So it was in March of 2006 when the three of us hauled the travel trailer to Juniper Spring in the Ocala National Forest. One of the things we did was float our canoe down the Juniper Springs Run, a small river formed by the upwelling of millions of gallons per day of crystal clear, pure spring water. Along the way, we saw a tremendous amount of wildlife. Everything from vast schools of fish, to rafts of turtles sunning themselves on exposed roots, to white-tailed deer and wild turkey grazing along the river banks.
Before we started that float trip, one of the rangers told us of a spot where we should be able to look to our right and, hopefully, see "the biggest alligator any of us has ever seen". He went on to tell us not to worry about the 'gator, that he would just be lying up on his run taking the sun beside the river, and just to look and not get out. "He's sixteen feet long", he told us. "Biggest alligator we've measured here in this area."
This was not good news to Carole, but I was anxious to spot this mammoth reptile. So when we got to the area where the ranger said we would likely see this enormous crocodilian, we kept our eyes open and and hands in the boat. However, all we saw was the muddy spot along the banks where, just as the ranger had explained, this alligator was accustomed to hauling his ass out of the water to take the sun.
Although a bit blurry, I love this photo that I took as we were gliding past this spot. Note the raccoon in the foreground, who seemed to be fishing. And the white-tailed deer on the bank beyond. This area, an established and protected wilderness, was packed with wildlife.We looked, but no giant alligator. He was, we figured, out shopping for something to eat. We did not get out to go wading. Eventually, we hauled out canoe out where the park service came to pick us up with their handy shuttle service. People were swimming in some numbers in the huge swimming hole there.
Four weeks later, after we'd come home, a cousin of that sixteen-foot alligator killed a woman who went down to a spring near where he sunned himself. She'd gone down to snorkel, and another large 'gator was waiting there.
We were lucky.