After kayaking and swimming with the giant manatees in the spring fed rivers of Northern Florida, I understand why the Spanish explorers in the 1500′s thought they had found “the fountain of youth”. The crystal clear teal blue water that flows up from the underground caverns in the rivers feed the surrounding wildlife.
“Manatee Spring” on the Gulf coast of Florida spews more than 100 million gallons of clean pure water into the Suwannee River every day. These springs are a comfortable 72 degrees year round. The water then flows 23 more miles downstream into the Gulf of Mexico.
During the winter from November to April the manatees swim up into these springs from the Gulf to enjoy the spring’s life-giving warm waters. The river swamp along the Spring is populated with cypress, gum, ash and maple and other wetland trees.
I tent camped in these woods and rented a Kayak to explore the nearby Chassahowitzka River. This river is known mostly only by the locals and is far less touristy than the well known Manatee Spring Florida State Park.
I paddled up a spring fed river tributary and found a family of three adult manatees and a young calf lurking in deep bay. The adults range from 1,000 to 3,000 pounds and look like giant seals. They are vegetarians and often referred to as “gentle giants”. They surfaced and stuck their noses and face right up along side me and the kayak. They appeared to be as curious about me as I was about them as I petted their noses.
I put on my swimming goggles and dove in with them. Under water they looked more like whales than seals. They moved about slowly and let me come face to face with them. They must have thought I was a strange looking creature with my goggle eyed face.
These springs may not be the fountain of youth. But they felt like the fountain of life. They are part of the “real Florida” that I love.
P.S. Don’t go up river past the confederate flag, especially if you’re a Yankee. It’s serious redneck country and you don’t want to be re-enacting the movie “Deliverance“.