Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Journey to Gum Slough.

One day Carole went into the park office to ask the rangers about some good places to go kayaking to find out of the way springs. One ranger is particular seemed to know quite a lot about the various locations of lesser known springs and told us that a good one was Gum Slough (pronounced "slew"). It was about 30-minute drive to an out-of-the-way boat launch. So we decided this was going to be our destination for the day and loaded up with directions and headed out.

Without a lot of trouble we found the boat launch (that was indeed located out in the sticks), and were soon underway. The water of the main channel we were traveling was dark and shallow. Around us was mainly forest, with a few old fishing shacks and some camps built into the forest on the left bank. About thirty minutes into the paddle we noticed a park area on the left bank and headed over to see it.

We were very surprised to find what is apparently a National Forest group camp. It consisted of a large maintained open grassy field surrounded by thick forests with two small sandy beaches appropriate for swimming or launching boats and kayaks. There are also picnic tables and a very clean vault toilet. Deciding that this place was too pretty to just view and leave, we got out our lunches and ate there at a picnic table close to the water's edge. The weather was good--partly cloudy with mild temperatures--and we were not bothered by bugs. We had pleasant meal and we took some photos of the camp and the views along the waterway and then we jumped back aboard our kayaks and continued on our way to find Gum Slough.

After paddling for no more than ten minutes beyond the camp we looked down to note that the water had gone from dark and murky to suddenly clear blue and clean, and rather deeper. Peering to our left, we could see that we had obviously reached Gum Slough and the influx of clear fresh water from the spring heads that were waiting to be seen far upstream into the dense jungle beyond.

So we turned and headed upstream on Gum Slough.

The stream was a weird one to me. The water was mainly shallow and only occasionally opened up into deep pools, always crystal clear. The farther upstream we went the more intense the current became and I found myself very much wanting to see the spring that had produced this run. Around us the forest pressed in close, and the way was full of downed trees and limbs, most of which we were able to float above. I could see where some enterprising group had come in to saw away and remove the worst of the deadfall, but not all of it. Later, we found out that a kayak club maintains the stream, but leaves as much debris in the water as necessary to keep out motorboats. My hat's off to this clever group!

As we paddled along we saw some wildlife. Mainly birds and fish, with a spectacular Barred owl who landed on the limb of a hardwood above to stare down at us with what seemed a disapproving glare. We pushed on, anxious to see the head spring.

But, eventually, we had to face the fact that we could not make it all the way to the end of the spring run. The debris in the waterway was just too heavy--even for kayaks--for the drought had left the stream level just too low to allow us to float over the deadfall in the water. With a great deal of disappointment, we finally faced the fact that we would have to turn around without reaching the main spring.

After that we just took our time fighting our way back along the wood-choked stream. Too soon we were back out on the main channel and paddling back toward the boat launch without having reached our destination. But that's okay. We saw a lot of wildlife, including some otters, and having not reached the headwaters of Gum Slough give us a reason to return for another attempt.

The Fish Camp just beyond where we put into the river.

Panorama of the river.

I know some people get into the whole religion thing. But this was just way too creepy for me.

The ever present Black buzzards. They are everywhere we go in Florida.

Lesser Blue Heron.

The National Forest group camp we stumbled upon.

Picnic table where we had lunch. Nice, clean vault toilet beyond.

Quickly after reentering the river we reach the clear water of Gum Slough and are anxious to see the spring that births it.

Birdsong greets us as we head upstream into wilderness.

This wonderful Barred owl stood on a perch and looked down on us.

This is the low water level that robbed us of our goal.

Carole precedes me downstream as we head back out to the main channel.

The dark water of the main channel.

I love the ever-present Great blue heron. They are tremendous predators. People don't realize what effective hunters they are, preying on not just fish but turtles, snakes, mammals, and even young alligators. The theropod predator still lives with us!


John said...

I visited this area back in the eighties after the attraction closed and before the State took over. We explored the property until somebody chased us, quite politely I might add, back to our boat. We were also able to snorkel in all the little side springs and spring runs. It was truly a magical place. I'm a little sad that some areas are off limits now but at least the area is protected.

James Robert Smith said...

Are you talking about Rainbow Springs? It was closed for a long time. I was surprised how long from the research my wife did. It was off limits to the public for almost twenty years! It's good to see all of these great springs transferring to public property. Even Silver Springs is now in public hands. Apparently the state of Florida is getting ready to shut down the rides and the zoo and such.