Down Under Florida - Page 2

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Alexander Springs
The only spring in the Ocala National Forest in which scuba is allowed, Alexander sits inside a natural basin, rimmed on one side by a little beach and on the other by a hardwood swamp. It bubbles up out of several small caves some 23 feet deep, at the bottom of a broad limestone bowl. A freediver with moderate skills should be able to at least peak into one of the caves, pushing against the strong upwelling from inside the aquifer. There is a scenic run that carries the water from the spring through a hardwood forest on a gentle meander down to the St. Johns River, several miles away.

Troy Springs
Another popular scuba site, Troy sits at the base of sloping natural funnel, and drops abruptly down to a narrow hole at 70 feet, where 100 million gallons of water a day surges up. Although it's only a couple hundred yards long, the run is a popular snorkeling site. The endemic Suwannee River bass may be seen here, and the wooden "ribs" from the old Civil-War era steamship, Madison, lay exposed in the white sand. The run disappears into the darker tannin of the tea-colored Suwannee River, providing a stark contrast between 100-foot visibility and visibility of zero.

Manatee Springs
Naturalist William Bartram visited here in the 1770s and wrote about feasting with the Seminoles on barbequed manatee. Oddly, manatees don't seem to visit here any more. The spring run courses through a lovely river swamp, with white spider lilies and bromeliads above and below. The spring head is terraced so children can swim in the shallow waters. Certified cave divers can explore the cave, but the magnitude of the outflow is so powerful that you have to pull yourself inside. In the bottom of the sandy spring boil, look for the palm-sized "hog chokers"—small saltwater sole (a flounder-like fish) that have acclimated to the spring environment after migrating up the Suwannee River.
Fanning Springs
It's worth visiting Fanning just to see how little villages along the Suwannee River have come to rely on the river's musical fame to promote themselves. Once bustling steamship landings until the 1930s, riverside towns like Fanning live in the now-departed glory of this magnificent Southern river. Once a private campground site, Fanning Spring is now a state park and its basin is shared by local swimmers and snorkelers, a great place to spot hog chokers or search for fossils in the sand, such as ancient Miocene-era sharks' teeth. The spring runs off for a couple hundred yards, out to the Suwannee itself. Fanning is easily accessible, like other springs inside Florida parks, with picnic areas and a grassy and wooded bluff surrounding the limestone spring below.

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