Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Florida Caverns, More than Caves.

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Who would go to Florida Caverns State Park and NOT visit the spectacular caverns? I sure would. This Florida Panhandle park offers diversity and beauty galore. John and I spent several days camping there early this past winter and never made it to the caverns. We were looking for springs mainly, but found adventures and photo ops aplenty. I think this is the 3rd photoblog I have posted about this park, not counting the stories about the park's Chipola River. Needless to say, it's one of my favorite areas in old natural Florida.  Here I'll let you in on some of its secrets.

Take an early morning hike along the floodplain trails behind the Caverns ticket office for some primordial Florida beauty. And then get off the trail down into the floodplain to see it up close.

For the very adventurous off-the-beaten-track-types, follow the Blue Hole Run into the swamps and forest and you will come upon several jewels where clear blue water springs bountifully from the earth. At this one pictured, I took a precaution I am usually too excited to do. I put my camera gear safely on dry ground to test-wade across the spring run and back.  Having decided it was a safe place to cross - sand, not mud - I loaded up again and  followed the same course across, only this time one step was a few inches off as I nearly reached the far side. I plunged waist deep into a mud-filled hole, dipping my camera and belt pack. I jerked them up in a flash (as I sank deeper) but they were clearly wet. John looked grim as I handed up my gear.  It took some doing to get out of the hole, especially fishing my shoe out afterward. My main camera body and two lenses wet... but miracles do happen. After drying things off, I found no water in the battery compartment so I tested the gear and ha! it worked perfectly (and still does).  Sooo lucky.  I have too many friends who've lost or badly damaged gear in similar accidents.

Next day, we launched my jonboat in the Chipola River and proceeded upstream. This is kind of crazy because the Chipola dips underground and flows through caves for a good part of its run in the park, and what's above ground is winding, shallow, and full of treachery like logs, snags, rocks.  So it was with great care that we picked our way along often pushing off trees by hand.  Along the way, we found this really cool duo of dancing trees, a cypress and tupelo stepping pretty for their whole lives in midstream.  Tupelo doesn't even touch ground, dipping only her toes (roots) in the stream, while being held firmly by partner Cypress at mid-trunk.

Our destination was a spring group called Baltzell (among other names).  We wanted the option to sleep on the boat so we could shoot into the evening and then again early morning.  As it turned out, we had good conditions, made our photos, and got back to the ramp by only a little after dark... with an un-damaged propeller no less!

Early on our last morning, acting on a tip, we explored a part of the forest we'd never been to before.  A fallen giant lay among her still-admiring progeny.

And nearby we found a long slot spring beside a small cliff with a shallow cave beneath it. While it is hard to see from this photo, there is potential here for one of our fantasy night photos, lighting up the spring, the trees, and the cave.  All right!!! Another plan to visit the Florida Caverns already in the works!