Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ichetucknee Springs

Today is my day off. In addition to spending some time relaxing at home, I also went to visit Ichetucknee Springs with my boyfriend. Ichetucknee is a much larger park about 15 miles away from Troy Springs that manages Troy as well. I spent my first year as a ranger working at Ichetucknee before transferring to Troy. Throughout the summer season, I don't visit Ichetucknee much aside from my weekly paperwork runs. Thousands of people visit the park daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Now that the summer season is over and kids are back in school, Ichetucknee is a peaceful and stunning place.
On a 2,000+ acre park property, nine large, named springs and countless other smaller springs converge to start the Ichetucknee River. The river flows for about 3.5 miles within the park and another 3.5 miles outside of the park before it empties into the Santa Fe River, which then empties into the Suwannee River. The full length of the Ichetucknee River is crystal clear, 72 degree spring water. While boating or tubing along the river, you can look down to watch fish and turtles swim along, weaving between the vegetation below you. The two largest springs in the park are accessible for swimming. Those are the areas that I visited today.
We started by walking down about a 1/4 mile path to the Blue Hole Spring. It is the largest spring in the park which puts out an average of 70 million gallons of water each day. Troy Spring puts out only a little more with 90 million gallons each day. It is easy to forget the world when you are alone in this peaceful spot. Here are some views from above and below the water.
On the way back, there were some neat sights to see as well.
After visiting the Blue Hole, we walked down a much shorter path to the Headspring. I almost missed the gate keeper sitting quietly high up on a branch above the trail. It was a very calm Red-shouldered Hawk.
The Headspring has a smaller output than the others, I think it is 20 million gallons of water per day from that one. It is the beginning of the river, and my favorite spring to snorkel. It was obvious to me how many feet had trampled the bottom of this spring throughout the summer. There was much less vegetation than the last time that I snorkeled here. The roots were still there though, and it will all grow back again before next summer. The more-bare-than-usual spring floor gave the living things less cover, so it was fun for taking pictures! I was able to observe several of the Loggerhead Musk Turtles. They are my favorite turtle by far. These tiny little turtles have great big heads so that they can crush snail shells and eat the soft meat inside. I have sometimes witnessed bream, or the sunfish in the spring hovering above these turtles and trying to snatch the food that they free from the snail shell.
When I resurfaced from snorkeling along with my camera, I realized that the sky had turned dark, the wind had picked up and it was about to rain. The small, heavy drops were just starting to fall as we got to the car. We realized that we had perfect timing as we headed home, cool and content.

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