Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trip 19: Juniper Springs State Recreation Area

State Parks visited: 18

Juniper Springs has been on my radar for some time.  While not a state park, it has a swimming area and canoe/kayak run that are very popular to visit.  I've seen countless pictures on the internet of the shaded, shallow run and have been wanting to attempt it in the kayak.  There is some degree of difficulty, though, due to the sharp turns, shallow deadfall, and low-lying trees over the run.  After much consideration, we decided to give it a go last Sunday.  And let me tell you, if visiting De Leon Springs on Saturday was the lesson, then kayaking the Juniper Springs run was the test!

Our day didn't start out in the greatest way, however, when we found Xandra's car dead on the side of the road.  Apparently her alternator went out...while she was driving!...and we drove up to find Chris giving her a jump.  Xandra managed to limp her car to a nearby gas station and, God Bless AAA, we waited for a tow truck.

After they pulled away, our remaining group, consisting of myself, Rob, Olivia, Chris, and Randy, headed down Highway 40 to the park.  We dropped the kayaks off at the boardwalk leading to the run, and then Chris and Rob drove down to the take out point to leave one of the vehicles.  Randy waited with the kayaks while Olivia and I wandered around the swimming area and nearby nature trail.

That last picture is a view of the canoe/kayak launch from the other side of the run.  We went back that way, met up with the guys, and managed to launch right ahead of a large tour group.  The run started out shallow, clear, and shaded. We immediately realized that it was going to be easiest for Rob to do most of the paddling due to the trees and turns in the run, so I relaxed and got into photographer mode.  A few highlights:

And this is how most of the day went.  I can't describe how much I loved this run.  Granted, Rob did almost all of the work (Thank you, babe!!! I appreciate you!!!) and I got to sit back and take pictures, but still.  It. Was. Amazing.  In fact, I have since started thinking about Juniper as my ideal Florida waterway.  Until we can go back, I have my pictures to remember it by.  Here are a few more:

Wildlife sightings were mostly the usual.  Lots of turtles....lots and lots of turtles on logs.  These were mostly all cooters (yes, that's really what they're called), although I did see a large alligator snapping turtle swimming next to us.  Unfortunately I couldn't get the camera in the water in time, and I do value my fingers, so I don't have a picture of it.  Speaking of alligators, I saw one of those as well.  I'm glad I saw it moving away from us, though, since it was pretty decently sized less than ten feet away from us.  It was well camouflaged in the plants at the water's edge, and we didn't stay there long enough to get a picture.  We did get these, though:

After some time, we heard something.  It was the distinctive sound of rushing water.  Rounding a curve in the run, we discovered the cause of the sound:  a small rapid.  I managed to snap a couple of quick pictures before grabbing my paddle and having some quick rapid fun:

After the rapid, the river opened up quite a bit.  It's an area Chris refers to as The Flats, and I understand why.  We paddled through and continued to take in the sights while listening to thunder bear down on us.

Soon after this, we rounded another curve and came to the take out spot.  Our journey down the run was amazing, and I'm so glad we did it.  I had been doubting my ability to stay sane and comfortable, but I managed.  And you know what?  I can't wait to go back.  The one trip I had been dreading the most turned out to be the the most gratifying.  As it turns out, our fears aren't always what they're cracked up to be.  Imagine that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trip 18: De Leon Springs State Park

State Parks visited: 18

De Leon Springs State Park is a local park almost everyone in this area has visited.  It has a swimming area with a wall around it (read: alligator free) with that famous 72 degree spring water, which lets out into the Spring Garden Run (read: not alligator free).  The park is also known for the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, a restaurant famous for pancakes you get to cook at your own table.  As a young child, I remember distinctly being taught that the greatest claim to fame for De Leon Springs was that explorer Juan Ponce de Leon believed he had located the mythical Fountain of Youth at this location.  Turns out, I was taught incorrectly.  There is another park of similar name in the Florida Panhandle, and that was the Fountain of Youth location.  Our own local park was actually given its current name when it was known as a roadside attraction...a gimmick....a fake....130 years ago.

