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?