Saturday, August 22, 2015

Road Trip!

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About three years ago, we found out about an alligator hatching festival in Palmdale, FL, about two hours from Bradenton into the center of the state. It's called the Gatorama Hatchling Festival and is on the grounds of one of the top working alligator ranches in the state of Florida, Gatorama. They raise alligators not only for the tourist factor, but harvest them for their meat and skins.

It's a long boring drive from Bradenton to Palmdale. Lots of cattle farms on the way, a few horse farms, and WHOA! This sign! 

We know there are lots of bears in certain parts of Florida, but never have we seen a "watch out for bears" sign. Not even out west!

We went to Gatorama for the second time, and Sparky just loved it! You get to help a baby alligator hatch from the egg IN YOUR HAND. How cool is that?  Very cool! Eldo (a.k.a. Eldy), very willingly agreed to be the driver today....He's not into hatching baby alligators in his hands, but that's ok, he enjoys watching Sparky do it, and today he was the designated picture taker. Gatorama has been open since 1957. It's showing its age a little bit in terms of the facility, but since we have been there three years ago, they are really updating and renovating a lot of the farm. Some nice changes have occurred. There's a new barn area with amphitheater seating for a general discussion and presentation all about the farm and how they get the eggs. The presenter and manager, Allan Register, does a wonderful job of explaining all about the eggs and how to hatch them in your hand. His wife, Patty, is very enthusiastic and helps everyone have an optimal experience. They have a terrific staff, some with a hilarious sense of humor, to help them handle large crowds.

During the presentation, Alan explains all about how they harvest the eggs. When they go searching for the nests, one guy carries the infamous "gator stick" to hold down the snout while another guy gathers the eggs. Before they take them out of the nest, they mark the tops with a Sharpie line to keep the egg orientation constant.

The baby embryos inside are attached to the top of the egg. If the egg gets rotated, the embryo will detach and the baby dies. So they carefully mark the eggs, then remove them, keeping the line on top. Then they "candle" the eggs. They use a flashlight to shine against the egg, just like we used to shine the flashlight against our fingers to see our finger bones when we were kids. They are looking for a certain band pattern that tells them the egg is still viable. The eggs take 65 days to incubate at 90 degrees and 100% humidity. UGH! says Sparky. April is the mating season, June is when they start harvesting the eggs. They had over 5,000 eggs for the Hatchling Festival, so there's plenty to go around.

It costs 23.95 for seniors' admission AND to hatch an egg. If you just want to watch and take photos of other people doing that, it's 14.95. There is LOTS to see there, and Gatorade has expanded their facilities since the last time we were there. It's a great trip for families. We saw some very young children help a baby alligator hatch. (You wear gloves). You need to make reservations as it's a popular attraction during the last couple of weeks of August into early September, when the babies hatch. They have other hands' on experiences there, too. Go into the Uncle Waders Catch a Gator pond and catch an alligator with your bare hands! (The gators' mouths are taped). Try Gator Bare Backin' by sitting on the back of a 7-8 foot gator. And if the little ones are a little too scared of all the gators, try the Big Bones Fossil Dig.

We got there in plenty of time to walk a really long boardwalk, and see alligators up very close.

There are lots of other animals at Gatorama, too... A Galapagos (?) tortoise, we think...

They have a variety of species including a Florida panther, a couple of bobcats, macaws, peacocks (also called peafowls) and a python.  You can see lots of gators in various stages of development along the boardwalk, which is entirely shaded and fenced in.......Whew! says Sparky.

Wanna see the monster crocodile that killed so many of the gators and crocodiles at the farm, Goliath? He's there. Man, that is one ugly dude!

They had to isolate him and keep him away from killing off the gator and croc population one by one as he was trying to maintain his dominance after he'd been there for awhile. They estimate his biting force at 3,000 pounds per square inch! Some of the gators at the farm are original stock from the early fifties, and are 60-70 years old! Here's what the farm has to say about the crocodiles:

"Gatorama has the only productive breeding colony of American Crocs in the US and we are one of the few facilities permitted to accept nuisance crocs from the wild. Nuisance crocs must be relocated….they cannot be harvested the same as nuisance alligators are."

Goliath had some pink spots on his back that looked raw. We thought he'd been in a fight, but the sign said those were sunburn spots! Croc skin takes a long time to regenerate itself and grow new tissue. Didn't know that!

You can buy "zoo biscuits" at the shop to throw to the alligators. Sometimes they tussle in the water to grab the biscuit depending on how hungry they are. There were a lot of little kids today throwing biscuits to the gators. One of the workers cautioned us not to have our arms way out over the fence to throw the biscuits as the gators can really jump out of the water using their tails sort of like a  big rotor, and they can jump a couple of feet out of the water!  He said they would be feeding the gators in just a few minutes, so we would see what he meant!

