Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Juniper Springs and the National Forest

You shouldn't be surprised that I would make sure and visit any National Forest if I am near one.  In Florida, this is the Ocala National Forest.  Owning the title of the Southernmost forest,  Ocala is 673 square miles of protected sand pine scrub, includes three first-magnitude springs, over 600 hundred  lakes and ponds, hiking trails, camping, and recreation areas.  The springs allow visitors to swim, snorkel, and scuba year round.

For this adventure, I chose to visit Juniper Springs Recreation Area which is one of the oldest springs located on the East Coast.  As I made my way into the park, I stopped at the pay station to discuss hiking and swimming.  It's a $5 fee to enter but well worth the price.  The lady seemed surprised I was spending the day alone, when will people not be surprised by solo travelers? I gave her a big smile, hopped back in the car and made my way to start exploring!

It was late morning but already getting pretty warm, so I decided to take a dip in the springs.  Ice cold water, but crystal clear, and surrounded by some of the most beautiful Florida nature I have ever seen.  I quickly made friends with a girl named Becca. She was about 14 years old and was there for swimming lessons.  Ok Kansas, Florida gets a point for that!  We briefly discussed where we were from and then she said, "Do you want me to take your picture?" A girl after my own heart.

After cooling off, I decided to venture on to the Juniper Springs Nature Trail, an easy hike along the well-known boardwalk that would take me through the dense canopy of palms and oaks, ending at Fern Hammock Springs.  I made a quick stop at the Juniper Millhouse for a bit of history, learning this was built in the early 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Along the way were hundreds of bubbling springs, both small and large, gushing out of crevices of the earth and known as Sandy Boils. It was an oasis in the middle of the desert like Big Scrub.

At Fern Hammock Springs and located under the footbridge that crosses here, is the largest sand-filled boil.  The bottom of the pool is filled with sand and aquatic grasses and the water has the most gorgeous blue-green color. This pool is kept in a more natural state surrounded by pine, palm, and hardwoods.  Swimming is not allowed here to protect the sand boils and natural character.  I did notice several turtles basking in the sun and a few fish swimming around. Alligators are often seen in the springs and in the surrounding areas.  Basically in Florida, if there is water, there are gators.  I will tell about my experience with a few of them in my next blog post, so be sure to follow along!

Before I left the park, I stopped one last time to take a dip in Juniper Springs.  Even though it was the coldest water I have ever felt, for some reason, it didn't bother me.  The beauty of the Springs was almost unreal.  As I drove away from the recreation area, I decided to leave the Forest heading out the opposite direction I came in.  I was on a mission to find a Ranger Station for more information.  I stopped at the Lake George Ranger Station and loaded up on maps and different areas of the forest to explore.  Camping here has now been added to my list!  Until next time Ocala, thank you for an amazing day!

Later Gator 🐊

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