wildlife we saw. We also stopped at a riverside eatery called the Blue Gator. I had scallops and both Steve and Frank had fried oysters. We ended the afternoon with a visit to his home where he shared photos of their recent trip to China and of NC wildflowers they’d found while hiking.. They were hoping to go to Russia in 2014 but with the current political climate that most likely won’t happen. Once again we find that RVing is much more than the places we go. It is the wonderful people who enrich our lives along the way.