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Topside of The Suwannee; Fargo to Live Oak

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Suwannee river trips;

A River of Time, The Suwannee Grin, Last Call, and now –

ONE MORE, ..GIN.

Top side;

Fargo to Live Oak

@77 miles – 4 days

The Suwannee river – 2017

February 2017; winter in the foothills of SC hasn’t been much more than a refrigerator door left open; other than that – I’ve slowed from paddlin trips.  Maybe its a ‘cycle’ of sorts but from the moving streams and lakes that I’ve meandered – it’s more like I’ve “stopped to feel the bottom of ‘wherest I stand.”  What kind of rhythm is this ‘life-at-60‘ in?

At the same time, paddlin friend Gordy was hunting a way to ‘unplug’ and had planned a Suwannee trip of his own, – I pondered whether to paddle along.

Having just returned home after already a pretty good couple of weeks at Fisheating Creek in South Florida; rv style, ‘feet-up,’ ridin old folks bikes, and visiting with old friends. I was pretty satisfied.

On the drive back from that trip, I did stop at the Suwannee river as it crosses under hwy441 at Fargo. With no plans of paddling at the time, the creek was swollen with water; it beckoned.  I walked down the ramp in my chaco’s, into the water.  Standing in the tannic waters, I said hello, it felt good.  These thoughts followed me home.

The river at the time was over the 55 foot reading for White Springs (a common gauge for paddlin the Suwannee); the water in Fargo was moving along really good. I’ve paddled the river at 51 feet and at 61 feet (lower and higher) so it wasn’t hard to imagine a few days atop the Suwanee’s current – along with the warmer weather – it was inviting.

I pondered what else, if anything I had going on.  It was true My Dad’s estate still lingered and I really did need to travel to the Sanford area and touch some bases there.  Maybe a trip to touch those estate bases could include a 4-day, @77 mile paddle, cool – thanks Dad..

The next thing I knew; I had drove down and met Gordy at Cone Bridge landing off 441.  It was a new and improved landing from the past.  Cone Bridge landing is not far from the Georgia line on the topside of the Suwannee.  Having a couple days to kill we made the most of the time drinking waggitt-adder‘s and slowly sorting through our ‘paddle gear.’ The river for our paddle would be running at/about 53-feet – using the White Springs reading.

Options for the night before a Suwanee river paddle include the Suwannee river state park or a hotel at the next exit south on I-75.  After a couple nights at Cone bridge we stopped by the Music Park (where Suwannee Canoe Outpost folks are located) – BINGO!  they were happy to shuttle us to Fargo right then, a day earlier than planned.

and there we were; back on the river again……..

There was a soft current to the Suwannee; smooooth on the topside.  I was sitting in something as comfortable as your favorite lawn chair; paddling with the least amount of effort or turbulence, peering out of these two little portholes…

In its own way yes, better’n home.

 I noticed trees doing the river dance,

The topside of the Suwannee is where generations of tree’s have danced (and/or “twerked”) their own two-step for thousands of years.  It’s a gnarly place.  It’s a moments pass, through where one might sense the roots of these trees finding kindred ground within the stoic nature of time ….

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A day early and after an ez three hour paddle we found us a primitive campsite, it was three oclock in the afternoon, early, but why not?  This trip is not about mileage, it’s a 4 day pleasure paddle….

Don’t get me wrong, I do/can cover mileage, but today my reason is different….

We had passed and spoken to this fisherman earlier in the day, as the evening neared he came buzzing through the stillness, headed home… river life to home life.

peace

After a long paddle day (mileage) a good paddler goes down with the sun and rises with the morning light. Of course when you’re off the river early, sitting around a campfire for a while is good too.

I’ve learned that with flatwater paddlin; in grasping the most of a river’s ambiance; start early (on the water by 8am), the only noise is what you make.  To savor being there; stop early (campsite picked by 3pm) – set up camp; and be part of the rivers nature for a little while (and have a great evening).

OBTW; my interest leans toward ‘places and things;’ and not so much toward people.

“Tom, party of one”…. 🙂

In the mornings a good cup of river-jolt (coffee) hits the spot,

One of our factors in choosing a campsite was firewood; it was a good thing – because this night was a cool 42 degrees (and the fire had to be ‘stoked several times through the night).

A mechanical type of waking, hot water for coffee, MRE, stowing the gear.  There was a ‘nip in the morning air as we started out; mornings are absolutely the best part of the day.  Its a muffled quiet in the haze, misty spider webs are throughout the trees, it’s all there for you to absorb.  Once again; for the most part – the only noise out there is the noise that you make.

