My Blue Springs: A Love Story in Pictures

This was our third springs trip of the season; our first, to Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist County.  Everyone knows this is my favorite springs of all – so far.  I’ve been to many, and enjoyed most of them, but nothing compares to Blue.  It’s like my first springs-love; the one you never forget.  The one you remember for always with a special place in your heart.

There’s so much about this place that makes me happy, and I’m not the only one who loves it here.  Its natural beauty thrills me.  Its cool, clear waters invite me  every time.  Fins and mask in place, I dive deep over the vent, or swim down the spring run, through the underwater plant life where the freshwater fish live.  There’s life in that water, and some 24 million gallons of it burst forth from the aquifer every day.  Maybe more.  I know it’s a second-magnitude spring, which staggers me as I’d have thought it a first.  But whatever.  It’s a wonderful place to take the family as there’s something here for everyone.

Privately owned, well-kept in a rustic atmosphere, that’s what I love about this place. The sandy beach entrance.  The quarter mile boardwalk that follows the spring run to the Santa Fe River.  The canoes or kayaks you can rent if you want to head out and explore life along the river.  A few smaller springs on the property, my favorite being Naked Spring for its natural beauty and intimate feel.

The pictures tell the story here.

This little spring is called Naked Spring.  Backstory on Naked Spring is here. These pictures were taken from its small, floating dock. Most picturesque. Unfortunately, there was a guy standing on the dock when I approached. I lingered, hoping he’d leave, so I could enjoy just a few minutes there, alone with my camera.  No such luck.

Above, the quarter mile boardwalk that follows the spring run to the Santa Fe River.  Many times, I’ve swam in the run out to the river…and back. You need your fins for this as the current is definitely a challenge. Upside? You can stand up in the water if you’re tired!  It’s not deep.  I feel strong and invigorated when I make this swim.  Also, the water temp between the spring run and the river is markedly different.  You swim into the river and instantly it feels ten degrees warmer.  You hang out in the river for a while, swimming about and treading water (fins make it all so easy).  Then, you know you have to swim back.  It’s like someone’s turned the hot water off in your shower, the minute your body leaves the river and enters the spring run again.  Yowsa.  Keep moving, you’ll get used to it!

See how the current flows in the spring run?

Big Blue Springs: quiet.

Second Springs Visit of 2011: Ichetucknee River

Last week, we took a group of Japanese students and their teachers to see one of Florida’s most pristine rivers and popular natural attraction: the Ichetucknee River and two springs – the headspring and the Blue Hole.

The Japanese were guests of three families from our school, and were visiting the States for their participation in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.  Our Odyssey leader requested to host a ‘homestay’ team and we were matched with this lovely group from Japan.

The teachers were a husband and wife team, both older than average.  “Like grandfather,” the Japanese man told me.

He’ll be 71 this week.

The students are middle schoolers.

And they were all delightful.

The only real English speaking person was his wife, Mioko.  The families who hosted took them to the beach a few times, down to St. Augustine, to the Alligator Farm, shopping, boating, had pool parties, and played Kinect on the X-box. No English required!

I attended the parties, and of course, the trip to Ichetucknee, which I anticipated greatly.  I didn’t even bring my camera.  Gasp!  I snapped a couple of pics with iPhone, and that was it.  

Our Japanese guests paid for all our tubes and rafts.  We needed the tube center’s van to haul them to the park (usually we have them tied onto our cars and they just retrieve).  We had a quick picnic lunch and then it was off to the river.  Oh, after a long school year and a HOT week in Maryland, by the time we got to the river’s edge, I dove into that crystal clear 72 degree water, and the cares of a long school year melted away.  I  do love being in the water.

