I woke up early enough to catch the sun coming up through the mist rising off of Salt Springs. I shared the view with this Blue Heron who stood on one leg watching me over his shoulder.
I fired up my trusty Pocket Rocket, which I carried on the Appalachian Trail, and woke Kate up with a cup of coffee. We took a hike on the 3 mile Bear Swamp loop, and though it was nice enough, it felt like more of the same. We felt like we’d seen what Florida hiking had to offer and debated whether it would be worth pushing further south to the Everglades next week or if we should just start heading west. We got back, ate breakfast, and broke down camp. On the twenty minute drive to Juniper Springs we wondered if it would be worth the effort of packing up and setting up again.
It turns out it was very much worth it. That isn’t a painting by a French impressionist from the museum in Savannah; that is Fern Hammock Springs. Crystal clear water bubbling up from the artesian aquifer creates these beautiful, colorful places.
We followed the boardwalk along the outflow until it met with Juniper Creek, on its course to join the Saint John’s River and travel a hundred miles to the Atlantic, right at Fort Caroline where we stood last week.
Juniper Spring was wider and developed as a swimming hole by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s. They also built a millhouse where a waterwheel provided electricity for the whole camp and construction.
We opted to go hiking before we went for a swim. The Florida Trail crosses the site as it traces it’s 1,000 mile course between Big Cypress and Pensacola. We only planned on doing five miles out to the elusive Hidden Pond and back. At first we wound through the palm fronds of a subtropical jungle, but as the trail became sandier, jungle gave way to scrub lands that alternated between dwarf oaks and towering longleaf pines.
As we entered the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, all traces of shade were gone in the afternoon sun. I kept repeating ‘this is February’ as we sweltered in the eighty degree heat. As we finished our water and began to see cacti beneath the shrubs, I decided to call it off before we reached our destination. The Pond remains hidden from us, but we clocked our first 12 mile day and saw that Florida may still have surprises for us after all.
Next is Blue Spring in hopes of seeing manatee, then up to spend the weekend with Kate’s cousin Tiffany.