Weeki Wachee: Minus the Mermaids

In the summer of 2014, we set out to visit as many of Florida’s springs as possible. So of course, we took a trip to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. We planned to canoe down the river starting at the park, but we found that even on a weekday, it wasn’t possible to rent a boat for a paddle without a very early start.

image

Since all canoes and kayaks were rented when we arrived (at about 10:00), we decided to do the next best thing and go in the park to see what the mermaid show was all about. Our verdict: not much! The bubbles between performances were more entertaining than the mermaids, not only for us, but for the children in the audience as well.

We walked around the park, watched the peacocks wandering, and took a few pictures. We decided to pass on the water park…too crowded and not really our idea of a good time anyhow. However, we decided we would definitely return so we could paddle down the river.

image

So last month, a couple of weeks after school started, we got up at sunrise and drove to the park. We were certainly there early enough renting one of the first canoes of the day, and I’m so glad we were turned away on our first trip.

Without a doubt, this paddle qualifies as my favorite of all time. The water was absolutely beautiful. The color, the clarity, the fish, the quiet…perfect. There’s no way we would have had the same experience on that July day two years ago paddling and dodging other boats.

Upon our return to the rental facility, we were asked if we saw any manatee in the run. Apparently, they had been making regular appearances. No, manatee. Only otters. This brought oohs and aahs from the staff since it’s unusual to spot otters on the river. We not only spotted them, but watched them dart in and out of the brush along the bank between their sliding through the crystal clear water.

image

My first impression of Weeki Wachi Springs State Park: This isn’t anything. My impression this time: We’ll return so we can spend more time paddling on the river. I much prefer the otters to the mermaids!

2 Down; 13 To Go

Nobody would ever all me a triathlete. I don’t run. I don’t swim. And I ride a bike so slowly it takes excellent balance to stay upright.

However, after completing the Tamiami Triathlon last year (a real event sponsored by the National Park Service), we decided to make a triathlon an annual event. The three events in the Everglades, completed over the course of two days, included a hike through the swamp, a paddle across the bay, and a bike ride on a paved trail in Shark Valley so we decided to create our own set of similar events at one of Florida’s state parks.

After looking at several options, we decided to make this a one day event right in our backyard at Silver Springs State Park. We started with a bike ride on the Ross Trail through the Silver River portion of the park. Upon our return, I noticed the sign that indicated the trail was for advanced riders and since I returned alive, I guess I can now consider myself an advanced mountain biker.

Before embarking on phase two, we ate lunch on the picnic tables in the grassy area by the museum, and then rode our bikes on the path along CR35 to the entrance of Silver Springs on SR40.

We rented a two person kayak from the rental concession and paddled to the Silver River and then up to the springs. The path took us by several of the attractions from the old park..an Indian village, a fort, and the jungle cruise, and of course, there were plenty of turtles, gators, and birds along our leisurely path.

Finally, for the hike, we biked back to the Silver River entrance and hiked along the Sinkhole Trail…not the best marked trail, but a nice walk and a good way to end the day.

We began at 11:30 Sunday morning and completed the Silver River Triathlon by 4:30 that afternoon. Another Triathlon in the books and looking forward to next year’s event.

Juniper Springs Do Over

Early morning thunderstorms during last week’s trip to Juniper Springs prevented us from enjoying canoeing or swimming, but a week later we had better luck. We arrived a little after 9:00 and by 9:45 had rented a canoe, carried it to the water and were ready to shove off.

During the rental process we signed papers promising to follow a whole list of rules. We agreed to carry no disposable containers on the river, to remain in the canoe at all times, and to leave the wildlife alone.

The paperwork stressed that this was not a beginner’s run and that we should expect to paddle 3-4 hours to cover the 7.3 mile distance to the take out point just past Hwy. 19; and while the current kept the canoe moving with little effort, this section of the river could be called an obstacle course rather than a run.

We maneuvered through tight turns and around and under trees and were surprised by a short section of faster moving water creating “rapids”. Not a difficult trip but one that requires both paddlers to work together.

A variety of flowers and plants lined the run.

And while we heard birds throughout the trip, we saw few. Of course, the turtles lazed on the trees from start to finish.

IMG_6043

We even spied a couple of gators standing watch.

IMG_6073

As predicted, we reached the take out spot nearly three hours later and had just enough time to eat our lunch along the river before the first shuttle of the day arrived to take us back to the park.

We even took a quick dip in the spring before heading back home. Success! A spring visit with good weather.

We’re already planning a trip to Ichetucknee Springs.

Welcome to Myakka

Myakka River State Park, located nine miles east of Sarasota, provides boating, birding, camping, hiking, and bicycling opportunities for visitors.

IMG_4183At over 58 square miles, Myakka River State Park is one of the largest state parks and the river is designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River.

Famous for birding, nearly 100 species are listed on the park’s bird list and on the day we visited, a Myakka Bird Volunteer stationed at the Birdwalk set up scopes and helped visitors with identification. These “What’s That Bird?” programs occur daily from 9:00-1:00.

In addition to the self-guided walking trails (there are 39 miles available), there’s the “Walk on the Wild Side”, a guided 5 mile walk available every Friday and five hour “Photography Adventures” can be scheduled with Dick Pfaff, an expert on the wildlife in the park.

The highlight of our trip was the “Walk Through the Treetops” where we climbed a 74 foot tower for a view of the hammocks and wetlands usually only seen by birds.

Kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and an airboat tour are on the agenda for another day as well as a camping trip. Maybe a long weekend this fall at Myakka River State Park?