July 27-29, 2014, Carrabelle, FL continued

Sunday we drove the east and central Forest Trail portions of the Big Bend Scenic Byway.   We stopped at Wakulla Springs State Park, a 6,000 acre wildlife sanctuary.  The main attraction in the park is Wakulla Spring, a pre-Ice Age sinkhole that is connected to an underground cave system.  Professional dive teams have explored the spring cavern to a depth exceeding 300 feet and a distance of 18,000 feet.  Mastodon bones were found in the spring in 1850 and scientists have identified the remains of at least nine other extinct Ice Age mammals deposited as far as 1,200 feet back into the cave.  The water from the spring is a constant 68 degrees year round.  In the 1940’s a couple of the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller were filmed here.   Creature from the Black Lagoon was also filmed here in 1954.  They have a lodge, swimming and picnic areas and hiking trails.  This is a beautiful area and the water is very clear.

When water conditions permit, glass-bottom boat tours are given over the spring providing views of the mastodon bones.  Unfortunately, they have not been able to give these tours since July 1st so we took a 3-mile scenic river boat tour instead.   Our tour headed downstream from the spring where we immediately started seeing alligators.  This guy looks like his is smiling at us.

We saw lots of birds - herons, egrets, anhinga, coots, grebes, wood ducks, etc.  Our boat captain told us the names of all the birds we saw but there were so many we could not keep them straight.  We saw a lot of beautiful birds and many we have never seen before.

We also saw a lot of turtles sunning themselves on logs and rocks beside the river.

But the most exciting for us was, on the way back upstream, we saw manatees.  This is the first time we have seen manatees in the wild.  These two were resting on the bottom so the boat stopped for a while so we could watch them and get pictures.  It looks like the one on the left was hit by a boat propeller or something as it has a long scar on its back.  We also saw four more a little farther upstream but were on the wrong side of the boat and we could not get a good picture.

Back at the spring we spotted this great old cypress tree which seems to be suspended in air.  Behind this tree is a small side channel where the movies were filmed.  We saw the remains of the palm tree Johnny Weissmuller swung from in the Tarzan movies – just a stump sticking out of the water now.  We also saw the lair where the Creature from the Black Lagoon lived.

After the boat ride we ate a picnic lunch and got some great ice cream at the lodge.  We really enjoyed our time at Wakulla Springs State Park and were so glad we were able to see manatees.  We continued our drive on the Forest Trail which made a large circle through Wakulla State Forest, Lake Talquin State Forest and Apalachicola National Forest.  We enjoyed these two sections of the Forest Trail, especially the beautiful Wakulla Springs State Park.  This was a long drive and we were tired when we got back to the rv park. 

We had talked about kayaking on the Wakulla River and even stopped by a kayak rental company to get some information about the river, but were apprehensive about kayaking in a river with alligators.  But after seeing the manatees at Wakulla Springs and hearing that we could also see them in the river, we decided we had to kayak on the Wakulla.  We also read that alligators will not bother kayakers on the river.  So, Monday morning we headed about 35 miles east of the rv park to where the highway crosses the Wakulla River.  We put the kayaks in here and headed upstream.  The young man at the kayak rental company told us it is about a 2 hour paddle upstream to where the river is fenced off at Wakulla State Park.   Wakulla River is a nice, wide river that is fed exclusively by Wakulla Spring.

We explored some of the small side channels – keeping vigilant for alligators.  After we saw a couple of alligators and they ignored us or swam away, we relaxed and were able to enjoy ourselves more.

We saw lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs and rocks.

And lots of beautiful birds.

We saw lots of signs that said “Caution – Manatee Area” but did not see any manatee.  When we were very close to the fence where we would have to turn around Rex saw three manatees.  Nancy was not able to see them even though they swam right under Rex’s kayak.  We headed back downstream keeping an eye out for manatee and also keeping alert for alligators.  Nancy was very disappointed that she hadn’t seen the manatees upstream as we probably won’t see any more.  More than halfway back downstream we finally saw two more – they were swimming just under the surface and surfaced to breathe right in front of Rex.  They swam past Rex and surfaced again just beside Nancy’s kayak.  It was great to see these beautiful giants – they were longer than our kayaks – swimming up river.  This made our day!

A little farther downstream we saw this alligator laying in a mat of leaves and dead grass.  He was well hidden here and difficult to spot.

We really enjoyed our day even though it was hot and humid (weatherman said the heat index was 100 today) and especially enjoyed the manatee.  We are glad we overcame our apprehension about alligators to do this paddle.

When we got back to the rv park Rex decided to give the dogs a much needed bath.  The dogs look and smell much better but could not understand why we did not take them on the beach for our walk tonight. 

Tuesday we stayed in the park and Rex groomed the dogs while Nancy did laundry.  We saw dolphins swimming in the Gulf from our camp site – another good reason to stay in this park.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing.   Today is our 25th wedding anniversary so we went to Rock Landing Restaurant in Panacea for a great dinner.

We enjoyed seeing this part of Florida.


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