January 30, 2015
I took a much needed break from winter in Michigan, and fled south for a few days with my brother and his family in Orlando. My prior trips to Florida have all been situated amongst the normal trappings of the state – theme parks, beaches, race tracks, and dull flat land (sorry Florida!). This trip raised my view of the state, as I tried to be on the trail or on the water every day.
My day started in cold and snowy Michigan and took a big turn for the good when my niece Alex and her awesome dog Kylie picked me up at the airport. After lunch at a cool outdoor restaurant that is dog friendly, we made our way to Wekiva Island, where they have a great canoe livery. The Wekiva River is one of the two national Wild & Scenic Rivers located in Florida.
It did not take long too figure out why, as soon after setting off, we were immersed in a beautiful ecosystem I would have never guessed was that close to the concrete and theme park lines of central Florida. We entered an ancient world of oaks and cypress tress adorned at times with Spanish Moss. The sound of the outer world remarkably melted away.
We soon found ourselves at the landing at Wekiva Springs State Park, where we left our canoe and hiked to the springs. I had never seen springs like this before and had no idea such a thing existed. At the source of the spring is a giant hole in the ground, with great rock features contained within. 45 millions of gallons of 72 degree water are released by the spring every day, providing a constant flow of water into the river. The spring also makes for a great swimming hole, even snorkeling and scuba if one is so inclined. Being January and seeing how I am not such a big fan of swimming, we were content to admire the view and be fascinated by the flow of water.
Soon it was back to the canoe, and back to Wekiva Island. Not too quickly though, as the return paddle was just as beautiful in reverse. Our next stop was Blue Springs, where I again saw things I did not know existed. On the day of our visit, over 300 manatees were also visiting the park. I am not sure I had ever seen a manatee before, much less had any idea they congregated in such numbers, and in fresh water at that. If my memory of the signs serves me right, manatees have trouble tolerating weather below 68 degrees. Because of that, they move inland during the cold of winter – and at least in Michigan we know the past couple winters have been cold! The springs put out millions and millions of fresh clean water every day at a constant 72 degrees. The manatees have discovered this and have made Blue Springs and other similar springs their winter vacations destinations of choice.
All in all, an amazing day discovering that there is more to Florida than I had thought.