Suwannee River, March 2005, Part 3
Thursday, March 24.
I slept very well and woke around 8am. Tom and Brian were cooking their breakfasts. We ate and then began the process of sorting and packing stuff for the return trip. There was no rush, and we took our time loading up. It was about 11am when we finished up. After paying our dues at the Outpost, we drove out and stopped at the nearest bathhouse. The campground was hosting a multi-band concert that weekend, and the local population had increased since Sunday. The Spirt of the Suwannee campground apparently only has two bathhouses for 600 campsites, and we had to wait our turn.
I was famished and ready for lunch. We stopped at a Wendy's near I-10 but it was packed out the door, so we decided to keep looking. Five minutes later we were in downtown Live Oak and found a homecookin' place called the Dixie Grill. I drove over the curb looking for a parking spot (sorry Joe!), but we finally got situated and had a big hot meal.
Thursday was sort of a free day for us, and we decided to visit Ichetucknee Springs, supposedly one of the clearest and most pristine rivers around. It was maybe a 45 minute drive from Live Oak. Along the way we were shocked to pay nearly $2.30/gallon for gasoline. It made me glad I went with the 4-cylinder engine in my small SUV.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park has both a south and north entrance, and we arrived at the south entrance first. It was sunny and around 80°F, and there were several visitors who were exiting the river with rented innertubes. We walked the trail to the Dampiers landing. Butterflies were everywhere but none of them were in the mood to be photographed. Brian pointed out a couple small Red Buckeye trees blooming. The Ichetucknee water, fed by seven springs, is very clear. It was hard to gauge how deep the water was because it was easy to see the plants along the bottom in many places. We saw a kayaker drift down the river and I was ready to paddle it. Tom offered to run a shuttle for Brian and me, but we really didn't have time for it. I'd like to come back and paddle it someday.
We left the south entrance to see the springs on the north. Years ago, Tom had scuba dived the Blue Hole spring among many others in the area. We parked and walked the trail to the spring. Finally a damselfly cooperated and let me get some photos. A skink played along too. We arrived at the Blue Hole. A large family was on the deck speaking a strange language, perhaps from a Scandinavian country, and a few people were swimming in the spring. I decided to give it a try since I had swim trunks on. Chilly water, but I got used to it. I didn't have goggles or a mask, so I wasn't able to look into the spring, but it was a fairly wide hole, and it was pumping out a serious amount of water, judging by the current I had to swim against. Shallows surrounded the hole, and grasses showed the direction of the current.
We made a brief stop at the "Head Spring" which was close to the parking lot and had a lot more swimmers. Then we hit the road again at around 4pm. We had no plans for the evening, so we thought we'd make a little headway north and explore the Okefenokee Swamp by camping at the Stephen Foster State Park in Georgia (don't get confused...there are different Stephen Foster parks in GA and FL).
We arrived at Stephen Foster a little after 6pm, just in time for the park office to be closed. A local in a cowboy hat was talking about Tuesday's thunderstorms with the park ranger and a visitor. He said the Okefenokee was a hotspot for bad thunderstorms. I was glad we were there during good weather. The ranger was just leaving and told us where to find the campground. For some reason they're strict about having only two tents on a campsite, so I offered to share my bigger tent with Brian.
The campsite was a grassy spot tucked into a patch of loblolly pines. The mosquitoes weren't too bad for being in a "swamp," and the weather was cool and clear. Brian and Tom cooked up a big batch of chicken and noodles, and macaroni and cheese with spam, and we shared the feast. We made plans for paddling some of the swamp in the morning before heading home.
The Okefenokee is not a place you want to go to use your cell phone. Tom and I had weak signals and couldn't get a call to stay connected. I managed a two-minute call to my wife before it dropped out. The park office has one payphone, but you need a calling card as it won't take change for long distance.
We rounded out the evening listening to the radio and sharing the digital photos and video we had taken during the trip.
Friday, March 25.
Brian woke me at 4am and asked if I had the weather radio, which I had left in the car. Bright flashes flickered through the roof of the tent. Rats! I thought we had paid our dues on bad weather earlier in the week, but the "cowboy" was right about the frequent storms. I climbed out of the tent to get the radio, which confirmed that foul weather was headed our way. The lightning in the distance was quite frequent, and we decided that we didn't want to go home with a bunch of wet gear, so we hastily packed up camp. We got the tents put away and were just hooking up the boat trailer when the rain really started coming down. I was happy to have the vehicle for shelter this time.
As we pulled out of the camping area, it began to hail. We slowly drove over to the camp office parking lot, which was one of the few places not surrounded by tall trees. They lock the gate to the park overnight, so we couldn't simply leave, not to mention they'd probably have been upset that we hadn't yet paid for our campsite. We spent some time in the screened-in porch of the office waiting for it to open. At 7am, some ladies opened the office. We paid our dues and went to have breakfast at a nearby picnic area. The rain and lightning picked up again, and it was apparent that we weren't going to get to paddle the swamp that morning.
So we had nothing else to do but begin the trip home. We made a brief stop to see the "sill" at the edge of the swamp, where the Suwannee River begins. We made another stop at the Fargo visitor center. The water was even higher this time, and half of the parking lot was under water, with no dry way of getting to the center itself. I snapped a photo and then we made the trip back to South Carolina, where the weather was beautiful.
Many thanks to Brian and Tom for their trip planning efforts. I had a great time. Thanks to Joe for letting us borrow the trailer!
Moving Average: 3.9 mph
Time Moving: 18:39:51
Mileage: 72.8 miles
Daily Mileages (From the GPS tracklines...they don't quite match with total above):
Day 1: 15.5 miles
Day 2: 17.6 miles
Day 3: 40 miles