One of the over-all best vacations we had was one of our first trips to explore and canoe and snorkel the first magnitude springs of Florida. A great number of these springs are located in the Ocala National Forest in the north-central part of the state. We had reserved a National Forest campsite at Juniper Springs Recreation Area, and this proved to be one of the single finest choices we've ever made for a campground. I don't recall the campsite number we had, but it was a spacious and secluded spot located pretty much between two great springs: Juniper and Hammock.
One of our first side trips was to canoe the Silver River. This river emerges, in full, at the aptly named Silver Springs. Best known as the tourist trap and amusement park, you can bypass the high admission to that place by putting your canoe or kayak into one of many access spots along the river and paddling upstream to the main springs which are, currently, privately owned. However, since the early 1970s, the state of Florida has been slowly buying up all of these privately owned springs and incorporating them into the National Forests or into the State Park system. I suspect this will eventually happen to Silver Spring. One can hope.
One amazing thing about the Silver River is that not only does it emerge whole cloth from the namesake springs, but that the volume of the springs are phenomenal. We are not talking about a small tributary here, but a very deep, wide, and powerfully flowing river. The clarity of the water is stunning, and the current in the stream is impressive. To see all of this clear, fresh water exploding from the earth in such a way is truly something to experience.
Another of the tidbits of information that we'd gleaned about the Silver River is that there is a viable population of rhesus monkeys living along the riverbanks. They are, of course, an "invasive" species. Apparently they're what resulted from a single group of monkeys that had been brought in for backgrounds in the various movies that were once filmed there on the Silver River. Many Tarzan movies were lensed there, as well as things like the TV series SEA HUNT and the feature film CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. (In fact, some of the sets for SEA HUNT are still intact.)
Apparently the monkeys escaped during one of the hurricanes that plague Florida and they were able to establish themselves as a wild population, numbering these days in the hundreds. The State of Florida did studies on the impact of the monkeys and concluded that they have done no harm to the local environment and are unlikely to negatively impact the ecosystem of the river. So, if you're lucky, you may see one or more of them as you cruise along the Silver River.
This here is the main spring basin inside the private Silver Springs Park. You have to pay something like two sawbucks to get into this place. Better to just take your canoe and put in downriver and paddle up. Of course you can't get out there, but they can't stop you from paddling over the main spring and looking down into all of that amazing clear water at the giant limestone cavern from which the water bursts in an unending blast.
I actually paused here in midstream to take a shot of a beached alligator (you can make him out between the leaf litter and the green above it). But what's truly amazing about this shot is that it shows the turquoise clarity of the water speeding down the river basin. Very deep and very clear and stunningly beautiful.
Every time we go to Florida we see jillions of alligators. I can recall that in my youth they were in danger of extinction from overhunting. Now there are millions of them. These days, protected, they often have a menacing aura about them. As if they've lost their fear of Man, and we may now be just something else warm to eat on a good day. This guy had that look about him. He wasn't really big enough to eat us, but maybe he didn't know that.
And here they were. We finally saw them as we paddled back downriver. A troop of rhesus monkeys were sitting in this sabal palm eating something. I don't know what they were eating, but they seemed very content and paid us no mind at all.
Another kind of invasive monkey species. This was taken at a put-in point inside the Silver River State Park. We had stopped there for lunch. I've been thinking of putting together an album for my wife called "Can't Take Me Anyplace".