Exploring Rainbow Springs
Wednesday morning we were up early ready to go exploring. Since we had been living on cereal for breakfast for the past few days, we decided to try the Boulevard Diner in Dunnellon. Cute place with a Mexican motif and serving a variety of American and Mexican dishes.
We both had poached eggs with home made hash, hash browns and toast. Food was really good, reasonably priced and the service was excellent! It was so good we went back on the morning of our departure (Friday) and had the same breakfast all over again.
After breakfast, we took a ride through historic downtown Dunnellon – don’t blink you might miss it! Past town, we did stop to look at a historic marker which explained that Dunnellon was founded in 1887. In 1889 phosphate was discovered in the area, leading to booming expansion until the early 1910s.
Eventually we worked our way over to the Rainbow Springs Headsprings entrance. Producing over 490 million gallons of water daily, the spring formation is the fourth-largest in Florida. Rainbow Springs forms the headwaters of the Rainbow River, which empties into the Withlacoochee River. Unlike other springs, the warm looking-glass waters of the springs come from several vents, not one large bubbling spring.
It was a short walk from the parking lot to where you had to pay the $2 entrance fee (no charge for us since the fee is included in our camping rate). As we walked past the gift shop, just ahead of us was the most beautiful water sparkling in the sun with brilliant patches of aqua blue. Totally awesome!
Being the Google fiend that I am, I did some research and learned a little more history about this area from Wikipedia: “Rainbow Springs and the Rainbow River became popular in the late 1880s when hard rock phosphate was discovered in the area. A small community called Juliette flourished near the springs during this “boomtown” era.
In the 1930s the spring was developed as a tourist attraction. Sea walls, a lodge, gift shop, the waterfalls, and a reptile exhibit were featured. Under new ownership, the real heyday for the attraction occurred in the 1960s. During that time activity greatly increased with glass-bottomed boat rides, riverboat rides, log raft rides, a gift shop and cafe, an aviary, a leaf-shaped gondola/monorail system, a horse rodeo, and submarine boat tours. Later, the downturn came when traffic began using I-75 instead of U.S. Highway 41, with many tourists heading to a new attraction called Walt Disney World, the attraction finally closed in 1974.”
Signs pointing out the remnants of the zoo and the rodeo could be seen as we walked the paths. It was so peaceful there, it’s hard to believe that this was once a forerunner to a theme park. Walking past several waterfalls, one over 60 feet high, we eventually came to the butterfly garden. Unfortunately nothing was in bloom and even if there were the butterflies would most likely be shivering under a leaf somewhere trying to stay warm!
We walked back towards the gift shop, then headed to the other side of the springs where there is a small area where people can swim. Even though it was pretty chilly, two people in wet suits were enjoying the constant 72 degree warm water.
Even the promise of warm water couldn’t tempt me to swim after seeing the “Alligators – Swim with Caution” sign! No sirree – that’s not for me! As we were walking, we passed two men and heard one of them saying that alligators don’t like crystal clear water so most likely there weren’t any in the area. Hmmm, I wonder if the gators know that?
The water was so clear we could see fishes of all sizes swimming near us.
Since we had seen all there was to see, we headed back to the parking lot. What a lovely place, definitely worth a visit, even if you are not camping! And especially nice since there were only a few other people there. I guess having chilly temps does have its advantages at time!
Back at the hacienda, hubby decided that we hadn’t had enough exercise for the day so off we went on our bicycles. Near the campground, there is a paved road that is strictly for the trams which takes people from and to the tubing area so we decided to take a ride down the road. Well, it ended up being a couple of miles but that was okay – it was an easy, very pleasant ride.
Eventually we came to the building at the tubing area where between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can rent a tube ($11 per person including tram service). The tram then transports you (and your tube) up river to the campground where you are dropped off so you can float downstream for about 2 miles (taking approximately 1-1/2 hours depending on the weather/wind) and back to the tubing area. At the tubing area exit point, there is a ramp leading out of the river and a very nice raised boardwalk heading back to the parking lot.
After pedaling back to the campground, we biked past the campground registration office down towards the river where we sat for a bit watching the fish in the crystal clear water swimming by. What was even more fun was seeing a cormorant dive into the water and swim underwater right next to the shore. We have seen many cormorants but the water has never been clear enough for us to see one swimming underwater – they can really move!
Diving excursions are available by local merchants. We saw several pontoon boats stopped in the water while people were snorkeling/diving nearby.
Finally we headed back to the coach – it was too cold that night to have a campfire so we spent the rest of the afternoon inside.
On Thursday, we hung around the coach and did our usual bike ride around the campground and down to the river. The temps were slightly warmer that afternoon so we decided we would have an early campfire which was enjoyable. We did get to watch a pretty sunset but then the temps quickly dropped and it was too cold to sit outside even with the fire. We warmed up sitting by our interior campfire (aka electric fireplace), spending the rest of the evening watching TV before retiring early.
Besides the wonderful campground and the gorgeous springs, we had one more jaw dropping experience at Rainbow Springs. On Thursday morning, our next door neighbor came over to tell us that there was a bald eagle perched in a very tall pine tree behind our site. He (the eagle, not the neighbor) would sit there watching the world (or should I say the critters) go by, then fly off, returning a short time later.
Quick, make sure the kitties are inside! We don’t want them to be his lunch! Perhaps that tree and the surrounding area was his territory because that is what he did all day long and Friday morning as well. Looking at him through binoculars, it was easy to see what a magnificent creature he was! It was hard to tell his size but I learned (what did we ever do before Google) that a bald eagle typically has a length of 28-40 inches and a wingspan of 5.9 to 7.5 feet. I did see him fly off and wow, he was huge!
Not sure that any other State Park can top our experience here! This is a very nice park with mostly large sites that are easy to back into. Despite the “40′ maximum RV length” advertised for this park we would see no problem for 45 footers here on most of the sites (check the site length before booking). Most sites will require minor leveling and are packed gravel with paved interior roads. The bath houses are modern, new in appearance, extremely clean and also offer a washer and dryer. Besides the river feature, there are several peaceful walking/nature trails and in warmer weather it would have been great to canoe, kayak or tube on this beautiful river.
On Friday morning, we left to head back to Quail Run in Wesley Chapel. Why are we going back to Quail Run? We decided that we wanted to have Wade RV make a dash mat for us (to keep kitty claws from making a mess of things) so we need to go to Lazy Days in Seffner. There were no available sites at Lazy Days over the weekend plus it didn’t really make sense to stay there as Wade RV doesn’t work on weekends. So because it’s so nice at Quail Run, reasonably priced and filled with some very nice people we decided to return for Friday and Saturday nights. On Sunday, January 26th, we will move to Lazy Days where we have an appointment on Monday with Wade RV.
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