Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ocala National Forest

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Our 3 days in Wilderness RV Resort was nice but now we are really in the "wilderness" - The Ocala National Forest! We are nestled in the midst of the Ocala "Jewels" - Its cluster of top rated , first magnitude fresh water springs. We always try to stay in one of the campgrounds in the forest, either on our way down or on our way back north. This year - we are on our way north! H got us 3 nights stay at the far end of the campground in Salt Springs but we were able to move over a few rows and thankfully got to stay longer.

SPFB - - the last time we were here we slid the orange bubbles into the water and kayaked in the middle of a group of about 4 manatees. This year there was already a gathering of boats and snorkelers out in the shallow area enjoying the curious creatures. As we drifted and circled , the large dark mellow animals also did an underwater slow dance of dipping down to the bottom and then rising up and sticking there wide noses out of the water for a brief moment before slipping back under and do see do'ing again. These animals were as big as the kayak and had no fear - not even the 4 ft long baby who swam along side its mother. One good sized fella came under my little orange boat from the back and popped his snout up out of the water with a BIG blast of air and water - right in front of my bubble! As another slowly swam past - it was easy to reach down and touch its moss covered scratchy hide. We figured there had to be at least a dozen of the gentle mammals out there this time! H had the underwater camera ready and made good use of it! According to him, he has deleted more pictures of them than he kept and he kept ALOT!

If that weren't enough thrill for one day - we donned the wet suits, grabbed the snorkel equipment and camera and headed for the springs! The water was deeper than last year; cool but not cold; and the amount of weeds was under control. On our last visit - the springs had been closed due to the installation of the steps and new break wall so the weeds had taken over the entire spring area making it just about impossible to do any swimming. Thanks to a clear sunny day the water was crystal blue down in the deep crevice of the springs and the variety and amount of fish was amazing! H kept the camera clicking! I stood poised on the edge of one of the huge boulders that lined the dark bottomless hole, ready to step off and fall down, down, down. I stepped and instead of sinking, my buoyant wetsuit held me up and I floated effortlessly over the chasm- big blue fins fanning slowly back and forth below me!

The weather has been amazing - in the 30's or low 40's at night and up to mid 70's on most days. The one day it made it only to the 60's - we headed out to hunt for bear! The majority of Florida's black bear population are in the Ocala Forest and we weren't going to see any in the campground - not with all those campers there! H'll use any excuse to get the big blue truck out into the backwoods and explore the multitude of sandy logging roads that crisscross the pine forest. Not a single bear to be found but we did pass thru an area that had endured a fire recently. The one side of the road was still thick with underbrush, prickly scratchy bushes and tall dried grasses. The section of fire damaged trees had bare sand, black burnt stumps and trunks. Yet , the tops of the slender trees were still green. You could see in the background where the direction of the wind kept the fire from traveling, was still bright fresh green.

Silver Glen Springs is south of Salt Springs on Rt 19. There had been a severe wildfire just a few days ago but the highway was now reopened for traffic. The run from the spring area to Lake George is approximately 3/4 mile. The currant is swift enough but the edges were clogged with invasive plants that grew so thick they formed green islands filling in every available space between the water lily pads. Giant turtles crowded on downed limbs that rested in the shallow water. Cormorants with wings outstretched like dark T-shirts drying in the wind filled the treetops. And at the mouth of the river, a lone squawking Osprey stood guard on her nest and complained about our passage so close to her post. A host of boats dotted the horizon of the large lake and then a trio of loud airboats blew by us in a big hurry. When the kayaks were nestled back in the truck, and H's sore back had quit aching - it was the snorkel equipment's turn to play. Silver Glen's spring is a large bowl area with the surging water coming from deep in the center. Surrounding the bowl is a seaweed/sea grass area where Tilapia spin circles in the sand for nests. As I floated I watched 2 good sized grayish fish hovering in center of their sandy round cradles - until splashing swimmers caused them to dash away to hide in the weeds for safety. Lady Fish swam over the deep blue spring in thick groups of slinky silver swarms. Alas, the water was COLD and we both quickly chose to leave the magical under water world of the spring and to get warm again. On the way home, we detoured off Rt 19 to see a little bit closer the horrid damage of the latest wildfire. We passed thru a small run down area of shacks and outbuildings that had been damaged along with the dry undergrowth that had surrounded everything. The smell of fresh burnt wood was hanging thick everywhere. The "roads" thru this small cluster of humble living quarters was deeper rutted and even narrower than the logging roads in the forest. More than once H was forced to gear down and try again to make safe passage in the narrow rutted "alley". And then there was the concern about having a "good ole' boy" running out with his shotgun pointed at us and our big blue target! Time to get outa there!

And it is time to get out of here! The truck is washed and the table cloth has been removed from the picnic table. We are moving to Anastasia State Park in St Augustine. Oh yeah, and it's Bike Week! Harleys have been roaring up and down Rt 19 all day long.