Since we’d chosen one large raft (I had two girls in my care), and a single tube for me, I brought my snorkel gear and fins down to the river, having a place to keep them if I decided to use them during the tubing float.  I made sure I had extra twine, for tying things (like my flip flops) onto the raft.  I put my fins on right away which was a smart move. We’d rented the large raft because one of the two girls thinks she “doesn’t want to touch the water”  in this lovely clear river. The two agreed to share the raft, while I’d take the tube.  Once we’ve been on the river for 20 minutes or so, it’s ‘abandon ship’, and Jeannie’s left to corral three (how did I end up with three?! ) tubes and the large raft,  and keep us moving as a group.  It’s easy to get ahead of your friends on the river, if one’s a tentative tuber. There is some effort (not much, certainly easy and do-able; but one can’t be completely passive) involved in keeping your tube or raft floating down the center of the river.  It’s easy to drift from side to side, and the riverbank is lined with trees and logs and all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies that I do prefer to enjoy from the center of the river.  But I don’t freak out if the tube drifts and I have to push off from the bank.  I just preferred to keep the flotilla moving down the center of the river, so I did have to do some ‘against the current’ swimming, to go back and help someone, or ‘steer’ the raft along while also holding onto tubes so they didn’t drift away. Thank goodness I was using fins for it made all my in-the-water helping out possible.    I tied my  tube to the mother ship (raft), and soon, I’d tied the other two tubes, as well.  Thus accomplished, our group  (by now we’d acquired a third girl!) was now free to enjoy the river or the tubes, and I only had to assist one thing instead of four!  Now, it’s all good.  I loved being in the water, swimming along with my fins, for a good part of our two hour float.  After a while I got out to drape myself over one of the tubes and let the river take me…oh, that’s SO nice.  This is what’s so great about the Ichetucknee River tubing experience. One can swim, snorkel or float; or one can rent a small tube with a bottom on it, with a head rest and arms – there are options at the various tube rental places that dot the highway close to Ichetucknee State Park.

The larger group of Japanese kids, other adults and kids from our school were having a blast floating and swimming and log-rolling (really!) for nearly two hours, until we reached the stopping point.  Then we drove out of the south entrance and seven miles around the park to the north entrance, where the headspring was located; the Blue Hole, a second spring, was about 1/4 walk into the woods.  It’s well worth it to see (and swim in, if you’re a swimmer) both of these springs, when you come to Ichetucknee. Why drive all this way and not visit the actual springs?    Each has a different environment, and a different swimming experience, if you have a mask or goggles and can view the underwater world.  The springs create clear, freshwater ‘lakes’ or ‘large swimming holes’  with a ‘boil’ or ‘vent’, and a fair amount of fish to look at too, if you’re snorkeling.  I watched underwater as the Japanese kids swam with gleeful abandon in the Blue Hole.

After another, last swim of the day in the Ichetucknee headspring, it was time to make the two-hour drive home.  The two girls in my car were asleep before I drove out of the park, and never stirred until I reached the neighborhood.

It was a good day.

Springs Season 2011 Officially Open!

The spring run at Blue Spring, in Volusia County.


The big day was Sunday, April 10!  By officially open that means when I go underwater in a spring.  As it happened, I was passing by Blue Spring State Park, and was determined not to miss my chance to see it, photograph it,  and have a full body immersion.  It was a 93 degree April scorcher, after all.

So far, my heart belongs to Blue Springs in Gilchrist County, near the town of High Springs, and so my springs-lovin’ friend refers to other springs also named Blue Springs as ‘Volusia Blue’ or ‘Lafayette Blue’ or ‘Madison Blue’ . There’s a small spring in Levy County also called Blue Springs, and I’ve actually visited that one.  Nice, but… it’s not my Blue Springs.  I’ve heard great things about the other Blues, so I’m keeping an open mind. Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County is well known for being the manatee migration site, when the winter waters of the St. John’s River become too cold for their liking.  They’ll leave the chilly river, and come into the spring, where the water temps are 72 degrees year round.  They hang out here for a couple of months, until the river warms again, and off they go.

