*Lots of photos, write-up and videos at the end!*
After our paddle on the Juniper Run, we had nothing else on the agenda so we opted to hang out at the Juniper Springs pool itself and take a walk over to its sister spring, Fern Hammock springs. I had forgotten to stow my bathing suit in the car that morning so I opted not to jump in and swim, which was probably a good thing because Chris said the water was rather chilly. He and Forest splashed around while I sprawled out on the ground next to the spring to relax a bit. Forest made friends with a boy a bit older than him, talking about the various water bugs and benthic fauna that Chris was finding in the water.
After our swim we popped over to the old mill house to read about the history of the springs. In the 1930s the CCC came in and reconfigured the entire area into the pool you see now as a way to attract visitors to the area. Seeing the before photos of the springs was a bit disheartening, knowing what the original springs looked like and how they were altered. Don’t get me wrong, what is there today is beautiful, but it still left a bit of distaste in my mouth from seeing the work that was done.
Fern Hammock Springs was incredibly scenic. Lumbering oaks leaning over the water…ah, it was a spot you could just sit and enjoy the entire afternoon. And no one was over there! No swimming there, of course, so that made it even more quiet. As we were planning to head back towards Juniper Spring and the entrance Chris and I wanted to take the trail that paralleled the run and Forest wanted to go the way we had come. We tried a bit of reverse psychology thinking he would change his mind and come with us—we told him we were going to take the one trail and he could walk the way we came. Yeah, that didn’t work. He shot us a grin and really thought he was a Big Boy and was tottering down the trail like he knew where he was going! So, we had to reconvene with him and try to convince him to come with us but stubborn 3-year old sense won over and we all went back the way we had come.
Back at the car we weren’t sure what to do quite yet, not wanting to head back to the hotel. The thought to drive down to Alexander Springs in another section of the forest was tossed out but we weren’t really in the mood to head that far. Back on SR 40, Chris found a forest service road and we just turned down that thinking we’d drive as far as we could. We were heading down FSR 13 and it would get us to the Big Scrub Campground if we so chose but as we began heading that direction we saw dark clouds and thought we better not go too terribly far in case the roads turned to mud. So we meandered down the road, turning west down another dirt road and then north again down another road hoping to make it back to SR 40. The roads here were mostly set out on section lines with other, smaller roads heading off in between on occasion. Those were definitely more ORV type trails than for use with a car.
We drove north on one of the dirt roads, squeezing around areas that were too muddy to traverse and Chris getting out to inspect some areas before we went through them. Eventually we came to an impasse and had to turn around and go back the way we came. Forest managed to fall asleep during the trek, his second nap for the day. For a kid who loves to boycott napping these days, the last several days of travel had done him in!
We managed to make it back out of the forest roads unscathed and enjoyed our jaunt of solitude in the national forest. It reminded me of a trip years ago when we went to a geocaching event near Buck Lake where after the event some of us went driving after dark through the national forest to the sounds of the woods and a light background soundtrack of old country music on the radio. Just driving, out to see what we could see.
And that’s a wrap on our explorations in Ocala National Forest. I only wish we’d had more time to spend out there!