Night two was just before Cone Bridge landing.

As the Suwannee turns from a creek to more of a river there are simple changes that take place with the shoreline. On the topside of the Suwannee those changes remain predominately natural

like the Suwannee riverdances

In the miles before limestone rift of Big Shoals the movement of the Suwannee is slowed, more soft paddling.

The slow water of the elongated pools create more stable habitat for wildlife.  Paddling through the still tannic waters of the mornings; both physical and mental reflections move about freely.  Simple complexity.

Big Shoals was the target for Tuesday in our original paddle plan, but leaving Sunday we were a day early. Making it early to the portage of Big Shoals left us with the possibility of hanging out for the afternoon – which it would put us back on our original schedule. A great camping place; so we did.

Looking at the water flow at 53-feet over the shoals there appeared to be a paddlable ‘line’ on the far side – but, no takers.. camp was set

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Under this paddle rate I appreciate having stowed a real chair, even though its just a folding one – it worked well; ‘feet up.’

Putting in below Big Shoals the following morning was uneventful (it can be a challenge), the few miles before White Springs we were accompanied by the sud’s from the churning waters of Big Shoals.  A byproduct of the vegetation which gives the Suwannee its darkish colors, the suds disappear with time.  It can be a little surreal moving along with/in it at times.

Whats below or along the Suwannee shorelines dictate the direction and movement of the water by altering its perpetual current.  Where its possible to imagine those obstacles with the turbulence of the surface – the suds provide a more visible definition to the maze of resistance beneath.

I felt that a kayaks negative contrail would look pretty neat if filmed or photographed by a drone while moving through this sudsy mass…..

Musses.  At White Springs the suds disappeared; a comfortable mornings paddle while enjoying yesterdays cold coffee (I sure like those Yeti-type cups).

We had each started out with a gallon of water, but with the more frequent stopping – making it to Woods Ferry would be close; we needed to refill.  There is water available for paddlers (spigot or fountain) at the granite steps of the Stephen Foster state park, just past White Springs and that is where we filled our jugs

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an hour or so later we could hear the traffic of Interstate 75

It was a simple morning paddle, no outstanding changes from years past.  Soon we passed under the interstate-75 bridge

another hour and we were pulling up at Woods Ferry river camp,

A roof and heck yes, a hot shower!  Woods Ferry is the first of six river camps available free to paddlers and hikers (Woods Ferry, Holton Creek, Dowling Park, Peacock Slough, Adams Tract, Anderson River camp) all part of the State of Florida’s Suwannee river wilderness trail, great job folks – thank-you.

It was all coming together…..

Moving along a peaceful river helps….

and the Suwannee is a special one.  Here we passed Suwannee Springs, where years ago health was thought to be perpetuated with the Suwannee’s water

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Maybe there’s some truth to it, just from a different stand point

– anothers view

On the fifth day, we made it back to the Suwannee Canoe Outpost, easily done in 4 – but with the early start, well…  I was on my scheudle

We went for a burger and a beer up at their cafe – good stuff

after the land food and restocking from his truck Gordy headed back out for more of the river…

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and I moved on down the highway to complete my business

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Paddlin The Sante Fe River

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Good ’nuff

The Sante Fe River

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Cool place.

Water Clarity – 8+ (Springs – 10)

Natural Quality – 9+

Perception – Weekday

Nearest town to starting point High Springs, Fl 

Water reading at Hwy 441 was 32 feet

(White Springs/Suwannee reading 55′)

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I’ve been interested with paddling the Sante Fe for several years now – by chance its just never proceed further than me stopping along it’s banks and staring blankly down into it’s slow moving tannic waters – always something else down the road.

Fall and spring paddles seem to convey the ‘riversphere’ that strikes me most; this spring I set my sights on several rivers in Florida; the Sante Fe was first.  Gordy, a brother-in-law’s brother and paddlin friend dropped out of the Delaware deep freeze to figure-in; we met up at O’leno State Park and began our investigation of the Sante Fe’s ‘sphere.’

O’leno State Park is a pretty good place to start.  The Park is interesting (and cheap), there are some historical exhibits at hand – plus a short trail-walk that takes you around the landscape where the Sante Fe river disappears into the earth.  The river resurfaces 3 miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park.

Later on our paddle down the Sante Fe we noticed several occasions where smaller portions of the water would drop into the porous limestone – before bubbling up further downstream.

