Of Mote and Myakka

One of the things that first drew us to this road-schooling lifestyle was the opportunity to teach our kids primarily through experiences – through touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing firsthand, rather than just reading about it in a book or watching a video (though we still do those things too!) So even though we need to plan longer stops regularly to keep our pace reasonable, we still try to make sure we take at least one “field trip” day per week.

sarasota day trips

Peace River to the east, near Zolfo Springs. Myakka River State Park to the west and Mote Aquarium at the coast, in Sarasota

Some areas have more options than others, but there’s always something to learn, see, and do everywhere we go.

During our two-week stay at Peace River, we had two great field trip days. The first was to the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, FL, and the other was to Myakka River State Park.

Mote Aquarium

Using our AZA reciprocal membership* got us into the Mote Aquarium free of charge, so it was definitely worth the price! The ticket is valid for admission into two different facilities which are within easy walking distance from each other.

Mote is not the largest aquarium we’ve ever visited, but it was more than enough to fill a day. We especially enjoyed that it was so interactive! We arrived just in time for a shark feeding demonstration. Nearby were opportunities to touch and feel a variety of sea creatures in a tide pool exhibit, as well as a pool for touching several different types of rays. The kids found the rays especially exciting and probably would have been content to do little else all day. The other tanks and aquariums all offered plenty of educational material and we were very impressed by how many volunteers there were – each small room and exhibit was staffed – and how well these volunteers engaged our kids.

mote aquarium tide pool

Two-finger touch in the tide pool

 

petting rays

Hey, Ray!

 

jellyfish

The jellyfish exhibit was a definite highlight. Different tanks showed us jellyfish in their different life-cycle stages

 

turtle

Hello Mr Turtle!

In the second building were manatees, sea turtles, otters and small sharks, among other smaller exhibits. The kids were excited to pet the sharks (though disappointed that they weren’t the big sharks they had imagined they’d get to pet) and we spent a long time watching the researchers working on training the sea turtles (a procedure that was repeated over and over in the pool that week by our little turtles).

shark petting

I can’t believe I’m actually touching a real, live shark!

We had a great day at the Mote Aquarium and would recommend it even without the free tickets. It was fun and educational and made for a perfect field trip day.

* A note about AZA reciprocal memberships: Some AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) affiliates are 50% participants and some are 100% participants. If you are a member of a 100% zoo, you get free admission to other 100% zoos and 50% off at 50% zoos. If you are a member of a 50% zoo, you get 50% off admission to all participating zoos. For this reason, we chose to become annual members at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, which we’ve never been to but which is a 100% zoo, rather than the much larger Philadelphia Zoo which is only a 50% zoo. Zoos that are within a certain radius of your home zoo may not be included, but this varies. For those of us who travel a lot, an AZA membership can quickly pay for itself!

Myakka River State Park

The activities director at Peace River organized a group trip to Myakka River State Park. We’re not usually big fans of group trips, and after our experiences that day, we’re even less so. The positive side, though, is that we probably wouldn’t have gone to Myakka River at all without the group trip, so we’re grateful for the initiative.

We car pooled, though no one chose to ride with us, and followed the activities director in her car. First she needed to stop for gas (like a well-prepared trip leader?) then she led us to the closest park entrance, which is only open on weekends. It was a Friday when we went. She had scouted the trip on the weekend and didn’t notice the big sign. Anyway, we then proceeded to drive our line of cars around in circles as she tried to guide us to the gate that was open. We drove for nearly an hour without getting any closer. When we eventually got a phone signal, we googled the directions and when I could see where we were on the map and she turned the opposite direction yet again, we “went rogue” and headed straight for the park. We had a hungry baby in the back and we weren’t willing to follow her anymore. The group caught up to us in the parking lot after we’d fed Micah and checked out the visitor center.

The park offers tram tours and air boat tours, and the trip leader had advertised a group rate on the air boat tours. But the park had no record of our group, so despite her protests that she had made arrangements, our option was to buy tickets individually at full-price. After spending hours in the car to get there, what else would we do? Some in our group were disappointed that we’d arrived too late to have time for both the tram tour and the air boat and they had to choose only one. The rest of us were disappointed when, after the first few people bought tickets, they said the last air boat tour of the day was full. Thankfully they decided there were enough angry people standing in line that they would run an extra boat that day. It was a nice tour, but there’s a reason they don’t usually run them that late in the afternoon – it was starting to get colder and most of the alligators had sought shelter elsewhere. Oh well. We did see a lot of alligators from the (free) nature walk path that we explored while waiting for our tour to start.

myakka air boat

This is the style of airboat that the tours use.

 

alligator

Later ‘gator!

Most of the group seemed ready to head back after the boat tour, but we wanted to check out the canopy walkway before the park closed at sunset. So we bid farewell to the group – with great relief – and went back to doing our own thing. We explored a trail, climbed up to the canopy walkway, and then up to an observation tower. Even in “winter”, the forest (or hammock) of palms, palmettos, and other tropical vegetation was lush, green, and exotic to these northern natives. There was something special in the air and we breathed it in deeply. It was an environment that stimulated the senses and inspired our kids to let their imaginations run wild. We are big fans of state and national parks!

canopy walk

The canopy walk wasn’t as long as we’d imagined it, but still very cool!

 

observation tower

Climbing the Observation Tower

observation tower

Family photo above the treetops! Micah slept through it.

 

We’d booked these two weeks at Peace River somewhat reluctantly. We didn’t plan far enough ahead and our other Thousand Trails campground options were fully booked in the winter months – their peak season. We didn’t know anything about Peace River and on the map it didn’t look like there was anything to do nearby. But as we keep learning, there is something to see, do, and learn everywhere we go. We really enjoyed our stay at Peace River and these day trips to the Mote Aquarium and Myakka River State Park!

 

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