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. Oh...by '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.