Why the history lesson?  Well, that would be because all of my childhood notions of our local fame were dashed when we visited De Leon Springs this past Saturday.

Don't get me wrong, it's still a great place!  In fact, this is the first time I've spent any real time in this park as an adult and I learned more and saw more than I ever have in my life.  I'm still reeling, though, over this sign:

Okay, enough whining.

So, Saturday's plan was simple, and we made a whole day out of simple.  We started off with the most important thing:  breakfast.

After our fill of all you can eat traditional and buckwheat pancakes, we walked across the park and carried our kayaks to the water. 'we' I mean me, Rob, Olivia, Chris, Xandra, and Randy.  Chris and Olivia rode in a tandem together, Xandra and Randy were each in a single, and Rob and I were in our tandem.  See, at this point I had been in a tandem exactly twice:  for all of 5 minutes during Campayakarama when I had a panic attack, and for 8 hours (12?) with a cranky Olivia when we paddled Alexander Springs.  Bad times.  And seeing as we have a tandem on permanent loan from my dad, we kind of felt the need to make sure I was at some kind of comfort level for future paddling adventures.  I do not...ever...want to have another panic attack on the water.

You can see the wall around the swimming area in the background of the above picture.  The Spring Garden Run was awesome...shallow, calm, and exactly what I needed to get myself used to having another person in the kayak with me.  We didn't really have a destination.  It was purposeful but fun.  A few highlights:

See that last picture?  We were pulled up next to Chris and Olivia for a break.  What else do you notice?  I'm smiling.  No problems, no discomfort.  No cares whatsoever.  Rob and I worked together, communicated, and really had a great time paddling together.  See?

We stayed out on the water a couple of hours.  Olivia was very good, and Chris was a saint for keeping her entertained.  He found out that she loves to get splashed.  It also happens that he keeps a bilge pump in his kayak, so they had a lot of fun:

So after paddling back in and loading the kayaks onto our vehicles, we decided to go for a quick swim.  This lasted for all of ten minutes when we realized how hungry we all were.  Strike that.  We were getting HANGRY!!  So out of the water and on to lunch.  We all packed for a picnic, and a picnic was had.  We found a nice spot under a huge Live Oak, set up our towels, and relaxed.

After lunch we had one last detail to see to:  geocaching.  The park has a nature trail, and one geocache is hidden there.  It is one of the oldest in this area, and yet we still hadn't found it.  So we hit the trail and went for a nice little walk.  We opted not to go the whole 4+ miles of the trail, especially since we were all still in bathing suits and had some type of water shoes on.  Instead, we walked to the cache, found it, and headed back.  Good thing, too, because some nasty weather was moving in.  In fact, the swimming area was closed due to lightning. 

I can't begin to tell you how happy I was with our visit to De Leon Springs, despite my corrected history lesson.  Like I mentioned earlier, I saw and did more in the park Saturday than I ever have in my life, and this is a local park!  We had yummy pancakes, paddled the waters and shed some of my fears, swam, ate, relaxed, hiked, cached.  Learned.  Oh yes, it is amazing what you can learn when you open your eyes.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A brief retrospective

So, we took a rare weekend off from our adventures.  It was the final weekend before we sent Olivia off to first grade, and both Rob and Chris had to work, so it seemed like the time.  I mean, come on, 17 weekends on the go can really wear on a person.

If you think about it, you can learn a lot in 17 weekends.  I've put a few thoughts together on what I've learned and wanted to share with you:

