Campsite at Ginnie Springs
Our Toyota RAV4 Rental
Sante Fe River
Log Showing the Water Clarity
Source of Ginnie Springs
Ginnie Springs Cavern
Kurt inside Ginnie Springs
Inside Ginnie Springs Cavern
Bubbles Permeating the Ceiling
Devils Eye Spring
Inside Devils Ear
04.05.2002 - Day 8
If I thought the night beauty at Ginnie Springs was marvelous, I am not sure what to say about the view during daylight. When we awake, we find ourselves only 5 or 6 feet from edge of the mirror-like river which is reflecting the intense green of the Cypress and Pine trees and the Spanish Moss draped within. Itís easy to imagine alligators hiding among the Cypress knees at the waterís edge. Despite our feelings of solitude the night before, we discover that there are a few other families camped within 150 yards or so. Definitely not the Sugarloaf KOA, though!
Kurt and I head back to the main lodge to see about the diving opportunities. You might be wondering where we can dive so far inland? Northern and Central Florida are teaming with fresh water springs that bubble up through the porous limestone rock, creating dangerous yet intriguing underwater caves and gullies. We have read that some of the worldís best cave diving is in Florida. We have also read that the visibility in the springs of Florida is the best you will find anywhere Ė Ďunlimitedí to quote Jacques Cousteau.
Ginnie Springs Ė named for the main spring at the campground Ė is a collection of springs that flow into the Sante Fe River. Many of the springs are restricted to certified cave divers; the proper training is required to enter any structure that does not provide a free ascent to the surface Ė for obvious safety reasons. Since Kurt and I have not attained this certification, we figure we might be extremely limited as to where we can dive at Ginnie Springs. However, the employee at the dive shop informs us there are two separate locations (a total of four springs) that are open to non-cave certified divers. He even informs us that there is a cave at one of the locations in which they allow Advanced Open Water Divers entrance; the management has stretched a guide rope across the length of the cave, installed metal grates over the actual entrance to the source, and the opening to the cave can be seen from anywhere inside. We can rent depth-rated flashlights Ė to be used at this cave only. At all the other springs, we are instructed, we are not to go any further than we can safely see by natural light.
We load our gear into the RAV4 then head to the first diving site Ė Ginnie Springs itself. The area is definitely busy Ė much busier than when we arrived last night. Itís also very well-constructed; a beautiful redwood deck surrounds the edge of the wooded spring, with several sets of very sturdy-looking steps leading down into the water Ė perfect for entering with a full dress of diving gear. As Kurt and I peer over the edge of the deck into the water, we are completely amazed by what we see; the rim of the pool is a dark green, a sharp contrast to the concentric inner ring of magnificent turquoise, all of which surrounds a ten foot circle of the most vivid blue I have ever seen. Already, about 6 or 8 other divers were swimming in the sparkling water. Itís time to get in!
We dress in all our gear, complete with flashlight (this is the cave we get to investigate), and totter down the steps into the water. Kurt is the first to submerge completely in the waist-deep water. He immediately stands up again and declares that the water is so clear, ďitís scaryĒ. Excited, I drop under the surface as well and get my first glimpse. I can see everything; the water is crystal clear. Itís like looking through bath water Ė no, better. Itís like swimming in a glass of Evian. Words cannot adequately describe the beauty to which we are introduced. The rim of the pool is lined with green tropical water plants, actually just like the ones we have in our fish tank at home. The turquoise area we viewed from above is actually a bed of limestone that is only about 5 or 6 feet under the water. The vivid blue area is the hole Ė about 15 feet deep. We head in that direction and descend to the white, sandy bottom. We spy the entrance to the cave under a limestone overhang. Kurt immediately begins to navigate in that direction and I tag along only a little way behind him. He doesnít hesitate at all before entering the cave. I, on the other hand, have to pause for a second to overcome my slight claustrophobic fears. However, the cave looks so inviting that I donít have to wait for long. I venture inside, sure to keep one hand on the guide wire and the other on my flashlight. It is a little spooky inside, but there are 3 or 4 other divers in there as well and that makes matters a little more comfortable. The entrance to the cave is approximately a 5 by 10 foot opening that quickly stretches into a cavern about 100 feet deep. The back portion of the cave consists of fallen boulders of limestone, while the floor of the main cave sits far below us. Kurt and I swim down to the bottom and kneel on the floor. The depth is an amazing 55 feet! I quickly look up to ensure that we can indeed see the cave opening Ė itís there and itís a beautiful site; a turquoise window bordered by a rim of dark rock. We can feel a deep rumbling in our chests that can only be the force of the water rushing through the cave and out into the pool above. Kurt and I swim over to the steel grate that covers the small opening to the tunnel leading to the source. Thereís a huge padlock on it. Guess they really are serious about us not going any farther (not that Iíd have wanted toÖ).
