Another day with a lot of different , smaller nature adventures! We got up a little later than usual and had a lovely, leisurely breakfast with Susy and Kevin, since Susy was on her own schedule for the morning and could take her time. We then took off around 10:00, and started our exploration with a brief visit to the “Devil’s Millhopper,” a large sinkhole that has been made a geological site mostly by putting wooden stairs down into it so you can go down to the bottom. But it’s a fairly old hole so there is a lot of vegetation and it’s not very recognizable as a sinkhole, and doesn’t show the “abyss” / hole into the aquifer, so we just made it a brief visit—it was already quite warm and positively steamy at the bottom of the stairs, where it is supposed to be “cool year round” according to both Susy and the park’s website!
We then made our way to Ichetucknee Springs, another state park that I remembered very well from my visit with the kids 7 or 8 years ago, so I wanted to show Mark what it was like. The park has a natural “lazy river,” for which we rented a double inner tube, and a little tram hauled us up to the launch station, from where you float gently down the Ichetucknee river for about 1 ½ hours, with cedars and other trees providing partial shade and the river nice, cool water. We saw turtles sunning themselves on logs near the banks, and the water was crystal clear, so we could also see the fish in the water and the long seagrass by just looking down into the water right in front of us. That was really nice, although the traffic down the river in inner tubes was pretty busy and there were lots of fairly noisy kids around.
At the end of the tube trip, we had a quick concession stand lunch (polish hot dogs, basically) and then drove over to the park’s other entrance to find the actual spring for which the river is named, and swim there. It was also rather crowded there, but we did swim and snorkel there, and the water color and the sharp drop off into the limestone were awesome. There was also a turtle that swam very serenely among the many swimmers, and once I looked to the side with the goggles on, and there it was less than a foot away! The water felt cold at 72 degrees, so we didn’t swim for very long, but we walked to the second, minor spring just to see it and to dry off, and eventually also took some very nice pictures from the canoe launch site.
After we’d exhausted pretty much everything we could do at the Springs, it was about 3 pm, but we decided to make one more stop at another little state park that we just saw on our map. It was called O’Leno and actually held a fascinating surprise – you could take a little loop hike of about 1 mile to a river, the Santa Fe River, that disappears into underground caverns at a “River Sink. “ It flows along at a pretty decent pace, as you walk by it, and then it seems to stop and just become a lake—but the algae on the lake move slowly in a circle over the spot where the river disappears into underground caverns. We didn’t get to hike to the “River Rise” three miles further ahead, where the river emerges again, but it was very cool nonetheless—especially since we discovered that the slowly spiraling “lake” had a lot of turtles floating around on it on tree trunks. Mark took photos of at least a dozen!
After the end of the hike, it was definitely time to go home, so we drove the 45 minutes back to Gainesville. We got back in time for another lovely, simple meal with Susy and Kevin, and then went for a special last nature treat—we went to the Bathouse and Batbarn, where 400,000 bats (mostly little Brazilian bats) spend the day sleeping, only to come out in huge droves a a little while after sunset. It was like watching an enormous swarm of insects, because they were so small and moves so fast – but Mark shot a couple of very good pictures. After we’d watched the bats for about half an hour and saw the sky go darker and darker, we decided to go home, have ice cream with fruit salad, and go to bed after just a little bit of chitchat. It was a long day!