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Park website – Blue Spring Park)

Schools send busloads of children on field trips during the winter months for manatee viewing. It’s April, so  the manatees have departed and now the humans  flock to Blue Spring.  There’s nothing like a cool spring on a 93 degree day. Last Sunday, there was already a line of cars waiting to enter the park by the time we arrived, later in the afternoon.  Note to self: avoid weekends if possible, and arrive early in the day. Still, this park can handle a crowd, without it feeling too crowded.  That’s a plus!  Because we’d arrived later, and I hadn’t brought along my usual snorkeling gear, it was a limited experience.  You don’t have to be a snorkeler to enjoy the springs.  Most people – kids and adults – are content to splash and swim about the water, perhaps renting (or bringing their own) tubes for a short float from the ‘put in’ point to the ‘exit’ point of the spring run.

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Park website – Blue Spring Park)

We rented a tube and enjoyed a nice float along the spring run; about a 15 minute ride.  After that we swam in the spring run, going with the current, to the ending point.  The spring run is shallow; adults can stop and stand up in the water.  Swimming against the current is doable but fins are definitely recommended.  Even with fins, it’s a good swim to reach the spring head.  I love swimming against the current in other spring runs, but not so, this day.  I’d come woefully unprepared; it was a spontaneous visit, but very fun. I never pass up a chance to see a new spring!  Still, I’d have wanted my mask or at least, goggles, so I could view the spectacle of the spring vent and other tiny fissures where the water bubbles forth from the aquifer. So, I didn’t make it to the spring head from the water.

Instead, I walked along the lovely, shaded boardwalk; a 1/3 mile through the shaded hammock of hardwood trees, from the  St. John’s River, along the spring run, and ending at the viewing platform of Blue Spring itself. Oh, how I’d have have loved to be in that water, where fewer people were swimming.

(photo courtesy of Florida State Parks website – Blue Spring State Park)

It’s a large spring surrounded by trees, naturally maintained.  I’m not so fond of retaining walls built by  state or county parks that create a pool-like effect around a spring, but I can appreciate its purpose.  This enables visitors to perch along the edge and dangle their feet in the cooling waters. (Not everyone wants the full immersion experience!)  Or, they may sit, partially in the water,  on the shelf that’s built below the rim. Just like a nice swimming pool.  They’re lovely,  but it’s the rustic springs I’m drawn to…where the aquatic life flourishes and fish are plentiful. Retaining walls tend to restrict the growth of flora, and therefore, there’s fewer fish swimming about.  I’d prefer to look at fish and plant life underwater, rather than people jostling about!  Still,  there are springs for everyone’s preferences here in Florida.

So, no, I did not have the camera on hand to photograph this place.  Due to time constraints I had to make a choice, so  I left it in the car, and dove into the water.  Later, I took a few macro shots while my daughter waited in the car for me to finish, so that curtailed my photography fun. I snapped a few macro shots of the Spanish moss, and continued on the long drive home.  It had been a busy weekend already.

Macro Monday, Spanish Moss on Sunday

Yesterday I was in Volusia County where I finally visited the famed Blue Spring State Park. More about the spring itself in my next post.  Today, it’s all about the Spanish moss.

When you read such phrases as, “The trees were dripping with Spanish moss,”  well, today, that was all I could think of when I first saw the grand, old live oak that stood with the three-story home of Louis Thursby behind it, in this picture.  The home was constructed, truly, back in the day, and that day was in 1872.  Now it’s open to park visitors who may tromp through its wooden plank floors and imagine what it might’ve been like to live in such a beautiful location in what was surely a beautiful home…even if it didn’t have air conditioning.

On the bank where the St. John's River meets the Blue Spring run.

A 93 degree day in April 2011 kind of makes me think I probably wouldn’t be loving Florida quite so much, before God created air conditioning.

This tree is so mighty and I love how it contrasts with the house from this angle.

Moving underneath the grand live oak looking up…it’s raining Spanish moss!

