Alligator on shore of Suwannee River


Florida 2010

Last updated April 11, 2010



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven

Originally, Norma and I planned to go to Florida during the last week of 2009. But a little thing called "buying a house" forced us to change our plans. She paid a good deal of money up front to reserve cabins. We figured that even in Florida it might be a bit cold in the winter and even worse, the days would be ridiculously short so a cabin would be better than a tent. But the campgrounds that held the cabins weren't willing to give refunds due to our change in plans. Instead, they would let us visit on another date within a year.

Hence, we decided to visit in the early spring. We hoped to coordinate with our friend Ralph H. but our schedules didn't quite hook up. He would head out to a different spot just a few days after we returned.

Norma got Good Friday and Easter Monday off from work. I got Easter Sunday off. Thus, we set our visit to be April 2-8, 2010.

Day One, Friday, April 2, 2010

We packed up on Thursday night, April 1, 2010. By midnight, we were on the road. Norma took the first shift driving. She drove until it was time to refill the tank. Then I drove for a tank-full. Then her again. The drive to our destination took about 12 hours without breaks. A few years ago, such a road trip would have driven me nuts. But we've gotten used to long drives and we work well as a team.

As we reached southern Georgia, I noticed that the vegetation changed significantly. Spanish moss hung from the trees and palmetto plants were abundant. Every time we passed over a body of water, I looked for alligators but saw none.

A little after noon on April 2, we arrived at St. Augustine. Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, it is the oldest continuously occupied city established by Europeans. It is also the oldest port in the continental United States. We like places with history and St. Augustine was full of it.

The town was very scenic and full of tourists. Our biggest challenge was finding parking. After looking around, we finally found a spot. The town is small and our hostel was nearby so we decided to hold onto our parking place for the next 22 hours.

Cafe Centro
We ate at Cafe Centro at 51 Charlotte Street. See first photo. The weather was sunny and warm but just right in the shade. We sat outside and watched lizards run by (second photo). After such a long drive, it was nice to be outside enjoying the fresh Atlantic air, sun, and good food.

Pirate Haus Inn
Norma and I checked into our hostel, the Pirate Haus Inn. See photo. Here we met Conrad, a fellow Gulf War vet (Army) who showed us the place and told us everything we wanted to know about the town. See Conrad at Pirate Haus YouTube video. Some of their rooms were full with large groups so I had to sleep in the women's dorm room that housed Norma and some other chick. Lucky me.

The drinking water at the Pirate Haus didn't taste good. It is hard to describe. It wasn't particularly bad but it was nowhere as good as Hanover or Sacramento water. Unfortunately, I found the water on the rest of our trip in Florida to taste the same. Drinking it with ice made it better.

It felt good to be settled in.

Norma and I set out on foot to explore the town. We saw numerous old buildings. It seems most every structure had a story. Several were made of coquina, which is described as a concrete made of sedimentary rock mixed with crushed shells. From a distance, coquina looks like stone. See first and second photos. But close up, one can see great detail. See third and fourth photos.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
We stopped at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. This is America's first parish, founded on September 8, 1565. See photo.

Lightner Museum
Continuing onward, we passed the Lightner Museum. See photo.

Ponce de Leon Hotel
Our next stop was the Ponce de Leon Hotel. See first, second, and third photos.
This magnificent structure was erected between 1885 and 1887 by Henry M. Flagler, the hotel and railroad magnate whose activities contributed greatly to the development of Florida's eastern coastal area. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, the building reflects the Spanish Renaissance style throughout. The hotel was the first major edifice in the United States to be constructed of poured concrete, a mixture of cement, sand, and coquina shell. The interior is decorated with imported marble, carved oak, and murals painted by Tojetti and George W. Maynard. Its stained glass windows were created by Louis Tiffany of New York. The Ponce de Leon Hotel was the flagship of the Flagler hotel system which soon extended all along the east coast of Florida.
- from sign outside of hotel

But how did Henry Flagler end up in St. Augustine?
In 1878, Flagler's first wife, Mary, became very ill. On the advice of their physician, Flagler and his wife visited Jacksonville, Florida, for the winter. Sadly, Mary's illness worsened, and she died on May 18, 1881, at age 47. Two years after her death, Flagler married Ida Alice Shourds. Flagler remembered Florida and soon after their wedding, the couple traveled to St. Augustine. Here they found the city quaint, but the hotel facilities and transportation systems inadequate.
Flagler recognized Florida's potential as a resort destination and began planning. Though Flagler remained on the Board of Directors of Standard Oil, he gave up his day-to-day involvement in the corporation so that he could pursue his interests in Florida.
He returned to St. Augustine in 1885 and began construction on the 450-room Hotel Ponce de Leon. Realizing the need for a sound transportation system to support his hotel ventures, Flagler purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax Railroad, the first railroad in what would eventually begome his Florida East Coast Railway. He demonstrated his personal commitment to St. Augustine with the construction of his private residence, Kirkside, immediately west of the Memorial Presbyterian Church.

- from sign inside of hotel

Walking around town, we found the vegetation interesting. I remember seeing palm trees growing up in Sacramento but there were many more in this part of Florida. See first and second photos.

There was also a good bit of Spanish Moss hanging from the trees. This is something I'd never seen before. It gave the place quite an exotic look. See third photo.

Castillo de San Marcos
Our last stop for the day was the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. See first and second photos.
This masonry fortification, the oldest in the continental United States, anchored the St. Augustine defense system (city wall, Supplementary lines, and outposts at Matanzas Inlet, the St. Johns River, and St. Marks). The Castillo replaced the last of nine successive wooden forts which, since 1565, had affirmed Spanish dominion and protected Spanish shipping returning to Spain.
- from sign at monument

The fort eventually changed hands from Spanish to American control.
In 1821, the United States assumed control of Florida and federal troops occupied the fort. It was renamed Ft. Marion, for the Revolutionary war hero Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox."
In order to modernize the fort's defensives, the east portion of the moat was filled in and modern artillery was installed.
The middle structure of the moat is a "Hot Shot Furnace," used for heating cannon balls to fire at wooden ships.
Ft. Marion remained an active military post until 1900.

- from sign at monument

We walked around the structure but it was too late to go inside for a tour.

Outside, in a nearby field, a young child played with a kite, Further away, a wedding was in progress. It was a good day to be outside.

