As river levels rose, so did our excitement. The flood curtains at Ginnie Springs have been up for a while, holding back the tannic river and allowing divers access to the winding underworld via Devil’s Eye while most of the other caves in the area have been closed. But the heavy rains that have caused many springs to be tannic and off-limits to divers have also transformed the Ichetucknee River into a flooded forest that was begging to be explored.
But it wouldn’t be a full-on adventure without explorations en route. April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, and Florida is no exception to this age-old rhyme. Fields of wild flowers in full bloom are of course impossible to resist, so we pulled over to run through endless fields of blooming Coreopsis.
|Somewhere along the side of the road in High Springs, FL.|
Wildflower-frolicking behind us, we made a quick stop at the Ichetucknee Campground to get our boats and began our paddle on what appeared to be an entirely new river.
Just a few extra feet of water transformed the entire river, and the low-lying flood plane, once dominated by tall cypress knees and emergent macrophytes, became a flooded forest. The water drowned palmettos, roots, grasses, and everything else in its path, allowing us to paddle where feet once tread. But the high water was also disorienting - places once familiar to me were suddenly unrecognizable. We were able to see places through an entirely new light - due to both the beautiful sunlit reflections of the recently-sprouted green leaves and the newly-flooded places to paddle.
|Recognize this place? I barely did! Usually, the water is much too low to allow canoe or kayak access to Jug Hole due to the large grate in the spring run, but the high water meant everybody could easily access the spring via canoe or kayak.|
|So much action! GoPole/GoPro shot by Greg as we all explore the spring and are joined by Nate. (Look closely... I spy two happy mermaids underwater!)|
|Top: Greg swimming in the sky above Jug Hole as I dive below.|
Bottom: Hovering above, about to dive down (Photo by Greg).
The huge beds of floating vegetation blocking the main channel forced us to paddle through magical forests. In the distance, amidst the vegetation, manatees surfacing for air let out loud breaths that sprayed water skyward, sending echoing noises throughout the woods.
Just when I though I had completely lost my bearings, I caught a glimpse of some familiar treetops. Pushing our way through floating islands of dense vegetation, we found a barely-recognizable spring amidst the flood.
|Submerged palmettos, sunlit patches, and twisted tree reflections in the spring.|
|September 14, 2013 - A view of the spring from a previous trip. I'm standing a bit higher than I stood while taking the next photo, but it still gives you a comparison in terms of how much more area is underwater in May versus September!|
|May 9, 2014 - 8 months later, flood stage|
Shortly after our spring stop, we entered the lower part of the river where tubers usually abound. The extremely high water meant the river was closed to tubing, which also totally changed the feel of the lower section. In the heat of the summer when river levels are low and the park is crowded, you can basically hop from tube to tube - without touching the water - all the way from the northern launch to the southern launch!
|Peaceful views on the lower part of the river near where the tubers usually launch and begin their takeover.|