Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just Add Water! (and #8 Rainbow River)

This past weekend, Kate and I helped Harry with his big Florida Springs trip that he organized with Just Add Water SCUBA from Ohio! We did 4 different dives over the weekend, caravanning  from Gainesville to Devil's Den and Ginnie Springs on Saturday and to Blue Grotto and Rainbow River on Sunday.

We started bright and early on Saturday morning with a trip out to Devil's Den. It was a fun re-visit to my first spring dive ever :) Even though it was pretty cloudy and a bit chilly, the 72 degree clear water was impossible to resist.

This is the view looking up from the dive platform. Thankfully you don't have to be lowered into the hole to go diving...

...although you do have to lower yourself through this other small hole and down the skinny staircase. This is definitely the most dangerous part of the dive.

View from the dive platform looking into the water. Looks like a shallow kiddy pool with some rocks? Think again.  You can dive down to ~50 feet and explore swim-throughs and bedding planes and feel like you're in a cave.  The actual caves are grated off or have grim reaper signs to discourage you from getting lost.

Looking back up towards the dive platform from underwater... Kind of reminds me of Pride Rock from the Lion King.

Woww, crazy numbers of divers appeared at the end of our dive.  And only one person allowed on the stairs at once. Time to pack up the gear and head up to Ginnie Spring!
Next, we drove from Williston up to High Springs and had lunch in the sun and got more tank fills before heading to the main spring at Ginnie.  I was topside with Harry for this one so don't have any underwater pictures, but according to Kate, the cavern was pretty crowded.

View of the spring from the top of the stairs... don't be fooled by it's crystal clear and calm appearance... the cavern below (15-50 feet) is crowded with many divers!

On Sunday morning (after a much needed good night of sleep and lots of rain), we drove to Blue Grotto, very close to Devil's Den where we dove on Saturday morning. There were a surprising number of divers for the pouring rain and chilly 45-50 degree temperatures, but we managed to beat the crowds and get in a beautiful dive before leaving for the Rainbow River drift dive at 10:30. We even saw 2 little turtles, the huge catfish that hangs out under the steps, and stuck our heads up in the bell to talk to each other at 30 feet underwater.

Our first sight of the Rainbow River at K.P. Hole Park. It was so chilly out that the 72 degree river was steaming!

"Snake" bird. They have no oils in their feathers so they have to dry out their wings. Not doing much good on a rainy, humid day like today.

Pontoon boat that brought us up the river so we could drift back down with the current and end up back where we started.

It may have been cold and rainy, but I got a pink tank that matched my drysuit (and BC and wetsuit and nails etc.), so life was good :)

Harry is up and at 'em! Briefing us on the drift dive before we went out on round 2 of the boat rides.

We were also joined by a not-so-shy heron. When he flew away, his wingspan was probably about 6 feet!

All loaded on the boat and ready to motor upriver to be dropped off. So much fun meeting everyone from Ohio, what a fun group :)

First view when we entered the river. Lots of beautiful seagrass and quite a bit of current.

More grass and one of many sunfish that cruise around and point into the current in the river.

I actually took this shot upside down looking behind me (through my legs), but it looks pretty normal rotated around! I was towing the dive flag so we didn't get run over by any passing boats.

Good thing it's wet in the water anyway... a little rain will never ruin a dive. Actually I think it makes it more fun... I love looking up and seeing the raindrops.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

#2 Ichetucknee Spring (Take 2!!)

On January 15, I returned to Blue Hole at Ichetucknee Spring, this time much improved over the first because I had Monica, Kate, Will, and Matt... and my camera! We had a quick lunch and warmed up in the sun when we got there, then we suited up and walked out to the hole. There were a few cave divers coming up when we first got in, but we had the place to ourselves for the majority of the time. Then a few crazies in no wetsuits came in for a while. The visibility wasn't the best I've seen in the springs (although still quite spectacular...) so the pictures aren't the best, but it was a perfect January day for some spring snorkeling :)

Link to wayy more pictures (from the past 3 posts): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2500173544118.2111025.1246290102&type=3&l=55cde1009f 

Sunfish galore right when I jumped in.

Kate diving down into the hole.

Looking up from the bottom.

Matching poses! Will and Monica in the shallow part of the basin.

Snapping turtle?

Me at the bottom - taken by Monica :)

#7 (Volusia) Blue Spring (sort of...)

For fear of being arrested, fined, and thrown in jail, we did not actually swim in Volusia Blue. But at some times of the year you can! It was worth the trip though because there were 127 manatees in the spring run that day!! There were quite a few other people milling around and making ridiculous comments about the manatees (such as a lady in the background of one of the videos I took: "ooh do you think they're scaly?" ??!?). And practically every small child there had a stuffed manatee toy from the big gift shop on site. It was a lot more like being at Ginnie or Ichetucknee in the summer in terms of the number of people there but it was still amazing to see that many manatees in one spot and to show Monica her first manatee :) :)

Booo :(

Rolling around in the mud right below our feet! Apparently (according to Ken) this is a mating behavior.

Pilo 'o manatee

Monica checking out the manatees :)

We walked out the boardwalk a ways and saw the actual spring. Looks like an awesome dive... so hard to not jump off the edge. There weren't even any manatees around it, grrr

Sooo saddd :(

Cute little guy

Juniper in January

As part of our Florida-exploring road trip adventure, Monica and I stopped at Juniper Spring in the Ocala National Forest. It was about an hour and half drive from Gville down 75 and through Ocala and through the forest. Juniper isn't a first magnitude but the nearby Alexander Spring is... unfortunately we didn't have time to make it to both. Alexander is in the same forest but is 40 miles away and was a bit out of the way of our Merritt Island-bound route. Instead, we enjoyed a VIP trip to Juniper and had the entire spring to ourselves:

First view of the spring. The brown shack in the distance goes along with a big water wheel and a waterfall that goes out the little spring run.

Relaxing and soaking in the sun before jumping in :)

The little minnows came up and nibbled on your fingers... we were even able to scoop them up with our hands!

Finally in the water! Checking out the spring (with camera in hand)... the spring head was at max depth of probably 25-30 feet and the rest of the basin was shallow and covered in seagrass.

Monica's first adventure into a spring!! Using a camera like a pro :)

Monica cruising across the deeper part of the spring.
After about an hour or two of swimming, jumping/cartwheeling off the platform, we walked explored some of the aboveground trails, warmed up, and had some lunch and soaked up some more sun. Then back in the car for the rest of the drive down to Merritt Island.