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!

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