Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge Campground, Inverness, FL

I’m afraid I misspoke in my prior post (Pt. 1) about Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge—there are plenty of sites there, although they are unserviced, boondocking sites (water available on the grounds, however). 

I was conflating our interim campground when we head north again (in South Carolina) and Mutual Mines—the interim one has two serviced sites with the remainder being tent/unserviced sites. My bad and apologies. 

Mutual Mines, just outside of Inverness, FL was a lovely spot—although it did, as previously recorded, have a tricky, always-locked gate to which we’d been given the numerical code to the padlock on a chain for April. Evidently, “bad behavior” forced the state to close public/walk-up access to the area with a padlocked gate. 

Maybe it was an April Fool’s joke on us, but the number we’d been given for the padlock had not been “engaged” by the time we arrived on April 1. With a phone call to the headquarters, however, we managed to get the March number and finally got through the gate. Later, a ranger came by to let us know that she’d changed the padlock to April’s number.

In any case, there’s some history to the Mutual Mines location and name, and it was really quite a lovely and quiet spot. For those who want to read more of the history part, I’ve placed that at the end of the blog.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Mark and Angela had an issue with a part of their awning structure and had to head to Orlando for a replacement, where Mark had called and the part was available. They had just enough time to make it there before closing time. 

After the rains quelled, I took quite a nice stroll around the quarry/mine that is today a lovely lake with walking paths here and there. Here are a few pix from my stroll.

If we ever return, it looks like Site #1 would be private & tucked away, it’s large, and would have more sunshine directed to our solar panels than site 5.

There were really neat old trees everywhere, near the water as well as right next to Mark and Angela’s site (#4). I called their the “fern tree” because it was fuzzy on all the top surfaces of the limbs because small ferns grew all along the bark. I’d never seen anything like it and found it to be a delightful anomaly.

Later, Mark called—they were at the Cycle Florida Headquarters site in Inverness, headed into the shower trucks. By the time we got there, they were showered and we headed to dinner. It was a seafood place, and I ate some super fried catfish. But the neat thing about the restaurant was all the artwork. Here’s a sample.

History of Mutual Mine Campground

This camp is located on the site of an abandoned phosphate mine. (When you see and walk on the well-packed, white, chalky roads in the area, that fact becomes obvious.)

Just before the turn of the twentieth century, freezing temperatures destroyed the citrus groves in this area. Fired with the loss of their income, the residents turned to phosphate mining. Dunnellon had already become a major producer of the mineral on the world market. Locals observed this success and soon had their own phosphate book in full swing. Named for the Mutual Mining Co. of Savannah, GA, the operation here was supervised by W. H. Dunn, who earned $65/month. 

Laborers were paid 50 cents a day and mined the ore with picks and shovels until huge steam shovels (on large platform barges) were developed. 

Quarrying phosphate, Platform Steam Shovel, Camp’s Globe Mine (Hernandez),

The ore was sent by train to the Florida gulf port of Yankeetown, in Levy County, for export to Europe. The remnants of the elevated trams that were created here in the forest for the tracks are still much in evidence, along Forest Road #9. 

With Germany and Belgium as the main buyers of phosphate, the mine closed in 1914 at the onset of World War I. Soon, other FL counties began yielding a higher grade of phosphate. Today, Polk County, as well as Hillsborough, Hardee, and Hamilton Counties produce 80% of the world’s phosphate.

How Phosphate Was Formed

Florida is blessed with a bountiful supply of phosphate that primeval seas deposited here millions of years ago. The phosphate comes from sediment that was deposited in layers on the seafloor. The phosphate-rich sediments are believed to have formed from the precipitation of phosphate from seawater along with skeletons and waste products of creatures living in the seas.

In the early 1800s, scientists discovered that phosphorus promotes growth in plants and animals. Before this discovery, bones, which contain the element phosphorus, were used as an agricultural fertilizer. Today, phosphate rock provides fertilizer’s phosphorus.

Phosphate rock was first mined in England in 1847. It was in 1881 that Captain J. Francis LeBaron, of the Army Corps of Engineers, discovered Florida’s treasure in black phosphate pebbles in the Peace River. A “hard rock” phosphate reserve in North Central Florida was discovered next. Thus began Florida’s phosphate mining industry, which now accounts for about 80% of the phosphate used in the US, as well as about 25% of that used around the world.

The FL we know today and the phosphate buried in its earth is a relatively recent product of geologic processes that have been at work for a long time. Most of what is now FL was once underwater. Marine creatures in the form of coral, shellfish, and marine skeletons deposited the limestone that makes up the sedimentary layers. As time passed, sea levels dropped and the limestone became exposed. In central FL, the Bone Valley Formation is found on top of the Hawthorn Formation and is under about 20-40 feet of sand.

Fossils from the sedimentary deposits of the Bone Valley Formation—the heart of FL’s phosphate mining industry—are often uncovered in the process of phosphate mining and give us a glimpse of Florida’s prehistoric past. Among the abundant fossils found are those from the sea creatures that lived in the shallow waters that covered FL in the distant past. These fossils include the teeth of giant sharks and the bones of huge whales. The remains of hundreds of species of land animals, birds, and plants are also found in the layers of rock beneath the present-day surface. These fossils include many species the came to FL to escape the advancing glaciers of the Great Ice Ages. Some of these animals migrated to North America from other parts of the world, some of them crossing the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia when sea levels were lower. Others traveled around the rim of the Gulf of Mexico when areas now submerged were exposed.

Other evidence tells us that FL supported this great variety of creatures with abundant food supplies made possible by a temperate climate. Fossilized remains dug from the Earth during phosphate mining tell us a great deal about the life of the past and about early geological developments in FL.

