Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is home to Florida’s biggest and prettiest natural springs! Alexander Springs is one of the top 2! 72 million gallons of crystal clear water a day!! The large dark blue basin is a magnet for snorkel and scuba divers alike! And we were drawn to it each of the 3 days we stayed in the campground. The edges are lined with waving sea grasses teeming with curious varieties of sunfish and ones that look almost like a perch! Even with my bright blue snorkel mask and big long fins – if I just floated quietly – they would come right up and peck at my outstretched wiggling fingers. On one of our swims, we followed 3 scuba divers out and marveled at the sight of them heading deeper and deeper into the blue water while the tiny air bubbles from their oxygen tanks floated back up to the sunshine at the top.

The park has a nifty nature boardwalk that follows around the spring and has 2 fishing piers /resting areas along the way. The birds were singing and the sun was sparkling down thru the newly green leaves of the forest. No snakes and no alligators were seen on this visit! SPFB!! We even took time one afternoon to go find some “two-tracks” to go explore! One of them actually ended up at a very primitive boat launch of sorts. Across the river were several tire and rope swings strung up over the slow chugging river run that originally started at Alexander Springs. Would you believe it – there was another guy out there who didn’t know where the road was going either! H had to get out his Florida Gazetteer to make sure of where we were and where to go from there. . From there we trudged thru or maneuvered around a lot of deep rutted mud holes and puddles! We know of another certain Jeep owner who would like to navigate those mud tracks

The campgrounds in most of the national forests have no electricity and no water at each site. “Dry camping” is no problem – as long as the weather is warm!! The “mobile motel” has a gas furnace for a quick warm up in the morning and a tank of fresh running water with the flick of the pump switch and a turn of the faucet! For TV watching and lights there are 2 mega batteries under the couch! AND – H was sure glad that he invested in his latest prized possession – his 2000-watt Honda Generator, which insures that he can have his fresh brewed coffee in the mornings while we were in the forest.

We were hoping to move up to Salt Springs, which has lots of electricity at each campsite to solve the colder weather problem, but they were full so we moved instead to Juniper Springs Campground to continue our “dry camping” trend. Juniper Springs is the closest National Park campground to Ocala so H made a phone call to set up a breakfast date for the next morning at Bob Evans. We enjoyed a great breakfast with D&S and followed it with boring grocery shopping!

Not wanting to leave the forest right away, and since Salt Springs was full we headed north to the edge of the forest and stopped for one night at the Rodman Dam Reservoir Campground. The campground is actually part of the Florida Greenway, just like Ross Prairie is on the south west side of Ocala where we stayed on the beginning of our winter journey as we headed south. Rodman is located right on the Cross Florida Barge Canal, which was originally dug to run from each side of Florida. The east section starts on the St John’s River but quits just west of Dunnellon. Like the Erie Canal up in Ohio – did progress move too fast or did the funds to complete the project too slow? Now the Canal is a freeway for pleasure boats, including the fast moving bass boats that sprayed wide spreading white water as they sped upstream in an early morning Bass Tournament.

Once out of the forest, it will really be official – we’re heading north – to North Florida!