After weeks of stifling humidity, we finally caught a break the past couple days. We decided to seize the perfect weather and take E to one of our favorite places — Juniper Springs.
Juniper is a gorgeous springs area of the Ocala National Forest. You start at the spring head and canoe down the run, all 7 miles of it, and a bus at the end brings you back again. Along the way, you’re transported to another world. A wild and natural world.
DadJovi grew up going to Juniper with his parents quite frequently and he took me there as soon as we could after we moved to Florida in 2003. Since then, we’ve probably been down the run 3 or 4 other times. It’s one of our favorite things to do with visitors who are feeling adventurous. Why adventurous you ask? Check out this sign:
Since this wasn’t our first time, I thought I had our stuff perfectly packed. We had a cooler filled with PBandJ sandwiches, plenty of drinks, apple slices, Goldfish crackers and yogurt squeezers for E. And since we’ve had our fair share of tipped canoes on past trips, I had everything packed in plastic baggies — especially the camera and keys. The phones were left in the car.
But when we got there, we learned the rules have changed. You can no longer take ANY disposable items in the canoe with you. Even though we had a cooler to keep all the stuff, the baggies, the juice boxes and the yogurt squeezers had to go. We happened to have one non-disposable water bottle and a Tupperware container in the car, but we had to buy another one and two more bottles from the park service. Boo. I get the rule, I just wish we’d known about it beforehand (our fault I guess).
After repacking all our goodies and leaving a lot of it behind in the car, we set off on our four-hour, 7-mile adventure down the run.
Finally, the view we came for:
Today, there seemed to be more trees down than usual. Right near the top of the run, we encountered this low trunk. DadJovi had to hop out of the canoe to help us navigate under it. He felt like a hero.
May I take a moment to praise my little nature girl? She rocked the canoe today. Our 3-year-old sat patiently for the whole four-hour trip, just soaking in all the nature. No games on Mommy or Daddy’s phones. No TV. We were unplugged! We brought a few Matchbox cars and Dora and Sleeping Beauty figurines in the boat for her to play with. And her Fisher Price camera. As you can see in one of the pics above, she spent some time doing her own documenting of the trip.
We told her at the beginning that it was going to be a long ride. Only once did she show signs of boredom. About 45 minutes in, she says to me, “Mommy, I don’t want this to be a long trip anymore.” Too funny. But that was the only time. The rest of the time, she dragged her hands along in the water checking out the eel grass …
… to find some of these:
We saw probably two dozen turtles today, and most were much bigger than this guy. The coolest part was watching them swim alongside the canoe. I guess they were using our drag to get down the stream.
But there was one reptile we were really on the lookout for …
On past trips down Juniper, we’ve seen a lot more gators. Today we only saw two and surprisingly, they were both near the top of the run. That means we were a lot closer to them than usual because the springs are much more narrow near the top than the bottom. Still, we don’t worry about them too much. I’ve never seen one get in the water near a canoe. Yes, it’s the wild but I’m pretty sure they know we’re neither a threat nor a tasty treat.
E. was so excited though … even if she did keep calling them crocodiles. Damn you Diego and all your South American crocs.
Otherwise, it was a really enjoyable trip, albeit a tricky one. There are always trees to worry about maneuvering around or under …
… but today we had to deal with a lot more trees on the bottom and something we’ve never dealt with before — sand bars. I think the water levels must be lower than usual. We got a stuck on trees a couple times and had to shift, shimmy and rock our canoe to get it off. DadJovi also had to get into the water more than once to get us by tough spots. But, better him than all of us!
Here are a few of my other favorite shots from the day:
As the sign said at the beginning — this isn’t a theme park. And today, that was a very good thing.