We ended the day with a modest dinner at Casa Mayan, just a short distance from the hostel.

Day Two, Saturday, April 3, 2010

St. Augustine is quite a remarkable town. Unfortunately, much of it is falling to ruins. So if you plan on visiting, do so soon...otherwise there might not be anything left.
Preserving the historical structures and countless buried artifacts is prohibitively expensive. For the city to acquire and sustain them all would take tens of millions of dollars, and this tiny town has an equally tiny property tax base.
- from Florida Lonely Planet

We were up at 0630 ready to face the world.

Conrad made us pancakes with our names on them. We ate in the common area kitchen with the other guests.

We would have loved to stick around the hostel longer but we wanted to make the most of our last day in St. Augustine. Norma and I walked back to my car and unloaded our bicycles. We biked across the Matanzas River to Anastasia Island where we would spend half a day.

St. Augustine Yacht Club
Our first stop was the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. We arrived a bit early so we walked over to the St. Augustine Yacht Club founded in 1873. We have no interest in yachts but it was a good place to see the water and walk around. We saw numerous pelicans, a bird that I've never seen in Maryland. See first photo. From the yacht club pier, we had a fine view of the lighthouse (second photo).

St. Augustine Lighthouse
Once the lighthouse opened for business, we took a self guided tour. They gave us audio devices that played at various points of interest. The first part of the tour took us on a short trail through dense vegetation. We saw some pretty flowers. See first photo.

Next, Norma and I climbed all 219 steps (second photo) to the top of the lighthouse (third photo). This building was quite the engineering challenge.
Florida's soft sand and drifting coastline posed serious problems for the United States Lighthouse Board. Brick lighthouses in the state often proved too heavy for the land to support and collapsed into the sea only a year or two after they were built. St. Augustine's coquina and shell base provided a firm foundation, and in 1874 the lighthouse was completed. It is the city's first and oldest surviving brick structure.
Constructed of brick and iron, St. Augustine's cone-shaped tower rises 165 feet above sea level and is still topped by a red lantern with its original, first order Fresnel lens. The tower's interior is lighted by nine windows and features eight flights of cast iron spiral stairs that provide access to the rotation room and observation deck. Two hundred and nineteen stairs are climbed before reaching the top.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse took three years to build and was illuminated for the first time on the night of October 15, 1874.

- from sign in lighthouse

The view from the top of the lighthouse was spectacular. See fourth photo.

After leaving the lighthouse, we visited the keepers' house which was turned into a museum housing artifacts from the era when the lighthouse was active.

Unlike many of our other week-long trips, we did little trail hiking. While the vegetation is interesting, Florida is quite flat so I didn't think we'd get many scenic vistas. But we did walk on a few short dirt trails.

We biked to Anastasia State Park and walked on a short trail that was once part of an old Spanish coquina quarry. This coquina was used to construct Castillo de San Marcos which we saw yesterday. But it found its way to other structures also.
Once the fort was well underway, coquina was made available for the construction of royal government buildings and private homes. By 1764, more than a third of St. Augustine's homes were made of coquina stone. Another 40% were made of tabby, an oystershell concrete.
- from trail sign

A wide variety of plants were seen including more Spanish Moss (first photo) on the trail and some kind of cactus (second and third photos) that was seen at St. Augstine beach.

Later, we walked on the Ancient Dunes Trail.
This trail leads through a series of old sand dunes that were formed by wind and wave action during a time when the ocean extended farther inland than it does now.
Through the ages, the process of life, death and decay has gradually enriched the sand so that now a forest stands where once only sea oats could survive.

- from trail sign

Numerous ferns were seen but the most interesting was the resurrection fern (fourth photo).
The resurrection fern is probably the most abundant epiphytic fern in Florida. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic.
The fern is found throughout the state, usually on the branches of old live oaks growing in shaded hammocks. During periods of drought the fern shrivels to a dormant, dense, brown mass and appears lifeless. After rainfall, the dried ferns "resurrect" into a lush, deep green fern.

- from trail sign

Palm plants were seen most everywhere we went. See fifth photo. Walking by them in shorts wasn't a problem unless we encountered saw palmetto.
This plant gets it name from the saw-like teeth on the leaf stem. It played an important role in the lives of the Indians and the early settlers of Florida. The dark berries and leaf buds were eaten, and the roots furnishing tannic acid used in tanning leather. The fragrant blooms furnish a rich source of nectar for honeybees.
The saw palmetto grows best in open sunny areas and is well adapted to areas which frequently burn.

- from trail sign

In addition to wooded trails, Norma and I also walked along a couple of beaches. I like beaches where I can find things like horseshoe crabs, sea anenomes, etc. But these were just "lie out in the sun and get a tan" beaches which don't generally hold my attention. I much prefer the trails.

Ravine Gardens
We left the St. Augustine area that afternoon, heading west. We stopped at a produce stand to pick up some fresh, locally grown fruit. I had high expectations for the oranges.

Norma and I stopped at Ravine Gardens State Park. Once again, we unloaded the bicycles and set out to explore on bike and foot. We rode on the paved parts then locked up our bikes when exploring the dirt trails. There really wasn't that much paved path so I think it would have been easier to explore the whole place on foot. It seemed like we spent too much time locking and unlocking the bikes.

Ravine Gardens is a national gold medal winning park. For that matter, most of the parks we visited in Florida were National Gold Medal Winners. I had never heard this term until our trip. To the best of my knowledge, Maryland has no parks that are gold medal winners (or silver or bronze for that matter).

I learned a little history about the place.
The gardens were developed by the City of Palatka, the Federal Civil Works Administration (CWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression from 1933-39 in an effort to spur the economic recovery of the City of Palatka. Azaleas were chosen as the theme flower of the gardens because of their brilliant bloom during the tourist season. By 1934 over 95,000 had been planted by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) workers.
- from park pamphlet

At our first stop we spotted a lizard that would run, then stop and inflate a sack beneath its chin. The sack was red. See first photo. I'm assuming it was a male advertising for a mate.

In the lowland area of the park we found a spring. See second photo. This was the first of many springs we would find. The water was crytal clear and cool.
There are over 300 springs in Florida, more than any other state in the United States and more than any other country in the world.
-from Canoeing and Kayaking Florida

The park was home to many flowers. Of course there was the familiar azalea that the park was famous for. See third and fourth photos. I grew up with these so they reminded me of my home in Sacramento. But there were also flowers that seemed more exotic...though since I really don't know my flowers, I suppose I would label most that way. See fifth and sixth photos.

