Florida Springs II: Wekiva

May 11, 2011

Wekiva Springs: A Family Affair

Over Easter we finally visited Wekiva Springs, located in Apopka. The parking lots were full, the picnic tables were covered with food,, the Spring  was filled with laughing children, and canoes and kayaks crowded the waterway.  No doubt this is a very popular spot! 

Wekiva Springs

It was obvious from the moment we entered the parking area that this is a fantastic family getaway location.  All ages, wrapped in towels, weaved their way in and out between the cars. And the roar of the voices hit us the minute we opened the car doors.

We leisurely walked around the park, observing both nature and  people alike. I had to wonder about the sustainability of the springs and the nature that surrounds it though. The crowding, which I hear is common all summer, no doubt takes a tremendous toll on the area. 

A short ways away from the Springs is a small, quiet lake, perfect for fishing (and alligator spying). As we began our walk towards it, we spotted a young deer roaming in the grassy area near the sidewalk. It stared straight at us, but didn’t run. After about five minutes of standing still, we continued our walk, passing within three feet or so of the doe. Odd she didn’t run off. Apparently she is used to humans, and somehow does not have the inherent instinct to run. Although I was glad to see her close up, I was conflicted about her lack of a flight instinct.  Did she lose her mother? Do the park employees know about her?  Will visitors treat her kindly?

There are a few hiking trails near the lake that look  promising, but we decided to save them for another day. Although I don’t see us visiting Wekiva Springs too often, at least we know what’s there now.


Florida Springs I: Diving at Ginnie Springs

May 4, 2011

Florida claims to have over 700 freshwater springs, many of which are accessible to the general public.  So far I have explored five of them, including Ginnie Springs located just northwest of Gainesville in High Springs.

Since Ginnie Springs is recognized as one of the best freshwater scuba diving locations in the state, we grabbed our scuba gear and made the 140-mile drive over. Not being cave divers, we avoided the overhead environments and did a simple dive into the main Spring.  At the back of the Spring’s cavern there is a grill that blocks the entrance into the massive Florida cave system beyond. Here you can feel the sheer force and pull of the water as it escapes deeper into the underwater caves.  
While not a long or particularly exciting dive, it is one I will always remember because of the overwhelming sensation it provided.  The water was so clear that I temporarily forgot I was underwater, and at one point reached up to remove my mask. Somehow though, I came to my senses before ripping it off. No wonder Jacques Cousteau once called Ginnie Springs the clearest water in the world!  
Speaking of underwater sensations, only one beats this one out for first place in my diving experiences so far. While diving a cenote in Mexico I entered a halocline (point where fresh water and salt water meet, causing a change in density) and my vision blurred to such a level that I was sure I was blacking out.  Two totally opposite sensations, yet each remembered strongly as if they just happened yesterday.
But back to Ginnie Springs. After diving the Springs, we ventured into the nearby Santa Fe River for a drift dive, cruising with the current and careful not to overshoot our exit point. Here we experienced the total opposite of the Spring — incredibly low visibility. Not to mention high grass and odd-looking fish.  How I forgot about the alligators in the area I’ll never know.
For anyone who dives, or who would just like to watch as divers gear up, either for a simple dive or a complicated cave dive, Ginnie Springs is a great place to do just that.