Walk a few yards over the lawn and you’re on the 1/3 mile boardwalk that follows the St. John’s River into the spring run and ends at Blue Spring itself.  It takes you through a shady hammock of hardwood trees, the Spanish moss like textured veils, framing the view of the river and spring.

Come along with me as I get closer to this moss, so evocative of Southern trees; a delight to this transplant from the North for the first several years.  I still appreciate its character even while I’m accustomed to the landscape now.

Framed by Spanish moss

Spiders and other bugs work their delicate magic amidst the fluff of the moss.

Somewhere I read that back in the day, mattresses were stuffed with Spanish moss. Which sounds nice, until the historian said that bedbugs were a problem, too.  I guess it’s to be expected, after all; it’s obvious there’s plenty of insect activity going on here!

Delicate strands of Spanish moss wrap themselves around thin branches.

Spanish moss dancing in the breeze (above) and in the sunlight (below).

Beachlife Springtime

The weather’s been fantastic these past several weeks, and my beach season 2011 opened officially the day I put on my black bathing suit a couple of weeks ago,   and spent a glorious afternoon on the white sands of my beach.

Yes, it still fits.

No, I won’t be posting any pictures of me in it.  Well, all right.  Here’s me, waving goodbye to the weekend last Sunday.

It was a perfect day; a bit on the cool side, but we know that summer’s heat and humidity is on its way.  That’s when we give thanks for Florida’s springs;  many are located within ‘day tripping’ distance and we’re already talking about our first trip there.  I say we go in May.  Last year, we went to my favorite, Blue Springs Park, to kick off my birthday weekend and had a heck of a great time. I recall that I captured my experience here, and that it was a sort of ‘life list’ moment for me.  When I first discovered the tiny  Naked Spring on grounds at Blue Springs, I was enchanted.

There is so much to do and discover in this region.  The kids in the carpool were discussing our summer day-trippin’ plans just this afternoon.  We have a sort of  travel posse: a gaggle of kids and various hangers-on,  together with three or four other cars full of moms, their kids, friends, coolers, fins, masks,  towels, sandwiches, sunscreen, snacks, a watermelon, cash, and whatever else we need to make our longish journey there and back in a day. We leave early and come home late.  There are about four of us adults, and we’ve all touched base recently and signed on for another summer of exploring and fun!  I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for reports of our adventures.

And I may have some special destination reports here soon.  Plans are afoot to take Atlantic Beachlife on the road…

Suwannee Springs Park Locks Guests Inside

Atlantic Beach, Fla. Three women with ten children between them were locked inside the Suwannee Springs Park near Live Oak, Fla. last Thursday evening.

They responded to the caretaker’s ‘twenty-minute warning’ when he wandered to the river’s edge and reminded all park guests of the 7:00pm closing time.

We spoke to one of them after the incident.

“We gathered up our things and proceeded to our vehicles,” said Jeanne Marie, who preferred not to give her last name.  “We were managing the kids and packing the cars with our gear.”

Jeanne Marie remembers hurrying, and the other women doing the same.  “We respected the closing time, like we would anywhere.  We were doing our best to pack things up, change from wet bathing suits, and drive out of there.”

The park caretaker, an unidentified man, ambled about the area, muttering.  One of the children from the group had gone into the temporary sanitary facilities to change into dry clothing.

“That man kicked at the door with his foot,” the boy’s mother, another of the women involved in the event remembered, “He yelled menacingly at my son, frightening him.”

Jeanne Marie was not aware of this.  She recalls just hurrying everyone to get the car packed up in order to drive out by 7:00.

“He could see that we were in the process of leaving.  There was no doubt we were on our way out of the park within a few minutes,” she said.  She helped another friend toss things into the back of her mini-van, in an effort to comply with closing time.

It seems that their efforts were in vain.  When the first of their three car caravan reached the gate at 7:04pm, they were greeted by this:

“We were incredulous,” Jeanne Marie told us, “that man actually locked the gate with us inside the park.”

