Florida from space photo

FLORIDA: THE SETTING

 

BASICS ABOUT FLORIDA

As Neil Armstrong returned to Earth from his historic walk on the Moon, the first place in the United States he noticed was appropriately Florida, the spot where his mission started. Sticking out into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean in the southeast corner of the country, Florida is just so identifiable. The peninsular was just such a landmark to the Spanish conquistadors who viewed Florida as the front door to their great American Empire and to the beginning of North America.

The story of Florida the geographical place is quite short, a young land mass emerged from the ocean a few ticks on the geological clock. The story of Florida the modern historical place is longer than any other state. It is a story of innumerable different people: Indians and horse soldiers, sailors and pirates, priests and planters, sheriffs and outlaws, politicians and promoters, playboys and migrants, both the retired and the youthful. It is a history of how people from six different traditions - Indian, French, Spanish, English, Southern, and Modern American - came to the peninsula in search of a better life in a land which offered countless unique opportunities well into the twentieth century.

Florida's distinctive geographic location on the southeastern most shore of the United States makes the area part of Southern history: plantations, export economy, slave labor, and states-rights. But a closer look will note that Florida has a Western side. Pensacola is as far west as Chicago and the southern half of the peninsula was as sparsely inhabited by white men in 1860 as the Rocky Mountain states. Florida had its Indian wars, cowboys, fur trappers, gunfighters, and frontier life at the same time as the Western states.


Florida physiography.jpgFlorida rainfall map

FLORIDATHE LAND

While this is a history of the people of Florida, it is still important to denote some important geographical factors. To first observers, Florida is very flat, without notable changes of elevation. Florida, the land, is relatively young by geological standards, rising out of the ocean some 300 to 400 million years ago. A body of water, known as the Florida Trench, separated North Florida from the swampy plains of South Florida.

After 200 million years, when dinosaurs roamed the land, these volcanic mountains eroded leaving a shallow sea where was once the Trench. Masses of sand and fossilized marine shell, called limestone, formed mounting layers of this underwater plateau. These layers finally arched upward to create a marshy plain at sea level, where fossilized bones and shell caused phosphate deposits.

During the Ice Age, one million years ago, the waters of the world filled into glaciers, thus lowering the level of the oceans. Florida grew to twice its present size. Saber-toothed tigers and mastodons roamed the cool swamplands of Florida. When the ice melted, the oceans again rose and cut Florida into terraces and upland plateaus.

In recent geologic history, sandbars have extended the coastline while coral grew along the warm waters. Coral, the skeletal deposits of dead sealife of anthozoan family, protected the southern shores from some erosion. Men made the other drastic land changes by closing off the natural flow of waters in great tidal marshes, by cutting down forest cover, and by filling in many bays and river inlets.

Today, Florida has six major geographic regions that historians utilize to describe regions:

The Coastal Lowlands encircle the state and extend along the shores inland from ten to one hundred miles. The most recent region to emerge from the ocean, the lowlands are covered with forests of saw palmetto and cypress. In the south are the great grass savannas and mangroves of the Lake Okeechobee Basin and the Everglades. The coastal swamps and forests were once threatening obstacles to early settlers; today it is the booming population of settlers who endanger the coastal environment.

Northwest of the coastal lowlands, between the Perdido and Apalachicola Rivers, are the Western Highlands. These hilly uplands of pine forest contain the highest elevations in Florida, a mere 345 feet at the northwestern part of Walton County.

East of these Highlands is a region known as the Marianna Lowlands. In these lower, rolling hills and valleys dotted with limestone sections, are many of the state's oldest farming districts.

Further east, between the Apalachicola and Withlacochee Rivers, are the Tallahassee Hills. This hilly region of live oak and pine forests gradually slope eastward to a small plan and the Suwannee River. This was Florida's first great farming region.

The center of the peninsular contains the Central Highlands. This large, 250 mile region contains rolling lake districts in the North and low grass plains in the South near Lake Okeechobee. This area is dotted by Upland Plains. Each of these regions represented noticeable differences in making a livelihood for its settlers.


FLORIDA'S PHYSICAL UNIQUENESS

Place and position are just two geographic characteristics which had important influences on the story of Florida. Her location between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean assured Florida's significance to the Spanish world. Florida is the American state that is closest to South America, which is to the east of Florida. Florida is closer to the Panama Canal than Texas.

