A chilly night ended with the crow's caw and the whooping of sandhill cranes. I was out and about before anyone was stirring in camp. My early presence on the path startled some deer which went bounding away, flashing their white tails. The white sandy trail wound through open forest covered with leaves and pine straw for the greater part of the day. Palmetto, palm and an assortment of deciduous hardwoods converged around the few long boardwalks in this section.
Coming off one, I was shocked to see people again. A trail crew of at least 20 youngsters armed with rakes, hoes, pruning shears and infectious smiles, they had entered the trail from a nearby forest road, where they had parked their vehicles. Pleased to see the level of participation and the general enthusiasm, I thanked them in advance for their hard work and care. This level of volunteerism bodes well for the future of this national scenic trail.
Before noon I had travelled the half mile blue blaze to Alexander Springs Recreation Area. At the fee station I met Ernie Chiapuzzi, a section hiker from Pennsylvania who was suffering from a bad case of shin splints and a lack of sleep from an uncharacteristically cold night. He said I could join him at Camp 2 since he'd already paid for the spot. I dropped my pack there at the picnic table and headed for the springs.
The volume of water flowing out of Alexander Springs is enough to form a small river. On the one side there is a "beach" and picnic area. A shady boardwalk starts here and forms a semi- circle around the springs, continuing about a mile along the other side of the river. It is lined with many informative displays about the trees and plantlife that can be found in Ocala National Forest. In the middle and at the end of the boardwalk, there are observation platforms that jut out into the clear water, where you can look for gators, turtles, fish or birds and greet any people paddling past in canoes.
Returning from the river walk excursion, I decided to take a swim. It was a tad nippy getting in, but once the plunge was taken, it was absolutely wonderful. Much of the river bottom is covered with eel grass, but at the source, where the water gushes out of the white limestone rock, it's free of grasses creating a light aquamarine hole in the dark-green that surrounds it. I swam out to this place and dove down. The brilliant white of the limestone walls and the color of the clear water as sunlight streaks through it were magnificent. Now I understood why the springs attract a fair number of novice scuba divers. A great place to do your first dives.
I left the area at 2:30 in the afternoon after speaking a while with Ernman, which is Ernie's trail name he uses on whiteblaze.net, the site for info regarding the Appalachian Trail. Not sure how much farther he'll be able to go with such pain in his lower legs. The open pine forest was slowly changing to scrub by the time I reached a primitive camp near Brook Pond. It's been a fabulous day and the weather was fantastic. A chorus of croaking frogs serenaded me into slumber.
The Shady Boardwalk