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On the south shore of the Manatee River, 5 miles west of Bradenton on SR 64, then 2 miles north on 75th Street N.W., De Soto National Memorial commemorates the first major European exploration of what is now the southeastern United States.
The expedition began in 1539 when Hernando de Soto and about 600 Spanish soldiers landed somewhere in the Tampa Bay area. Marked by many Native American battles, the expedition covered 4,000 miles to the north and west. De Soto crossed the Mississippi River in 1541 and was buried in it when he died a year later. About half the group survived the 4-year ordeal.
The visitor center contains artifacts and exhibits explaining the expedition's effect on Native Americans. A 21-minute film depicting the expedition is shown hourly. Talks and weapons demonstrations by costumed rangers are given daily mid-December to late April based on staff availability; phone ahead to confirm schedule. There also is a nature trail; guided tours are available based on staff availability and weather permitting. Popular activities include fishing, bird-watching, picnicking and boating. Allow 1 hour minimum. Grounds open daily dawn-dusk; parking lot gate closes at 5. Visitor Center open daily 9-5; closed Jan. 1, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Free. Phone (941) 792-0458.
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Current Location: De Soto National Memorial, Florida