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(VGPS – 21410 US-441, High Springs, FL)

Our objective was to paddle down-river from the Canoe Outpost at Hwy 41, maybe up the Ichetucknee, then to the confluence of the Suwannee river.  Then ten more miles on the Suwannee (close a little-circle) to the hwy 340 bridge; two ez nights amidst the river’s orb.

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The folks at the Outpost are more than helpful, they of course will fill you in on any details, rent you a canoe – and/or go pick you up at one of the bridges downriver if you like.  ‘Johnny’ agreed to deliver my vehicle to our ‘takeout point,’ cool.

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I haven’t been on the water (other than our lake) over the past winter; different than years past.  My circumstances has been with ‘interest,’ I find interested in a project and commit to it.  This winter I found interest in Barn art, stuff I couldn’t do when I was younger because I couldn’t sit still long enough.  Barn art worked well with my ‘thinkin-cap’ on and before I knew it – another season had passed.

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Long story short; it felt doggone good to finally be sitting atop the soft current of the Sante Fe, ‘thinkin-cap’ fits there too.

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The turtles of the Sante Fe must have been fairly use to folks, as they remained in place as we eased by; normally turtles slip into the water at first sight of a moving paddle.  We joked that just maybe they know when the gators are hungry.

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That soft current is much like the Suwanee‘s, slow and steady – with about the same 2.5 to 3 mph movement.  It’s a ‘second-nature’ stroke and an easy seat to be in.  Fishin must be good too, along with the  fishin-boats further downriver; there was also some ‘cane-pole’ fishin goin on at contemplation point.  Peace, and the simplest of times.

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Just past the Hwy 27 bridge stood the old highway or railroad pilings.  As a native of this state, I know that the highway was one of the original thorough fares of Florida, along with 41, 301, and several others. I eased by absorbing the setting much as one would respect the headstone in a cemetery.  Identifying natural or past ‘crossings’ along a river is the recognizing their story – stoic testimonies.

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Living testimonies (gators) to a further past were basking in the early sun (big lizards).

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Homes were infrequent day one, but several leaned against the river’s bank; each interesting with its own caricature – allowing more contemplation’s while paddling by

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like – What is your reason for paddling?

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While easing further along, the river-word I felt was “sanitary,’ even with the darker tannic waters of the main channel, there was something about the Sante Fe just provided that feeling.  When paddling different settings, it’s even possible to feel the difference in the water too (i.e.thinner/thicker) – anyway, the Sante Fe’s ‘sphere’ had a certain “sanitary” feel to it – something like the Current river in the Ozarks – a positive for sure.

The one or two areas of shoals encountered were an easy pass – the bottom was more of soft rivergrass with an occasional smoothed limestone bolder.  I could understand why so many folks could enjoy this river, along the way I only noticed only one area where unnatural debris was obvious.

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There are more than three dozen springs along the Sante Fe; Gilchrist Blue, Ginnie, Hornsby, Lily, Poe, and Rum Island springs – a contributor to that ‘sanitary’ feel to it all.  On my paddles of the Suwannee river I have made a stop each time at the Sante Fe confluence and admired the inviting water coming from the river.

Poe Springs

Poe Springs

All of the springs of the Sante Fe were open for ‘paddlin,’ facilities were available at most for ‘trail-stops.’

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Lily Springs

Lily Springs

Not far down from Poe was Lily springs

Clear as mud

Clear as mud

and ‘Naked Ed’s abode. Nope, I didn’t see ole Ed – but his story and place makes the paddle all the more interesting; “riverspere” – just part of it!

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Spring at Rum Island

Spring at Rum Island

There was no rum available at Rum Island, but the spring was another beautiful example of the Sante Fe’s water. Beautifully clear water from the spring-head, felt good too – a constant 72 degrees.

Ginnie Springs

Ginnie Springs

In addition, just down the way was Ginnie Springs

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They have a fine place for folks to camp, dive, or just frolick in the waters

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– on the spring-head, or while floating down the river.

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The river’s gnarly characters, much like the Suwannee’s

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Later down river and in the afternoon, mechanized traffic was present.  Personally I don’t have a problem with mechanized traffic – they are doing their thing, Naked Ed’s doing his, and I’m simply doing mine.

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The trees too held waterlines of seasons past, there are some ‘standouts’ along the way; beautifully aged trees, many cypress – proudly supporting little eco-systems of their own.

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Early homesteads

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Spending time with a river means living along the river, finding a campsite for the night; is once again, just a “part of it.” We had guestimated our stop at the Ichetucknee, but this island about an hour prior invited us in.  It was a good choice.

