Letter 13 (page 3)

Coming south again, we stopped in Savannah, Georgia, which is also famous for its plantation-era houses, though they are not on the scale of those we saw in Charleston. The town layout is based on a grid of 24 small square parks which is attractive. Unfortunately, the city government didn't understand the value of its heritage early enough and there are too many ugly, modern structures next to beautiful old buildings.

The next morning we toured nearby Fort Pulaski, which is significant for its complete failure! The American government built it as part of a coastal defense system and it was considered one of the best of its day but it was overcome with new technology, signaling the end of masonry fortifications. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Georgia governor ordered that the fort be seized from the Federal troops and it was taken without a shot being fired. The defenders naturally felt secure as the nearest land on which attackers could mount large guns was one mile (1.6 km) away, more than double the effective range of standard smoothbore cannon. What they did not know was that Union troops had ten new "rifled" cannons and after a single day of bombardment, the fort’s commander realized the situation was hopeless and surrendered. (Rifled cannon have spiral-shaped grooves cut inside the gun barrel so the projectile spins giving it greater accuracy and the bullet-shaped projectile is more aerodynamic than a spherical cannon ball giving it greater range.)

The next day, we saw a river coming out of the ground and the local mermaids. The spring at Weeki Wachee discharges 170 million gallons (643,000 m3) of water a day and it is now part of a mini-theme park. Girls in costumes perform The Little Mermaid swimming around underwater and breathing from air hoses when necessary. We took a short boat trip and saw lots of birds like herons, pelicans and egrets but we also saw a manatee, a large aquatic mammal that is now endangered.

Unfortunately, it started raining so St. Petersburg was a washout but it was beautiful the next morning as we were leaving. The bridge across the mouth of Tampa Bay is graceful and fairly new as ship hit the old one in 1982 and brought it down.

It is "cable-stayed" like the Glebe Island Bridge in Sydney but the cables support the bridge only along the center double-yellow line instead of the edges.

After getting a flat tire fixed (thank you K-Mart), we stopped in Naples to visit the beach and collect some seashells before driving on to Homestead, our base for the Everglades National Park.

The Everglades is a "river" 50 miles (80 km) wide but often only a few inches deep. Water flows out of Lake Okeechobee, moving only 100 ft (30 m) per day, until it eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico. There are huge areas of "saw grass" and then mangroves in the areas where fresh and salt water mix. We saw lots of birds and alligators. Most impressive. However, it was sad that the ecosystem has been greatly damaged by activities outside the park. Water flow into the park is now regulated and huge canals carry "excess" water away.

I've been struck by the difference between the word swamp, which makes me think of unproductive land that must be drained to get rid of mosquitoes and alligators, and the word wetland that makes me think of fish, birds and biodiversity. Actually, they both describe the Everglades.

Bridges link a series of islands (keys) south of Florida, allowing comfortable travel 100 miles (160 km) from the mainland. Almost all the original road bridges have been replaced and now stand derelict, often with sections missing (an earlier railway was blown away in 1924). I don't know if it was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, or just corrosion that did the damage. We stopped at one bridge and saw a fish about as big as Lan. I'm sure it will be the biggest fish I'll ever see in the wild and I was happy to see it there.

Watch out for pedestrians in Savannah, Georgia!
Fort Pulaski guards Savannah ... or so it was thought.
King Neptune & mermaid at Weeki Wachee.
Skyline Bridge over Tampa Bay.
Treasure hunting near Naples.
Fields of saw grass are a haven for birds and small fish.
Fields of saw grass are a haven for birds and small fish.
An alligator taking a nap (in the background).
The 7 Mile Bridge is one of many on the way to Key West.
A bridge too far.

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