The park had its share of ferns. See seventh photo.

In addition to the flamboyant lizard, we also spotted a woodpecker. See eighth photo.

Riverside Lodge - Evening
We continued our drive heading west.

Florida is known for having several invasive species. It seems that critters show up and flourish. But nothing prepared me for what we saw on our drive. Off to my left in a fenced-in field, I saw zebras!

Norma and I checked in late at the Riverside Lodge RV Resort and Cabins in Inverness. We had a tiny little mobile home unit (cabin). It had a small bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen, and living space. It had all the comforts of home but in a smaller space. We were quite pleased with the accommodations. But what made this place really memorable was all the animal noises. We heard a plethora of frogs and other critters from our cabin which was only about 10 meters from the water...a part of the Withlacoochee River.

We also saw something quite remarkable at our cabin. There was a light just outside of the door that attracted numerous insects. There were also several green frogs lying in wait for these insects. See first photo. It seems they're smart enough to know where the bugs are every night.

That night I ate some of the best fish I ever tasted at Fisherman's Restaurant, just a third of a mile from our cabin. We ate both grilled and blackened swai fish. We were hoping for something local but ended up eating this fish from Japan instead. We also ate lime pie. Again, we were hoping for Florida key lime pie but ended up with something from further away. But it was good too.

Day Three, Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010

After a good night's sleep, we awoke to another bright and sunny beautiful day.

Our goal for the day was to paddle on the Withlacoochee River. We could take out at our campsite. But where to put in? I had some ideas that I ran by Norma. We could do a 7 mile route starting at the Outlet River which connects Lake Panasoffkee with the Withlacoochee. Or, we could do a 15 mile trip launching at Route 48. Norma opted for the latter.

The Withlacoochee River (south) is said to have been named after its sister river to the north, but the two rivers are separated by many miles and bear little resemblance to each other. The southern Withlacoochee, one of Florida's finest touring rivers, is more than 100 miles long with 84 miles of good canoeing trail. While there is a great deal of development along some of its banks, there are also long stretches of beautiful and remote wilderness. In addition, the characteristics of the river are continually changing so that every day of paddling presents a new and different river experience.
-from Canoeing and Kayaking Florida

Riverside Lodge - Morning
Norma and I walked around the campground, checking where we would land the boat. We walked across a bridge which was just 10 meters from our cabin (first photo) to Discovery Island. On this island were wooden platforms for pitching a tent. Two men and their dog made this their home for the night. The island was quite buggy, swampy, and shaded. I would hate to be there in July.

On the island, I saw an exotic looking bird with a bent beak. See second photo. Across on the mainland, I saw the campground boat ramp and various other cabins (third photo). Things looked pretty well maintained.

Later, we spoke to the owner, a woman from Germany. She and her husband were planning on having a group of kayakers rent out one of the big cabins. Their rates were really good after spring break and before summer vacation, especially if the cost could be split amongst several people. Unlike the Maryland and Delaware state campgrounds, they were open to the idea of clubs visiting. With so many places to paddle in the immediate area, I think this place might make for a nice group base camp.

Withlacoochee River
I walked the bridge over the river and spotted the first of many turtles. Its shell was about 16 inches long.

The view of the water and shoreline was peaceful. See first photo.

Norma and I launched my Ocean Kayak Cabo at Big Fish General Store and Deli at 8271 West C 48, Bushnell, Florida 33513-8072. There was a $5 fee. This put us just downstream (north) of Nelson Lake.

There was a very slight current, not more than a half mile an hour. This made the water mirror-like against the wooded shoreline. See second photo.

This trip was a bird-lover's paradise. See third and fourth photos. We were able to get quite close to some of them. What made many of them especially interesting was their calls. The monkey-like voices of a few made it seem like we were kayaking through a jungle.

With so many feathered critters, it was inevitable that we would find some nests. See fifth photo. They were a bit hidden amongst all the Spanish Moss.

Some parts of the river reminded me of Maryland and Delaware. In particular, the large and numerous cypress trees (sixth photo) were a familiar sight. But while seeing them so far north was unusual, our here they were common.

For miles there was often no shoreline on which to stand. The trees grew in the water and one would need to meander in waist deep water a good distance before coming to solid ground. This made it a bit challenging when I had to pee. I found that standing on the kayak and aiming off the side worked well.

We saw virtually no litter. See seventh photo. But that doesn't mean there wasn't pollution. There were a good number of air boats. Like all gasoline driven power boats, they emit exhaust. But the worst part was the noise. They are far louder than a jet ski. I lost count of how many we was too many. Had it not been for them, our trip would have been a peaceful one.

I found it interesting that these fan boats could travel not just on shallow water but also on land. While we portaged over a little peninsula, they simply went over it via a ramp. See eighth photo.

But there was one good thing about the fan boats. While I brought my global positioning system (GPS), I failed to upload high resolution topographical maps of the region. Hence, I the unit did not show the river or any terrain features. I saw only major roads which was of little use to us on the water. The river often branched various directions. With the current so weak, it was often difficult to determine which way was downstream. But by following the fan boats, I knew what parts were the main sections of river.

Regarding non-bird wildlife, we saw two alligators. One was in the water. We saw its head and nostrils moving. Then it went under. I reckon the distance between its eyes and snout was about 17 inches. The other gator was closer to the take out on someone's waterfront backyard. It looked about 5.5 feet long from snout to tail. When it saw us, it swam to the water to get away. I've seen alligators at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. They were never aggressive or very big so I was not concerned for our safety as long as we kept a reasonable distance.

Norma and I also came across something we had never seen before. Can you guess what these are? See ninth photo. Each egg is about 2-3 millimeters in diameter and the whole cluster is about 5 inches long. Ralph identified them as eggs from a channeled apple snail. Unfortunately, they are an invasive species. We did see some adult snails in the water. They were about 3 inches in diameter.

In the last 3 or so miles, the river widened and the dense treeline was broken up by a few homes.

Withlacoochee Trail
We carried our kayak about 70 meters from the campground ramp to our cabin. Just outside our door, we spied on a green lizard. See first photo.

Norma took a quick nap while I called my parents and went for another stroll on Discovery Island. I saw yet another large bird. See second photo.

