Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Snorkeling in the Springs

Over Memorial Day weekend, Mike and I drove to Central Florida to visit the freshwater springs in Ocala National Forest. He had fond memories of a trip through the forest during his college years, and we even ended up camping at the same campground where he and his friends had camped so many years ago!

It's been really, really rainy around here lately, but we lucked out on Saturday afternoon. The first spring that we visited was called Silver Glen. At first glance, it appeared to be nothing more than a tranquil bay, with several boats docked beyond the buoys. But below the surface--WOW! It was full of life and varied microcosms, everything from huge bass and a softshell turtle to tiny fish flitting through the underwater vegetation. The best part was the surprise we encountered while snorkeling above the shallow, sandy bottom: all of a sudden the bottom dropped from underneath us, and we found ourselves hovering over a 25 foot underwater canyon, the springs burbling from within. We dove down again and again, never tiring of the underwater topography.

That evening we drove on some questionable sandy roads in an attempt to find the campgrounds depicted on our map. We eventually decided to see if the developed "Lake Dorr campground" had any spaces available, and luckily, there were plenty. Apparently the threat of rain caused the locals to stay home that night, so we had our pick of a dozen sites. As I said, it had been raining all week, so some parts of the campground had standing water.

We set up our tent and managed to eat dinner just before the rain started pelting down from the dark clouds. One would think we were on the ball to set up our tent during the dry spell, right? Wrong. For the next hour, it continued to rain, hard. The campground filled with water, and a lake formed around our tent. We ventured out with the umbrella and managed to transfer our sleeping bags back into the car and lift the tent to dry (well, less wet) ground. Surprisingly, the tent had managed to keep out most of the water, and when we awoke at 5:00 a.m., the sky was filled with stars. (Of course, we went back to sleep for a couple more hours!)

Sunday morning welcomed us with blue skies and sunshine. We drove straight to Alexander Springs and had the whole area virtually to ourselves for the first hour or so. Once again, the above water view was totally different than below the surface. It was so much fun to dive down and follow the fish and turtles through their habitat. I kept imagining an alligator swimming toward us from an area filled with a wall of dark vegetation, but luckily we didn't encounter any!

We hiked through the forest trails and snorkeled again to cool off. At 72 degrees F, the water was definitely refreshing! I can't believe that the Lake Superior waters that I regularly jumped into when I was a kid are only about 40-50 degrees!

Mike is in week 11 of 18...at the end of the week, we'll head north to Congaree Swamp National Park, in South Carolina!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park (diorama in the museum)

My little dragonfly friend...

Florida Trail scenery along the Suwanee River

Do you see the tiny alligator? So cute!

Although we've visited Okefenokee NWR in the past, we decided to return for a chance to bike the 8 mile loop. Eight miles of paved, flat terrain is a breeze, but we made sure to stop and see the sights along the way. My favorite thing was seeing a tiny alligator crossing the road! It was so cute, just about 1 1/2 feet long, marching along until he found a shady spot on the other side.
We spent the night camping at Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park, in nothern Florida.
The Florida Trail passed through the campground, so of course we hiked on it, along the Suwanee River. The scenery was the prettiest we've experienced on the Florida Trail so far. A highlight was the museum, of all things! They've created super intricate dioramas to depict the meaning behind some of Stephen Foster's songs, including "Oh, Susanna." They were beautiful, complete with moving parts...definitely worth a visit if you're ever in northern Florida!
On Sunday, we drove to the western entrance of Okefenokee and spent about three hours canoeing among the cypress trees. We were astounded by the number of alligators that we saw (about 21, all in all). A man in a motor boat tried to run over an alligator that was crossing the channel, and the alligator got upset. How does an alligator express its anger, you may ask? By coming after US in our canoe, and creating a huge splash about two feet in front of our canoe. I was so freaked out that I could have flipped the canoe myself!
Just as we pulled the canoe out of the water, the storm let loose. Deep gray clouds shot out bright streams of lightning, and the rain didn't let up for the 2.5 hour drive home. In fact, Mike estimates that the water was about a foot and a half deep at some points, ON the road! We were SO relieved to finally drive back into Brunswick, safe and sound.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Sizzling in Northern Florida

We spent the weekend exploring the National Park Sites and area beaches near Jacksonville and Saint Augustine, Florida. The temperature was 95 degrees and the humidity level was high, so we enjoyed the opportunity to jump into the ocean and play in the waves.

Among the sites we explored were: Castillo de San Marcos NM (an old coastal fort); Fort Matanzas NM (means "The Slaughters" in Spanish); Fort Caroline NM (another old coastal fort); Timucuan Preserve (a beautiful coastal marsh and forest).

We camped in Gold Head Branch State Park, FL. The temperature cooled off soon after we set up our tent, so we spent a pleasant evening hiking, watching raccoons, and listening to the nocturnal creatures explore under the light of the rising full moon. This morning we hiked several miles on the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Next weekend we'll visit one more national park site...any ideas which one it will be? Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Canoeing on the Altamaha River

Mike's almost 8 weeks through the academy! Yippee!

Last weekend my roommates offered to drop us off upriver on the Altamaha, so that Mike and I could explore the river in our canoe. We didn't see any alligators in the swift-flowing water, but lots of pretty scenery. The blue skies, green trees, and brown, fast-flowing water reminded us of our rafting adventure on the Colorado River last spring.

Afterwards, as I was baking a cake in the kitchen of the house where I'm living, Mike looked outside on the porch to check on the dogs. He came in and in an eerily calm voice said, "Susanna, I think that house is on fire." He was so calm that I thought his words were an exaggeration, but when I looked up, I too, could see the tall orange flames engulfing the neighbor's house. In the next instant, we heard the sirens approaching the heavily wooded neighborhood. Mike said that the flames were licking the tree canopy. It was scary, and ultimately so sad, to see the flames destroy a home. Nobody was hurt, but it was so close, and happened so quickly. Now the home is just a blackened pile of ashes.