Monday, May 10, 2010

2010-12 Otter Springs Florida

Otter Springs Florida


Otter Springs.  Full hookups, $17 per night (wkly rate).  Gorgeous grassy sites with huge oak trees draped in Spanish moss.  Natural springs, indoor swimming pool.

I’m here to join in a N Fla Great Outdoors group campout.  John found this spring last year and set up the campout for the group.  It’s one of those gems that you pretty much have to hear about by word of mouth.  It’s not even on most maps.

Otter Springs was originally a Baptist retreat, eventually sold to a conservancy and now is owned by the Suwanee Water Management District and managed by Gilchrist county.  The springs are small and nestled around sloping grassy banks, oak and palm trees.  The old camp has a couple of nice rental cabins, one on stilts.  A large indoor swimming pool and a couple of activity buildings.

This is the only campground that I’ve ever been in that has  “people” corrals.  They’re actually fenced off areas between campsites for placing your chairs, picnic table and fire pits.  Since the sites are pretty loosely defined, it keeps the cars and vehicles out of the area.

The Next day a couple of us went to Hart Springs, another of the many natural springs in the area to put in for a kayak trip.  We were assured that we could find the entrance to Otter springs on down the river.  Just look for the sign between two large cypress trees.

I rented my kayak, $15 for 4 hours, and joined the others on the banks of the springs.  We all got our bearings and headed out to the Suwannee River.  The Suwannee widened out and we began paddling west towards the Gulf of Mexico.  What a joy to be back out on the water.  Feeling the rhythmic sway of the water as larger boats passed us by.  The waves lifting our kayaks up and over each crest and then back down.  The river heavily bordered by cypress and pines.  Occasional boat ramps and cabins line the river which can flood up to 10 feet so many are either on the higher banks along the river or on stilts.

After traveling the 3 or 4 miles, we began to looking for the two cypress trees and the sign for Otter springs.  We were told that if we missed the entrance to the springs, we’d see the old boat dock and know we‘d gone too far.  Did I mention the river is lined with cypress trees and old docks and boats?  Did I also mention the river is fast moving and to paddle upstream would be near to impossible?? So if we missed the entrance we’d be up a creek so to speak.   Having felt like we’d already traveled 5 or 6 miles down river, our group was intent of finding those twin cypress trees and sign.  Wait, I see two big cypress trees up ahead and there are three nails in the tree but no sign.  John said, “looks like the entrance”, as he began paddling deep within, the dark stained waters,  cypress knees poking up through the still black waters.  A dead end.

We turned around and continued our paddling down river, a bit slower, looking intently at each pair of cypress trees.  Finally two large cypress stood opposite a small inlet.  No sign, but we decided to paddle up the inlet anyway.  The further we got, the clearer the water became, indicating a spring.  The canopy of trees hung low over the slow moving stream, creating a green shaded tunnel for paddling.  A silent world except for the occasional bird chirping in the distance or the splash of water as a fish broke the surface or other unseen creatures plunged into the dark water.  We were no longer eager to reach our destination, as the scenery was so other worldly and we all knew it would be a while before we got to travel a route like this again.

Back at camp plans were made to visit more springs in the area.  Hart, Fanning, Manatee, Troy, Peacock and so many more.  Which ones would we make it too next.  All were different in their own way and each one perfect for us photographers and John the painter.  Eager to get out there and take pictures along their boardwalks, trails and headwaters of the springs.

Each evening enjoying a campfire.  For those in the city environments, it really is cooler out in the country.  Watching the flames lap up the sides of the logs.  Listening to the night owls hooting in the distance.  Stars twinkling through the canopy of trees against a black sky.  A stillness in the air. Not wanting to disturb the silence, until someone tells a joke or pokes fun and laughter fills the air.

On the last day or the official campout (being a fulltimer I get to stay a few more days before moving on), John and I went for a morning hike from Otter springs to the Suwannee River.  The trails are easy to follow and well marked.  The red and orange trails that we would be hiking on.   They’re actually old dirt roads, which make for great trails through this dense river forest.  Nice to enjoy a hike with an old friend, sometimes just enjoying the silence as we walked along.  Snapping pictures, commenting on the native palm trees and awesome old gnarled oak trees.

My friends have left and I enjoy the early morning sun and coolness.  I do my one chore a day, Laundry today, then head out to explore the small town of Trenton Fla.  I have lunch in a restaurant and quilt shop that are in the old Coke-a-Cola bottling plant.  Beautifully restored.  The food was marginal but as I walked around the shops and the adjoining buildings containing pricey antiques, I thought of my dear friend Laurel.  The shops contained a full classroom facility for making the quilts in a group setting.  And since they had all the supplies a quilter would ever want, I just know she’d love the place.

It’s going to be another quiet evening so I’ll send this out till next time….

Ps, the picture of the red dragon fly was quite a shot to get.  Margie pointed him out high up on a dead branch, at least 12 feet away.  How I was able to zoom in and focus on such a small creature, I’ll never know.

Note: some of the pictures presented were taken by my buddy John, as I did not bring my camera on the river.  A water mark with his name indicates which pictures are his.  See Picasa Photo's.

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