Feeling refreshed for the second half of our adventure, we unlocked our bicycles, locked up the boat, and rode out to retrieve my car.

We biked west to Inverness. Along the way, we passed some wetland areas. I spotted two more alligators. See third and fourth photos.

In Inverness, we headed south on the Withlacoochee State Trail, a 46 mile long rail trail, presently the longest paved rail trail in the state.

We passed Fort Cooper State Park

In Floral City, we got off the trail and continued the rest of our ride on route 48, heading east.
This city is said to be a slice of "Old Florida" that remains relatively intact. The town was named Floral City for its abundance of wild flowers, which are still plentiful today.
- from Wikipedia

Biking on the main road through town, we passed numerous large oak trees. I was told that a mayor in the 1800s gave residents a tax break if they planted oak trees. It cost the town a good deal of revenue but many might say his insight paid off. See fifth photo.

We finished our 17 mile bike ride with plenty of daylight to spare.

Our next stop...dinner. We wanted something regional. Cuban sandwiches sounded interesting but unfortunately, the restaurant that served them in town was closed. It seems like most every other restaurant was closed too for Easter. Hence, we returned to Fisherman's Restaurant. We did a carry out and ate on our cabin porch. After a long day of physical activity, we were a little too sticky and sweaty to eat indoors.

Day Four, Monday, April 5, 2010

The goal for the day was to see and if possible, swim with the manatees. Hence, we woke up at 0630 then drove 26 miles to the Plantation Dive Shop in Citrus County where we paid $5 to use their boat ramp. In the dive shop, we spoke to the staff who gave us a pamplet of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is special in that it
...aids in preserving Florida's most significantly naturally occurring warm water haven for manatees and provides critical habitat for approximately 20 percent of the manatee population in the Gulf of Mexico. Six hundred million gallons of fresh water flow daily from more than thirty natural springs. The temperature of the water flowing from the springs remains a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
- from refuge pamphlet

Prior to launching, we were required to watch a short video about manatees and the laws that protect them. Basically, we can watch them but not pursue them. But we can let them come to us if they so choose. We were definitely in the right place as
Citrus County is the only place in the United States where people are allowed to snorkel with these beloved creatures [manatees].
- from "The Water Lover's Florida - Citrus County, Florida" pamphlet

Norma and I paddled out to Banana Island. On the south side of it was King Spring and a manatee sanctuary. But the sanctuary was only in effect from November 15 to March 31. This is because during the cold season, the manatees like to congregate closer to the springs due to the constant temperature of the water. Now that it was April, the manatees were more distributed throughout the refuge.

Several commercial tour boats took tourists out to swim and see manatees. These are actually West Indian manatees, not to be confused with the West African manatee, Amazonian manatee, or dugong. I joined many of them (tourists, not manatees) in the water to swim around the spring. They all had wetsuits but I found the water comfortable without one as long as I kept moving. The spring area was fairly clear. I saw numerous fish. But I could not feel any water coming out of the spring. Other than the fact that the area was very deep, I wouldn't have even known a spring was there if I hadn't seen it on the map.

We continued kayaking, heading north. After passing Buzzard Island on our left, we turned to the east. The area was nice but not particularly scenic. There were lots of waterfront homes and compared to the Withlacoochee River, there seemed to be little wildlife except for an occassional turtle. But this all changed once we got near Cutler Spur Road.

Norma and I saw a float that looked like something a Marylander would use to mark their crab pot. But this float was moving and changing direction. As we approached closer, we saw a 5.5 foot long manatee underneathe. See first photo. The float was a tracking device with a lanyard tied to the manatee's tail. The manatee stopped and we kept the boat about 25 feet from it. I then got in the water with my dive mask, snorkel, and fins. I could see it clearly in the water, which was only about 4 feet deep. The curious manatee then approached me (second photo). It brushed up against me and I rubbed its back (third photo). Algae was growing on its topside (fourth photo). If you were to ask me how it felt, I would say that it felt like how it looked. Not as smooth as a dolphin but not rough either. The manatee swam by me several times. I floated on my stomach to get a good view of it in the water. When I stood up, it brushed its whiskers against my ankles. It was a very curious creature.

Our new friend swam off. Then I got back in the boat and Norma tried a bit of snorkeling. See fifth photo. She was pleased at how clear the water was compared to the Chesapeake Bay.

Paddling onward, we saw the same manatee again. It was eating algae growing on a concrete wall (sixth photo).
They manatee, or sea cow, feeds 6-8 hours a day, eating approximately 10 percent of its body weight in plants. It tears off plants with its flexible upper lip.
- from park sign

Not seeing any more manatee on the east side, we kayaked back to Banana Island. We clung to the north side of the island, looking for more wildlife. Nothing particularly interesting about the area in terms of scenery.

Then, we saw another beacon. We swam alongside it, keeping at least 30 feet between us and it. This manatee was much larger. With it, we saw yet another. I reckon this third one was about 10 feet long. I got in the water, which was now murky, and hoped to make another friend. But these manatees had no interest in us so we continued on. Just how big do these creatures get?
Adults are generally 9-10 feet long, weigh on average 800-1200 pounds, but can weigh more than 3000 pounds. Evolved from land mammals over 60 million years ago, the manatee's closest living relative is the elephant.
- from park sign

Heading back to the boat ramp, a tour guide on a boat gestured to snorkelers. I knew a manatee was in the area. We stuck near them for awhile and saw manatee number 4. We only saw it when it came up for air a few times but based on the size of its head, I would say this was the biggest one yet. How long must one wait for a manatee to surface?
Manatees breathe an average of every 2 to 4 minutes, but can stay submerged 15 to 20 minutes when at rest.
- from park sign

We spent almost 5 hours putzing around via kayak and swimming. Unlike most of our other boat trips, we didn't have a particular destination so we only put in 7 miles. But we accomplished the mission and had fun doing it.

Three Sister Springs
Sometime after seeing manatee number one but before manatee two, Norma and I did more paddling. The day was warm and sunny so there were lots of tourists out. Unlike our Withlacoochee River trip in which we were the only kayakers, we saw hordes of paddlers. Add to this a large number of tour boats, each carrying 5-15 passengers. Fortunately, these boats were fairly quiet, slow, and didn't produce much exhaust. There were more tourists than I could shake a stick at, but the biggest concentration of people was at a 7 foot wide, 4 foot deep waterway through the trees. While Norma remained with the boat, I set out to investigate on foot and fin to find out what this was.

