|The day after my paddle at Shired Island I headed back toward DeLand and the end of my shortened Florida vacation. But before then I had today to make two more paddles in the springs of Florida. I was intrigued by the Withlacoochee River as there are two of them in Florida. One is a tributary of the Suwannee flowing out of southern Georgia west of Valdosta and becoming part of the Suwannee near Falmouth, Florida. The other one starts west of Kissimmee and flows north to empty into the Gulf of Mexico north of Crystal River, Florida. I wanted to paddle part of the middle of that river.
I got an early start on the day and pulled into the boat ramp by 8:00 AM at the US 41 crossing of the Withlacoochee River at Dunnellon. At the ramp there were already two kayakers preparing their boats. They were part of a kayak club in the area called the Tuesday Morning Club. They paddled every Tuesday morning, which it just happened to be. Today they were paddling down river to the lake I had just driven past. My plans were to paddle upstream on the river and also to paddle in the Rainbow Springs creek. I declined their kind offer to paddle with them that day. I was assisted by the two feathered ramp attendants who were very insistent on a tip.
Rainbow Springs is a large spring and its run is very clear. There is a kayak outfitter, Rainbow Springs Canoe and Kayak, located in Dunnellon that rents sit-on-top kayaks and canoes and shuttles for the 6.5 mile spring run. Tubing seems to be a popular sport at this location and there is a take out for the tubers with a large parking lot where East Pennsylvania Ave crosses the river. I don't know if hand launching a kayak here would be allowed. The spring joins the Withlacoochee about 1 mile up from the ramp. One side of the spring run is developed and the other side is mostly undeveloped. There is a large farm on the undeveloped side so eventually that will be developed too. For now it is lined with cypress with the usual array of Anhingas, egrets and herons. I playful pair of otters snorted at my approached and then disappeared in the grasses along the bank.
Along the wild bank and impressive display of white flowers with leaves like iris. I nosed the kayak along the steep bank for a picture. Against the bank the water was 2 meters deep at least. The clear water made it look like less but my paddle barely reached bottom. I paddled up the river most of the way to the spring, about five miles. Since I wanted to paddle on the actual Withlacoochee River plus at another place today, I did not paddle all the way to the spring. I suspect that like most of the other springs I have visited that boats are not allowed in the actual spring itself. i turned around and was soon back at the confluence with the Withlacoochee River, carried back at over 6 knots with the help of the current.
I arrived at the Ray Wayside launch ramp about an hour after leaving Dunnellon. This small park has a three dollar entrance fee but is very nice. There is a large parking lot, extensive facilities and a dedicated hand launch ramp for kayaks and canoes. A small canal leads out to the Silver River just upstream of its confluence with the Silver River. At the head of the Silver River is Silver Springs, a full bore Tourist trap with a history dating back to the 1880's. There sightseeing boats take gaping visitors on a cattle car "experience" through a small part of the spring run. On this cloudy day and after the more clear waters of the Rainbow Springs, I was less than impressed. I saw some white herons, some otters, and the usual assortment of kingfishers, anhingas, ibis, cormorants and egrets.
The Withlacoochee is a very long river, flowing over 95 miles into the interior of Florida. I would only see a very small piece of it this day. Even on this overcast and windy day it was beautiful. Stands of cypress draped with Spanish moss swaying in the gusts, lilies along the bank and pines along the tall bluffs made for excellent paddling. I was without a map of the river which splits into many channels just upriver of Dunnellon, so I just poked about in some of them and paddled about 3 miles up the river. I headed back to the ramp about one in the afternoon, packed up and headed east to my paddle on the Silver River off the Ocklawaha River.
I did see something quite unusual. A troop of rhesus monkeys swinging through the trees and raising a racket. A pair sat on a branch grooming. These escapees from an ill conceived addition to the Jungle Ride at the spring in the 1930's seemed to be exhibiting all the worse traits of humanity. I was happy to soon be out of their presence. Six of the original Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies were filmed at the spring as were over 100 Sea Hunt TV episodes. The clear water and easy logistics were the attraction for that TV series. Never mind that the flora and fauna had no relation to real life salt water oceans where the show was supposed to be taking place. Of course even today there are many shows such as those supposedly sited in Miami Florida with the clear outlines of the Luguna California mountains in the backgrounds of the shots.
With the large commercial presence and the tour boats, this is the one spring I visited where boats are allowed up in the spring. It was a little anticlimactic as there is not much flow apparent in the vent of the spring, although it is big and deep. I completed the 10 miles round trip by five o'clock making it a 26 mile day. i headed back to De Land where I would end my 2007 Florida excursion.