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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Florida Day Three: Ginnie Springs

For Memorial Day Weekend, Todd and I flew down to Florida to spend some time with his family and also to dive in some of central Florida's beautiful clear water springs.  We spent Saturday at the Blue Grotto, then did two awesome dives at Devil's Den on Sunday.  Monday, we headed to Ginnie Springs.

On Sunday night, Todd's brother and family came over for a Memorial Day cookout.  We had a good time, and our niece and nephew, Josh and Alysa (teenagers), decided to stay and go with us the next day when we were going diving. We had heard earlier in the weekend that Ginnie Springs was pretty crowded for the holiday weekend, so we decided that we wanted to get there when it opened.  Since Ginnie is 2 hours from my in-laws' house, we had to get up pretty early to get everything ready and out the door.  We were on the road right on time, and both kids (young adults, really, but 'kids' is easier to type) were asleep before we even hit the interstate.

We arrived at Ginnie Springs right as they opened at 8am.  Ginnie is a MUCH larger complex than the other two sites were, and it includes a lot of other activities besides diving:  tubing, snorkeling, swimming, camping, volleyball, etc.  Apparently, it attracts a lot of non-divers on the weekends, especially Memorial Day.  As we pulled in, we saw that the field was full of tents and people who had been camping (thus, making it not so necessary for us to get there at 8am - everyone else was already there!).  As we waited at the office, one guy who was wearing nothing but a pair of swim trunks that were falling down said to Todd, "Dude, we have been partying SO HARD all weekend!"  He had lost his friend or something.  And I started thinking, "oh, this is going to suck."  And I also started wondering if I should cover up my niece's eyes before the guy's pants fell completely to the ground.

So, we got our air fills, watched a safety video as a dive briefing, and rented snorkel equipment for J&A.  We pulled around to the first dive site of the day, Ginnie Spring.  We smelled pot as soon as we pulled up, and there were tons more campers around, smoking pot, drinking beer.  You know, whatever at 8am.  It seemed everyone was just getting up (wake & bake?).

We strolled out to look down into the spring, which had some steps that led down to a pool of water.  You could make out the entrance to the cavern from the top of the steps.  It seemed... small.  Really?  We're going in there?? I asked Todd...  We're going to spend an HOUR in there?  Yep.  So, we suited up.  I'm still thinking "oh, this is going to suck."

Looking down at Ginnie Spring from the surface is less than impressive.  If you look to the far right of the sandy (light blue) patch, you see a dark strip - that is the entrance to the cavern.

We gave a quick snorkel lesson to Josh, who hadn't been snorkeling before, then told them we'd see them in an hour or so.  A crowd had formed on the stairs to watch us with all of our equipment.  There were a few people swimming in the spring, splashing and diving around.  I was still thinking, "oh, this is going to suck."

It did NOT suck.  We swam into the cavern.  Once behind the initial boulders, it opened into a small room.  Continuing on, the cavern opened into the "Ballroom," which is a fairly large room.  At this point, there is just a blue glow of the outside in the distance and it's otherwise dark.  We had our lights, so it was fine.

Todd at the ceiling of the Ballroom

The water inside the ballroom is crystal clear.  I have never seen water this clear before in my life.  Even the water in the pools where we do our training are not as clear as this is.  200+ foot visibility, and no silt whatsoever.  Perfect Visibility.  The sand on the bottom was "heavy" sand rather than silt, so it quickly settled if you happened to kick it up.  It was really worth the entire trip to have spent time diving in this crystal clear water.  Not to mention that since the other divers had stayed away for the weekend, we were the only two people in the cave.

Inside the ballroom

At the end of the ballroom was a grate.  This is the entrance to the cave system, and it is incredibly silty and narrow inside.  Therefore, no divers (even cave certified divers) are allowed to enter.  This is also where the spring discharges 20 million gallons of water per day.  So, there is a strong current that comes from the grate. We swam up to the grate (with difficulty, you actually kind of had to claw your way to it) and held on to the grate, so that it felt like we were flying.  Then, we let go and flew back (gently) into the center of the ballroom.  It was fun!

Hanging on at the grate, watching my bubbles go backward instead of up!

We continued to explore around the ballroom.  There isn't a whole lot of things to see, but it is really fun to investigate the cracks in the walls and ceiling, as you sometimes will find a critter or a plaque dedicated to someone who has died.  I'm not certain if they died in the spring or just of natural causes, but there were plaques around inside.  The air that we were exhaling left mercury-like bubbles in the ceiling, and I had fun touching them and the like.  Some were deep enough that I was afraid to put my hand in, because often the reflection on them made it so that I couldn't see what was on the other side, and there is often something frightening about sticking your hand somewhere that you can't see into.

A memorial plaque in the Ballroom

Playing with the air in the ceiling

Investigating the Ballroom

We started heading out of the cavern, and once we got back near the entrance, the view looking out was breathtaking.  There were swimmers and snorkelers around, and they would dive down an into the cave for a moment.  Josh and Alysa were there, and Todd shot tons of photos of them.  Eventually, we headed out, and shot some more photos.  We were toasty-warm in our wetsuits, but the kids were cold, so we got out and prepared for the next dive.

