The clear blue water is magical. And cold. Magically cold.
Sep 7th • 2014
I am developing a slight obsession with Florida’s freshwater springs. They appear almost magical, nestled against larger and darker rivers or in the midst of rougher palmetto patches and live oaks. So… let’s save our natural magic: Vote Yes on 1 and then make a point of visiting all the springs! Summer might almost be over, but that has never applied to Florida. We have until the end of October (maybe November) before we force on a light jacket and sweat through fall. (I’m not bitter. At all.)
Brittany, my partner in adventure, and I set off early on a Sunday morning. The majority of our route took us westward down Interstate-10. I loathe this road. Thankfully, we just needed to reach I-75 and eventually, Madison Blue Spring State Park.
Madison Blue Springs is also a well-known spot for scuba divers with an underwater cavern and several tunnels to explore. We witnessed two divers entering the springs and then submerging from view into a dark opening beneath the limestone wall. I thought they were legit then. Now, after watching this video about the Rocky Horror Tunnel, I’m more than impressed. I’m claustrophobic.
The spring run is about 100 feet long with a very impressive current. Brittany and I rode it several times out to the river, at one point attempting to work our way up it and return to the spring. Not easy. I quit after a couple of tries and tumbles with the sharp rocks.
Following Madison, we made our way toward Live Oak. Originally, the goal was to stop at a local joint named Fat Belly’s. Sadly, they were closed for the day. Along the way, we attempted to reach two separate springs and succeeded in finding one.
First on this sporadic list was the Suwannee Springs.
After the clear sapphire and emerald waters of Madison Blue Springs, this far smaller spring was rather shabby. Apparently, people do go swimming here. I’m not sure who they are…but they swim. Here.
There are several springs, but the main vent, a 2nd magnitude (that’s less water than a 1st magnitude), sits inside the ruins of a bath house from the 1800s. The water is rather sulfurous.
As we stood at the Suwanee Spring, I noticed an old bridge less than a mile downriver from us. At first, I thought it was the Hillman Bridge and also our next planned destination. It actually wound up being the Suwannee Springs Bridge, another abandoned bridge spanning across the black Suwanee waters. So that’s convenient.
Also called the old US 129 Bridge, it was built in 1931 and put into disuse in 1971 with the construction of a new bridge.
Between the bridge and trying to get lunch, we were formally distracted by a rusty old sign on Scenic Route 136 that read “Mattair Spring.” And then I couldn’t find it on Google Maps. To me, that screams “adventure.” To my mother, it says something akin to a “horror movie.”
Either way, we made our way down dirt roads until reaching the Suwannee River. At that point, I think we were supposed to walk a mile upriver to the spring. But after several collisions with abandoned spiderwebs and a close encounter with the occupied webbed residences of several large banana spiders, we decided to return to the car.
How native Americans and early settlers did this…I don’t want to know.
As mentioned already, Fat Belly’s was closed (I’m still disappointed about that) so we continued on. With our return down I-10 growing near, we made a final stop at Falling Creek Falls. They got creative with that name for sure.
However, the storms of the past few days had transformed the normally docile creek into a tempestuous river. I’m sad to have missed the falls but humbled to see how quickly the weather can change topography…even temporarily. And the rain had kept the springs free of crowds, so there were bonuses to the dreary weather.
Overall, it was another successful Sunday out and about. Did I mention that we ended it with delicious pad thai, dumplings, and curry at Hawkers in Riverside? That sort of makes up for missing out on Fat Belly’s.
A day of good food and lively water. These are good times.