Cold! The water at the headsprings of Juniper Springs Campground in the Ocala National Forest in Florida is cold! After a quick dip in the concrete lined swimming area of Juniper Springs, located off of highway 40 east of Ocala, I wandered over to the concession stand to rent a canoe. This was going to be my girlfriend and my first time traveling through a wilderness prairie.
The wilderness act of 1964 allowed more than half of the national parks land to be designated as a wilderness area. So what is a wilderness area? The Wilderness Act states: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Most wilderness areas offer no roads or for that matter offer no machinery. No gas powered motors of any kind are allowed to be operated within the confines of the sacred Juniper Springs Wilderness area. And I was about to find out what that meant in a big way.
As we curved around a swifter moving area of the stream, we came across many fallen trees. After crossing several logs successfully, our luck ran out and we ran aground on a partially submerged log. We immediately began to tip precariously on top of the log. The dog shuffled, my girlfriend panicked and we nearly capsized into the river.
After a quick shove of with the paddle and a speedy balance recovery, we pushed free from the log and managed on our way down the crystal clear river.
I was quite impressed with its beauty and clarity. We were able to see many different fish species along the way including a monster bass we watched casually gulping down minnows as we passed gently by.
Most of the way down this 3+ hour trip we barely had to paddle. We coasted we wanted, moved only by the gentle currents and the idle breezes. As we laid back and took in all of the beautiful scenery, we spotted a few deer along the banks up ahead until they noticed us and blended back into the surrounding foliage.
It didn’t take long for us to reach the end of our adventure. We soon heard a car cross the nearing bridge and our hearts fluttered at the prospect of leaving our quiet river life. As we went under the bridge, a few other canoeists greeted us and helped to pull our canoes ashore.
Once we gathered our belongings, the shuttle van soon arrived. Women gathered the supplies while the men helped the driver load the canoes onto the trailer. Soon we all crowded into the small van, conversed among the talkative few and lamented quietly among the solemn many. Most of us looked out the window in silence as we contemplated our epic journey.