I swam through a shaded, narrow, 50 foot long opening. At the other end I emerged to some of the clearest water in which I've ever swam. See first photo. I rushed back to get Norma. The two of us then paddled our way (along with several other kayakers) to this hidden oasis that I later learned was Three Sister Springs. See second photo.

I let Norma don the mask, snorkel, and fins while I stayed with the boat (third photo). She too was amazed at the clarity of the water.

On the north side of this body of water was another very deep area. This had to be the spring but as with King Spring, I felt no water coming out, even when I dived down. I'm guessing it was 20 feet deep. I don't know if I had the lung capacity to reach the bottom but even if I did, I don't think the pressure on my ears would have been tolerable.

There wasn't much wildlife in the area but what was there was quite used to being around humans (fourth photo).

This was way better than swimming in a pool.

Rainbow Springs
After our adventures in the Crystal River area, Norma and I ate at Cracker's Bar and Grill. It was just o.k.

We drove north to our next campground. Along the way, we stopped at Rainbow Springs State Park. This is the home to one of Florida's largest springs, and the headsprings of Rainbow River.

In the 1920s, Blue Springs and Blue Run were favorite spots for tourists and locals. As the attraction grew, the river was dredged for glass bottom boat tours; and waterfalls were built on piles of phosphate tailings. A zoo, rodeo, gift shops and monorail with leafshaped gondolas were added. In the mid-1970s, when larger theme parks lured the tourists away, Rainbow Springs was closed. In the mid-1990s, it reopened as a state park.
- from park pamplet

We passed some small waterfalls: Seminole Falls, Rainbow Falls (first photo), and some other falls whose name I didn't catch (second photo). They were scenic but knowing they weren't exactly natural took away quite a bit of the intrigue. Seminole Falls was built in 1937 utilizing soil dredged from a nearby phosphate pit while the 60 foot tall Rainbow Falls uses water that gets re-circulated from the river.

There were a few trails in the park. They looked nice but the place didn't quite feel right. I guess it is because I knew people made such an effort to modify the natural landscape for tourism rather than to work with the natural beauty of the area.

But while things on land were not quite to my liking, the water most definitely was. I swam in Rainbow Springs, see third photo. It was late in the day and the sun was low in the sky. Hence, things weren't quite so lit up beneathe the water as at Three Sisters Springs. Also, not expecting to swim, I didn't bother to bring my mask or goggles and I dare not open my eyes underwater for fear of losing my contact lenses. Thus, I really couldn't tell you what things looked like down below though I expect that it was beautiful. A big section was marked off specifically for swimming. I swam out to the far side and back. I was not able to touch bottom easily.

I got out, then Norma got in. Just as she did, a park ranger came by to tell us that the swimming area was closed.

After being in the Chesapeake Bay or any of its tributaries, I feel a need to wash off as soon as I get home. But these springs in Florida made us feel clean and refreshed. It made my hair soft too.

Where does the water from the springs come from?
Below Florida's surface soils is a thick layer of limestone. Over many centries, acidic rainwater has slowly dissolved cracks and tunnels into the porous limestone, forming a Swiss cheese-like appearance. As a result, the limestone is like an enormous rock sponge saturated with fresh water. This huge underground reservoir is known as an aquifer. The aquifer, is one of our most important freshwater resources, supplying water to cities as well as thousands of home, industrial, and agricultural wells throughout north Florida.
- from park sign

Walking back to the car, we saw some kayakers near the headsprings (fourth photo). I wondered if they were staying at the park campground, 6 miles away. It was a good day to be on (or in) the water.

Suwannee Valley Campground
Our day ended when we checked in late that night at Suwannee Valley Campground in White Springs. It was a 2 hour drive from Crystal River to here. This place was quite the opposite of our cabin at Riverside Lodge. Our cabin at Suwannee looked reasonably nice from the outside (see photo) but inside, some of the paneling was coming off the wall, the floors creaked, the air conditioner was noisy, and according to Norma, the place smelled bad. My nose isn't as sensitive as hers so I just take her word for it about such things. The cabins are advertised as being "fully equipped" but there was no stove, plates, cups, or flatware. I guess next time we'll have to get more clarification as to what "fully equipped" really means.

Day Five, Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We didn't hit the rack last night until late so we decided to sleep in a bit and take an easy day in preparation for our long paddling trip tomorrow.

Today would be a day of exploring and scouting launch sites on the Suwannee River. I had my maps but we still needed to verify if the launch sites actually exist, check the flow of the water, and determine the best bicycling route to get from the boat back to our car. If I was planning on doing a multi-day trip on the Suwannee, I'd probably buy the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail Paddling Guide which supposedly can be purchased on-line at Suwannee River Wilderness Trail but I didn't see any mention of it there. This booklet of maps lists the phone number 800-868-9914 as a point of contact. I saw it for sale at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park gift shop.

Scouting the Suwannee River
Norma decided to see if we could terminate our stay at the smelly cabin early. While she spoke to the management, I scouted the best launch site at the campground. There was a wooden fishing pier that we could launch from across from the office but it would be quite difficult to carry the boat down with all the stairs. Our cabin neighbors were fishing there. One was complaining that they had no hot water. Evidently, Norma and I weren't the only dissatisfied campers.

About an eighth of a mile upstream near a tent site there was a small path that led down to the water. It was the perfect place. I reckon the current was about 1.75 miles per hour. The river looked about 60 feet wide. It was black from all the tannic acid...quite the contrast from the springs. See first photo. The river was scenic and peaceful. I had high expectations for the river.
The Suwannee is Florida's contribution to the great rivers of the is one of the South's last examples of "Old Man River."
Access is limited, and the wildlife is abundant.
There are 22 major springs on the Suwannee.
Almost every tree indigenous to north Florida can be seen at some point on the Suwannee.
I [the author] have paddled this river from top to bottom in one trip and proclaim it as the finest touring river in the state and a first-rate adventure when paddling in its entirety. Moreover, the Suwannee River is easy, leisurely paddling for even a novice canoeist.

-from Canoeing and Kayaking Florida

The plan was to paddle from our campground to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. This was about half the route described in the "Stephen Foster S.P. to Suwannee River S.P." trip in the Canoeing and Kayaking Florida book. Not surprisingly, the authors gave this paddle the highest rating in terms of scenery.

