Thursday, July 20, 2006

Floating The Ichetucknee River

cool fun

The first time I floated the Ichetucknee River, I was 12 years old and the state of Florida had just purchased the land around it as a future state park. There were no facilities and no signs to help you find it. Dad drove us through miles of North Florida woods and fields until suddenly we were standing in front of a crystal blue spring bowl.

Back then, you were on your own. No rules, no rangers. It was common to stretch an inner tube around an ice chest and float down the river with food and ...beverages. I still remember my Dad yelling at some foul mouthed drunks to watch their language.

The river was beautiful, but the sandy bottom held cans, bottles, and food wrappers. You had to take two cars so you could leave one at the spring head and one at the endpoint where you would get out. You also had to take your own tubes since you were in the middle of nowhere. There were some real logistics involved.

These days, with a thousand tubers on a busy weekend day, the Florida State Park Service has it down to a science. There's a nice little tram that eliminates the need for two vehicles. Tubes are easily rented ($5 for a typical tube) just outside the park entrance and can just be dropped off when you exit the river at the south entrance. Once you get out of the water, you're done. There's no need to haul tubes back to the vendors shop site.

You also have 3 choices for tubing trips. It used to be, you had to do the whole river...about 3.5 hours. Now there are two other choices, a short half hour float and a 1.5 hour float. There's also no litter on the bottom because you can't take any food or drink along with you...not even a bottle of spring water.


That's me (wearing a Seal swim mask) in the mouth of a cave cut into the limestone bank of the river. The Ichetucknee flows mainly through a cypress riverswamp, but occasionally cuts through limestone bluffs like these. I had pulled over to peek inside this cave and I tossed the disposeable underwater camera to my brother in law, Paul as he floated by. He took a pretty good shot considering he was sitting in a moving tube with his baby daughter in one hand and the cheap camera in the other.


This is my beautiful daughter Emma trying to see out of her fogged dive mask. The water is 72 degrees so masks fog quickly without a good spit or a squirt of store bought "nofog" stuff. Looks like Em didn't use either. She's a certified SCUBA diver so she should know better...I just hope her SCUBA instructor isn't reading this.

We were in the water under sunny blue skies, for a 1.5 hour float by 10:00 am and didn't finish until about 12:45. That's because we stopped at a park service floating dock and played jump in, climb out, jump in, climb infinitum to make the experience last as long as possible. By the time this crew was out and looking for a late lunch at Floyd's Diner in High Springs it was pouring rain. In summertime Florida, you get going early, because it's a given that the afternoon will be stormy.

These pictures really don't do the 'Tucknee justice. The water is crystal clear having just gushed from the spring after a long journey underground. As you drift over eelgrass and white sand, there are turtles, birds, and fish that are so accustomed to tubers that they ignore you. The only scenery is crystal water, blue sky, and houses, no motor's magical.

It's only still magical because "grownups" back in 1970 thought to preserve it for my children and yours. There's a lesson for all of us.

We must not forget the future.
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robin andrea said...

What a great place. Love those underwater shots. They really do capture the experience. What fun. Yes, it sure was good of those grownups back in the 70s to plan for this future. It makes so much good sense. Sure would be nice if there were grownups now doing the same kind of thinking.

Thunder Dave said...

Great shot of Emma! Nice story about the springs too. Back in the '70s we'd grab a canoe and pick a river (Missouri/Arkansas waterways), then canoe and camp for an entire weekend. With one car at the start and one at the take out point. Looking back, it's a wonder we didn't hear banjo music on any of those trips! ;-)

pablo said...

I can remember floating the Current River in Missouri in canoes back in the day. You didn't even need to pack "beverages" since the bottom of the crystal clear river was lined with six packs that had fallen out of canoes (probably being tossed from one canoe to another inexpertly). All you had to do was dive deeply enuf to bring them back, ice cold, to the surface.

I'm sure things have been cleaned up a bit since then.

Mrs. S said...

