Photo opportunities only the panhandle can offer kept sidetracking the journey…
This past December, much like the previous past 8 years, I made the six and a half hour drive from Orlando to Pensacola to spend time with my family for the holidays. The drive consists of going west on the Florida Turnpike, north on I-75 and then west again on I-10. The monotony of endless pine tree lined interstate is good reason to detour every once in awhile and wake yourself up. On this past trip I couldn’t have been more excited about my detour I had planned which had come from an old 1980′s National Geographic magazine. The detour was to be Cypress Springs, a picturesque spring head located in Vernon, Florida. Skipping I-10 completely, much of the day was spent getting to there through back roads. Photo opportunities only the panhandle can offer kept sidetracking the journey while subsequently building the excitement. Also adding to the excitement was finding out right before the trip that Errol Morris had done a famous documentary on the people of Vernon and their distinctly panhandle idiosyncratic ways.
Upon arriving in Vernon it quickly became apparent that reaching Cypress Springs could only be done by canoe. Nestle Corporation had purchased the land surrounding it years prior in order to tap the aquifer for bottling water. This has effectively kept crowds out of one of the state’s most pristine spring heads.The lone canoe rental spot in town was down river and owned by Vernon native Hal. Hal lived in a camouflage trailer and rented canoes out of his backyard for a living. Hal let me and my dog Goldie jump in his early 80′s Dodge Van as he and his friend Scott/Stu (couldn’t tell with the thick southern drawl) drove us and the canoe to his launch point closer to the springs.
Instead of paying the canoe rental Hal asked me to put a few dollars of gas in his old van and we’d call it even. The drive through the woods to the river was filled with great local stories from the guys as well as an up close barn owl sighting. Also explained to me was the fact that I’d be the first person to the spring in a few days so I should keep my eyes open for arrowheads exposed in the ever shifting white sand around the spring head.
The five hour or so canoe trip that Goldie and I emabarked on that day was truly a surreal experience. Not another person was seen the whole trip and the spring head where we swam was the clearest water I had ever seen. Deer, birds, squirrels, and many other wild animals were seen that day, most of them spooked by an alert and excited Goldie. The day ended with a promise to Hal that I’d be back on my way back to Orlando as I knew that I had to bring my Father. Sure enough, a week later, Dad, Goldie and I loaded up another canoe from Hal and spent the day on the river and at the spring. My Dad, who I knowingly get my love of nature from, had a blast. For the first time in his life he put on a wetsuit and a mask and had a look underwater at a beautiful Florida spring. Though the weather outside was in the 50′s, the sun was shining bright and the water a constant 69 degrees. One other person was seen on that day but it couldn’t take away from the amazing experience. Unfortunately I forgot to bring 35mm film for my underwater camera so i was limited to what few shots I had on the roll loaded and the shots I could pull from my GoPro. Below are some shots from those two days on the river as well as some shots from in and around Vernon, Florida.