Unable to fathom such a thing, Jeanne Marie approached the gate to inspect it closer.
“It was locked all right, ” she recounted, “double padlocked, in fact.  That man purposefully locked three women with ten minor children inside a county park.  We are from the Jacksonville area, close to one hundred miles away. We were stunned that he would do such a thing.”

Gobsmacked, the women stood outside their cars, wondering what to do.  Moments later, a fourth vehicle, a truck, pulled up behind them.  Jeanne Marie spoke to the occupants, a young woman and her mother in bathing suits, with a small  child in the back seat.  Jeanne Marie explained their predicament.

“The woman told me she planned to drive through the woods, around the gate.  I was concerned about this, as there appeared to be no path, and plenty of trees and underbrush to impede the movement of our 2-wheel drive vehicles.”

The woman, a local person, had no time for such concerns.

“I ain’t waitin’ for no police to show up.  I’m takin’ my truck thru and this ain’t no 4-wheel drive, neither,” she told Jeanne Marie.  “Y’all can follow me through.”

Jeanne Marie remembers feeling uneasy about the plan as the woman proceeded to bust her way through the woods.  “At one point her truck got stuck, but she gunned it, burned some rubber, and did make it out to the road.”

Jeanne Marie was still unconvinced that her own citified mom-van would perform like a truck and was deeply concerned about taking the risk.  Another of the women in their party offered to go next, while the woman in the truck had gotten out and together the four of them tromped about the woods to identify some sort of pathway.

There was no pathway.

The ten children, in the meantime, thought it was a great adventure and helped themselves to snacks and drinks, the older ones proffering useless ideas of their own of how to break out of Suwannee Springs park.

One of the women in their group, driving a Nissan Sentra decided she would make a try for an escape through the woods.  She did not have the same success as the truck.  She got stuck about halfway through and there was no moving it from there.

The woman with the truck offered to push her truck into the car, in an effort to release it, but Jeanne Marie said no, and that is when she called 911.  The woman with the truck appeared to want to rough things up a bit.  “She told me it was a new truck and she wanted to push my friend’s car out of its stuck position.  She was pregnant, smoking and willing to get aggressive on our behalf.” Jeanne Marie declined her offer.

It appears the 911 operators were waiting for this call, as they seemed to know exactly what had happened. Jeanne Marie recalls they told her, “M’am, the park closed at 7:00pm.”

This was when she became angry, Jeanne Marie said, “I told them that the caretaker could plainly see that we were making every attempt to comply with closing time.  It’s not like we were ignoring him, still swimming in the river or lounging on the beach.  We were hastily packing our cars and herding children.  He could see that.  I told them that our first car reached the gate at 7:04pm and found it locked, and would they please send help.”

Jeanne Marie and the other women could not believe this had happened.  “Who does this?” they all wondered in disbelief.  Two of the women experienced the caretaker’s disagreeable tone of voice as they were packing up; he was blatantly hostile when he kicked the door to the ‘port-a-potty’ and yelled at an eleven-year-old-boy who was changing, inside.

While waiting for Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputy to arrive, the ten children became restless, accidentally stepped on fire ants, and were beginning to feel afraid as the night came upon them.  One of the members of their party needed to use the ladies’ room, so she called for privacy and squatted on the side of the road.

“I won’t out her, ” laughed Jeanne Marie, “but she clearly underestimated the slope of her chosen area.”  It seems her stream of urine flowed like Suwannee River, in front of her and across the entire road, instead of discreetly behind her and absorbed into the dirt, as she intended.

To kill time and keep the children from becoming afraid, Jeanne Marie made them line up for a photo to commemorate their predicament.

