Sometimes the best adventures are unplanned.
On our way to paddle with manatees, we saw a sign on the side of the road for the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. I am a history nerd, so my interest was piqued by the word “archaeological.” Once we were out of the river, had a chance to dry off and get some food, we were on our way to check this out.
Crystal River Archaeological State Park focuses on the native history of the area. The park itself consists of ceremonial grounds featuring burial mounds (we were told the actual village itself would have been closer to the river. The river seemed pretty close to me, but I’m sure it’s changed position over the years.) The land was first settled approximately 2,500 years ago and was in use until approximately 1,000 years ago.
When we arrived at the park, we were very lucky no one was there. When we walked in, we had a feeling that no one had stepped inside the building in awhile. The park rangers inside were incredibly friendly and helpful. One gentleman even offered to give us a tour!
Robert walked us around the museum, pointed out various artifacts and explaining how they were used. (Did you know they drilled holes into objects by spitting on it, adding sand, and then using a pointed rock to slowly create friction and wear a hole into it? And I can’t even sit still long enough to finish knitting a scarf.) We learned a lot while we were there about life in Pre-Columbian America.
THEY EVEN LET US HOLD A REPLICA SPEAR. How cool is that? The only thing that would be cooler is if they let us throw it…
AND THEY DID. (Check out this video of Melissa throwing a spear!)
The rest of the park is very pretty. It extends out to the water; we noticed a few people bypass the history and go straight there with their fishing poles. On the first temple mound, they have a set of stairs you can climb and look out on the river. If you can make the climb, I highly recommend the view from the top. I doubt you’ll find a prettier view of the river anywhere else.
Stop in at the front desk and check out a guide to the park while you are there. It is extremely helpful in figuring out what exactly you are staring at. There are small signs identifying the name of the mound, but nothing on what it is (is it a trash mound or a burial mound? The guide will tell you!) I will be honest – to my untrained eye, I had no idea what I was looking at half the time. They all looked like normal-ish hills to me… until I looked at the map and could see the distinct shape, read a little on the history and what they’ve found there. It helped bring everything to life for me and see the bigger picture. The guides are free of charge; you just need to sign one out at the front desk.
Just remember to wear long sleeves and long pants when you’re there, particularly early in the morning and later in the evening. We had no problems in the early afternoon, but there was a LOT of standing water on the site. I guarantee you there are a ton of mosquitos at dusk and dawn. (In fact, they had this cute little sign by the restrooms to give you some warnings about them!)
The grounds themselves are open from 8AM until sunset, though the museum is only open from 9AM-5PM Thursday-Monday. The cost is $3 per vehicle, which you deposit into a small box near the front of the parking lot (in other words – bring cash in small bills.) If you’re looking for a slightly different experience, consider one of their full moon tours offered monthly. This is a fully guided experience done by moonlight and flashlight.
For more information on Crystal River State Archaeological Site and their events, check out their website.