Justin had another United Way conference to attend for work, this time in Gainesville, Florida. I saw it as another chance to go camping and spring-hopping! This was our first camping trip with our new truck, Moonshine Moxie, pulling the Riveted Roost. I can't believe how much get up and go the 3.5L V6 Eco Boost has! It blows our 2006 V8 away.
However, we did notice the trailer swaying, especially when being passed by an 18-wheeler. It was never noticeable with our 2006 truck, most likely because it was a heavier truck. We stopped at a Camping World on the way to Gainesville and picked up a weight distribution hitch and sway control package. It’s amazing that we went this long without it.
On our first full day, we had a picnic breakfast with the dogs in historic Micanopy. There are some amazing antique shops and quaint cafes. Later that afternoon, we went beer tasting at Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville.
Took a four-mile muggy and buggy hike with the dogs through the trails of Payne’s Prairie, followed by the installation of a weight distribution hitch and sway control... all before lunch and not a single cuss word uttered. I’m impressed!
We rented a canoe and took the dogs spring-hopping on the Santa Fe River in High Springs. It was a beautiful day and we paddled with the current through cypress and oak canopies.
Tubing and snorkeling at Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White is something every Floridian (and visitor) should have on his/her bucket list. It’s the quintessential summer activity to beat the heat and enjoy Florida’s natural beauty. At $5 per person, you won't find a better lazy river ride.
Most importantly, arrive early and do NOT bring food, drinks, pets, fishing gear, tobacco, alcohol or disposable items on the river. All tubers are subject to inspection. Pets are allowed in the park on a leash, but not on the river or in swimming areas. Remington and Jackson napped in the Airstream while we enjoyed this excursion. We skipped dealing with rental vendors by bringing our own tubes. The park provides a tram service to shuttle drivers back to the launch area after they park their vehicles at the end of the tubing run. That way, your vehicle awaits you at the parking lot at the end of the float.
On our quest to see as many springs as possible, we took a drive to Devil’s Den in nearby Williston. It was quite an experience to descend into a cave with a beautiful underground spring. The way the light shines through the natural skylight makes for a unique diving experience. We snorkeled in and out of darkness and into streaming rays of sunlight penetrating the crystal-clear, 72-degree water. Many extinct animal fossils dating back to the Pleistocene Age have been discovered inside this spring. In the winter, steam rises like smoke from the chimney opening, which prompted early settlers give it the name, “Devil's Den.”
While Justin was at his conference, I took the dogs for a nature walk near the heart of Gainesville. It takes 232 steps to get to the bottom of Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville, a National Natural Landmark. Fossils found in this 120-foot deep sinkhole include species such as Great White Shark, Sperm Whale, horses, camels, and extinct land mammals that lived 5 to 10 million years ago.
I know what you're thinking… Devil’s Eye, Devil’s Den, and now Devil’s Millhopper all in the same relative area? It might be hot as hell in this part of Florida, but all this beauty assures me that we’re far from it.
We enjoyed Ichetucknee Springs so much, I decided to visit again while my parents and brother were visiting and Justin was at the conference. The last time my dad visited Ichetucknee Springs was 30+ years ago and it was a privately owned park, very crowded and lots of litter. This time around was quite a different experience. The state park is extremely well-run and no disposable items are allowed on the water. Free from development, this section of the river showcases the best of Florida at a leisurely pace. All you have to do is sit back in your tube, relax and enjoy the view.
If you go:
Payne’s Prairie State Park
The campground accommodates tents, trailers and RVs. RV sites are back-in, maximum length, 58 feet. The campground is under heavy shade and each site has a limerock surface, lantern post, fire ring with grill, picnic table, nearby water and electric service (30 and 50 amp), and dump station. Restrooms include hot showers and firewood is available for purchase at the ranger station. No wifi. Park entrance gate is locked at sunset; gate combination provided to registered campers. Pets are allowed on leashes in the campground and on designated trails. Reserve in advance through ReserveAmerica.
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All photos © Kelly Beard, The Riveted Roost