End Of The Line GilChrist Blue Springs State Park @ High Springs, Florida

At the end of a road trip, I think Americans look for an epiphany. As we age, the road less traveled is more about introspection than a place. Visiting eleven Florida parks in five days, the common thread for myself is a calm in motion and at rest.

This journey is now beyond the constraints of ego, rather a gift of time spent with nieces and a nephew. The lesson from a hospital bed a year ago is converting possibilities. An opportunity for them I hope, looking into a future with road trips and experiences of their own into reality.

In these images of water, earth and sky, there is a liberation from the confines of an ivy drip. Freedom from the mindset that rationalizes consuming emptiness transmitted over a wire or radio signal. My aim is never a question of where, rather whom I share this fragile existence with. Before life’s undertow takes one’s last breath, step forward, drive on and reach out into the cool blue water.

More: https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/gilchrist-blue-springs-state-park

Drift Diving Rainbow River On A Sunday @ Dunnellon, FL

 

Dive #73. What could I tell you that you don’t already know? Florida is more than beaches, sun and humid weather. The Rainbow River basin offers a break from that cliche with some of the most crystalline and refreshing aquamarine waters in the state. The eel grass bowing to the changes in current offer a dream like quality on recollection. In the footage from March 2018, the Gar and the Blue Gill that pass in and out of focus reinforce this sentiment. Feeling the pressure from small fresh water boils on the riverbed pushing against your hand only heighten the visceral experience. As a flashback, the moments interrupt even the most mundane tasks like washing dishes unexpectedly. Some folks might even use the word surreal.

To learn more about Florida freshwater fish;
http://www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/freshwater/

To catch river boat ride for diving;
http://www.rainbowriverwatertaxi.com

Dark Water in Paradise Springs @ Ocala, Florida

 

 

 

 

Dive #71. What else can I tell you outside the video? Paradise Springs is one of two Florida locations where diving a cavern to 100 ft can be done without an additional Cavern Diver certification; however, you’ll need proof of your Advanced Open Water certification. The other site is Blue Grotto in Williston, Florida. Before heading out to Ocala, Florida, double-check each diver brings enough money for covering the cash only entrance fee of $30 in US currency. If claustrophobic and/or fear the dark, there are other unique spring experiences perhaps more suitable like Devil’s Den. Lastly, while this family owned operation does offer air-refills and some equipment, be sure to square up any boutique gear needs ahead of schedule. During our visit, the nearest local dive shop less than a mile away, remains closed for business all Sunday.

After parking and paying the entrance fee, divers get to watch a homemade instructional video. This underwater guide provides a play by play of the descent including fossils in the walls, the guideline, assorted man made figurines and the max depth death sign. Some aspects of the surrounding area do get left out like the fog evaporating into the morning sunlight just above the watery entrance. Right above that view, a closed circuit camera is peering over the dive platform. Which makes one wonder, ”Why so many gun shell casings are littering some of the steps to the opening below?”

With that introduction out of the way, Florida freshwater springs are well known for providing excellent visibility and year round temperatures of around 70 degrees F. They make ideal targets for testing out dive equipment, physical and mental conditioning. Submerging into the mouth of the spring, the sun illuminates the water giving way to the next chamber. Looking backward, a bluish hue emanates over the debris mound recalling a church alter or a theater stage. The second portion of the cave is vast in width and height. The space is more than adequate for three pairs of divers. Moving into the third portion of the cavern, the space narrows. Glancing back to the surface, I can always see the lit opening. Following the guideline, the experience feels effortless.

At the bottom of Paradise Springs, it’s easy for your vision to fill with saturating white from a camera lighting rig. This is exactly what occurs on our little adventure. What follows are moments of complete darkness. For myself, a surge of endorphins make my heart race. With eyes still attempting to adjust, my emotions peak into a panic attack. At the same time, my dive partner slowly moves to photographing another limestone wall facing in the opposite direction. He is unable to hear the tapping on my tank because of a hoodie covering his ears. The catch for myself is cycling off blood pressure medication, specifically Beta Blockers. Beta Blockers happen to suppress your body’s natural adrenaline response. Without them, it’s like being exposed to “raw untamed power” that fire up your fight or flight response.

