Time is precious. Each day is an opportunity, especially the weekends. Like many, I value the weekends and the two-day respite from the necessary work-a-day routine.
Weekends vanish without warning, and before you know it, it’s Monday, and you’re back on the assembly line, canning Vienna sausages. Some time ago, I was looking for something adventurous for the weekend with my wife.
We wanted something outdoors surrounded by nature. There’s no shortage of activities like that around Central Florida. The beaches are always an option, but we wanted something different. This led to our venturing out to the local springs.
As a longtime Floridian, it had been ages since I had been to the springs. My wife was new to the state and eager to see what was out there. But finding the right place wasn’t intuitive, despite my background. A few spots came to mind, and we soon discovered that we weren’t the only ones looking for a fresh water expedition.
In some ways, I felt like a modern day Ponce de León if he had GPS. I couldn’t imagine being an explorer in an uncharted land back in the day. My inevitable frustration would be bad for morale. After asking, “Where the hell are we?” for the twentieth time, my crew would grow weary of the constant negativity.
I’d complain about the heat, the mosquitoes, and especially the lack of food. It wouldn’t be too long before there’d be a mutiny on my hands. Forget being an explorer, I’m much more comfortable living in an age where all the hard work has been done.
My wife and I weren’t searching for the fountain of youth (though that would have been a bonus). We just wanted a place where we could swim amid fresh water and relax. KellyPark/Rock Springs was nearest to our home and seemed the ideal choice.
We left in the afternoon completely unaware how popular the destination was. Our thirty-minute drive ended in shock and disappointment. The entrance was blocked off with traffic cones due to overcapacity.
“This can’t be,” I said, incredulous. A cardboard sign read, Come back around 4:00 pm, and it was little after 12:30. A line of vehicles circled around the blocked entrance and turned around, equally dejected. I attempted to rationalize the situation with misguided alternatives. “Maybe we can park somewhere else and walk in.”
There was no denying, however, that we had missed the cutoff. Rock Springs was an oasis just out of reach. Having accepted our fate, we steered course to another springs while there was still daylight. Gemini Springs was another thirty minutes east and seemed like a good bet. They couldn’t all be filled up, could that?
We had packed towels, flip flops, and sunscreen, determined to have a day out. Much to our elation, Gemini Springs wasn’t closed. They had plenty of parking, and we were about to find out why.
It soon became apparent that Gemini Springs was off limits for swimming. I struggled to remember when swimming was ever allowed there. There was some kind of bacteria or algae in the water that made it unsafe. I could have learned this ahead of time by a quick glance at their website, which stated that swimming wasn’t permitted until further notice.
We made this discovery when we noticed that no one was in the water. The No Swimming signs were an extra hint too. Instead, we walked around some nature trails with our beach bag in tow and attempted to blend in.
Gemini offered the nature outing were looking for without the swimming part. The “springs” also looked more like a swamp or retention pond that I wouldn’t swim in if you paid me. Maybe I’d do it for fifty. Danger lurked in one of the trails we walked, deeper into the forest. At least it sounded like danger.
After venturing ahead with my apprehensive wife stalling behind, I heard what sounded like a snarling (or snoring). I stopped and listened. An animalistic sound emitted from some nearby bushes. Convinced it was an alligator, I ran back to my wife. “Let’s get out of here,” I said.
After walking around the rest of the park, experiencing all it had to offer, we made the decision to go home. “Next weekend, we’ll plan ahead,” I assured us. Third time would have to be a charm with Blue Springs State Park. All we had to do was get there a little early.
Blue Springs Part 1
The following weekend, we woke up earlier and tried again. To be on the road by 10:00 am on Saturday was a tremendous feat for me as it was. It was a bright, sunny day, perfect for a dip in the springs.
I hadn’t been to Blue Springs in ages. I used to go there all the time as a child, coasting along in my inner tube and water shoes. Such fond memories immediately dropped upon seeing the Closed sign at the entrance.
We idled near the now familiar line of traffic cones in disbelief. “This… this can’t be.”
My wife exited the truck and walked to the guard shack to inquire further. She then returned with the news. Blue Springs was at overcapacity, closed to further traffic until around 4:00 pm. Sound familiar? The horror of last weekend’s debacle was still vivid in my mind.
“Noooooo!” I screamed into the sky with clenched fists. “You bastards!”
Feeling let down, we traveled home and stopped at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs. There, we walked around the water and then went to the mall, trying to salvage the day. “We got this next weekend,” I assured us. “We’ll just need to wake up a little earlier.”
Blue Springs Part 2
By the following weekend, we rose earlier than early and made it to Blue Springs by 8:30 am. The park was just opening, and there was a line of cars already outside the gate. “So, this is the secret to the springs,” I said to myself. Our journey into Atlantis was joyfully before us.
We drove past the guard shack and parked amid an increasingly growing number of vehicles. We walked past families cooking out and children running with rented inner tubes and floats. A festive spirit filled the air that seemed to say, “We made it in, and everything’s fine.”
My wife and I decided to go kayaking, where we paddled across the glistening water. We both remained alert of potential alligator encounters, but the staff assured us that gators posed little threat. Our hour in the kayak was a special time. She had never done anything like it before, and I was happy to share a place so important to my childhood.
We spent a full day at Blue Springs, swimming, walking, and eventually eating at their commissary. It had made the prior weekends of ill-fated planning a distant memory.
I’m sure we’ll go again some day. There’s a lot on our “Florida to-do” list. For instance, I would love to take her to the Mystery Fun House in Orlando. Is that place still around?
I just looked, and apparently it closed about twenty years ago.
Where does the time go??