Now was the downside of prolonging our stay. We had a 3 hour drive to Ocala Forest and Silver Glen Springs as recommended by several people. We initially were going to camp in Hopkins Prairie campground as this would all have worked rather well, but now we were just going to go visit the spring.
Arriving at the car park, the staff we intrigued by Ruby and this resulted in us getting an absolute bargain on ticket prices to hire a canoe. It’s roughly a 1 mile paddle down the river from the springs to Lake George, which is a massive lake. Starting off from the springs, the water is an unreal colour.
We headed out into the wide river, keeping to the edges as we were told this is were the wildlife will be spotted. There are tons of birds all in the trees; herons, vultures, egrets and many more I don’t know the names of.
Soon enough, Lee spotted a gator on the bank of the river.
We continued down and right at the end turned down a smaller waterway, munching on Cheetos as we went.
This is were I spotted a turtle.
Then we were out on the lake itself. The wildlife was great to see, but it was also interesting to see the trees. It was a misty kind of day, and this coupled with the fact that we were the only people out in a canoe, gave the quiet water an eerie feel.
We headed down the side of the lake a short way, but it started getting a bit choppy and the flimsy metal canoe wasn’t really having it. I didn’t fancy capsizing and this felt like a real possibility, so we turned around and headed back towards the river. We circled the small islands that sit in it’s mouth, before heading back over to the edge.
Playing around with my camera filters – Clyde Butcher inspired!
We went back down the same little side river, and again spotted another even bigger turtle. We didn’t manage to get a picture though before he plopped into the water and disappeared from sight.
The lady in the booking office had been very generous with rental time, which meant we were in no rush to get back. We meandered down the edge again, trying to avoid going under branches with birds on them as we had a near miss with being copiously pooped on.
Once we had passed a house on the one side, we paddle to the other side of the river to explore this new part. Lee spotted another gator, lurking at the edge of the water.
This means we were pretty much even, he spotted to gators and I spotted two turtles. Not that we are competitive. Deciding we had had a pretty good run, we turned to head back for the shore. That was when Lee spotted these.
Swimming below our boat were 3 manatees. We had seen them the other day in the aquarium, but this just isn’t the same as seeing a creature in it’s natural environment. They swam right up to the boat a few feet away from us, and the crystal clear waters gave us a perfect view.
Having had an amazing wildlife spotting experience, I saw one final ray swimming below us as we headed back.
One of the staff had said we should walk the short trail called Sand Boils, so we dragged our canoe onto the shore and walked around the spring to access the trail. This gave us some great views of the water from the other side.
The trail is only half a mile or so, and end at a point where the sand is quite literally boiling. Apparently this is how springs start, and soon this will also turn into a proper spring. It was quite mesmerising to watch and I’m glad someone pointed it out to us, as it would have been easy to miss.
Having had an exciting few hours, it was time for some more driving. We needed to get further north, and I drove while Lee checked out potential campsites. We settled for one around two hours away, as we were both knackered and didn’t fancy doing much more. It was a petrol station with a campsite on the side which was around $25 a night, but one of the reviews said they had camped for free so we hoped to blag it. The drive was horrible, the rain started coming down and the windows all misted up. The visibility was so bad I nearly stopped on one occasion as I literally couldn’t see the road in the dark and wet. Eventually we got there and realised just how much colder the weather is here as we got out of the van. Still chucking it down we asked about camping in the petrol station and were told that we could park at the back which had no facilities for free. An excellent result as were hadn’t had too much sleep the last few days and had covered a fair few miles too. We were now only around 3.5hrs from Pensacola were we needed to be the following night, meaning we were back on track.
After the temperatures of Anna Maria Island it was somewhat of a shock to have the heating back on all night, but when we awoke in the morning at the least the downpour had stopped.
In order to break up the drive, and because it had been recommended to us, we decided to stop off at Wakulla springs on the way. This was only a 40-minute drive from where we had stopped and after all of the wildlife sightings from yesterday I was interested to see what we would get here. Ian had told us that they run really good glass bottom boat tours from this springs, but after looking on the website it seemed that it would be unlikely to be running. Apparently the water isn’t as clear as it used to be anymore, so the tours only run occasionally. Sure enough when we arrived there was a sign saying that only the regular boat tour was running, and as we had just been out in a canoe the day before I didn’t feel the need to go on this boat.
We decided to let Aimee out for a walk as she’s got more used to having her freedom and wasn’t appreciating being confined to a small space. The temperature drop was very noticeable today, and I nearly broke into the woolly jumpers in the roof rack, as it was only 10 degrees and very humid still. Amy was getting the hang of being a lead and we walked down the edge of the water. There was steam coming off the water, as it was much warmer than the atmosphere, so much so that someone was actually swimming.
We walked up the viewing tower, and from there I could see around 10 manatees, swimming in the spring. They come here over winter, as the temperature is consistent and stay warm throughout the colder months. Up at the top of tower I got chatting to someone from Wales, which was a bit of a surprise, and we stood there for some time talking and watching the manatees swim. I also spotted a brief glimpse of a turtle, along with the usual birds. It was an amazing sight to see them all swimming through the steaming water, and I could have stayed for ages but we needed to get back on the road.
After a brief walk down to small jetty where the boat tours run from, we began walking back to the van, Aimee still keeping up on her lead.
It was now around a 3 hour drive to Pensacola and we hit the road again. Over the previous few days, Lee had been talking to Colin who is a friend of Ian’s living in Pensacola. He is very knowledgeable about classic VW’s and we were trying to meet up with him. However as luck would have it, while we made the trip from Ocala to Pensacola, he was doing exactly the same route in the opposite direction. After some organisation, we managed to pick a rest area on I-10 where we would both be passing each other at roughly the same time. We arrived first and got the kettle on, so that a short while later when he arrived we could all have a nice hot cup of coffee in the warmth. We chatted for a short time, but we both had deadlines to meet in regards to our destination so we agreed to try and meet up again at his house in Pensacola later in the week. He said he would have a look at our sliding door, which is literally the bane of my life so we were more than happy to stick around for a few days.
Our stop off had put us on rather a tight time schedule, meaning we would only have an hour between arriving and the doors opening for our gig. This is one of the time have that Subaru conversion is handy, I put my foot down doing around 80mph all the way there. Despite a few hairy moments when the wind caught the bus as we drove, we made it safely. Only to then find out that as we drove we had crossed time zones and gained an hour meaning we actually had loads of time and there was no need to drive like a maniac (this is definitely what you are if you drive a 43 year old VW bus at 80mph regardless of the engine).
We camped up in the $10 car park outside, as Lee wanted to see if we could meet the band if we hung around outside after.
While we waited for the doors to open we had a few beers and threw together some mac n cheese. Soon enough we headed inside to watch the bands playing tonight. The warm up act is a band called Fire from the Gods which we didn’t really see, followed by Bad Wolves, Three Days Grace and Five Finger Death Punch. It was a pretty awesome set and I’m glad we made the effort to be here.
We had enjoyed ourselves and bought a few drinks inside during the gig, which led to be falling asleep in on the sofa in the back as Lee drove around trying to find a parking space. We did wait outside the venue for a bit, but with no sign of any of the bands, gave up and moved on. There was a Walmart down the road which we ended up parking in after trying to find a nice beach spot proved unsuccessful.