Now, any calm person knows Paradise Springs is devoid of any current, sharks, gators, devils and demons. We’ll “mostly.” With both of my dive lights operational and the entrance above, the challenge is relaxing and managing air consumption until re-establishing visual communication. After about five minutes of holding the guide rope, and burning through a ton of air, fear gives way to calm and an engaged dive buddy for an air check. In the open ocean, there are many other factors beyond your control. This is why I love Florida springs for diving. It’s about as close to ideal conditions a diver gets for trial run outside of a pool.

Whether you dive or not, on Beta Blockers or know someone, I suggest reading up on the many side effects of this powerful class of prescribed medications. Here is a starter article that might peak your interest; Side Effects of Beta Blockers and Weight Gain

More Information:
https://www.floridadiveconnection.com/paradise-springs/

The Grēn of Poe Springs @ Highland Springs, Florida

During my father’s eulogy, I had rehearsed words in my mind, “While one door closes, another opens.” This sentiment had embodied our personal journeys moving forward until final conclusion. Whether through pictures, text, or sounds, the composition of shared story telling experiences had turned my hands right maneuvering into Poe Springs Park.

Poe Springs IMG_0636 @ Highland Springs, Florida

If just a casual passer by, the open greenery of the park had appeared exceedingly mundane; however, walking down the wooden board walk, the spring boil was brimming with water bugs and a multitude of green hues. Walking down the concrete stairs bordering the spring, my friend had warned me of the disconcerting slipperiness of green algae on its steps.  Catching a small quick slip moving downward, I had quickly conceded to gravity into the shallow waters.

Poe Springs, IMG_0668 @ Highlands, Florida

With the overhang of trees and break of the sunlight, it was hard to see the opposing water’s edge. Was there a gator in the darkness? Who had known but, I wasn’t going to travel any further than required for swimming into the boil. Submerging myself further into the spring waters, it had pushed back with distinct force from the cropping of jagged openings.

Poe Springs, IMG_0669 @ Highlands, Florida

Away from the calming charm of the spring head, its waters emptied out into the expanse of the Sante Fe River. This river was product of the many springs along its twisting curves. Like leaves on the water’s surface, I had drifted onto the corner of accompanying fishing pier overlooking the Sante Fe River.

A week later, sick in bed, feeling like death, I hadn’t pondered the meaning of turning off the road into Poe Springs Park. Reflecting now, I had believed times like these fill our work, our lives with hope. In the end, without hope, how does a person start the day?

Read More:
Poe Springs Park (Florida Springs)
Map of Florida Springs (Florida Springs)
Hue (Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

An October Day in Rainbow Springs State Park @ Dunnellon, Florida

From an ecological point of view, I had wondered how John Muir might reflect on such an area on this October day.

Perhaps, it was the crisp blue springs waters next to the nearby train tracks.

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Or maybe, the expansive open picnic area that had rolled like soft green waves under the park’s entrance.

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Rainbow Springs State Park was elevated terrain, lifting one’s visceral response beyond the stereotypical flat topography of Florida. With hues of yellow, green, red and blue on display, flowing through the fall air was a sentiment on the edge of spirituality. Representing the thousands of indigenous state springs, this location had embodied all the reasons for protecting the environment. You hadn’t needed a whole of lot money ($2 per person) for experiencing one of Florida’s most versatile and picturesque parks. An open mind was the only thing required for embracing the charm of its small walks and swimming in the sun on this October day.

 

Read More:
Rainbow Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
John Muir (Wikipedia)
Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 (BallotPedia)

Blue Skies above Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park @ Homosassa, Florida

“Blue skies smilin’ at me / Nothin’ but blue skies do I see..”Irving Berlin

Under a mix of rain and rolling grey clouds, I had hit the Florida highway toward Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. With elements in flux, I had questioned the wisdom of following through on a Wednesday’s morning impromptu road trip; however, after finishing the commute into their parking lot, the weather cleared into postcard Florida sunshine and blue skies.