Overall, I feel there is much of Mutual Mines, and one wildlife refuge (part of the same system) closer to Inverness, that would be fun to explore and learn about. Maybe our next FL adventure?

Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, Cape Breton

Tuesday, September 1: Celtic Shores Coastal Trail

The storm that awakened us all with thunderclaps and driving rain was still going strong during breakfast, so we all geared up for a rainy ride. We just hoped the unpaved Celtic Shores trail would not be too muddy.

We all looked like Tellytubbies as we left the Mabou River Inn and headed along the trail. Thankfully, it was NOT horribly muddy, but the rain persisted and the wind, if anything, picked up as we went along.

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Despite that, we found it to be a great ride. I slipped off my rain pants and the hood over my helmet shortly after starting, as I’d rather get wet from rain than from sweat. The trees lining the trail gave some welcome relief from the wind, but when the gusts came and swirled, it was good to ride along the windward edge of the trail (if the wind gave you the opportunity to figure out which was your protected side).

I managed to get a pretty good rhythm going and rode the entire trail solo while the group wanted to stick together behind. There were a couple of old railroad trestles that had been converted (as with the New River Trail) and there were some views to be seen along the trestles.

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One time, I was headed past a forest of mostly evergreen snags, and there was one fir tree with a “puff ball” at the top 4 feet, and when I looked more closely, I saw that it was in fact an enormous nest of sticks and branches. I don’t know if it was osprey or bald eagle, as there appeared to be no one home (or maybe they were just hunkering down in the wind) but it was fun to see.

As we neared Inverness, the location of our group lunch, we took a turn identified with the note: “Celtic Coastal Trail crossing Rt. 19 at sign and purple Victorian house.” What a strange structure, but a great landmark. We all knew right where to turn.

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Leaving the Mabou River Inn, Allen yelled, “Group photo at the Inverness Beach — at the end of the Trail go left to the beach and we’ll meet up there before lunch!”

Closer toward Inverness, the wind picked up as the trees thinned out. The photos don’t do what we were seeing justice, but imagine air full of water and a sea crashing against a shore, churning and churning the sandstone and beach. It was quite impressive.

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I turned left to head to the beach and there was no one about — it was literally, difficult to stand up in that wind — even more so with a bicycle. I got off at the top of the dune and pushed the bike a bit along the boardwalk to try to capture the ferocity of the elements with my camera, but alas. It is even difficult to describe in words.

So I turned back, with a welcome tailwind, to climb back toward the Trail and the town of Inverness. The group emerged from the Trail head as I passed, and some went to the beach and some didn’t want to get wetter and turned with me toward the harbor town.

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We gathered in the courtyard of the Downstreet Coffee Company to put our bicycles somewhere they would not blow over, and inside, we stripped our gear and had a nice soup-and-sandwich lunch.

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While we were eating, Nick & Allen loaded as many bikes as possible on top of the Freewheeling van, some of the bikes went into the Starship Enterprise, and most of us rode to Chéticamp with Nick, although we still had extra vehicles to help with logistics.

Our intrepid leader, explaining our next options in the warmth and safety of Downstreet Coffee Co.
Our intrepid leader, explaining our next options in the warmth and safety of Downstreet Coffee Co.

As most of our discussions during the entire ride is about what we might expect when we attempt the Cabot Trail and French, MacKenzie Mountain, and the kicker, North Mountain, we consulted Nick, who’s ridden it many times. He said French is do-able, but North is like riding up a wall.

Uh-oh.

Hoping the wind (at least) would subside, we considered a ride, upon arrival at Maison Fiset House (our lodging), around Chéticamp Island, but Allen said the roads might be really awful, since they’d had to close down/evacuate the campers on the Island a few days ago due to torrential rains.

There was also an option for a Skyline Trail Hike, taking a picnic along and watching the sun set. Nick reported that, on Allen’s first Taste of the Maritimes Tour back in July, the wind along the Skyline Trail was such that the cyclist/hikers had to actually hold on to each other, and to speak to one another, they had to shout. And the wind was not as strong as it was today, he said.

So we all decided to have a party instead, after most of us ate at the nearby All Aboard Restaurant. Two couples and a single were sharing the House (while the others stayed in hotel-style rooms), so beverages were collected and the living room of the House was warmed with a pretend fireplace, and those who wanted shared adult beverages and talked about the next day’s challenges.

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Many knew without doubt they were not going to attempt either French or North. Allen and Nick were in support all the way, so anyone could get picked up most anywhere — except on North Mountain, where there is no shoulder, and it is not a “trail” so much as THE road that encircles Cape Breton.

Also, Allen and Mary reported that, though neither of them had cycled North Mt., it carries vehicles away from the coast and through the woods, and there’s not the breathtaking views that one finds up to that point, and after.

The Maritimes Tour #1 group had bad weather with a strong wind. None of them attempted North Mountain in July.

As we parted for the night, I think everyone was imagining stopping cycling at lunch tomorrow, riding the vans across North Mountain, and then finding a different “viewpoint” along the fishing villiage called White Point, where there are sea views and cliffs, and a lovely walk across a rocky landscape much like the Scottish Highlands.

The weather will determine all. Rain = easy — no way I’m attempting North. Clear = difficult — to ride or not to ride? We’ve been contemplating that question since weeks before the ride, when Allen sent us notes including the fact that North Mountain includes several 20% grades. A wall, indeed.

Tomorrow is the day I’ve been anticipating and working toward all trip. Will I attemtpt it? If so, will I make it?