I met back with Norma after she spoke to the campground management. We were only scheduled to stay at our cabin for 3 nights and we had already been there one night. They said they could refund one night's stay so we would only need to stay there one more night.

We headed out to check the take out at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. This campground was very big and commercial. They had a launch site at the Suwannee Canoe Output. We explained to an employee (probably the owner) that we planned to paddle to his boat ramp tomorrow from the Suwannee Valley Campground then ride our bicycles back. I asked if we could lock our bikes up at his business today and retrieve them tomorrow. He said yes then asked if we knew that our paddling route was 20 miles long and I said we did. We paid him four dollars to use his boat ramp tomorrow. We locked up the bikes and I marked the boat ramp in my GPS.

It wasn't until today that I saw my first snake. I was driving and saw it crossing the road. Initially I thought I ran over it but I saw it slithering across in my side view mirror. This would be the only snake I would see on our trip. I don't know what kind it was.

We were starting to get hungry. The Music Park has its own restaurant but it was closed so we bought some microwaveable food at the campground country store. The day was getting warm but it was comfortable in the shade.

We visited a couple of macaws in a large cage outside at the Music Park Craft Village. See second photo. One said a few of which was "ouch." There was a sign on the cage that warned to keep fingers away because they bite. I wonder if they bit lots of people who screamed, "Ouch" enough times for it to become part of their vocabulary.

The last thing was to determine the best bike route back. We studied the maps and drove around a bit until we determined that sticking to route 132 and 25A most of the way were our best options. Route 25A was moderately scenic and while it didn't have much of a shoulder, it also had very little traffic and some shade.

We were ready and eager to start tomorrow's adventure.

Stephen Foster
Near our campground was the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. We paid the place a visit, not really knowing what to expect. This park is totally unlike any other I've been to. Most state parks have a few trails, campsites, and maybe some scenic overlooks. But this park
...honors one of America's most influential composers and celebrates Florida's cultural traditions.
In 1931 Josiah K. Lilly...suggested a memorial to composer Stephen Foster, whose song "Old Folks at Home" made the Suwannee River known all over the world. The Florida Federation of Music Clubs adopted his idea and obtained contributions of land in White Springs, Florida. The Stephen Foster Memorial Commission administered the development of the park, which opened in 1950.
Stephen Collins Foster was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826. Before his death in 1864, Foster composed more than 200 songs.

- from Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Our first stop was the museum which housed several dioramas depicting scenes from some of Foster's most popular songs. It is here that I realized just how many of his songs I actually knew. I think my mother sang a few but most I knew from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. But Bugs would sometimes change the words. For example, instead of singing, "I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair," Bugs would sing, "I dream of Jeannie she's a light brown hare."

Next we stopped at the gift shop where Norma bought a compact disc of some of Foster's most popular songs. In that same area, we walked around the craft square.

Then we went to the boat launch. We didn't plan on stopping here tomorrow but it was a short distance downstream of our launch site so I figured it would be good to check out the river. It was about the same width as where we would launch and land and the water was flowing at about the same pace. See first photo. I spoke to a family that was about to put their canoe in the water and asked them about their trip and experience on the river. They were doing a primitive canoe camping trip which they had done before. They assured me that there were no downfalls and promised us that we would have a good time.

It was getting time for the Carillon Tower (second photo) to play some of Foster's music so we went inside to hear. As it turns out, one only sees how the tower operates inside. To hear the music, we had to go outside.
Nearly 20 years of planning and preparation culminated in the erection of the 200-foot high campanile and selection of the carillon by the Memorial Commission. The half-million dollar carillon tower was completed in 1957. Commission members traveled many thousands of miles over a period of many months auditioning all types of European and domestic bell instruments before selecting the American-made carillon to become the musical voice of the park.
The 97-bell carillon - one of the largest musical instruments ever produced in the Western Hemisphere and the world's largest tubular carillon in number of bells - was installed during the summer of 1958. It was a total cost of just under $120,000.
The largest, low C bells weighs 426 pounds each and are 12.5 feet long; the smallest, high G bells weigh 69 pounds each and are 3.5 feet long.
The huge wood rack which supports the entire 27 tons of 97 tubular bells, striking actions and dampers, meatures 21 feet high, 15 feet long and 11 feet wide.
In 1991 efforts began to restore the carillon to its majestic splendor. Enough funds were finally raised in 1992 to restore one set of 32 bells. Restoration of the first set of bells was completed in April of 1993. Additional efforts continue to raise approximately $250,000 to complete restoration of the final 65 bells.

- from "The Stephen Foster Memorial Carillon" pamphlet

Madison Blue Springs
I wanted to swim in another spring so we drove to Suwannee River State Park to swim in Lime Spring. Upon arriving, we asked where to swim and the park ranger told us there was no swimming in the park. But she did give us a printout with directions to Madison Blue Springs State Park. This park contains one of the state's 33 first magnitude springs.
The largest springs are called "first-magnitude," defined as springs that discharge water at a rate of at least 2800 liters or 100 cubic feet (2.8 cubic meters) of water per second.
- from Spring (hydrosphere)

This spring is a popular place for swimmers. There is a diving platform (about 10 feet high) as well as steps down to the water. It is very clear and deep. There was no way I could reach the bottom in this spring. Interestingly, like the others, I could not feel water coming out.

Madison Blue Springs is sometimes called Blue Springs. The problem is that there are many places called Blue Springs so one needs to be more specific. To avoid confusion, "Madison" often prepends the name. This one is on the west side of the Withlacoochee River. Both Norma and I swam a bit in it...but not for long as the sun was getting low. See photo.

I later found out from Madison Blue Springs that the place we swam also has an underwater cave.

White Springs
That night I looked for contact lens solution. In and near the small town of White Springs, this was quite difficult to find. Eventually I found some at the Dollar General store. Lesson learned: Don't assume I'll easily find what I need to buy in a small town.

We also looked for a place to eat dinner. Not many choices and it was getting late. Fortunately, there was a little hole in the wall called Fat Belly's that met our needs. Can't beat their prices either. I loved their catfish.

Day Six, Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today would be our most physically active day and the longest paddling trip the two of us had ever done together. Also perhaps one of our most memorable kayak trips.

Paddling the Suwannee River
We launched at 0830. There was a mist over the water. See first photo. It was cool but not so cold that we were uncomfortable or in need of neoprene.