When the Suwannee  County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived with keys in hand, he was genial and blase about the incident, Jeanne Marie reported.  She, on the other hand, was incensed that a park official would actually lock guests inside, ostensibly to be stranded all night long.  “I hate to play the ‘women and children’ card because it’s just not right no matter how you look at it.  He had guests who were obviously making every attempt to comply with closing time.  He could see that.  He could also see that we were three women with ten children between us, and the chaos involved in wrangling the bunch into the vehicles.  He was there, witnessing the entire situation. I didn’t even notice the fourth car,  who were also two lone women with a child, until they pulled up behind us at the gate.”

“He obviously did it spitefully, ” Jeanne Marie stated.  “I’ve never heard of such a thing.  I mean, think about it.  If you’re shopping at Nordstrom and it’s 9:00pm, do they lock you inside the store all night long?  Or Wal-Mart, for that matter?”

Suwannee Springs Park is located in a remote area where cell phone reception is spotty.

Another curious part of the incident is that the park caretaker had slipped an orange notice under the windshield wiper of the truck, but made no attempt to give it any of the three women or place it onto their vehicles.  Jeanne Marie believes he did not do this because he could see they were within minutes of departing and were already loading their vehicles.

It was only after the truck made it out and the Nissan Sentra got stuck and they were waiting for the Sheriff and AAA to come that Jeanne Marie approached the truck, snatched the orange paper from the woman’s windshield wiper and read the notice herself, which only exacerbated her anger over the situation.

“If he’d at least given us the notices, it would have saved us from feeling lost and panicked, and my friend would not have taken her car into the woods in an effort to escape.  We could have simply called the number provided on the notice to ask for our release,”  she explained.  “I don’t know why the woman in the truck didn’t grab it and read it herself but she didn’t.  I only noticed it on her windshield after she’d made it through the woods and my friend was stuck.

Jeanne Marie finds it curious that the ranger did not provide them with any idea as to how to get out of the park.  She thinks that the woman in the truck was probably not at her vehicle like they were,  just before closing time.

“He knew we were complying, just a few minutes late,” Jeanne Marie told us. “He could have handed us the notice so we’d have known who to call to get out. I suspect he did not because he knew he was walking the fine line between a rigid 7:00pm closing time, and common courtesy.”

Jeanne Marie says they all had a great time at Suwannee Springs Park.  “Suwannee Spring is surrounded by an old stone structure and used to be quite a popular tourist destination back in the days of the Civil War. The kids had a great time jumping into the spring.  Me, I couldn’t take the odor, though.  It emits an intense sulphur smell.”

On the other side of the wall and over a hill is the Suwannee River.  The river was warm, with a sandy beach and bottom and made for great swimming, Jeanne Marie explained.

“It’s tannin-colored, so dark the kids called it ‘swimming in Coke’.

It’s a weird sensation, opening your eyes under water and seeing just black in front of you.  It was a great river for swimming; the kids swam back and forth, climbed rocks and swung from a rope swing. We had a good time there.”

“It was just so surprising to be locked inside like that.  I’ve never experienced such a blatantly unsympathetic person; locking us in was simply a hostile thing to do.  However I must say that the Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputies that we dealt with were very helpful and friendly.”

Jeanne Marie doubts they’ll visit Suwannee Springs Park again.

“We’ve been making day trips to various locations around Florida and have experienced some wonderful springs and rivers, ” she concluded, “I’ve recommended many sites to friends and groups because Florida has so many hidden jewels to experience. “

She won’t recommend this park to friends.

“Why risk it?” she mused.