I love the picture of Emma - she DOES look like a mermaid!

Some day I'm going to have to come to Florida and pay you to be my tour guide - I'll never remember all this stuff on my own!

Deb said...

That water looks so inviting! My creek is spring fed but the water is soft and bog-stained so no good fish viewing.

Pablo- free beer? All along the river? Is this heaven?

pablo said...

Deb - It sure seemed like it at the time.

Ava said...

Wish I was there! Looks like so much fun! Great under water shots!

Floridacracker said...

It was a blast and how nice to show your kids a river that looks like it did when you were a kid.

...and squealing pigs.

Pablo and Deb,
No way there's any cold beer left on the bottom out there...not if ThunderDave has floated the Current River.

Mrs. S,
My brother in law Paul and his wife Wanda floated with twin 14 month old babies. Zoe is going to want to float a river someday.
...of course, Wanda used to work as a Mermaid. I'm not kidding...Google Weeki Wachee Springs.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks, it was cooool fun on a hot day.

Wayne said...

Definitely must not forget the future! It was 30 years ago that I tubed down the Ichetucknee with several college (FSU :-) ) friends. As you say, then we could and did float a cooler of beer along with us. It's an amazing experience.

From the timing, sounds like we might have run into you, FC.

Leslie said...

Itchy tuck knee sounds like a mosquito bite dance.

I've tubed down the Chattahoochee and coolers were allowed to be floated back then (18+ years ago though). They were doing the tram and rented tube thing then - sure makes it convenient and easy!

I've been away from blog reading for a while so I'm doing a lot of catch-up here. Looks like you guys are enjoying an idyllic summer break. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Juli said...

I LOVED tubing on that river and have been talking about another trip down that way soon. I enjoyed floating along with turtles and searching the bottom for lost treasures.

Duane Keys said...

The heat index is 107 where I'm at right now. I feel cooler already having read this post! Thanks!

Floridacracker said...

Was that you?

...any more adventures and I'm going to need a break from my break.
Heh! Just kidding...

Speaking of treasure, I found the mask Emma's wearing on the bottom that day.

Wowsers! That is hot! Glad this helped some.
Thanks for the tip about WildBlue.

John Cowart said...

I suspect that Heaven will look a lot like Ichetucknee Springs. I spent some of the happiest days of my boyhood camping at Ichetucknee. Back in the mid 1950s, I was part of a group doing an archaeological survey of the spring run... Yep, I'm sure Heaven will look just like Ichetucknee.

Floridacracker said...

I hope you're right!

Betsy said...

Ichetucknee, Ichenuckee! Exclamations of bliss. John is right -- Ichetucknee IS heaven on earth.

My mom and dad had their first date there around 1960.

FC, I surely enjoyed your pictures and description. Next best thing to being there.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks! Cool about your Mom and Dad's date there.

I guess by now, there are literally millions of people out there with Ichetucknee memories.
Pretty neat!

rick said...

you might not get there in a green gremlin anymore but the spring is the same. Actually better without the drunks,(I used to be one back then) beer cans and trash.Whats the charge last time I went I think it was about 5 dollars to get in plus the inflatable?

Floridacracker said...

Hey Rick,
Yeah, basically you'll spend about the same as taking the family to the movies (with popcorn,etc). Just a great day.
We're going to be hanging out at St. Augustine beach some this week. My highschool reunion is next weekend.

Hick said...

I'm with Leslie...sounds like mosquitos, but boy is it bee-utiful.

We used to take six-packs of soda to the beach with us and stick 'em at the edge of the lake and eventually someone would notice that they had been washed away with the waves. Luckily the lake is so clear that they were pretty easy to find.

Floridacracker said...

This water is about 72. Might be good for chilling a bottle of wine :)

perry said...

i'm telling you, i grew up with regular trips to the Ichetucknee, and now I haven't been in 2 or 3 years. For some reason, I've just recently began really thinking about how nice it is, and I'm looking forward to making another trip very soon.. I love nature!