Afloat in Wild Florida
There’s a side of Florida that most people – even those of us who live here – never get to see. The state is home to some of the most expansive underwater cave systems in the world. Cave divers, of course, know about these natural wonders and come from all over to try to connect underground routes through these lost tunnels that descend hundreds of feet and often open into stadium-sized rooms far below the surface. There, the lucky few can spot whale fossils and all kinds of other oddities before racing the clock (the air in their tanks) to make an exit back to the surface.
For those of us who are slightly less adventurous, there are wonders right at the surface of the springs to explore. The caves are the openings for underwater springs that feed Florida’s most pristine waterways, which stay a refreshing 72 degrees Fahrenheit year round. One of my favorite tube runs is along the Itchetucknee River, an emerald green, spring-fed river about 40 minutes north of Gainesville, in North Central Florida. You rent a tube for about $6 and settle in for a slow meander of two or three hours down the river to the take-out point, passing through rare snail habitats and other protected areas cordoned off to the tubes. It’s a wonderful place to snorkel as the water is gin-clear and brimming with mullet and gar fish. Turtles, accustomed to the passing tubes, stack up like so many Pringles potato chips atop logs along the river’s edge.
You might wonder, since we are in Florida, if alligators are at home here, too. Logic and park warning signs tell you that there is always that possibility. But with all the human traffic and the river’s cold temperatures (gators prefer water temps between 82 and 92 degrees), the animals are very rare here. You’re probably more likely to get struck by lightening, actually, with summertime’s predictable afternoon storms rolling in by around 4pm every day. Anyway, don’t worry about any of that and just jump in and enjoy the ride, just like I did with a big group of friends and kids. I really can’t think of a more refreshing way to pass a dreadfully hot Florida day.