Down Under Florida - Page 3

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Ichetucknee Springs
By far the state's most popular tubing run, this fast-moving spring can also be snorkeled. As with tubing, its best to simply float along with the flow, stopping to examine underwater fish life in the aquarium-like visibility of the run, and then arrange for a downstream pick-up, instead of finning back against the current. Ichetucknee consists of several spring heads, including Cedar, Grassy Hole, and Blue Hole. All coalesce and meander over the wild landscape to the Sante Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee. Like other springs, it drew early Seminole and pre-Columbian settlers, who came here for fresh water and game. Wildlife has lived around these springs for thousands of years, and fossil remains dating to the formation of the limestone from the sea can be found in the clear run.

Ginnie Springs
The best privately owned spring system in Florida, Ginnie is managed much like a park, with opportunities to swim, snorkel, dive, and even camp. Unlike parks, it also offers instruction in diving, including cave certification. Ginnie, a series of several powerful springs, runs off into the nearby Sante Fe River from its natural wooded basin. Jacques Cousteau visited and proclaimed it "visibility forever" underwater. Devils Eye/Ear cave system runs under the Sante Fe River and requires technical dive training, but the massive cavern at Ginnie Springs itself is accessible by open water divers using underwater lights. Like other springs along the Suwannee and Sante Fe, an extended period of heavy rains—usually during summer—will cause the rivers to rise and flood the springs with their tannin waters.

Peacock Slough
The most popular site with certified cave divers, Peacock is actually two major springs (Peacock and Bonnet), six sinkholes, and a number of earthen depressions, all formed by the collapse of the roof of limestone caves below over time. The extensive underwater cave system inside the sinks and springs has been explored and mapped for 28,000 feet by divers. Back in the caves live shrimp and endemic creatures found no where else, such as three endangered species of cave crayfish. The basin is a thickly canopied forest of oak, water hickory, red maple, sweetgum, and bald cypress. (ALERT: Unqualified divers have died inside the caves, and evidence of cave training is required.)

Practically Speaking
Summer weekends are the most crowded times at all springs; fall through spring are far less congested. By winter, most of the springs are virtually deserted. Yet, since the water temperatures remain 72 degrees, it can actually be warmer in the springs and their runs! Still, it wouldn't hurt to bring a light wetsuit, along with your own mask, snorkel, and fins. All of these springs are located in park-like settings, and you can also hike nearby trails, picnic, swim, canoe, or kayak, and sometimes even camp.

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