We swim back out into daylight and explore the terrain on the limestone level. We encounter a fallen log stretching from bank to bank Ė when we peer over the top we see that the visibility gradually decreases into a thick green pea-colored fog. This must be the way to the river. Kurt and I turn around to look back towards the spring and the view makes us nearly drop our regulators out of our mouths. Small, steady streams of air bubbles are filtering through the limestone floor and floating to the surface of the water. I feel as though Iím in a giant carbonated drink. Itís a beautiful site.
After using about half our air supply, Kurt and I surface near the stairs and crawl out of the water. All the springs are a constant 72 degrees year-round, but even with a 3mm wetsuit it begins to feel a bit chilly after awhile. We snap a few pictures, noticing that the log separating the spring from the river is clearly viewable from the deck. In fact, it looks as though itís sitting on the surface. We pack our gear into the RAV4 and head towards diving location #2 Ė Devilís Springs, about a quarter of a mile away.
We are still a bit chilly, so we spread our wet gear across a picnic table in the sunshine and relax for a bit, drinking in our surroundings. Fellow divers are everywhere. We see all types from novice (like ourselves) to Serious Diving Nuts; teams with full-on cave diving gear including dry suits, multiple flashlights and nitrox tanks. We know that the areas where Kurt and I cannot go consist of tunnels and passages so narrow that such a fully outfitted diver can barely fit through the openings. We have also read that several of the springs are linked together by such passages, often opening up along the way into grand limestone ballrooms. It sounds fabulous, but itís a very dangerous sport. Signs are everywhere cautioning divers to use good sense and not exceed the limits of your training. The signs even go so far as to state that ĎDivers have died here.í Creepy. Considering the danger, and my predisposition to small, confined spots I think Iíll stay away from cave diving.
We also spot families carrying large, colorful, inflatable inner tubes toward the river. It seems that you can launch from Devilís Springs and ride the current down the river to about where our camp is set up. To me, this sounds a little dangerous. The river is murky and undoubtedly populated with alligators. If I were one, I would think a foot dangling in the water might make a tasty meal. Maybe thatís why Iím not an alligatorÖ
Eventually we are warm enough to investigate the water. Devilís Springs actually consists of 3 separate springs (connected by underground passages): Little Devil, Devilís Eye and Devilís Ear. The same well-constructed deck and stairs lead to the water. Once again, the colors in the water are truly outstanding. We notice that small fish in the water are even visible from where we were standing on the deck. I cannot get over the impressive visibility.
We don our gear and enter the refreshing water. Our first drop is into the Little Devil Spring, a narrow, 40-foot long fissure extending to a depth of 45 feet. We inch our way down into the crevice feet-first. Once as deep as we can go, we turn and look up Ė a truly breath-taking turquoise view awaits us.
After swimming back up the crevice, Kurt leads the way to Devilís Eye Spring Ė which is accessible by a 3-foot-wide Ďpathí through the water plants. The run extends about 30 or 40 yards before reaching Devilís Eye, at which the sandy bottom of the path suddenly drops to a depth of 20 feet inside a nearly perfect circle.
Only one spring left to investigate: Devilís Ear. We continue on down the path through the plants and nearly into the river. The water quickly becomes that murky, soupy mess and the visibility falls to only a few feet. We begin our decent into Devilís Ear Ė a crevice perhaps twice as wide as Devilís Spring. About half way down, a log has lodged itself between the fissure walls. I suddenly notice that itís very difficult to go any deeper than that log and at first think that Iím having some sort of trouble with my buoyancy. However, I soon realize that my hair is being swept off my face and waving behind me as though I am riding in a convertible cruising down the highway. Itís the force of the water rushing out of the spring! Kurt grabs me and together we pull ourselves further into the depths of the spring using handholds on the rock walls. If I were to let go of my hold on the wall, I would surely jettison to the surface in a heartbeat. I cannot believe that the force of the water is so strong!
Noticing that our air supply is nearing the legal limits, Kurt and I begin our swim back to Devilís Spring for our exit. We once again cruise down the path through the water plants. I think I finally understand what the fish in my tropical fresh water tank at home must feel like!
As we are leaving the Ginnie Springs area, we notice a sign by the road for a Dannon Drinking Water plant. Curiously enough, we happen to have a bottle of Dannon water in the Toyota and after checking out the label, we discover that Dannon Drinking Water is bottled at one of several sources: this particular bottle at Ginnie Springs!! No wonder I felt like I was swimming in Evian!
Kurt and set out for our long drive down the west coast of Florida. Our destination for tomorrow is the Everglades. We cruise through Tampa, barely missing rush hour traffic and luckily catching a beautiful view of the sunset. We also cross The Sunshine Bridge, but unfortunately, itís too dark to grab a picture.
For dinner, Kurt and I use the trusty GPS to aid us in locating a Mexican Restaurant (our first for the trip Ė Iím proud of myself!) in Sarasota, Florida. As always, we are rather successful in locating the action-packed part of town as this time the GPS leads us to an older downtown district packed with restaurants and bars. The Mexican Restaurant we chose (Two Senoritas) must have been one of the best because we had to wait about 45 minutes to get a seat. (To Day 9)