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Monday, October 3, 2011

Diving at Paradise Spring

Todd and I love diving in Florida's freshwater springs. Last year, we visited Blue Grotto, Devil's Den, Ginnie Spring and Crystal River. It's easy for us to go down there to dive, thanks to Southwest Airlines' policy of not charging baggage fees and the fact that Todd's parents live in Florida. We had them pick up our tanks and weights for us at the local dive shop and when we were ready to go diving, we were ready.

Diving in Paradise Spring
We headed down the weekend of September 24/25, and we did our diving on Saturday. I hadn't had a ton of time to investigate what spring we should visit, and I'd made an attempt to get together with my sister (who lives in Tampa) at Ginnie Springs, but she wasn't able to meet us. Todd had basically left the decision making up to me, so I settled on Paradise Spring, which is fairly close to Todd's parents house (about a 40 minute drive) and seemed simple enough.  It's not open to snorkelers or swimmers, so we didn't bring any nieces or nephews this time.

Paradise Spring is located just outside of Ocala, and when you go there, you very well might think you are heading to nowhere. To get there, you have to take a dirt road over some railroad tracks, and the only reason you know you're heading the right way is because of signs with dive flags and arrows pointing the way. A mile or two off of the main road, you get to a house with some horses in the yard.

That's right, Paradise Spring is basically a sinkhole in someone's yard. That someone charges $30 per diver, and has you sign waivers and watch a short safety and introductory video in his garage. It's kind of surreal in a way. Then, he points you in the direction of the spring and you're free to dive all you want.

Honestly, I was at first impressed at the facilities given that the spring is where it is. There was a bath house and a few picnic tables and an outdoor shower. Enough for us. Even better, the weatherman had called for tons of rain and storms that day, so it apparently scared the other divers off. There were only four other divers at the spring, and they were on their safety stop when we got in, meaning we had the whole spring to ourselves. Awesome!

Paradise Spring from the surface
I doubt these springs every single time. Every spring we've gone to, I've thought that it would probably suck, and I was ready to up and leave and go to a different spring if this one wasn't nice. Just like always, though, we had a lovely time. The weather was sunny and perfect and the springs in Florida are always 72 degrees. We did two dives, going all the way down to the grim reaper sign on the first, and down to about 60 feet on the second.
Looking up at the surface and steps from inside
the cave

The real draw of Paradise is that there are fossils all over the walls. You can see shells and bones, and sand dollars the size of dinner plates. There is a giant whale bone in one of the walls. The water is clear, but it's silty on the bottom, so there is an opportunity for bad divers to muck up the water (no problem on our visit since there were only 4 other divers and they were all great).

The really interesting thing? The ceiling is visibly charred in many places - covered in soot. This means that at some point, this was a dry cave and it's likely that prehistoric men built fires inside and used this as a place to live or a hideout or something. I found this so incredibly interesting, and I spent much of the dives on the ceiling inspecting the fossils there.

We finished up our dives, and headed back to Todd's parents house, where we spent the rest of the weekend with family (and we also ran 7 miles on Sunday, I have to keep up my training!).  It was a great weekend.

Todd took a ton of photos, and he's only finished processing a few, but I wanted to share them now (and I'll share some more later, as he finishes with them) because I think that these photos are so awesome!

That's me, above the training platform, heading towards the stairs.
Me, below the stairs, swimming into the sunlight
We took a few photos where I was swimming without scuba equipment.
I'm not great a freediving, but I did my best!
If you would like to see more of Todd's spectacular underwater photography (and above water photography for that matter), please go to redbubble.com to check out his portfolio!

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