Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Independence Day Weekend

This year for the 4th of July we did something a little different, instead of spending money on fireworks and staying in town;. I thought it would be nice to get out and enjoy the “Land of the Free”. To me this means getting away from the I-4 corridor and heading north to enjoy the backwoods of Layfayette Co.
Sara and I rented a small cabin on the Suwannee with friends; Ryan and Jess. This was their first trip to this part of Florida, quite different from Pinellas Co.

We pulled out of Lakeland around 7pm Friday night in the pouring rain and made our way up the center of the state.  After nearly 4 hours of riding and playing driving games, we turned on to a narrow dirt road leading to the cabin. The cabin was not what we expected, it had a nice deck, but it was more of the “mother in law sweet” for a nice old man named Jim. We met Jim and he told us of all of the good places to hang out in Mayo….

The next morning we woke up relatively early, cooked a hearty breakfast, lowered the canoes down the step banks of the Suwannee, and hit the river. First, we headed downstream about a mile to Lafayette Blue Springs.
This was my first time diving here. We walked up to the ranger station to get some information and ran into some old friends from Gainesville. I geared up and was the attraction for the local children as I walked down the river in my drysuit and transpac. I geared up in the spring basin while answering the common questions; “What’s in there?” “How deep is it?” ect. It is fun to talk to the kids about diving.
I dropped down and headed toward the headspring. I ran my own line looking for the permanent line. The cavern was surprisingly big, the water was clear, probably 50 feet of visibility with an emerald green tint. I swam a few hundred and came to another sink, this was snake sink. I swam on the surface a few hundred more feet and dropped back down. I was looking for the way on when I saw another faint glow in front of me.  The water was dark brown so this was obviously the wrong way, I turned and something hit me. It knocked me sideways; a rock or a log…. There is not much life in a cave that can physically knock you around, so assumed something fell. ..Then I saw movement and turned looking back toward snake sink.  I had just been punched by a beaver! A large beaver had just swatted me in the kidney with his tail. I watch him swim towards the light. It was awesome and I wished I had brought my camera. The rest of the dive was uneventful. The cave was huge! There were skylights every where, the floor was covered in thick brown silt littered with beaver logs and crayfish.

I turned on time at 45 minutes, at 2000 feet. It was a great dive and I cannot wait to return. If you have not been here you should check it out. I do not believe that they allow open water diving.

We returned to the cabin and we all tried loading into Jim’s loaner, leaky canoe; Terrible idea. The girls stayed behind and Ryan and I motored upstream with the trolling motor clamped on the side. Our first stop was Thomas spring, I had seen it on the Florida Spring Database, and wondered if there was a cave. Florida is in a major drought and most of the major rivers are at their record lows. Because of this the aquifer is low and Thomas Spring was dried up.

We continued upstream, exploring river I have never seen. We passed a small gator sunning himself on exposed limestone. Shortly we arrived at a small spring run on the left. I had hope to take the canoe up the run.  The river is low and there was a small waterfall, not canoe territory.

This was Allen Mill Pond. I first heard of this spring several years ago with the passing of Ron Simmons in the small cave. I never had the pleasure to meet Ron, but we had similar caving interests. He laid most of the line in the Roppel Cave sump I have dived. He was a side-mounter and a digger. He pushed caves that others wouldn’t.  He more than doubled the known passage at Allen Mill Pond. I have respect for Ron and visiting this place had a special meaning for me.

The spring run was beautiful, and the foundation of the old mill is still in place. Ryan and I hiked around and found a beaver dam. We turned and headed home to spend the evening with the ladies and cook dinner.

The next morning I wanted to take Sara back to Allen Mill Pond. Ryan and Jess chose to stay home and relax. Sara and I drove down winding back roads until we located the entrance to Allen Mill Pond.  We parked in a gravel area; there was no one else around. First, we check out the mill remains, then we headed upstream. Supposedly there is a trail here... We just hiked the river and shoreline, dive booties are great!

After ten minutes on the trail I knew we were nearing the dam, suddenly there was a splash. Sara got to see her first beaver swimming across the spring run. Just upstream from the dam was the beaver castle. Very cool to see, it is amazing how much one animal can change the topography of the land.  

We continued upstream tromping through the run, watching birds, fish, and pigs. After ¾ mile and 3 more dams, we made it to the head spring pool. It was beautiful, I wish I had tanks. I did some free diving and we relaxed for a few minutes before heading back out. Sara and I explored the area for a while before heading back.

We got back to the cabin and after patching the crack in the boat with duct tape, the four of us loaded into a gheenoe. We headed upstream. Our first stop was Charles Spring; the spring run was dried up. The cave looked awesome though; there were land bridges and crystal clear water. I will be back to dive. We talked with the local and hit the rope swing. This was possibly the best rope swing I have ever been on! It was fun swimming in the river before heading back to the cabin.

Dinner was at Suwannee River Rendezvous, we played games and hiked around. The next morning we packed and hit the road. On the way back to Lakeland I was able to squeeze in one more dive at Little River. There is no flow right now; I could hover in the entrance. I had never been up the Harper tunnel, so that was my plan. It was a beautiful little tunnel; there were pristine clay banks and huge silt dunes. At the end the line continues through a no-mount restriction, I poked in here and then turned once through the restriction. I’ll save that for the next time when there is flow again.

It was a great weekend! Thanks to Sara, Ryan and Jess for a Great time.