193 miles driven today; 4,355 total miles driven – high temp 92 degrees – partly cloudy skies, wind a light breeze from the east
We have lots to do this morning, rounding up our things at Mike and Carol’s, stuffing last minute things into the refrigerator and ice chest, and hitching up the boat. Goodbyes are said, friends are hugged, and promises of future visits are made, and by 9 am we are off. Our return drive has begun. I don’t intend on driving far this day, however. As a boy of 14 my family made a vacation trip from our home in Los Angeles across the country to Florida, and one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Silver Springs, where we rode the glass bottomed boats. I would like to see this place again, so we pull in at nearby Silver River State Park around 1pm. We set up in a great pull through camp site, eat a late lunch, and then drive the truck over to Silver Springs. This place has been a tourist attraction here in Florida since the 1870’s. The Silver River has its source here where it literally springs from the ground. Natural springs disgorge more than 800 million gallons of water each day, and this water is of exceptional purity and clarity. We pull in to the parking lot, past the big waterslide park which is not yet operating (it starts up when school lets out). The parking lot is virtually empty. The Silver Springs park itself is like something out of a time warp. It feels very much like I remember it from nearly 50 years ago. The facilities are in fairly good shape, but if you look closely, the signs of deterioration and neglect are impossible to ignore. The springs and river, however, haven’t lost any of their appeal, and the glass bottom boats are still a treat to ride. An elderly black gentleman named Oscar is our boat captain, and he’s very warm and engaging. He gives us an interesting tour of the springs and waterways at the heart of the park. We also go on a jeep trolley ride through a small animal park, and later take a second boat ride down a different waterway. We learn that visitation is way down, and the future of Silver Springs is very much in question. This is not at all surprising. The current management seems content with squeezing revenue out of aging facilities, without the necessary reinvestment and upgrading. Also, very little advertising is being done, so it’s not surprising that Silver Springs is having a hard time in this slow economy, with high gas prices and severe nearby competion from Disney World. It will be sad indeed if this icon of Florida tourism ends up having to close down.
After leaving Silver Springs, we return to the State Park. It’s too hot for fixing dinner, so we take a walk along one of the park’s trails, down to the river. We see some whitetail deer, an armadillo, and a gator along the way. Back at the boat I fry up some mahi mahi for dinner, and it’s excellent. I’m typing out at the table as the sun sets, and the bugs are starting to drive me nuts. It’s time to head for the shower, and then I’ll take shelter inside the boat cabin, with bug nets securely in place.