Mike and I spent a week in the areas of Jacksonville and Gainesville, Florida. He had a blast cave and cavern diving, while I enjoyed traveling the area and visiting some of the incredible. In the first entry in this two-part series, we’ll look at the places we visited. In the second entry, we’ll look at where we dined.
O’Leno State Park
Located along the Santa Fe river, this park is a gorgeous mix of pine and hardwood trees, ferns, swamps, sandhills, and sinkholes. Just driving into the park is beautiful, but the trails are even more spectacular in their scenery.
I took the River Trail, which is 1.44 miles long. It has benches along the trail at particularly scenic views. The trail follows the Santa Fe River for about half of the loop. It also takes you to the River Sink, which is where the Santa Fe River goes underground. It emerges several miles away in the River Rise Preserve State Park. The River Sink is just such a strange and wonderful phenomenon, that it’s worth the drive and walk to see.
The River Trail is a beautiful walk, not strenuous in the least (unless you count simply being outside in the humidity to be strenuous). The Park also features six other trails, but I didn’t take those, and can’t speak to what you see on them.
The entire area of Florida has a bed of limestone underground. When mild acids eat away at the limestone, sinkholes and caves are formed. That’s what causes the river to go underground here, as well as what gives rise to the numerous caves, caverns, and springs that divers, snorkelers, and swimmers lover to enjoy in the area.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
This Park is simply incredible. It is a sinkhole shaped like a bowl that is 120 feet deep. There are 232 steps that take you down to the bottom, and a few more that take you to another viewing area. Along the sides of the sink are waterfalls, as there is a bed of clay that stops the water from seeping down through the ground; consequently it pours out of the ground and down the side of the sink.
The sinkhole got its name from its shape (a bowl-shaped like a funnel or hopper used to mill grain) and from the fossils and bones found at the bottom of the water (which gave people the impression that the site fed bodies to the devil).
In addition to the sinkhole, there is also a nature trail. I walked around it before going to the sink, and am glad I did. It was pretty, and different from O’Leno State Park, but would have been a bit of a letdown after seeing the sink.
Butterfly Rainforest and Florida Museum of Natural History
I was quite impressed with the museum of natural history and the butterfly rainforest at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The museum has extremely high quality exhibits, which I really enjoyed meandering through.
And the Butterfly Rainforest!! Oh the butterflies! The rainforest is incredibly beautiful, and there are so many butterflies, and all different kinds. It was amazing to walk through and just look, even though it was raining that day, and I got a bit damp, what with the mesh canopy overlaying the rainforest. But the variety of butterflies was quite impressive. I photographed quite a few, but some of them (in particular one variety of blue butterfly) just refused to sit still!
My husband, Mike did a cavern diving and a cave diving class while we were in Florida, in fact that was the main reason for our trip. He spent one full day diving the cavern at Ginnie Springs; and I spent an afternoon there, relaxing by the spring and reading. It was a beautiful sunny day when I was there, and it was the perfect place to relax. In addition to scuba diving, Ginnie Springs is also perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and tubing. The entire High Springs, Alachua, Gainesville area of Florida is actually quite famous for its cavern and cave diving.
Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach
Our last day and a half were spent in Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach. The beach is gorgeous, with lots of shells that my nephew enjoyed seeing when we came home. Lots of people fish off of the pier, so that is fun to see, especially when a fisherman gets a big catch or you get to see a stingray brought up in a basket and the thrown back in.
While in town, we visited Jacksonville Landing, which would probably be really neat during summer and tourist season, but was a bit lackluster in November, as most of the shops and restaurants were closed. We also walked along the riverwalk, soaked up the sunshine, and checked out several of Jacksonville’s bridges.