Things went so well with our day of sightseeing and the airboat ride, we agreed to meet our friends again the next day for another boat cruise. This time, it would be a little tamer, but still very interesting...a pontoon boat cruise of the Dora Canal. The Dora Canal, originally known as the Elfin River, connects Lake Dora with Lake Eustis, which are located a little over an hour's drive northeast of where we are staying in Bushnell. After a steamboat captain hired a team of laborers to dredge out the Elfin River in the late 1800s to make it more passable, it became known as Dora Canal. Today the canal is a favorite spot to see wildlife including alligators, wading birds, otters, turtles, snakes, and more. In addition to the wildlife, there are towering, Spanish moss-draped cypress trees, some of which are 2,000 years old.
There are numerous cruises of the canal available that start at any one of several towns along the lake. We picked one by Lake County Waterways because it started from the town of Mount Dora where our friends were staying. The town of Mount Dora is located near the eastern end of Lake Dora. Lakefront property here is quite expensive. As we pulled out from the dock, the captain pointed out the little blue cottage and boathouse to the right that are for sale. The asking price is $1.25 million. And just to confirm, that is the little blue cottage by the water, not the big house behind it up on the hill.
One of the large houses along the lake shore belongs to the originator of Chicken McNuggets. After watching his wife prepare cut-up chicken pieces for their children one night, he refined the recipe and got a patent for it...and then sold it to McDonalds. When the uproar about the danger of trans fats started, he re-formulated his recipe to eliminate trans fat, got a patent on the new recipe, and then went to McDonalds and sold them the new patent. Smart man. :)
Another large house along Lake Dora belonged to a wealthy gentleman who, in the 1920s, liked to throw large parties. The women liked to dance on and on; but the husbands would get tired, so the wealthy host hired a young dancer to dance with the wives to keep them happy while their husbands rested. That young dancer was Buddy Ebsen. Ebsen soon left Florida to form a Vaudville dance act with his sister and he eventually became an actor. He is best known for his role as Jed Clampett on the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies. The house where he started his dancing career is shown below.
On our 5+ mile cruise down the lake to the west end to where the canal is located, we passed a large tree in someone's back yard where a bald eagle had a nest with newly hatched chicks. What a thrill it was to see the mother eagle standing at the edge of her nest!
Once we got to the canal, we had to maneuver under a narrow railroad trestle, then it was idle speed up the canal. We were immediately greeted by low overhanging tree branches draped with Spanish moss. We were impressed at how lush the vegetation was, even though the many cypress trees were still dormant. Cypress trees are conifers; but they are not evergreen, even way down south here in Florida. After passing a few residences at the southern end of the canal, the canal quickly began to look like a wild river through an uninhabited jungle. In fact, the Dora Canal was used to film some re-takes of the river scenes originally filmed in Africa for the classic Humphrey Bogart film African Queen. In the photo below, you can almost imagine you are deep in the jungle.
There were also several small alligators along the banks. There used to be quite a few larger 'gators in the canal, but water levels are down about three feet leaving the average depth of the canal at only about three feet. The larger 'gators have moved to areas where the water is a little deeper and they don't have to worry about overhead boat propellers. The water level was lowered when there was widespread flooding a number of years ago after three hurricanes passed through the area in succession. Of course, they have never had three hurricanes in succession before or since; and now because of the drought, they probably couldn't raise the water level if they wanted to. The alligator in the photo below is probably about 3 to 4 feet long.
We saw dozens of anhingas crossing the lake on our way to the canal. Anhingas (and cormorants, which tend to be more of a salt-water bird) are aquatic birds that do not have as much oil in their feathers as do ducks and geese. Therefore, when the cormorants and anhingas swim at the surface of the water, they are partially submerged. Anhingas are also sometimes called snake birds because when they swim, their exposed necks and heads look like a snake. The lack of oil in their feathers allows the cormorants and anhingas to dive and swim under water to search for fish. After a period of underwater fishing, the birds have difficulty flying because their feathers have become waterlogged. They then must perch with their wings outspread to dry. When we got to the canal, we saw numerous anhingas like the one shown below drying their wings from their fishing trips in the lake.
The Dora Canal is only about a mile long, but what an interesting and beautiful mile it is! When we got to Lake Eustis at the north end of the canal, we turned around and headed back the way we came to the dock in Mount Dora. These three cypress trees greeted us as we made the turn-around at Lake Eustis.
After we got back to Mount Dora, we walked about two blocks up the street (yes, Margery made it both ways on her own) to a nice little Italian restaurant for an early dinner with our friends. A visit to Mount Dora on a sunny, warm Sunday in February is delightful. There are many shops and restaurants...a number have outdoor seating with live entertainment. The photo below shows the view back down toward the dock.
After a couple of days of sightseeing, we were ready to sit a while, but we did need to catch up on laundry and grocery shopping. We are preparing for surgery to resurface Margery's second knee scheduled for February 26. It will be hard after coming so far with the first knee to backtrack with the discomfort of the second surgery, but as we said before, we have to keep our eye on the ultimate goal.