Given all the paddling trips and adventures I've made along the Chipola River, you'd think I'd have explored one of its major tributaries, Merritts Mill Pond before this year. But this past summer, after being inspired by photos made by other divers, my pal, John Moran called to say we need to check this place out. The Mill Pond -- created in the 1860s by a dam built to run a grist mill -- is really a giant spring run fed by multiple beautiful North Florida springs. The head spring, Jackson Blue is an impressive first magnitude spring and the location of a very popular summer county park.
Jackson Blue Spring: in the cavern, looking out.
Our first stop was Edd Sorenson's dive shop called Cave Adventurers right on the Mill Pond. Edd and his staff were generous with information and tips about the Pond and springs. So, filled with excitement and armed with a great little map from Edd, we launched John's boat at the end of Day Loop Road for a two day scouting trip. Wow! We were blown away... and you'll soon see why.
John Moran on his jonnypod, doing what he does best.
As this July day heats up, people begin pouring into Blue Spring Recreation Area.
The eel grass near Jackson Blue is so thick and healthy that I can see trails of oxygen bubbles fizzing to the surface. And the flowers are often capped by a big O2 bubble.
From Blue, we head to nearby Shangri La Spring... here with local boys assessing their courage.
John aboard his customized jonboat at Shangri La.
This young fish is experiencing pure joy during his underwater forays.
Inner Sanctum. Below the surface at Shangri La is a small cave. Here's looking in.
I can't resist wriggling through that tunnel. Here's looking back out.
A local mermaid glides into the Inner Sanctum through the underwater passage. What can I say? Shangri La.
Our next stop was Twin Cave. John's coming out past a rocky rainbow.
Inside Twin Cave, I look up to see this Cavern Ghoul staring down at me.
We notice the Pond has a healthy population of native Apple Snails, this one crossing the sand near our launch site.
No apple-snail-eating limpkins, but an abundance of wading birds and other fishers, like this cormorant.
We spend a long time watching (and photographing) the green herons fishing. We all have lots of luck!
We also have the fine luck to find an apple snail laying her eggs before sunrise. Standing in chest-deep cold water, juggling flash in one hand, camera in the other, we take turns shooting as the sun comes up. What a way to wake up! Luckily we drop nothing in the water... although the snail dropped within minutes after we finished. I guess she was finished as well.
The early light brings out the glory of the Mill Pond cypress.
Spanish Moss Curtains
Silvery Pond Cypress
Perhaps our favorite spring was Hole in the Wall. Not only was there a twin cave above water, but the spring is a lovely cave below, from which pours a strong pulse of Florida's life blood. We spent hours here planning for our next visit: to make a lit up night shot of this scene... (Which we did in August! I am still fine-tuning the image, and since it took 9 hours to shoot, it has it's own story. So, maybe in next month's post, I'll share it.)
Hole in the Wall Spring
Here's Hole in the Wall Spring from just inside the cavern.
We visited two other springs in the Mill Pond during our short trip: Indian Washtub, which apparently can be hard to find at times. And Gator Hole Spring, which we couldn't find until a kind local fisherwoman graciously led us right to it. Most downstream from Blue, and slower current, there was a large mat of duckweed shrouding the Gator Hole vent, which flows from a large crack in the wall.
Indian Washtub Spring.
Oakleaf Hydrangea drapes the intimate entrance of Gator Hole.
So, what do you think? A pretty magnificent discovery, no? North Florida still has some amazing natural beauty despite the destructive efforts of the state's Powers-That-Be. Thanks for joining me on this little adventure. My hold-out shot for next month is a winner. Stay tuned.
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