The next couple days were the cold and damp ones. A haze had settled in like a feather duster on a spindle bed over Shell Mound Park at the mouth of the river where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. Folks out on the elevated fishing pier were all dressed for the cold dampness as they tried casting their shrimp loaded hooks out in what water was left as the tide slithered out of the bay. Their small children behaved like any bored children and repeatedly threw rocks and stones into the muck below. Farther out on Cedar Key the foggy haze still lay over everything and you could not see from one end of the waterfront eateries and shops to the other where the slimy boat launch sat empty and ignored.
Inland towards Ocala, Dunnellon and our past favorite Rainbow River State Park we pressed, with hopes of some sunny weather and my long awaited visit with my sister and her hubby. Sunny - we had - but the COLD soon followed. High 20’s and very low 30’s at night and barely up to 50 during the day seemed to be the new norm. My winter coat even came out of hiding from under the bed! In years past we’ve spent our Christmas’ with D&S but since we came down a different route this year, I had to wait for my hugs and Dick’s fun dose of orneriness.
Straight down Rt 200, on the banks of the Withlacoochee River, sits the rustic old building which still houses the Stumpknockers Restaurant. I had my first taste of alligator there a bunch of years ago! My catfish dinner was good but H’s choice of stuffed flounder did not make him as happy. After our dinner we stepped carefully thru the cypress roots down to the river’s edge. The reflection of the Rt 200 Bridge cast its double image on the dark calm water. The many Cypress trees showed fresh looking high water marks from all the previous heavy rains.
Hiding among the many tree roots was a large black gator that thought he could make a meal of me! He attempted to clamp his mammoth gapping jaws on my foot and ankle but I yelled and swiftly grabbed my leg and pulled my very important limb back to safety! Dick bravely grabbed the reptile’s stiff upper jaw and wrestled the creature back to its previous stoic pose! A very close call! And Sharon? She just shook her head and dared to laugh.
In the “Good Ole’ Days” of camping at Rainbow Springs State Park, the camp was divided into the upper (RV) sites and the lower (tent, trailer and pickup truck camper) sites. The park has been remodeled so the lower area is now all day use and the upper areas have been upgraded and new bathhouses built. They can erase the fun camping spots below but not the sweet memories of good friends and canoeing and amazing snorkeling on the river!
Our stay at the state park would not be complete without a visit to the clear aqua water of the headsprings. The many walkways and paths that surround the springs are lined with Azalea bushes and Camellia trees. At Christmas time when we usually are here, the park is decorated with many sparkling lights that light up all the walkways – this time it was the many Azaleas and Camellias that now shed their delicate glow along the way in shades of red, white and soft pink blooms!