Wednesday, March 27, 2013

St. Johns River, Blue Springs and Sanford

We left Hontoon Island very early with a long day planned for the last leg of our St. Johns River trip upstream.  The scullers were at it again.

We had 3 opportunities to see Florida springs on the St. Johns.  You saw the smallest one at Green Cove Springs in a previous post, then we passed up Silver Glen Spring on the west bank of Lake George and opted for Blue Spring since it is so easily accessible, right on the river and only 3 miles from our stop at Hontoon. There is a long dock for 2 tour boats that carry about 50 people each. Everyone else has to use the shoreline to beach their boats or anchor out and dinghy in.  Here's HMR anchored out, a really beautiful and serene setting.

We were the first to arrive by shoreline,

but it didn't take long for the crowd to arrive.  You can also reach Blue Spring by road.

Here's the deal on the spring.

So what's everyone gathered on the deck looking at?

Well, real live manatees of course.

And alligators, both small and large.

And the beauty of the spring itself.  The water is crystal clear and the landscape ain't so bad either!

A sidewalk/boardwalk runs along the spring to where it starts, I'm guessing about 1/4 of a mile inland.

We are fascinated sometimes by the signs that are posted to assist stupid people.  Come on, admit it, you know some too.

So, they would choose to walk through this instead?

Anyway, you eventually get to the head of the spring which, as the sign says, delivers 100 million gallons of water a day.  Another sign showed the underground structure of the spring.  If I recall correctly, it originates about 120 feet down.  This pic doesn't do it justice but you could clearly see the movement of the water billowing up from the spring.

The other attraction at Blue Spring is the home of the Thursby family.  Mr. Thursby brought his family down from New York, bought the land (seems like it was about 800 acres), and built the first steamboat landing on the river at this site.  Here's the front of the house.

The back of the house

And the outhouse.  I peeked inside and was surprised to find that it was a two-holer, side-by-side without much privacy, not kidding.

Lots of information and displays were available to us on the inside of the house.  Remember the post about the cemetery in Palatka?  Well, the Thursbys had 9 children.  Three died during childbirth and one died of a rattlesnake bite.  Tough times back then in a lot of ways.  To lose 4 of 9 children had to be devastating.

We took the dinghy back to the boat, had lunch, and headed south to Sanford.  There were still some antique boats on the water.  This was a miniature but very nicely done.

We met a paddlewheel dinner cruise boat on our way to Sanford.  It was docked at Sanford later in the evening just a few hundred feet from us at Monroe Harbor.

Since Bob and Barbara needed to move on to Myrtle Beach, we rented a car in Sanford and drove them back to JAX to their vehicle.  We had a great time but Leia was really glad to see them leave!  We always give our guests on the boat the main cabin, which is where Leia sleeps most of the day.  Barbara is a little allergic to cats so that became off-limits for Leia.  And, we only have three large chairs in the salon where we spent lots of time which "displaced" Leia also from her favorite chair there.  So, after our guests left, she was a happy boater again.

Regardless of  Leia's attitude, thanks again Bob and Barbara for joining us on this leg of the trip.  Oh, by the way, did I mention that I won 2 of the 3 dominoes games we played?  Sorry, B&B, couldn't resist!

Rhonda and I got the rental car back to Sanford and spent three more days there waiting for some really rough weather to roll through.  We met some other loopers and picked their brains for their favorite spots on the Great Loop route. There was another 44' Gulfstar identical to ours undergoing some major refurbishment at the marina so I walked over and checked all of that out.  And we did our normal bike-riding and sight-seeing routine.  Sanford is a very nice town.  We attended church at FBC Sanford and our timing was great - they were performing their Easter music special that morning.  Sanford struck us as kind of an "artsy" kind of town and sure enough, the music and voices were outstanding.

There were a couple of unique things about the town.  Sanford boasts of its affection for dogs.  They are allowed in most of the restaurants, there was one in the worship service at FBC, they had a "Pints and Paws" beer festival on Saturday evening, and they have their own "Paw Park."

There were numerous electric vehicle "EV" parking spots throughout the downtown area.

Some of their displays downtown were a bit odd.  Heck, I always just throw away my brushes after painting or varnishing - had no idea they could be turned into a piece of artwork.  This is artwork, right?

They had a farmers market downtown on Saturday afternoon.  It was small but nicely done.  Speaking of artwork, after Adam and Jen both got tattoos recently, I considered getting one also at the market's tattoo stand but decided to just take a pic of the pretty flowers for sale instead. 

Sanford has a beautiful waterfront which must be at least 2 miles long on Lake Monroe. 

The marina is a focal point of course, just a couple of blocks from the center of downtown.

There are lots of parks, walking/bike trails, and a great memorial to all of the major military battles that the US has been involved in.  Each section of this memorial park has a lot of detail about the wars and conflicts, specifically recognizing residents of Sanford that were involved in those.

After a great week, we needed to get back to JAX for a couple of days to reprovision, see Rhonda's family again, and make a couple of repairs/PMs before heading north into Georgia.  Since we did all of our sightseeing heading south and the next couple of days were forecast to be very windy, Rhonda and I decided to make some long days and just get it done.  We ran 88 miles the 1st day to Palatka, then 80 more miles the second day to JAX.  We had 27 MPH winds gusting to 33 which is a lot on the open waters of the northern half of the St. Johns.  Help Me Rhonda handles rough water pretty well but it is very tiring.

And after traveling 330 miles round trip, we saw 4 manatees, and after getting docked at Harbortown, one just swims up as if to say "Hello" and "Happy Birthday" on my 60th.  Go figure.

Closing thoughts on the St. Johns River.  Absolutely worth the trip.  However, if you make the effort to see it, don't stop after seeing only the northern half (Lake George north).  The real beauty of the river is the southern half.

See y'all in Georgia!

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