Todd just inside the entrance to Ginnie Spring Cavern

Alysa and Josh peeking into the cavern at Ginnie Spring

The next dive was at the "Devil System."  The Devil System is a series of underwater caves and caverns, and it attracts mostly cave certified divers.  In fact, as open water divers, we were not permitted to bring any lights into the spring at all.  Any open water divers were checked before getting into the water, since going into the caves can be too tempting when you are shining a light into it.  Many divers have died this way.  They questioned us, even examining Todd's strobes on his camera, before we got in the water.

We started out at Little Devil.  The whole area at this point was crawling with people in tubes or people just swimming, and it seemed like everyone was drunk.  They were shouting things like, Dude, that's a huge camera!

Little Devil was less than exciting.  It is basically a crack in the bottom, and we could really only descend a little way and then go back up.  It's a cave entrance, so cave divers can go in, but we cannot.  The area was silted up from the swimmers, so we took a few shots and then floated down to the next area, Devil's Eye.  This was an interesting dive because we were actually surfacing between the sights, since it was only a few feet deep on the runs between them.

Me, in Little Devil. The kid on the surface that you can see in the background kept saying "I'm going to watch you!!" before we descended. He was snorkeling.  And he did watch us.

Devil's Eye is a round hole in the bottom, which opens into a small cavern.  At the end of the cavern is a grim reaper sign, beyond which is an extensive cave system.  There was a pretty heavy current here, since 26 million gallons leave the spring per day, but it didn't feel as strong as Ginnie Spring since the opening was larger.  Still, you can tell in the photo that I'm hold on because of the current.  Again, this was crystal clear water like we'd had in Ginnie.  We spent some time in the cave, and Todd took some photos of Josh and Alysa on the surface. Then, we headed on.

Inside Devil's Eye Cavern

Looking up at the surface at Devil's Eye

Josh and Alysa were waiting at the top of the Devil's Eye. The bubbles coming up out of the ground were the ones we'd left inside the cavern - the air had worked its way up to the river above.

Next was Devil's Ear.  This is another "crack" in the bottom, which leads into the cave system.  Frequently, cave divers are doing decompression stops here.  We saw bubbles, but no divers.  (Several cave divers had appeared on the scene at this point ) Again, we were not permitted into the cave itself, but we couldn't have gotten in there anyway.  I don't know what the million gallons per day of this one is, but there was no way we could have made it into that cave while trying to swim against the hard current.  I couldn't even get close enough to peek inside.  There's a downed tree inside, and I did claw my way along the log to get farther in, but there was a certain point where I just did not feel comfortable going farther.

Hanging on for dear life in Devil's Ear

What is really amazing and interesting about Devil's Ear is that this is where the spring run meets up with the Santa Fe River.  The river is full of natural tannins from plants and trees, and is the brown color that you might expect from an inland river.  The Devil's Ear is where the clear spring water meets this brown water and it creates this interesting and fascinating brown ripply effect (since it's a thermocline as well - the river water is much warmer than the 72 degree spring water).  We stayed in the hole for a while, admiring the effect, taking photos of Josh and Alysa, and watching the tubes and rafts float down the river above.  Note: If you are in a tube, someone looking at you from below probably thinks you look silly.

Josh snorkeling above Devil's Ear

Alysa snorkeling at Devil's Ear

And both of them!

I also picked up a number of beer cans off the bottom, presumably thrown there by the partiers on the surface.

Once all of this was through, we headed back up, got dressed and went and had lunch at The Great Outdoors in High Springs.  After this, we really debated on what to do and decided to check out the nearby Poe Springs.  This turned out to be a waste of time, as Poe Springs is only a few feet deep and not very good for diving.  We debated on what to do and ended up heading back to Ginnie, since we'd paid for a full day.

We did one more dive in Ginnie Spring, where we pretty much did the same thing we did on the first.  We did discover a small room off of the ballroom, which was about the size of a bathroom, but it creeped me out to be in there.  More photos, and some extra playtime in the entrance to the spring.  Then, we suited up and put our equipment away.

Josh at Ginnie Spring

Alysa, in perhaps my favorite photo that Todd has ever taken.

We headed back to my in-laws, and Josh and Alysa headed home.  We were so incredibly tired.

The rest of our time was uneventful.  We spent Tuesday in Florida, having lunch at a restaurant that did not serve Mexican food (long story), and then headed back home to Baltimore on Tuesday evening.  It was a wonderful three days of diving. :)

See all of the photos:
2010 Ginnie Springs


Kovas Palubinskas said...

That Devil's Eye surface photo is amazing! Todd's quite the photographer.

Mary said...

This may also be the funniest diving story you've ever written.

Erika said...

"Looking up at the surface at Devil's Eye" is my favorite photo....absolutely beautiful...they all are! I wouldn't want to dive...but I would totally hang out in a tube at that place :P

Dive Boracay said...

Wow! Those photos are amazing. It was a lot of fun I guess. Scuba diving is really an exciting recreational activity.

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