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Cocohatchee Cruise

Most people don't give the slender Cocohatchee River a thought as they speed over it on U.S. 41.

But just west of the main highway in north Naples, the Cocohatchee Nature Center offers up-close-and-personal contact with the still-serene waterway in a 40-passenger boat that makes five trips a day. Meandering to Wiggins Pass at the Gulf, the 75-minute journey takes passengers on a tour of the burgeoning area's marinas and condominiums as well as the occasional mobile-home park.

But there are lots of natural wonders to behold as well: mile after mile of pristine mangroves, bald eagles or ospreys overhead carrying a fish or nesting material, and socially forward dolphins making showy displays, chasing the boats and leaping out of the water.

Each boat captain also serves as tour guide, explaining what used to line the river's banks before Naples existed. The woolly mammoth roamed the region during the ice age. The fierce, independent Calusa Indians spent time here, too. And explorer Juan Ponce de Leon made his way into the area in the early 1500s. He not only failed to find the fountain of youth for which he searched, but was fatally wounded in a clash with the Calusas.

And then, of course, there are the spectacular natural shows each evening as the sun sets. Not surprisingly, that's the most popular trip of the day.

Cocohatchee Nature Center Boat Tours offers five trips a day, weather permitting, at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and sunset. The cost is $16 per adult, $8 for children younger than 12. The center is on U.S. 41, a mile north of Immokalee Road, Naples. Reservations recommended. Call 592-1200.

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