Ocala National Forest
Jul 14, 2009
|We had a great free breakfast this morning, it almost made us want to stay for another night but we were planning to travel out to Ocala National Forest today and it seemed a bit pointless to get so close to the coast and then drive back again.
Luckily the internet was working this morning so Steve managed to book us into a hotel in Daytona Beach before we had to check out.
We packed up the car and drove round to the front desk so I could check out. The lady on reception had a wickid hair do, she had it all pulled back except for the fringe that was an amazing back-combed birds nest... I couldn't stop staring at it!
On the way to the forest we came across the visitor's centre and decided to get some info about what to do. They were very friendly and gave us a free Florida map, which we hadn't managed to buy yet so that was a bonus and also a local map of the forest.
They couldn't really recommended any hikes to do because of the amount of rain they've been having it would make them impassable, so they suggested a couple of natural springs visit, one of which you could snorkel in.
Ocala National Forest is the second largest forest in Florida The landscape is basically swamplands (or wet prairies as they are called here), lush green grass with shallow lakes and streams, the trees are a mixture of pine, palm and cypress trees. You gets lots of black bears here, as well as gators... Steve was pleased.
On the journey we'd been caught in some serious rain, they stop as quickly as they started, you could actually see the dry line in the road.
We found the first springs, Silver Glen Springs and pulled into the car park. This one was just a bathing area and there were quite a few cars parked. The lady at the visitor's centre had warned us that we'd have to pay for each place we visit, so as the next one had snorkeling and a short trail to follow we decided to give this one a miss.... after we'd polished off our doggy bag pizza from last night!
We pulled into the Alexander Springs turning and paid the $7 to enter, we had a quick chat with the lady behind the counter as she was excited about going to Wales in a couple of weeks... she also had a spectacular barnet, they love the hairspray out here!
We had to walk through a picnic area to get to the springs and we saw some big birds hanging around the tables, we didn't realise until we saw one start to run that they were actually vultures. Check out the pictures!.
The springs are constantly fed by fresh water bubbling up through the limestone that has been eroded away by rain. The banks are surrounded by cypress trees and lily pads, the water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom. I couldn't wait to get my snorkel on!
I left Steve at the bank writing the journal and headed in. It stays a more or less constant 73 degrees throughout the year, which actually felt cold against the humidity outside.
It was a bit freaky snorkeling in a lake and a bit more difficult as you don't float! I swam straight out for the lighter blue patch right in the middle and was amazed to find it was a deep trench (or vent) where the water flows in, it had white sand on the bottom which is what made it so blue.
From here I swam out to the edges and saw what the cypress trees and lily pads looked like from underneath. There were a few fish but all quite small.
Back on the bank I dried quite quickly, Steve had been happily typing until he realised there was a caterpillar trying to climb into his shoe and got freaked out... I must admit they were everywhere, so when he found another one under his bag it was time to go.
Somehow I managed to talk him into the mile loop hike before we left though, that started back in the picnic area.
We headed off into the forest along a boardwalk path, we say forest but it was more like a jungle! There were some seriously loud insect noises and huge gnats, luckily we'd sprayed up otherwise we'd have been eaten alive.
We turned off the main path and headed down a less trodden path, not for long though... there were some loud rustley noises in the bushes, more and more creepy crawlies and huuuuge spider webs... so we double backed to the boardwalk path.
At the end of the path was a wooden pier that went out a lake that was downstream from the spring, you weren't allowed to swim here and there were loads of fish, we stood watching them through the crystal clear water for a while.
Back at the car we brushed ourselves down feeling glad that we haven't visited anywhere with too many bugs (we're not as brave as you Jools!), jumped in and cranked up the air con.
We stopped off for a bite to eat along the St John's River, in The Blackwater Inn, a place recommended by the lady in the visitors centre.
I had a yummy crab and shrimp salad that strangely came with a huge dollop of cottage cheese... it took up most of the plate and it wasn't mentioned in the menu. Steve had a tilapia fillet sandwich.
We paid the lady with another fantastic wig.. and headed off to Daytona Beach.
We found our hotel easily, it's a bit rough round the edges, the stairwell and corridors look a bit bedsit like and the room had decor your nan would choose but apart from that it's clean and we have sea view, so can't really complain.
The beach has beautiful white sand, it's one of the only beaches in the world that allows cars to drive on it because it's so hardpacked.
Our first job was laundry, we had no clean clothes so it took me a couple of hours to get all this done, at least it will dry quickly in this heat!
We decided to go out for a few beers and ended up in The Oyster Bar, it was a sports bar that served loads of fresh seafood. Unfortunately, we were still a bit full up from lunch so hopefully we can come back to eat.
One thing we did try out though was the free monkey nuts! They had a massive barrel in the corner and you just helped yourselves, the floor was covered in shells... I couldn't bring myself to drop ours though.
We stayed there for a few drinks and watched some baseball, when the DJ came on he asked where we were from and played a couple of Oasis and Queen tracks especially for us.
We like it here already!