I guess we didn’t realize how lucky we were the last two days until we were woken up this morning. The past two days spent at Blue Springs Campground we basically had the entire thing to ourselves. At its busiest point yesterday there might have been 10 people total in the springs. The water was always crystal clear with 100% visibility even when people were jumping off the deck time after time.
This morning we woke to the sounds of buses pulling into the campground. Within minutes, you’d have thought we were smack dab in the middle of a pre-school playground sponsored by Red Bull and 5hr Energy.
Each bus probably unloaded 50 kids, and there was two buses. The springs went from peaceful and pristine, to a cloudy mess with so many kids atop the platform that you couldn’t have gotten up there with a bulldozer.
Crystal clear water was gone and you couldn’t even see the bottom of the spring at any section due to how much sediment was being stirred up. It only quickened our pace to pack up camp and get the heck out of here.
We all agreed that we were the luckiest campers around to have spent the last two days with the whole park to ourselves. Jeff and Jen took the morning to pack up their stuff as they were headed over to Orlando to spend the rest of the week with friends just outside Disneyland. I’m guessing this morning would just give them a taste for what the rest of the week would be like.
For Cindy and I, this was as close to torture as one could imagine. We both love kids, but we enjoy well behaved kids in short moderation. Packing up camp for us consisted of locking a few cabinets, dropping the camper back onto the hitch and reeling in the awning. We were ready to roll out within 15 minutes after we finished eating breakfast.
We all gave out hugs and said our goodbyes and piled into the trucks. We talked about heading over to Ginnie Springs as we had paddled up into the springs one time while paddling down the Santa Fe River and thought they looked pretty. But as we were driving out of Blue Springs Campground, Cindy was reading reviews on Trip Advisor for Ginnie Springs. OMG!! How can the police allow that much drunken debauchery to happen and not step in to put a stop to it? If you want to be shocked, read the reviews posted by visitors and see if you’d go there for a visit.
When ever we’re taking our boat to Williston Marine Metals to get work done to it, we pass Devils Den Spring along HWY 27. We always talk about stopping for a visit, so I suggested we go check that out. Cindy looked it up and said it looked pretty cool and they had a full hook-up campground available, so we headed over that way.
The drive maybe took an hour even with stopping to top off the diesel tank. It’s amazing how many springs are in this Central Florida region. On the drive from Blue Springs, we passed Ginnie Springs, Blue Grotto Spring and another spring that was named Blue Springs before we finally pulled into Devils Den Spring.
Pulling in, it almost looks like you’re pulling into a beautifully groomed horse farm which is where the Devils Den is located smack dab in the middle of. I guess this has always been a privately owned piece of property and wasn’t even opened to the public till the 90’s. The opening to the surface was originally a small sink hole, through which visitors had to squeeze through to reach the water below. The opening was enlarged in the 1990’s to ease access. The cave expands below water level (a shape described as an “inverted mushroom”) to up to 200 feet across. When talking with the guy at the counter, he told me the water level in the cave has recently fallen along with the water table in the area due to the droughts Central Florida has been experiencing.
We had to sign waivers to even be on the property, whether we were going in the cavern or not. The camping site was only $24 total, so that wasn’t bad especially since it had full hook-ups. They are nice, level, shaded sites and have a swimming pool and pavilion area for the campers to use. If you want to go swimming in the cavern, that’s $10 per person extra. No big deal, but good to know that it’s not included in the camping fee in case you’re coming here to camp. If you just want to stop by and see the cavern, there is a $3 fee to walk into it, which is way worth it for how cool it is.
We went and parked the camper and hooked it up to shore power so we could kick on the A/C. This is the only thing I hate about camping in Florida during the summer months. The fact that you HAVE to be plugged in so you can run your air conditioning unit. That is why when we traveled fulltime, we basically followed the non-humid weather around the country so we never had to run the A/C and could just live off our battery power and stay off-grid. That is the true nomadic lifestyle and is the way I think Humans should live, but don’t get me started on that topic.
Once we were plugged in, Cindy made us some lunch while I put the camera back in the Ikelite Underwater Housing. This is getting easier and easier with each time I do it and its no longer that big of a deal for me. Once we were fed up, we put on our swum trunks and walked back over to the entrance to the den.
We talked with the attendant about what the cavern has to offer and he told us a bunch of info about the history of the place. It looks very simple from the surface. A giant oak tree with a hole beside the base of the tree. Walk a short distance away from the tree and there is a hole carved out of the stone that narrows as it descends into the earth.
