Saturday, May 28, 2011

2011-13 Mayo Florida

John and Margie

Mayo Florida

Charles Springs

Dowling Park (Advent Christian Village)

Lafayette Blue Springs State Park

Florida Folk Festival, one more time

Campground:  Suwannee River Rendezvous.  $21 per day water/Elect.  ( @ weekly rate)  A fish camp style “resort” and campground.  Lots of spreading oak trees, small motel, cabins and campsites.  Entertainment on weekends and  Grandma Susie’s cooking shack opened on weekends. Note:  poor set up to use dump station behind bath house.  Tree in way, requires user to park 20 ft away.

Holy Leaping Sturgeon!  I’ve arrived on the Suwannee River. And yes, the sturgeon are huge and leaping high out of the water and another adventure begins.  Just look out for those sturgeon that can get up to 8 ft long and weigh 200 lbs.

I traveled to north central Florida and once again I’m near about 6 natural springs.  The Suwannee River Rendezvous even has a small natural spring right on property called Convict Springs.  It got it’s name many years ago when prison chain gangs would come through this area on work duty.  Since the prison was too far for them to go back too each evening, they set up camp here at what became known as Convict springs.

Convict Springs

Today it’s still a campground and “resort” but there are no convicts, that I know of any way.  It’s a chance to explore the deep south and the tiny town of Mayo, population 900 and surrounding area.  As well as visit with my good friends John Sterpe and Margie.

The last couple of days it’s been a steamy 95-98 degrees with no rain in the immediate future.  The Suwannee River is at an all time record low with raw limestone walls once covered by the Suwannee River, now exposed as the dark river meanders along at it’s lower level.

On the way to Suwannee River I came across an old train sitting on the side of hwy 19/98.  It was along a lonely stretch of highway as straight as an arrow as the highway cut through a thick forest of pine  and oak trees.   I’d seen it unexpectedly each time I drove this section of quiet rural highway and finally stopped to check it out.  The locomotive, surrounded by a metal fence and paved loop, the diminutive park called what else, Wayside Park with a big sign indicating no overnight camping permitted.  Darn, and I can tell you, it would have made a great spot to stop overnight.  A crystal clear spring fed stream runs through the thick jungle on the edge of the park and a small patch of well trimmed grass.   No picnic table, no trash can, no restroom.  Just the locomotive behind the fence and a quiet wayside stop along a lonely road.  The train was originally used to haul the lumber from the forests to sawmills in the area.  Now a silent reminder of how our country started.

Today I drove the mile or so into the tiny town of Mayo. This is the county seat so they have the big county court house in the center of town.  Two historic buildings are across the street.  The first being the three story wood building which was the original county courthouse.  It’s white clapboard siding and wrap around balconies fill most of the block it sits on.  Stairs that lean to one side and the long balcony that has a dip and sway add to the years of use.  A lot of paint goes into maintaining this old place.  The other historic building is the house of the 7 gables.  It was commissioned after the owner read the book, the House of the 7 Gables.  An oddity in a small southern town.  The octagon shaped main section looks overwhelmed by the 6 gables on top.  The seventh extending over the rectangular extension.

I had lunch at a small café in town operated by Peggy.  She makes a pretty good Cuban sandwich and a nice broccoli salad.  We happened to both be cancer survivors and  when we got onto Oprah’s last couple of shows (I watched the 2nd to last show with charley the dog in the rec room of  Suwannee River Resort), Peggy said she had sent in a couple letters to Oprah suggesting that she do a show on what life was like for survivors after the cancer.   Peggy described her own miracle after recovering from cancer.  Said she had twins and the Dr. said, why sure, she could have had more than twins since her “eggs” dropped pretty much all at once after recovering from cancer.  Who knew!   Her family moved from the Orlando area to Mayo so she could raise her kids in a small town.  We both lived in Orlando during the same period.

While out wondering around the town of Mayo, I notice a prison gang working in town, planting new shrubs.  There was an additional prison team in the town park doing similar work.  So it appears those work teams of years ago that Convict Springs was named after all still being utilized today.

I was able to hook up with my friends John and Margie today and as it happened, it’s Margie’s Birthday so of course I took them both out to lunch to celebrate.  We went into the town of High Springs and ate at a top notch restaurant called “The Great Outdoors”.  A beautifully old restored building with indoor and outdoor seating.  Two of John’s large paintings are prominently displayed in the main room.  And yes, I feel privileged to know the artist.

The next day, John and I went on one of our springs adventures.  Searching the back roads for some of the many springs along the Suwannee River.  This is the kind of day I live for.  Exploring with a friend who loves to take pictures for inspiration for his paintings of the Real Florida.  After taking the usual wrong turn, we finally headed back to Mayo and headed north on county road 51, down dirt roads as white as powdered sugar and just about as fine.  Another dead end.  The springs were on the other side of the Suwannee.

Not to worry, we figured out the National Geographic map "The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail".  Down more powder white dirt roads and we finally reached Charles Springs.  It’s a natural spring with two limestone natural bridges over the springs.  Drought has reduced the springs to a gentle swirling pool of water.  The natural drainage leading to the Suwannee is just a dry channel.  4 young Spanish speaking guys were snorkeling along in the Suwannee River.  I was tempted to jump in too, but we needed to explore some more.

We headed north to Dowling Park, thinking it was another springs.  Not.  It is an Advent Christian Village.  Out here in the deep south.  An almost Stepford Wives looking community perfectly manicured homes on once acre lots in natural settings of tall Pines and oaks with lawns so perfectly meticulous they must have used a tweezers.  Further in, smaller closer concrete block Florida homes lined up along gentle curving roads that are also gulf cart friendly and finally a mature living 4 story manor and small Village.  John and I ate in a small cafe in the Village where I had another one of those odd meals I‘ve had along the way.  I ordered a Tilapia topped César salad.  What I got was shredded iceberg lettuce with black olives, croutons and  a dressing that was between an Italian or Greek dressing.  Weird.  Not bad, just really weird.

John at Lafayette Springs State Park

After lunch we headed west across the Suwannee River and headed back south towards Lafayette Springs.  Along the way, we stopped and took some great pictures of old farm buildings and Florida cracker homes.  To ensure that we would reach Lafayette Springs, I finally turned on my Droid GPS and spoke into it for  directions.  I don’t bother to type most stuff into the Droid as it’s word recognition software is great.  John was amazed at how quickly the Droid searched for, found and gave directions to the springs.

Lafayette Springs State Park
Lafayette Springs State Park.  What a great small Florida park.  They’ve recently built new restrooms, raised tree house cabins and handicapped ramps and sidewalks to the springs and picnic areas.  Yet the natural beauty of the area exudes.  John convinced me to jump into the cool 72 degree clear springs and we snorkeled around and looked into the deep springs cave.  The springs are flowing pretty good as the water tumbled  over moss covered limestone rocks into the Suwannee River.  We swam through the springs and tumbled over those moss covered rocks and were dumped into the Suwannee which is surprisingly a warm 80 degrees.  Heaven.  With the river so low, a nice sandy beach has appeared for sunning.  It was hard to get me out of the water.  Swimming between the warm currents, into the cooler spring waters mixing with the Suwannee River, one could find the perfect temperature for cooling off on a hot day.

More photo's at Picasa.

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