Gettin’ Naked at Naked Spring, Part Deux

It was my birthday weekend – what girl doesn’t deserve a whole weekend to celebrate a birthday anyway? The weather’s migrating towards more seasonal temps and the kids (well, er, two of them) had Friday off from school so we made a last minute decision to dash out to our favorite springs in Florida, Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist County.
A couple of friends were called in so that the trip wouldn’t be a disaster of boredom with just the ‘rents (god, we’ve become The Parents; no longer the bringers of good times; now, friends are needed to save the day, but no matter, the more the merrier.) Snacks haphazardly thrown together, along with a mess of beach towels, swim fins and masks and snorkels and oh! the camera and film gear, too, as my colleague Nick Lulli and I had a bit of an agenda. We’re making a video of Blue Springs. More on that later.
I’d actually forgotten about my desire to swim free in Naked Spring until we pulled into the park. I remembered, then gasped so loudly that everyone thought something bad had just happened. It was just that I realized that that this was going to be my moment if there ever was one. It was a Friday afternoon in May; park guests were few and my husband was along. Remember, he’s not much for the springs but today I’d insisted, in spite of a last minute offer of some Players Championship tickets (with him, there’ll always be a reason not to go to the springs). It was my birthday weekend after all.
You have to know that I’m a modest girl by nature. But when I saw Naked Spring and swam it last fall, it was obvious that it was made for skinny dipping. A little, secluded gift from God set back far enough into the woods, with an approach long enough to give a girl enough time to pull on her swimsuit if she’s got a proper lookout. And the the only proper lookout for me is the husband.
When our kid-crammed vehicle pulled into the park and I saw how quiet it was, with divine weather I suddenly I knew that today was the day. I startled them all with my spontaneous outburst and I had to whisper to the husband lest they all find out but in the end, they did. My kids, their friends, they all seemed to know what I’d done despite the fact they were occupied in Big Blue a ways away from Naked.
When I heard the rumor was that I’d gone over to Naked Spring to swim with other people naked I decided to just tell them all the truth and be done with it. The last thing I need is someone’s mom getting the wrong idea, you know. If anyone can’t see the beauty and exhilaration of a free swim in a secluded spring surrounded by trees and perfectly private, well, then they’re missing an absolutely fun and wonderful opportunity to do something a just a little unconventional (for me, it was). I am proud to say I did it and I’d do it again if I could.
I told the kids straight up, to halt the misinformation, and after that they all carried on with their own big fun: jumping off the platform,
snorkeling, and watching that incredible water move in a current along the spring run to the Sante Fe River.
Blue Springs, Naked Springs? It’s going to be a great summer. I’ll see you next time.

Alexander Springs: Hello Goodbye

Since I discovered the Florida springs last summer I’ve put visiting as many of them as possible on my personal life list, dragging an assortment of children and cameras, snorkels and fins, beach chairs and books – everything I’ll need for a day of swimming, snorkeling, photography and fun for everyone who happens to be in my car.
We have a definite fan favorite – Blue Springs in Gilchrist County. There’s just something about Blue that’s got us by our heartstrings and so far no other spring has surpassed our passion for Blue.
But I’ll keep an open mind, I will, and we’ll continue to trek around central Florida this summer to enjoy the cool, clear waters of these amazing, ancient swimming holes. They’re usually set deep in the boondocks, sometimes County-owned, sometimes privately, but always nestled amidst trees with water bubbling from the headspring.
Yesterday we kicked off Florida Springs season 2010 when we stopped at Alexander Springs on our way home from Orlando. I was fairly excited as I’d heard rave reviews about this place. In fact, we tried to go there last Labor Day weekend but were turned away due to its being full to capacity. The husband is just not a water guy, and the pollen was flying and the Master’s was on TV (and there’s no TV at any springs I’ve encountered) so he was a half-hearted attendee but willing stuff-hauler and chauffeur. Still, the kids and I were anticipating a good time. We trudged a short distance from the parking lot, came upon the spring and looked around. It was … fine. I mean, the surroundings were lovely; deep in the Ocala National forest, but I have to be honest- I wasn’t moved – and neither were they.
The husband wheezed and rubbed his eyes, we plopped our things down and I sat in the sun feeling a bit deflated. The kids went into the water for a little while but shortly returned, not enthused.
“There’s no fish,” they complained. We are accustomed to swimming with plenty of fish at Blue Springs. Of course the large, wooden jumping platform at Blue means hours of fun for kids, and then there’s the spring run that’s open for swimmers, as well as kayakers and canoes. I love swimming up and down that spring run, fins strapped to my feet like I’m a fish among fish. The current coming back is significant but I’m a strong swimmer. I love swimming through the trees and plant life. Blue doesn’t have a retaining wall or steps; it’s very natural. A rickety boardwalk edges the spring run and takes pedestrians on a scenic walk all the way to the Santa Fe River. At other springs we’ve visited, including Alexander, there are retaining walls, and a roped off area. I understand the need for these things but for me, they detract from the whole natural ambiance of the spring that makes Blue so special to me in general.
It’s nice for small children at Blue to be able to wade, ankle deep, in the water, a natural egress as opposed to steps.
There were plenty of people out and about enjoying the water, but I never went in. It wasn’t hot enough for starters, and frankly, these waters didn’t speak to me. You see, I have this special rapport with water, all kinds of water, and yesterday the water at Alexander Springs didn’t beckon.
I got a bit of reading time in, shot some photos and called it a day.