Like every other day so far in Florida, it was sunny.

Some parts of the water had some foam on top that made it easy to estimate the flow and speed of the current.

In addition to the usual cypress trees, palmetto plants, and Spanish Moss, we also saw what I call "Swiss cheese rock" lining the banks (second photo). Based on my reading of Canoeing and Kayaking Florida and subsequent web searching, I determined this was limestone. It was full of holes and crevices. In places where water dripped down from the limestone, moss often grew.

I've read that canoe camping on the Suwannee is easy. On some rivers, it is often difficult to find a place to land and pitch a tent but that was not a problem on this river. There were numerous places with open sandy beaches, just big enough for a small or medium sized group. See third photo. I could easily see a kayak or canoe club paddling all 266 miles over 8 or 9 days with primitive camping along the way.

Development along the river is minimal. That is because the
Suwannee River Water Management District acquired these lands through the Save Our Rivers and Preservation 2000 land conservation programs for flood control, water quality protection and natural resource conservation.
- from sign at Suwannee Springs

There were a few streams that flowed into the Suwannee. We investigated some, thinking that they might harbor a spring. But their water was not flowing and it was as black as the Suwannee. No spring there.

About a third of a mile upstream of highway 75/route 93 we saw our first alligator of the day on the south side of the river (fourth photo). It was about my size in length. It was resting on one of those beaches that I thought would make for a nice campsite. I took lots of photos before it slithered into and swam away in the water.

On the other side of the river from the gator, quite a bit of water was flowing out a stream. Norma and I went over to investigate. Kayaking upstream, we concluded we found a spring. Unlike the others we encountered, this one was REALLY pumping out water. Eventually, the force of the water became too strong to paddle upstream any further. We pulled the boat ashore then continued exploring on foot (fifth photo). The limestone walls were sometimes 10 feet high (sixth photo), which on this spring-fed stream just 10 feet wide, gave the place a rather exotic feel. Climbing to higher ground, we pushed through thick palm vegetation to find the headspring. Some of these plants were saw palmetto, so if we weren't careful it would rip our skin. We walked a fair distance but never found the headspring. But I could easily picture it in my mind, gushing out water like a small geyser. It was what I expected a first magnitude spring to resemble. This water was reasonably clear (seventh photo) compared to the Suwannee (eighth photo). I later found out the place is called Louisa Spring.

Returning to the Suwannee (ninth photo), we saw another (or perhaps the same) alligator back on the beach. See the photo at the top left corner of this page.

Further downstream, yet another gator was seen. This one was only about 4 feet long.

We continued looking for more gushing spring-fed streams but found no more, just some small streams (tenth photo). We explored one and found a hiking trail. I believe it was part of the 1400 mile long Florida Trail. See eleventh photo. Walking on this trail, Norma observed that many of the ant hills out here were built differently than the ones we knew in Maryland. Instead of being volcano-shaped, many of these were like half-volcanos. See twelfth photo. Not sure why.

Norma and I stopped for lunch on a white sandy beach. See if you can find her in the thirteenth photo. It seems the sand out here is of finer grain and whiter than most beaches. We were surprised just how white it was considering the blackness of the river.

As we neared our take out, we came to Suwannee Springs. This was the
site of the Suwannee Sulphur Springs health resort at the turn of the 20th century. Flood wall remains and encloses spring from the Suwannee River.
- from Florida Atlas & Gazetteer

Despite the prominence of this spring, it was hardly impressive. If the rock walls surrounding it did not exist, I would never have known it was there (fourteenth photo). The water was as black as the Suwannee and I saw no movement of water.
The springhouse was probably established around the time of the civil war. People came from all around the east coast to partake of the "healing spring waters" which were rumored to cure everything from gout to marital problems. From the civil war to the 1920's the site had a succession of 4 wooden hotels, a bath house, and many private cottages. A special spur railroad line was established just to handle the tourists to the springs. The last hotel burned in 1925 and with the decline of the railroads the resort faded away.
- from sign at Suwannee Springs

As we approached our last bridge, highway 129/route 51, we noticed a brave (or perhaps foolish) person crossing on its highest structure (fifteenth photo). I expected him to jump and wondered just how deep the water was. I knew it was quite deep but probably not enough for a bridge jump. In the end, he did not jump.

By 1530, we finished our 23.5 mile kayak journey. We saw perhaps 2 other small boats (canoes/kayaks) and a few swimmers on a beach near the end. I think I saw maybe 2 power boats (not air boats) and almost no litter. For most of our adventure, there were few signs of civilization. This was a fantastic trip if you want to get away from it all and enjoy nature almost untouched.

Biking from Suwannee Spring to White Springs
Norma and I were tired from a long day of kayaking but had to get back to the car. We unlocked the bikes, locked up the boat, stowed the gear in the hatch, and started biking back to our campground.

The sun was getting low which put us in the shade most of the time.

It was rush hour but we encountered very little traffic.

In White Springs, we stopped at the unimpressive White Sulphur Spring. See photo. Like Suwannee Springs
White Sulphur Springs was once a popular health resort, attracting large numbers of poeple to drink the water and bathe in the spring. An early advertisement claimed the water cured everything from rheumatism and indigestion to dandruff and insomnia.
Constructed in 1908, the building [surrounding the spring] housed a concession area, clinical examination and treatment rooms, and dressing rooms on either side of the bathing area. Mechanical gates were used to keep the river from entering the bathing pool.
Even before the town took root in the 1800s, White Sulphur Springs was deemed a sacred healing ground by Native Americans. For them, these waters held special medicinal powers. Warring tribes set aside their differences, allowing each other to drink and bathe in the mineral water without fear of attack.

- from information sign at White Sulphur Spring

What happened to Suwannee and White Sulphur Spring? I'm guessing that in addition to the decline of the railroads, with modern medicine, the popularity of the springs and snake oil doctors dwindled. Regarding the springs themselves,
Until the 1970s, White Sulphur Spring bubbled up an average of 34,000 gallons of water every minute. Today, due to changes in the aquifer, the spring only flows after the Suwannee River floods and recharges it.
- from information sign at White Sulphur Spring

After 17 miles of biking, we were back at our campsite. It was a flat and easy ride but considering our fatigue, it was more than enough.