And here's the brave guy that feeds 'em chicken strips....Ben is the son of the owners of Gatorama. He hasn't lost any fingers, but his dad has lost the tip of one. Wanna play chicken? Ben definitely had "fast hands"!

Here, two of them are vying for the chicken meat....
They really seemed to like the chicken. At one point, he said he was going to have a little tug of war with one of the stringy pieces of chicken and one of the gators, but the gator snatched the chicken piece so hard out of his hand, the game was over in a heartbeat. We could see how carefully he watched the gators get ready to jump, he would watch their tails for that beating back and forth, then out they'd come, and he'd jerk his hand back just in the knick of time. We heard that awesome loud cracking, popping sound of their jaws as they snatched the meat as he dropped it out of his hand. Cool!

Ben said among many other interesting facts about gators and crocs, which Sparky promptly forgot because she was trying to get a good shot of those gators grabbing the chicken, that there are two species of alligator, the North American, and the Chinese (!). There are 21 species of crocodiles. Most American crocs in zoos are offspring of Gatorama. Gators are no longer an endangered species. Alligators have TONGUES, crocodiles do NOT. Those boney ridges on their backs are called scutes, and they act like little solar panels regulating the body temperatures. Gator teeth are INSIDE the mouth, crocodile teeth are OUTSIDE the mouth.

There's also a little gift shop/general store on the premises...Sparky just loves these old tourist attractions that are still available to the public and doing ok...This one is exceptional as far as the coolness factor.

After hearing the interesting presentation, it was time for the hatching!

Awwwwww....isn't she cute? Sparky just decided it was a girl...and promptly named her Allie....Folks, meet Allie Gator...just a few minutes old.

It's amazing that when the baby gators are inside the egg, they are wrapped 3 1/2 times around inside the egg, so when they come out, they need to stretch! The hatching stations that we all gathered around have nesting material in tanks, so the babies come out in your hand and then sometimes, they are so slippery, PLOP! Down they go into the material, no harm done. They stretch a little bit, and sometimes, they are really active and try to get out of the tank. A side note, less than 2% of the eggs make it to adulthood in the wild. She's so cute, Sparky thought about kissing her, for one second.

After the hatching, they go into a water tank, and the egg shell and membrane get dragged around with the little baby gator for awhile until it detaches within a day or two. Guess it gives them nutrition briefly still they start eating on their own. What do they eat? Fish, snails, insects and worms to start....

It was a great day at Gatorama, and we definitely will come back for the fabulous experience of holding that egg in your hand and watching it hatch....A big thanks to Alan and Patty Register, the owners, for keeping their ranch/farm open to the public. May they have many more years of success!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Quick Trip

Sparky went to Myrtle Beach for a quick weekend visit to Eldy's sister-in-law. She flew Allegiant, which has very good pricing, just not the best maintenance and schedule adherence. Sparky had never been to Myrtle Beach and enjoyed it. From a very short visit and observation, it seemed like sort of a cross between the Daytona Beach area and Pigeon Forge. Lots of touristy shops, beach shops, the usual sort of thing you see in a beach resort town.

Shell (short for Michelle,) was a terrific hostess. Despite the really hot weather, nineties and humidity, just like Florida, it still seemed not quite as humid as Bradenton/Sarasota, so Sparky got some temporary relief from the oppressive temperatures back home. It rained almost every day and was cloudy, so that helped keep temps comfortable, relatively speaking...We ate, we shopped, we visited the beach.

But we kept it simple...We had one great meal a day....sampling various restaurants in the area.....Mellow Mushroom was, calzones, hoagies and salads. Sparky's Italian hoagie was terrific! Fresh basil, YUM!

They had a very groovy decor going on the inside....Reminded Sparky of the seventies....  :-)

Another day we went to Burgerfi...A terrific burger joint with an industrial vibe...Great burgers and fries served on mini cookie sheet trays....They are a "green" company, recycle lots and seem to be a environmentally friendly company. Sparky was impressed!

We went to Cherry Grove Beach on the northern end of town. The sand was clean and brown...Great pier....The pier is much higher up in its construction, it was a long way down to the water! It had two levels to it.

A fisherman landed a small shark!

The birds were really different there, no egrets or herons, just a lot of what appeared to be grackles. We didn't see any pelicans either...Surprising!

Michelle and Sparky have a ton in common, we never stopped yakking the whole time we were together. Similar family backgrounds, personalities, we were like two peas in a pod....And, we both like to craft...So of course Sparky wanted to go to A.C. Moore, a craft store very similar to Hobby Lobby and Michaels. She managed to find yarn, charms and a few other things for the quiet book she is making for her grandson.

The time passed by quickly and soon Sparky was back home again....crafting....For pictures of her quiet book she is making, check out Millie's Girls, her craft blog on Blogger.