The DeSoto National Memorial is located 5 miles west of Bradenton, Florida, and commemorates the 1539 landing of Hernando DeSoto on the Florida coast. The DeSoto expedition is considered to be the first extensive, organized exploration by Europeans, of what is now the southern United States.
In 1539, Hernando DeSoto, along with an army of over 600 soldiers, arrived in 9 ships full of supplies---220 horses; herd of pigs; war dogs; cannon; matchlock muskets, armor, tools, and rations. They were following orders of King Charles V of Spain, to sail to La Florida to "conquer, populate, and pacify" the land.
The Memorial is operated by the National Park Service and has a visitor center, where folks can actually try on reproductions of the 70 pounds (or more) armor that the Conquistadors wore on their marches. Do you recognize this modern-day conquistador, trying to take a "selfie" in the Visitor Center?
The mission statement of the Memorial says it exists to "preserve the controversial story of this exploration of America by the Spanish, and interpret its effect on American history". The grounds of the park include nature trails, living history demonstrations, fishing areas, picnicking areas, bird watching, clean restrooms, and a fascinating Visitors Center/Bookstore. There are many special events held throughout the year, and you can find out more by visiting www.nps.gov/deso/index.htm . There is no charge to visit the park.
There are numerous picnic tables and benches located throughout the park, that enable the visitor to sit and contemplate how this place must have looked when the early Spanish explorers first set eyes on it.
Adjacent to the Visitors Center, an area called Camp Uzita depicts a 16th century encampment. Between the months of December and April, there are daily demonstrations of various living history programs. On the day I visited, a re-enactor was giving a demonstration of the various weapons used by the conquistadors. This included the actual (VERY LOUD!) firing on a reproduction musket firearm of the era.
The well-maintained nature trail winds along the peninsula where the Memorial is located, and goes alternatively through mangrove forests, open beach, and marshes.
Several small beaches are located within the park, and provide access to the current of the Manatee River and the waves of Tampa Bay. However, one beach called "Cove Beach" is more sheltered from the waves and current, and that is where I saw small pleasure boats taking advantage of the popular temporary anchorage that is allowed in that area.
When the trail leads through marshy areas, or highly sensitive vegetative locations, board walks have been built that not only keep the visitors' feet dry, but also protect the natural habitat.
I enjoyed looking for shells as I strolled along this section of beach. It was, in fact, a large pile of shells found in this area, that alerted archaeologists to the historical significance of this location. The pile of shells---called a midden---were left by the Native Americans who originally inhabited this location. They would use the organism inside the shell for food, then discard the empty shells into a pile. Later, the discarded shells might be used to make tools, needed for the daily tasks of survival in this maritime environment.
A large memorial is located near The Cove Beach that recognizes the significance of the 3 Jesuit friars that accompanied the DeSoto Expedition. Catholic Spain of the 16th Century had a strong missionary zeal, because they had been engaged with struggles against the Muslims for the last four centuries. Therefore, they were eager to convert those in the Americas to become Catholics, rather than Muslims.
Seeing the large cross as I approached the Catholic Memorial, brought to mind the history I had read on the placards throughout the park, that spoke of all the insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties that those Jesuit friars ( and those they accompanied ) endured during their four-year expedition. It was the perfect visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse that says, "For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10 . As a native of Arkansas, I studied about Hernando DeSoto, in my required Arkansas History schoolroom classes, so I knew that DeSoto had explored in Arkansas, and that four years after arriving in Florida to start his expedition, he had died of "a fever" in Arkansas, in a place now known as Ferriday, Arkansas. However, this visit to the DeSoto National Memorial very much broadened my knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the DeSoto Expedition, and gave me "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia
(Editor's Note: I want to say a big THANK YOU to the ladies behind the front desk of Cedar Cove Resort (www.CedarCoveResort.com ) on Anna Maria Island, for telling me about the DeSoto National Memorial. When I mentioned to them that it was my first visit to this part of Florida, they suggested The DeSoto Memorial as a great place to visit---and they were right! Sometime I would like to go back and spend more time at the lovely, seaside Cedar Cove location, but for now I will just have to use this photo I took from their beach, to take a "pretend vacation in my mind" when I yearn for the beaches of the Gulf!