Friday, June 17, 2005

Tampa to Chattanooga

First stop after Tampa was Silver Springs State Park. This pretty park is just on the western edge of Ocala National Forest. Silver River runs along the park to the world's largest artesian spring - "Silver Springs Nature's Theme Park". Our plan was to kayak the 2 1/2 miles to the spring from the park. We planned ahead by ordering kayak wheels since there was a 0.6 mile hike to the river and kayak launch. Now, we'd considered buying these wheels for awhile, but always talked ourselves out of it because most are so overly-priced (i.e. $50-99/each). But because we knew about this hike to the launch (feels much longer when carrying 2 58lb-kayaks, plus gear) and we found Key West Paddlesports on E-Bay selling wheels for $39/each plus s/h we changed our minds. We had bought them and had them shipped to Tampa so we'd have them for Silver Springs. Unfortunately we had technical difficulties. First, we had two defective wheel caps - so the bolts would unscrew and the wheels would fly off. This we learned within feet of our campsite. Resolution: we put both good caps on my kayak, and Andy drove his kayak to the trailhead. From there he dragged the kayak over the pine-needle and sand-covered path to the launch. Second, we wanted to avoid gluing the scupper posts on so we could disassemble the wheels and put them inside the 'yaks during the paddle. This didn't work (guessing we're on the heavy side for these wheels, recommended 60lb limit), so we rigged it to keep the posts from popping straight up and into the woods by applying pressure with the straps. Finally, about 2 hours after starting out, we finally made it to the launch. The Silver River is gorgeous. No houses, few boats during the week, just "old Florida". After touring the museum at the park, I could now begin to visualize the whooly mammoths, tigers, and super sharks that used to live in this area. Wouldn't that be neat to find a shark's tooth as big as your hand? Upon reaching Silver Springs I was a little disappointed in "Nature's Theme Park" - loud music blaring, corny little fairground rides, about 20 or so glass-bottom boats zooming about with guides on loudspeakers. What I did enjoy was the rookeries in the area with baby birds poking their heads out, the crystal clear waters allowing you to see allligator gar fish and many others, the glacier-blue water at the springheads themselves. The water is in the low 70's so it was refreshing to splash on us or hang our feet over as we paddled in the 90 degree air temp. After returning to the dock and hiking back, we continued to have problems with the scupper posts popping out of our new wheels, so we gave up and dragged both kayaks back. Guess we'll have to glue them in afterall.


The next morning at Silver Springs SP is when our plans changed. We were on a nice, wooded, scenic hike when the horseflies started attacking. And, it was another scorcher. Andy ran most of the way back to the RV, so when I caught up we had both individually decided it was time to get the heck out of Florida. Sorry Jim and Chris, we'll have to catch up on the tail-end of our trip! These parks in Northern Florida along I-75 are too pretty to not enjoy hiking, etc. We had several others on our list, but couldn't imagine going and not taking full advantage of them. So we packed up the RV and headed north. I know! Crazy for us...an impulsive, lunch-time departure.

We made it to Reed Bingham State Park in Adel, GA by 3:00. Another pretty park with huge campsites. Live oaks with their outreaching arms dripping with spanish moss.

We toured around the park on our bikes to check out the hiking trails for tommorrow. More horseflies and mosquitos, not a good sign. In the morning we put the kayaks into the lake and paddled towards the Little River hoping the horseflies won't follow us on the water. The Little River appeared to have overflowed it's banks. It was muddy-brown and seemed to have swallowed up the forest for water was seen everywhere. There was no longer a 'river bank'. The current was visible and quite strong making for a great work-out going up-river. On one 's' curve, the floodwaters took the short-cut through the trees, bisected the river, and flowed back into the forest. It took us a minute to even determine where the river itself was since the current ran perpendicular to it. We paddled up as far as our arms could take us, spun around, and drifted home. The setting was more prehistoric than old Florida with cypress trees, moss, elephant ears, and a variety of trees crowding the waterway. Another great paddle.

We're glad we've had the opportunity to use our kayaks so much so far. We had really debated about whether we should bring them or not since we know we won't use them much out West or up North.

Again, we decided on a lunch-time departure since we can't take advantage of the hiking trails. If it's not obvious yet, we hate horseflies and mosquitos! We made it to High Falls State Park in High Falls, GA by 4pm. That night we just walked some of the trails overlooking the two falls and watched the sun start to set.

The next morning we woke up to temperatures in the 60's. Aaahh, just what we've been looking for. Drank our coffee outside for the first time since we left Ft Lauderdale. Drove over to Indian Springs State Park to check it out. The Park has the spring enclosed with a pipe coming out of it. We saw several people filling up water jugs from the spring, eventhough signs said it was not potable. We asked a ranger later about it and he explained that some people still believed in the healing powers of the mineral-laden waters. But when he told me the water comes from the Chattahootchee River (think Atlanta to the north), filters through the rocks to pick up the minerals, I kept thinking to myself "how much of the pollutants get filtered out?" They test it for pollutants once a year. They try to discourage people from drinking it. I should've asked for specifics on the test results, silly me. Times are not the same from when the Indians used this spring for healing. After touring around Indian Springs SP, we went looking for more hiking trails. There was a non-profit, privately-owned nature center around the corner called Dauset Trails. Wow, what a facility. 1200 acres. Started up in 1977 by two guys - Daugherty and Settle. Part nature center with a wildlife rehabilitation center and farm animal center, part gardens and picnic area,

they also offer a campground and a chapel, and the rest of the land are trails - separate areas for hiking, horse-back riding, or mtn biking (about 20 miles, offering 3 levels). Decided we'd come back with our bike clothes and go for a ride. We attempted the intermediate trails, about 11.5 miles intertwined within a forest with two streams running through and a couple of high-grass fields to pedal through as well. What an excellent find! Beautiful scenery in the forest of oaks, sweetgum, pines, and other deciduous trees; nothing too life threatening even though the streams were in gullies there were wide bridges to criss-cross back and forth; long down-hills were teeth-chattering/head-bobbing free-for-alls; and the signage and maps provided were clear and easy to follow (but still easy to get lost considering the multitude of trails). Check it out when you're near Macon, GA.

Left Georgia this morning trying to schedule our trip around Atlanta's rush-hour, although it always appears it's rush-hour there with it's 4-8 lanes of traffic. We don't miss living here one bit. We arrived in Chattanooga, TN and decided to stay in a private campground so we could check emails, make phone calls, do wash, etc etc etc. We've been here before, years ago, but there are some other touristy stuff we would like to do over the next couple of days.

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