Saturday, October 10, 2009

Florida Springs and Rivers

Central Florida is home to some incredible rivers that emerge from crystal clear springs and my son and I recently returned from a week of exploring these special places. After a couple days on the Oklawaha River, we headed up to Gainesville for a day exploring the Santa Fe River.

Enjoying the Santa Fe River, a lazy float along a forested river corridor with several springs that contribute flow to the river.

Ginnie Springs is a popular destination known for its SCUBA diving. We had a wonderful time snorkeling, exploring the springs, and learning more about this habitat.

Watching the fish swim by at Ginnie Springs.

The springs are home to both aquatic and terrestrial life and we had a great time watching all the lizards.

Another lizard.

And a very cool spider

We also got over to Icheetucknee Springs which is the start of a great river trip.

Peering into the source of Icheetucknee Springs.

Aki and Jamie snorkeling the edge of the spring in search of fish and turtles.

Alexander Springs is in the Ocala National Forest and we were there to check out the river that emerges from the springs which is eligible for Wild and Scenic designation. The river also flows through the Billies Bay Wilderness and the Alexander Springs Roadless Area.

The Ocala National Forest was established in 1908 and is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi. Alexander Springs is part of the St. John's Watershed.

On a beautiful section of Alexander Springs Creek passing through Billies Bay Wilderness I was reminded of the passage in A Sand County Almanac--"wilderness areas are... a means of perpetuating... the more virile and primitive skills in pioneering travel... one of these is canoe travel." It was a pretty cool way of exploring this incredible place with schools of fish, turtles that dove beneath our canoe, and alligators lurking in the vegetation along the banks.

An alligator sits quietly in the vegetation along the shore all but invisible.

Alexandar Springs Creek with clear water and a beautiful sandy bottom interspersed with aquatic vegetation provides spectacular viewing opportunities for aquatic fauna.

My son Aki at 4 years old, oblivious to the time, as he snorkeled and explored Alexander Springs all afternoon.

Our trip was a great opportunity to visit some different river landscapes with an impressive diversity of flora and fauna unlike anything we are used to seeing in the Pacific Northwest.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Oklawaha River Trip: Exploring Old Florida

In late September we set out on a journey to explore some of the rivers, springs, and wetlands in the Ocala National Forest. The Oklawaha River, a major tributary of the St. Johns, is a wonderful piece of old Florida forming the western boundary of the Ocala National Forest it follows a narrow winding course through a beautiful forested canopy. This river has an important place in the history of river conservation as it was originally destined to be the route for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal which was to be a direct route from the Gulf to the Atlantic. The project was ultimately cancelled in 1991 and the right-of-way was turned over to the state to become a spectacular corridor of public land known as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, in honor of the woman who led opposition to the canal.

We came rolling in late on Sunday evening to the Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost which is at the take-out. The guys there were wonderful hosts and they have some cute little cabins and some nice tent sites on a piece of wooded property right along the river. The next morning they drove us up the river to the put-in.

We began our journey where the Silver River joins the Oklawaha and paddled up the Silver. We were joined by a number of other paddlers who were out for a Monday morning paddle on this beautiful clear river which emerges from the well-known Silver Springs.

We saw quite a few alligators along the way.

Just about every patch of aquatic vegetation had an alligator just watching.

And we even found a nest of baby alligators.

Hundreds of turtles along the way.

Silver Springs through the back door--the best way to see Silver Springs and although you miss the glass bottom boat ride it was a lot of fun to paddle all the way up to the source of the river and spend time peering down into the spring.

We found this big alligator sitting on the bottom at Silver Springs.

Lots of great bird viewing opportunities along the river.

Bird along the Silver River.

The exploration of the Silver River ended up taking most of day and we made our way down to the mouth where the clear waters of the Silver River join the brown-water Oklawaha River. We found a place to camp downstream along the Oklawaha and spent a wonderful evening listening to the sounds of a night out in Florida.

Shallows along the Oklawaha River.

A great blue heron takes flight down the Oklawaha River.

Flowers along the river.

Lots of bird life along the Oklawaha River. At the end of our second day we paddled up to the ramp at the outfitter and were on our way.

Following our journey down the river we made a stop at Rodman Dam, a remant of the partially-completed Cross Florida Barge Canal, the dam has been discussed as a candidate for removal for many years which would reconnect the Oklawaha River.

A section of the barge canal, a project that was never completed.