Climate is synonymous with Florida. If Miami were in the Eastern Hemisphere, it could be located on the Nile River. Florida is not only closer to the equator than any other American state other than Hawaii, its location on the southeastern tip of North America means Florida has a humid subtropical climate, with heavy rainfall from April to November.

Without tall mountains, Northern cold waves easily enter the peninsular and drop the temperature below the forty degree mark. Yet, Florida's size and surrounding warm waters modify extremes of temperature. Every spot in Florida is within eighty miles of the sea.

Water shaped nearly every aspect of Florida's development. Florida's coastline of 2,276 miles is, greater tan any other state in the Continental United States. Because of the continuity of the Atlantic currents and the uniformity of sand drifts along Florida's ocean ledge, the Atlantic Coast is an almost straight line of sandy barrier islands. These islands establish a protective intracoastal waterway, but limits large harbors except at inlets near river mouths.

Florida position in USA map Florida position in Americas map

The Gulf of Mexico shore is blessed with larger bays such as Tampa Bay, Apalachicola Bay, Charlotte Harbor, and Pensacola Bay, all capable of becoming a major deep water port. This abundance of rivers and harbors on the Gulf side makes this coastal line long and diverse.

Florida has many rivers on the Gulf Coast, centers of early habitation and transportation. The Atlantic side, however, has Florida's largest river,the St. John's, one of the world's few northward flowing streams. No state can match Florida's number of major springs. Boasting, fishing, and swimming are words that have long been associated with Florida.

And yet, many urban areas of Florida face severe water shortages, a fact that is confusing to the outsider who examines Florida's water resources.


FLORIDA'S NATURAL RESOURCES

All of Florida is located within the region of the United States known as the Coastal Plain. It is actually a series of terraces, caused by shifts of the ocean depths and great changes in climate.

The soils of the peninsular are quite diverse, ranging from well drained, sandy loams and loamy sands of North Florida to the poorly drained peats and muck lands of Lake Okeechobee. The great central orange belt is mainly well drained sands, while the coastal lowlands are of poorly drained sands and loamy sands thinly over non calcareous materials, consisting of mixtures of sand, silt, and clay.

This diversity of soils provides a rich abundance of different vegetation, the most important being the hardwood and pine forests of North Florida. Live oak, red oak, laurel oak, hickory, dogwood, sweet gum, and redbud provided Florida with an early industry.

Florida lacks great amounts of precious minerals or oil, but phosphate provided Florida with a mining industry.

Florida is endowed with an abundance of animal and plant life which not only simplified making a living to the original human inhabitants, but provides important industries for today's Floridians. Over eighty species of land mammals dwell in Florida, from the black bear to the tiny field mouse. Most people, however, remember Florida as the major domain of the alligator and American crocodile, almost extinct in other places of this land.

Four hundred species of wild birds are Florida natives. The rookeries around the lake regions, coastal marshes, and the Everglades attract millions of migratory birds making these places still paradises for bird watchers.

Floridians found the local waters filled with seven hundred species of fish. Fishing is still a vital part of the Florida life style despite the serious pollution of Florida lakes and fish. Record bass, catfish, perch, and trout as well as ocean fish like pompano, snapper, snook, and grouper is well recorded. The big game fish like sailfish and tarpon are famous in Florida.

Much of this environment is challenged by one of the last species to arrive in Florida: man. Despite being the second largest state in area east of the Mississippi River, Florida has become the fourth most populated state. Its long, thin shape places people in vulnerable locations. The state's size often gives Floridians the confidence there is plenty of open spaces. An automobile trip from Key West to Pensacola is 900 miles.

With Florida's near absence of seasons and sunshine, the plant life of Florida is also extensive. While visitors to the state seek out the swamplands for cypress and the lower coast for pam trees, North Florida is one of the great forested regions in the East.

The amount of sunlight and rain allows for the success of almost four thousand species of plants in Florida. History has often shown that plants and animals and reptiles grow too well in Florida. The importation of foreign plants and animals and fish have often had damaging effects of native species. In any case, Florida is a unique and distinctive place.