There is a ton of history that has been found in the caverns. Four underwater passages extend from the pool under the opening, from 5 feet to 90 feet under the surface of the water. The water around the platform at the bottom of the staircase glows with a deep blue color from the sunlight entering through the hole up above. The passage called chamber 3, which is around 70 feet under water, contained animal and human remains and artifacts. The animal remains, which appeared to be associated with the human remains and artifacts, were from extinct (Pleistocene) species, including mastodons, ground sloths, camels, horses, dire wolves, bog lemmings, Florida spectacled bears, saber-toothed cats, and peccaries. The human remains have been dated to about 7,500 BCE!! When we visited the Florida Museum of Natural History over in Gainesville back in February, they had multiple displays of these animal remains on loan. So it was cool to put the two together to see where they actually came from.
As you walk down into the cavern, the air temperature cools considerable. Especially since it was probably 90 degree’s outside with suffocating humidity levels. Once through the narrow passage, you’re standing on a wooden landing that’s probably 50′ above the waterline. The wooden staircase is narrow and dark, so we spent a few minutes just standing there letting our eyes adjust to the darkness.
Cindy went down first while I waited up top. Once she was at the bottom, I followed her lead and soon we were both suiting up in our snorkeling gear. We both noticed a funky smell and looking around, we saw a dead, bloated fish floating on the surface of the water along a far wall. Not wanting to share the water with a decomposing fish, I went and got the attendant and asked if he could come down with a net and remove the dead fish from the water.
When you walk up from the depths of the cave back into the afternoon air, it takes your breath away. The cave is probably 20 degrees cooler than the outside air temperature. Cindy had stayed down there and by the time the fish had been removed and I was ready to get into the water, she was already complaining about how cold she was.
Swimming at a normal spring that is flowing out of the earth at 72 degrees is one thing. Your body is usually getting hit with sunlight and you can still feel the warm, outside air and the cool water is also mixing with warmer water that has been heated up by the sun. Swimming in 72 degree water that is never being warmed by the sun is friggin’ cold. Worse yet, you come out of the water and the air is cold. If you visit, rent a wet suit! Cindy and I have talked about getting wet suits just to be able to stay in the water longer, but swimming here in this cave, it should be mandatory.
We swam around for about a half hour before we were both too cold to stay in the water any longer. This cave is super cool to swim in, but without lights, you have a limited area to move around. There is only a small section that the hole in the roof lights up, and if you move out of that small section, it gets dark real quick. Dark water freaks me out, and if you sit there looking into the dark sections and allow your eyes to adjust, you start to notice there are LOTS of bigger fish hiding in the shadows just watching you. That also freaked the two of us out. Of course we both kept saying things to one another that wasn’t making it any better, so we were both laughing and scaring the shit out of ourselves the entire time.
We finally headed up to the surface and back into the afternoon heat to warm up. When we came up, it was pouring rain, but it felt good and warm on our goosebumped skin.
We walked over to the pool because I had a shot in mind that I’ve been wanting to try with Cindy while its raining. So this would be the perfect scenario. Plus, the pool water was at about 90 degrees, so it was the best way to warm our chilled bodies back up.
While we were swimming around, I was lying on the bottom of the pool while Cindy was swimming above me on the surface. I was having her swim back and forth so I could try and get this one specific shot. It was raining cats and dogs so the surface looked really cool. While I’m lying on the bottom of the pool, I see the sky go white as I feel the surface I’m lying on rumble. It was wild to be able to see and hear this while I was 9′ underwater.
Cindy’s hands are shaking and waving to me in a frantic manner and she’s swimming towards the ladder as fast as she can. I surface and she’s yelling “HOLY SHIT! That bolt of lightning hit about 50′ from the pool. It made the water shake and you heard it at the same time you saw it!”
Just then we saw another lightning bolt hit so close that my ears were ringing. I was swimming to the side of the pool as fast as I could as we both ran under the pavilion for safety. It was raining so hard at this point, the water hitting your skin stung like you were getting bitten by bee’s.
We sat under the cover of the pavilion for some time listening to the rain, the thunder and watching lightning hit the earth all around us. What a storm Mother Nature was putting on for us. After about 20 minutes, the rain let up enough that we ran back to the camper where we both changed out of our wet clothes and put on some warm ones. How crazy is it that it’s July in Florida and we’re both putting on Hoodies and Sweatshirts to warm up from an afternoon rainstorm.
Cindy made a snack and the rest of the afternoon blended into the evening which was spent just lounging in bed reading and relaxing. We knew tomorrow would be crazy busy with Cedar Key hosting their annual 4th of July fireworks display, so we took advantage of the rainy weather to just kick back and relax.
It was an awesome day already, and it only got better considering we were both sound asleep by 9pm.