17-You really can float your cares away, even if you're surrounded by 1000 other people.
16-Birthdays spent with your favorite creatures...human or otherwise...are some of the best birthdays on the planet.
15-Not every adventure is fulfilling, but you really have to keep on trucking.
14-Never underestimate the power of our current generation to wreak havoc on our earth...but also never underestimate the willingness of our future generation to shoulder the burden.
13-You don't have to be the first to complete a task in order to walk away with success and pride.  Arrggh!!
12-It's the little things.  It really is.
11-Know your limits.  Know your threshold.  Know your capacity.  And don't keep it to yourself.
10-Being witness to new growth is truly exciting.
9-Always be in awe of that magnificent thing called nature.  Get to know it.
8-Don't forget to pack your chairs!
7-Festivals aren't always what they're cracked up to be...and that's okay.
6-Simpler times didn't necessarily mean easier times.
5-It's fun to be a tourist sometimes. Just keep your fingers out of the water!
4-Pie really does make my heart happy!
3-Walking in the woods can be fulfilling to one's soul.
2-Open your eyes to a new landscape and you'll be amazed at where it will take you.
1-When you feel the seeds of exploration and excitement...a true calling...beginning growing within you, don't ignore them.

I'll be back next week with another exciting tale.  Be good!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Trip 17: Ichetucknee Springs State Park, otherwise known as Robby's Birthday Floatilla!!

State Parks visited: 17

In 1972, what is now known as Ichetucknee Springs State Park was designated a National Natural Landmark.  With the crystal clear water that meanders through a shaded canopy, I can completely understand why.  Seventy-two is also the temperature, a constant common to all Florida springs.  August 8, in the year 1972, holds its own significance, because my in-laws welcomed a son that day.  And on August 8 of this year, last Sunday, we celebrated that birth by visiting the 72 degree waters of Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Robby's Birthday Floatilla!

We gathered a whole group of people:  Rob, me, Olivia, Xandra, Chris, Chris's friend Val, her boyfriend Paul, and Paul's mom Elaine.  The eight of us convoyed from Ormond Beach to the park, about a two-and-a-half hour drive, where we met up with my sister-in-law Sherry and nephew Chase.  Along the way we rented innertubes, which were cleverly attached to the trunks of our cars.  You see, that's what you do on the Ich:  You go tubing.

After finding the north entrance to be closed...filled to capacity (750 tubers!) at 10:30 Sunday morning...we headed to the south entrance.  We had really been looking forward to relaxing down the river from the northern entrance, which was supposed to take 3.5 hours.  Instead we were looking at the 1.5 hour route from the south, and at first I felt like we were settling.  Once we launched, though, that feeling changed.

At this point let me point out that Rob and I were together in a double tube while Olivia was in a child-sized tube.  She had an initial freak out, but calmed down once she realized we were holding on to her tube and staying together.  The rest of our group pretty much stayed together, breaking up and regrouping several times.  Xandra opted to swim the river instead of tubing it, which was awesome.  Whenever we got caught up in deadfall or worked our way out of the current, Xandra was right there to pull us back.
A few highlights:

That last picture is a view into the clear spring water.  We were able to take it thanks to the new waterproof digital camera Rob gave me for National Pauladay.  Now that we spend more time in and on the water, it gets pretty expensive replacing standard digital cameras (and car keys).

And because I had it, I took lots of pictures.  Enjoy a few more:

Onward we floated.  And then, right as I heard Olivia asking how much longer we'd be on the water, I saw it:

It was time to leave the river.  *Sigh*  We had the option to return to where we launched and enjoy a second float down the river, but we opted not to.  Chase's lips were blue!  So, we turned in our tubes and took the shuttle back to the parking/picnic area. 

We planned to grill out and have a feast for Rob's birthday.  There was a problem, however, when we realized the charcoal was back at home.  There were several ideas and suggestions, resulting in Rob waiting for 20 minutes at the concession stand and being very angry and frustrated when they finally told him they were out of charcoal.  Xandra and Val came to the rescue, walking around to other areas and asking people if they had charcoal to spare.  They came back with a bag full, and we were finally able to enjoy our burgers and dawgs.  Rob was even able to look for his beachball:

And the kids played:

Despite a few frustrations along the way, I think Robby's Birthday Floatilla was a great success.  I succeeded in doing something I had previously been wary of, getting up close and personal with a Florida river without the safety of a kayak around me.  And any day I can relax, have a new experience, and spend time with the people I love, counts as a great success in my book.  Count me a very happy girl. And Rob....happy birthday, babe.  I love you.