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 Along the way I’ve learned that a paddler goes down and rises with the sun, it just works that way after a full day of paddlin (with a few exceptions). For the day I had seen turtles, gators, turkeys, kingfishers, osprey,otters, deer, a family of wood ducks, and more. There were fishermen working the evening waters to entertain my supper, and the lullaby of the owls once again to send me through the night.

The ground was soft and level.  zzzzzz.

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The best thing about a good nights sleep, is that it is preparation for the finer moments that a river can share; morning paddles – be on the water at 8:15.

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Gordy and I were once again paddling a familiar setting

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coffee, and the morning’s peace eased the transition into another day.

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interesting objects

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a cormorant, turtle, and speedboat

Itchetucknee

The Ichetucknee

At the Ichetucknee the water is a 10! Crystal clear, we paddled up to the first landing available.  Our plans included the option of paddling the 6 miles up to the Iche’s spring-head, but having seen the awesome beauty of the Sante Fe’s springs already – the paddle really wasn’t necessary.

Our paddle rate had been leisurely and we wanted to keep it that way – so we eased on.

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There were limestone shorelines of eons past

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and mighty trees, some eroding away

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.Simple directions

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After the Hwy 129 bridge it was a few more miles out to the Suwannee.

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It began to cloud up, and out of nowhere Ellie Rays appeared.  At our pace it was easy to see the neon beverage sign on the window of their bar/restaurant.  Could there be some ‘land-food’ in our immediate future??? It was one fine place, on one fine river.

The rain came about the same time as our double-burgers and my beverage went down like the water falling off the roof. There was serious contemplation about sitting right on that stool and calling the outpost – they could deliver our vehicle to Ellie Rays (a good idea for someone paddling the Sante Fe).  The showers subsided, and Sun returned.

Working our way through the burger and another beverage – Gordy and I set-out to complete our trip as planned; a mile or so to the Suwannee, then 10 miles to Rocky Bluff….

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I am impressed with this river and highly recommend the experience.  The Sante Fe is a primitive river and with all those wonderful springs along the way the water clarity is high – to clear.  The river’s Natural quality is beyond that.  This river supports healthy aquatic life which in turn support other system-species seemingly abundant and thriving.

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The Sante Fe provides a setting for family day trips, or longer paddle trips.  If pondering distance paddling – this and/or the Suwannee rivers provide fine settings for getting a feel of such adventure.  The river’s simple length of @ 30 miles with multiple access points and the potential of culminating at one of the RV parks (there are two beyond 129, Ellie Rays recommended) makes this a very desirable paddle experience for any paddler.

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Sante Fe River Mileage Chart
00.0    Santa Fe Rise
02.4    Darby Spring river left
02.5    US 441 bridge
02.6    Santa Fe Outpost (rentals)
02.7    High Springs Ramp off US 441
02.8    Columbia Springs river right
04.8    Suck Hole river right
05.7    River Rise Ramp off US 27
05.8    US 27 bridge
06.6    Transmission Line
07.2    Allen Spring river left
07.8    Poe Spring
08.6    Lilly Spring
09.6    Rum Island County Park
09.8    Gilchrist Blue Spring river left
10.1    Transmission Line
10.7    Devils Eye and Devils Ear Spring river left, July Spring river right
10.9    Ginnie Spring
11.2    Ginnie Springs ramp
11.4    Sawdust Spring river right
13.0    Transmission Line
13.6    Unnamed springs in river bend
13.7    Siphon Creek East
13.9    Siphon Creek West
14.5    Santa Fe River County ramp off SR 47
15.0    Hollingsworth Bluff Ramp
17.5    Wilson Spring river right
17.7    Wilson Springs ramp
19.6    Ira Bea Oasis ramp
20.7    Jamison Spring river right
20.9    Sunbeam Spring river right
21.6    Oasis Spring right left
23.4    Ichetucknee joins from river right
26.5    Betty Spring river right
26.8    Troop Spring river left
27.9    Lemmons Memorial Park ramp off US 129
28.2    Sandy Point Campground ramp
28.8    Campground Spring
29.0    Ellie Ray’s River Landing Ramp
29.1    Trail Spring
29.5    Unnamed spring in swamp river right
30.0    Unnamed springs In swamp river left
30.2    Wanamake Ramp
30.3    Confluence with Suwannee River

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Paddling the other two rivers on this trip didn’t work out, but somehow in justifying direction I felt fulfilled by the Sante Fe.  It had rejuvenated me with the riversphere that I needed within – “Good ’nuff.”

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