Waters of Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park @ garzafx.com

While absent opportunities for swimming or canoeing, this excursion had provided in person viewing of Florida’s indigenous wildlife like the panther, bobcat, fox, and more. Of the many on-premise animals, very few, I had seen in the outdoors except gators, otters and manatees. Another hallmark of the park was “The Underwater Observatory”, a.k.a. “Fish Bowl.” This submerged area had permitted visitors an alternate perspective in watching fish and the playful manatees.

Blue Skies above Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 2 Fish @ Garzafx.com

After clearing the “Fish Bowl,” I had wandered down the Wildlife Walk boardwalk. Here, the bulk of the park’s creatures were concentrated concurrently from flamingos to the Florida Panther to the reptile pavilion. The highlight for myself was hearing electrifying calls of bald eagle.

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Toward the end of loop on the boardwalk, past the reptile exhibit, I had caught glimpse of resting alligators. Across from the gators was the only non-indiginous creature on display, a 50 plus year old hippo. Turning the corner around its holding area, I had noticed a sign with an image of the backside of  a hippo with tail swinging side to side. According to park ranger earlier in the day, the sign had served as warning of the hippo’s playful spraying behavior.  A behavior, which had offered as motivation for clearing the area after seeing this hippo heading to the dry embankment.

Blue Skies above Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 3 Gator @ Garzafx.com

Initially, I had held a certain apprehension about visiting a park without options for water bound activities; however, the charm of seeing so many indigenous Floridian animals had won me over.  The big takeaway was seeing kids and other adults being equally enamored by showcased wildlife. Of the many state parks, this one was worth the travel even under threatening skies.

Manatee Programs: 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Alligator/Hippopotamus Program at 12:30 p.m.



Address: 
4150 South Suncoast Boulevard, Homosassa, FL 34448

Hours: 9 AM – 5:30 PM, 365 days a year.

Admission: Adults, $13.00, Children 6-12 $5.00, Florida State Park Pass Holders, Free.

Note, The last tickets are sold at 4:45 p.m.

Read More:
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (Florida State Parks)
Blue Skies (1926 song) (Wikipedia)

A Return to Troy Springs State Park @ Branford, Florida

An acquaintance had defined fresh water springs as simply, “A hole in the ground with water in it.” For some, the confining nature of a closed body of water with little aquatic life had probably fit that description. With my affinity for the crystal blue waters of Andros Island, Bahamas, that assessment was probably on point; however, questions had motivated my return to Troy Springs State Park @ Branford, Florida. Questions of unknown sights, limits, and connections had helped steer my vehicle across a three hour drive to the heart of north Florida.

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Upon arrival, my first question about the park being underutilized had gone out the window. A group of scuba divers had conducted training drills filling the park with chatter and foot traffic. So, my friend and I had opted to wait for the activity to clear.

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Patiently, I had sat on a wooden bench by the spring boil thinking of my second set of questions. What was beyond the darkness on the surface? What had concerned a dive shop owner to recommend staying clear of this descent after getting scuba certified? After cooking in the summer heat for 30 minutes, my dive buddy and I had moved into the water closing in on some answers.

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Reaching 70 feet, the view was unremarkable with shadow, sand, limestone, and logs. Though, one creature had stood out, a tiny brown flounder hugging the shady spring floor. To the question of avoiding this dive after getting Padi certified, there was depth and the dangerous allure of cavernous openings.

The next reason for the trip was my friend demonstrating his ability to still function diving, despite a bum shoulder. This was an important benchmark before suggesting an open water dive in a cattle boat on the Atlantic. To that end, he had appeared like a playful otter flipping over in circles maintaining a consistent depth.

The last question was reconnecting with fresh water springs. For most of the 24 minute dive, the springs had lost some of its’ luster from the previous year. My perspective had changed with an emphasis away from swimming to diving. Though, this notion soon had changed during our safety stop. Perhaps, it was the white noise of water pushing out into the spring. This noise had provided a similar experience to lounging out in amniotic fluid. For a moment, I had felt a calm floating about with my legs and my arms crossed awaiting to rise to into the summer heat. Much like the surface skimming insects, there was a reason to be here. I had only needed to slow the mind for a minute for that epiphany of grace.

Troy Springs State Park is located at 674 Troy Springs Road, Branford, Florida 32008
Phone: (386) 935-4835

Read More:
Troy Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)