Lake City
It is nice to stay in a cabin because it is like camping with all the conveniences of a motel. But when the cabin sucks, it is better to just check into a motel. So that is what we did. Motel 6 in Lake City charged us only $43 after taxes for one night. It was basic, simple, and clean.

Norma and I ate just down the street at Bob Evans. Our waitress said good things about our destination tomorrow: Ichetucknee Springs State Park. She also gave rave review of Ginnie Springs which we didn't visit but might if we return.

Day Seven, Thursday, April 8, 2010

Our final day in Florida would be spent on the Ichetucknee River.
Ichetucknee is one of the most scenic waterways in north Florida. There are nine named and many unnamed springs along the first 3.5 miles of this river. They provide a leisurely current that makes paddling effortless over the crystal-clear water, white-sand bottom, and the myriad spring vents and pools.
- from Canoeing and Kayaking Florida

As with our trip on the Suwannee, the authors of Canoeing and Kayaking Florida gave this route their highest rating for scenery.

Kayaking the Ichetucknee River
Norma and I began scouting. Some teenagers were getting ready to launch their river tubes at Dampier's Landing while a couple was preparing to paddle upstream. See first photo.

We decided to launch at the north canoe launch, take out at the last take out, then bike back to the start.

At the take-out, I spoke to some canoeists who claimed that they saw a family of wild pigs just before landing. This gave us something to look for.

In contrast to yesterday's long trip, this would be a short one. Can't wear ourselves out too much if we're driving back to Maryland during the night.

I've always been told that when out on a warm, sunny day, I should stay hydrated. But this was difficult on the Ichetucknee because the park adamantly states that no food or beverages are permitted on the river. This was contrary to everything I've ever been taught about the outdoors. Fortunately, most of the trip was at least partly shaded and the spring-fed water always remained cool. Once we actually got on the water, I sort of understood (but didn't necessarily agree) why they might have such restrictions on food and water. This was by far the clearest river I'd ever seen. When I've done my Patuxent River cleanups, I've picked up lots of trash on the shore. But the trash at the bottom of the Patuxent remains left behind, unseen. Here, one could easily see the bottom so any litter would be there for all to see for a very long time.

On the water, we saw numerous fish. Someone said the large ones (about 14 inches long) are mullet. I saw countless mullet in schools of about a dozen. There were also scores of much smaller fish.

After less than a mile, we explored a little lagoon off to our right which I am almost certain was Devil's Eye. Clearly it was a spring. We got out to swim (second photo). Like all the other springs we encountered (except Louisa Spring), I could not feel any water coming out. The water was refreshing.

Turtles were abundant. I believe they were Florida cooters. Many were not camera shy. I don't think I've ever been in a place with such a high density of turtles. See third and fourth photos.

We saw a few pretty flowers (fifth photo) and large birds (sixth photo).

Some of the eroded limestone formed mini-caves. See seventh photo.

The scenery on this river was as good as any I've ever seen. It would really be hard to top. See eighth, ninth, and tenth photos. The GOOD thing is that anyone can do it. It would make a nice beginner trip and one can rent boats or river tubes nearby. The BAD thing is that anyone can do it. Hence, the park states
Arrive early as we have a daily limit of 750 tubers per day at the North Entrance off CR 238.
Access to Mid-point closes at 4:00 p.m. or when carrying capacity reaches 2,250 tubers which ever comes first.

- from Ichetucknee Springs State Park - Activities (broken link as of 2016)

I HIGHLY recommend paddling this river during the week in the off-season...and start way early. We encountered some crowds downstream of Dampier's Landing but it wasn't too bad. Still, had we launched earlier, we might have enjoyed more solitude.

As we neared the end of our kayak trip, we looked for wild pigs. Just when we thought we would see none, we heard a snorting noise just 15 meters before the take out. We paddled off to the right into a sheltered area and I stood up on the kayak. I saw a wild piglet, about 16 inches long. Norma saw it too. It was walking around alone. Something (perhaps all the people on the river) scared the s**t out of piglet and he took off in a sprint into the woods. Seeing the piglet was an unexpected surprise and a good way to end our paddle.

It was an easy, relaxing, and highly scenic 3.6 miles of kayaking.

Bicycling in Ichetucknee Springs State Park
After unlocking the bikes, locking up the boat, and stowing our gear, Norma and I started riding back to my car.

We started out heading west on a paved path that paralleled highway 27. Then we turned right (north) on Sand Hill Road. This road had almost no shoulder. Did I mention that I made sure to always ride wearing my blaze orange vest and helmet? Well I'm glad I did.

Next we turned right (east) on 256th street which changed names a few times. We passed an interesting sight...a herd of cows with a few dozen egrets. See photo. It looked as if they had some kind of symbiotic relationship worked out but what it was I know not.

Turning right (south) into the park, we finished our easy 7 mile bike ride.

Springs at Ichetucknee
Back in Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Norma and I walked on the Blue Hole Trail for 0.4 miles. It led us to Blue Hole Spring, a VERY deep spring. See first photo.
Blue Hole is the only first magnitude spring of the nine named springs that feed the Ichetucknee River. Old timers call it "The Jug" because of its unique shape. Water that flows out of Blue Hole passes through the neck of the jug. The body of the jug is 40 feet deep, and leads to a complex underwater cave.
- from park sign

Before we walked the trail, we didn't think to bring our swim clothes or equipment. So we walked back and got our gear. But the sun was getting low so instead of swimming at Blue Hole, we swam in Ichetucknee Head Spring (second photo) which was near my car. We swam around for quite awhile, seeing several fish. Norma even saw turtles swimming! We swam in quite a few places over the last several days but this was the best. For a long time, we even had the whole spring to ourselves. Superfantastic!

If I were to return, I would consider buying a case for my camera so I could take it underwater. Photos from the surface don't do these springs justice.

This was the last day of our adventure. We agreed that it was also the best.

After leaving the park, we stopped in at Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins to get a bite to eat. There we met the owner (I'm assuming he was the owner). He was quite outgoing, friendy, personable, extremely positive, and a little eccentric. His business has cabins, tent camping, group discounts, canoe/kayak/tube rentals, and shuttling. He told us that if we left Florida with sand in our shoes, we would be back. When I got home, I found sand in my shoes. I look forward to returning.

Norma and I drove back during the night, taking turns driving while the other slept. The only heavy traffic we hit was near Washington D.C. We had a great time in Florida...but it was also good to be home.