Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Water, water EVERYWHERE - Manatee Springs

Throughout this trip I've been AMAZED by the sheer volume of water on this side of the nation. The East Coast is tangled in a web of creeks, streams, ponds, lakes, swamps, bays and springs. It's absolutely incredible.

Nowhere in our trip has this been more evident than here in Florida where we've experienced not only lakes and beaches, rivers and streams, but tropical storms bringing buckets of water nightly. Today, we were introduced to Florida's freshwater spring system.

There are, in fact, more than 600 freshwater springs in Florida. More than 30 of those EACH pump 65 to more than 150 million gallons of water every single day of the year. No winter lull. No summer dry spell.

Here at Manatee Springs, the fourth-largest output of the first magnitude springs in Florida, the water wells out of the earth with enough force to push a grown woman downstream, nudge a boat to shore, float a child indefinitely. The water gushes up clear and cool (72 degrees) year round. And this clean, clear water is just too much for 'gators, so it's safe for swimming for 50 yards or so before a rope divides the generally 'gator-free zone from the 'gator visiting zone. The water runs downstream about 300 yards to join the tannic (tea-brown) water of the Suwannee River, which rolls on another 22 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. No one swims here except the wildlife including countless fish (freshwater and saltwater), turtles and, of course, 'gators.

We had a nice walk along the boardwalk to the Suwannee River where we checked out the birds and turtles on the serene water. Then we headed to the spring for a dip.

It was a little freaky to get in water that just bubbled up out from a dark ledge which may have housed a cave or just lacked sunlight. But I waited for other swimmers to hit the water, many with snorkels, then slowly and cautiously joined in. Once I swam over the ledge and looked at the bottom the first time, the creepy factor was (nearly) erased and V joined me for a swim into the current.

We had some fantastic neighbors at this camp. Friendly. Fun loving. There was a family-n-friend reunion going on over there, and their laughs and giggles were infectious. This afternoon, as we took a snack break at camp, they returned from their morning canoe/kayak paddles. Katie and Rusty invited us to use their canoe, which still rested on shore. They armed us with paddles and life vests and sent us on our merry way. We opted to keep with the clear spring water and stay within our ability there on the spring-fed tributary, but never pulled out onto the tidal-influenced Suwannee.

By the time we returned to the spring for our last dip of the day, the ocean tide 22 miles away had already raised the spring/river/creek water level a full foot. E joined V and me for a swim, then back to camp for baked potatoes and beans. (We're trying to clean out the pantry before we return to civilization - and kitchens.) Our neighbors invited us over for hot dogs on their fire. We brought over the s'more makin's, and a lovely evening was had by all.

While we didn't get to experience an up-close-and-personal visit with a manatee, we did get to experience camp robbers, Souther style, in the form of a late-night armadillo visit. Turns out they like pineapple cores, burned baked beans, Girl Scout cookies and potato skins.

Nice, clean, quiet, dark campground (great stars!) with hot showers, flush toilets and lots of recreational opportunities - would return here in a heartbeat.

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