Alexander Springs is a lovely place to visit but for us, our hearts belong to Blue.

Gettin’ Naked at Naked Spring

That’s exactly what I’m going to do the next time I go to Blue Springs. I’ll need my husband along (hey, maybe this is what’ll entice the guy to come happily on a springs trip) to stand lookout but swimming naked in this tiny spring called Naked Spring is on my things-to-do-in-the-near-future list. No bucket list for me; I don’t care to think of it in those terms. I rather like the idea of a personal manifesto; swimming without a bathing suit in this spring is definitely on mine.

I may just do it before the end of this year.

Let me explain.

I knew there were two other springs, lesser ones, on the grounds at Blue Springs park. I’ve been so enamored of Blue Springs, though, that I hadn’t wandered about in search of them. Last Saturday I did. And oh! What a jewel I stumbled upon.

Naked Spring is off the beaten path, set further back in the woods and is perfectly secluded so shedding a swimsuit (and hurriedly donning it if need be) shouldn’t be a problem. A lookout will be able to alert me to any encroachers before they arrive at the floating dock.

(just playing with tones in photoshop)
The spring is small, and it’s marvelously enclosed by trees and other flora, creating a sense of real solitude. It has an absolutely lovely clear blue pool with a fairly deep cave (or vent) to float over and watch the goings-on beneath the surface.

(Neither of those girls is me. But this is a great way to take in the view below. Notice the clear water and reflection of the trees surrounding the spring! We were ecstatic when we found this out-of-the-way surprise spring.)

You share the seclusion with only the lovely woods and wildlife.
If ever a place entices me to skinny dip, this is it. And it seems like a perfectly natural thing to do there. Could there be any other reason why they called it Naked Spring? I wonder.

Their Blue Springs

Thank goodness there’s consensus in the family: it’s Blue Springs for everyone. Some family members are more…excitable about springs than others, with a fifth member who shall go unnamed flatly disinterested. He drove the springs-obsessed matriarch and children to various springs in the Ocala National Forest regions a few weeks ago. He carried the cooler, chairs, and towels. He sat, unimpressed by the emerald-colored waters and waited while they frolicked in one spring after the other. He was positively dour about not being anywhere near a televsion when Notre Dame was scheduled to kick off its inaugural game of the 2009 college football season. But wait! He didn’t have to miss that game after all because, yes, indeed, there’s an app for that. Notre Dame paired with NBC and created an app for iPhone that shows their 8 home games in real time. Crisis averted at Rainbow Springs on Labor Day Weekend.

Lately, only the true enthusiasts among us have been stretching our summer fun into these September weekends, and our destination is unanimous: it’s Blue Springs for everyone. A couple of days ago we learned that flag football had a rare Saturday off its schedule, so do you want to guess where most of us will be?

I’ve already described my Blue Springs experience, so I’ll leave you with images of theirs.