A Walk in the Park: Silver Springs State Park

One day, there were two people who wanted to ride on the boat. Their names were Melani and Jillian. When they were rowing everywhere, they saw two baby alligators. One of the mothers of the babies came out with its whole body and it attacked the little girl’s brother. Her friends were up by the bridge, and they saw everything.
— Jillian, age 5

Part of an occasional series exploring North America’s national, provincial and state parks.

OCALA, Fla.
We were in that part of Florida because I was researching the post-sideshow lives of carnival workers. So it was kind of fitting that we stumbled on this old Hollywood starlet, Silver Springs State Park, who has starred in the Creature From the Black Lagoon, and James Bond, and Sea Hunt.

These artesian springs provide fresh water to more than half of Florida. But also, because they are exceptionally clear — you cannot tell whether you are looking six feet down or 65, they are the perfect backdrop for filmmakers who need an underwater stage.

We took the glass-bottom boat tour — designed starting in the 1870s to show off this wonder — and then rented kayaks. 

The wildlife warning “if you see the baby, the momma is nearby” had been impressed upon us by the good folks over at Wildlife Inc. the day before, so we responsibly kept our distance when we twice paddled past young napping gators.

“There’s a big one down there!” hollered someone from the bridge as Melani and 5-year-old Jilly headed toward home base to return their tandem kayak. Twenty-one-year-old Trevor was close behind them, having sped away from me when I told him he looked very redneck-y with his ball cap and a snoozing gator over his left shoulder.

Melani eased the kayak to a safe space to take a look at the sunning eight-footer, and Jilly dropped her paddle into the water to help out. The sound and the sudden jerking motion of the boat made the gator open her eyes and lift her head, which made Jilly scream, which made the gator say, “Nope nope nope damn humans” and slither away through the water, cutting off Trevor’s kayak and slapping the tip of it with her tail.

The little audience at the top of the bridge hollered their approval.

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We’re awarding Silver Springs State Park the ever-elusive yet completely arbitrary five out of five stroller wheels, and not just for alligator sightings. We can’t name all the birds we saw, and there were dozens of turtles and hundreds of fish. The park is rich with history going back thousands of years to when indigenous peoples used this water and harvested the land. The paths are wide and clear — though we only got to walk a bit of them because of time constraints.

The food at the canteen is very well priced, and there are many tables throughout the park to picnic instead. Entrance to the park is only $2. The glass-bottom boat and kayak cost extra (you can launch your own kayak for $4), but the price is reasonable and the experience well worth it. We were on the water for a total of three hours and retreated to our Airbnb exhausted and happy.

A walk in the park: Flume Gorge

Part of an occasional series exploring North America’s national, provincial and state parks.

LINCOLN, N.H. — Some stories must be told vertically.

Website developers and lovers of the iPad’s ubiquitous 1000×750 images might argue the point. But they would be wrong.

Some stories must be told vertically. The story of Flume Gorge is one of those.

The adventurer credited with discovering Flume Gorge in the early 1800s wasn’t your average explorer: She was a 93-year-old auntie, and she was just out looking for a new fishing hole when the gurgling of a brook drew her to the gorge.

That sound enticed Aunt Jess Guernsey into the brush that had curtained a giant gash in the side of Mount Pemigewasset. There it was before her in its vertical glory:

Granite walls rising 90 feet with just 20 feet of air between them. Nearly as high as the clouds was a monstrous egg-shaped boulder suspended miraculously atop the gorge. The gorge itself, blanketed in ferns and moss and dripping with stone-sweet water, was at least 800 feet long. An unseasonably cool, damp air cascaded through it above the deceptively powerful Flume Brook.

Life blooms near Avalanche Falls.

Eighty years later a great storm would wash away the boulder and create Avalanche Falls, 45 feet high and loud enough to be heard from a mile away. The Sentinel Pine, a giant of a tree that stood above the still waters of a pool halfway up the gorge, weathered that storm but would be felled by a hurricane in 1938. It would be repurposed as a bridge, to continue its watch over the pool.

But back in 1803, Auntie Jess scrambled over the rocks for a better look, then rushed back to share her discovery with her family. But she was 93, remember. They didn’t believe her.

The stories don’t say how long it took the family to get on board. Maybe she gave up trying to convince them. Maybe she was eventually followed to her magical fishing hollow by one of the littles, who confirmed her tale.

Faced with believing an auntie or a little … well, we’ll never know, will we?

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three wheels

After much discussion, we are giving Flume Gorge three stroller wheels out of a completely arbitrary five. We leaned toward four, but the final decision comes down to cost vs. fun.

The $16 per person price tag is prohibitive; $48 for two hours of exploring is just too much, even though Jilly got in free, and even though we believe strongly in supporting the public parks system.

But it was stunningly beautiful in there and the cool air was just what we needed. There was an excellent mix of wide easy trails and fun twisty wooden walkways along the side of the rock. This is not the sort of place you’d want to bring a stroller, however — the stairs and few rough trails would be far too frustrating.

The White Mountains are just beautiful and this was a good way to get up close and personal with them for two hours.