|The turquoise glow of the spring amidst |
the trees (and some friendly danger/death/ swim
at your own risk signs).
|Looking out the algae-filled spring run towards the Suwannee.|
When we pulled into the parking lot, we were alone. It was kind of eerie seeing a park with a beautiful spring totally empty on a Sunday morning, but we just assumed everyone was still sleeping or at church. We walked down to the spring to check out the basin and find the best entrance into the water and found that the spring was low but clear, first visible as a turquoise glow in the middle of the forest. While one of the staircases was blocked off with caution tape because it no longer led anywhere near the water and the rocks beneath the platform were slowly eroding away, there was one staircase that led down to a decent area for entry.
So after moving the car closer to the functional staircase, wiggling into our wetsuits, realizing I forgot my memory card for the underwater camera, and setting up our gear while battling the mosquitoes, we crossed the mini rocky beach (that was clearly supposed to be under water) and descended. Thankfully my mind was immediately taken off the fact that I felt like I was missing a limb without camera in hand when I was greeted by a tiny bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus mystacalis) that came within inches of my mask. We were also immediately overwhelmed by the amount of brown and green algae in the basin and decided to head over to the cavern first.
The entrance to the cavern is huge, truly representing what Harry later called “ledge diving”. The entrance is as wide as the entire cavern room, so there is really no danger of losing sight of the light or getting trapped. I explored every nook and cranny of the wall and hit a max depth of 53 feet, so it’s relatively shallow as well. Hiding amongst the little bedding planes and holes in the limestone, my light brought to life a largemouth bass (Mircopterus salmoides floridanus) and some tiny albino-looking fish that looked like juvenile sunfish (only about an inch long!) – I’m guessing they were flagfish (Jordanella floridae) but can’t be totally sure until I go back with my camera.
|You could see the top of this beautiful tree|
from the bottom of the basin (~30 feet). I wish
I could have seen what the spring looked
like a few weeks ago when the water was
about a third of the way up the tree at the
Over in one corner of the cavern, there are multiple sand boils that again reminded me of a boiling witches cauldron. The only difference being the water is a chilling 72 degrees, far from boiling. After playing around in the sand boils, we swam around exploring the basin for about 20 minutes. We spotted what looked like a Suwannee Cooter (also called the Suwannee Chicken, Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis), which essentially looks like a painted turtle. The word ‘cooter’ actually comes from the African language Malinké word ‘Kuta’ meaning turtle. There are literally dozens of different freshwater turtle and slider species that thrive in the Suwannee, so I may be mistaken, but anyway, this turtle was hanging out at the surface then dove down and disappeared into the algae around the walls of the basin. We were also entertained by a school of almost a dozen spotted suckers (Minytrema melanops) and tiny flounder-looking fish that are actually part of the sole family called hogchokers (Trinectes maculates). These hogchokers blended almost perfectly with the algae when they barely coated themselves with a thin layer of the overly abundant silt on the bottom of the basin. As I was sneaking up on the T. maculates and touching their tails before they bolted away, I also tried sticking my arm in the silt… I stopped when it hit my elbow and declared the unscientific measurement of “a lot” of silt, most likely due to the recent flooding. But as long as you were careful not to kick up the bottom and stayed out of the cave, it was beautiful – definitely coming back to take pictures J
|Unfortunately this was as close to "underwater"|
photos as I got without a memory card...
this is me standing in the middle of the spring
run attempting to take a picture of the little
friendly sunfish at the edge of the basin.
|Pink shirt at the bottom of the stairs and pink|
towel at the top... I wonder who those belong
to? And these are the stairs that definitely are
supposed to go into the water...