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Sunday, February 13, 2022

Paddling Wekiva River and Rock Spring Run

The Wekiva (or Wekiwa) River is a 16-mile-long river in Central Florida, north of Orlando. It originates in Apopka, where we are camped, and joins the St. Johns River, the longest river in Florida.  Wekiwa is a Creek word meaning "spring of water," and the Wekiva River and one of its three tributaries, Rock Spring Run, do not disappoint in their numerous springs.

We had the good fortune to meet up with AMC friends Jim Bloom and Lynn Fraser, who happened to be camped in the same area on an extended trip.  This section of Florida is a familiar haunt of theirs.  They love to paddle and suggested we try one together on the Wekiva River, which we had already identified as the top of our local bucket list.

On Thursday, February 10, 2022, we met them at Wekiva Island, a tourist enclave on the Wekiva River where visitors can rent canoes or kayaks, launch and paddle their own, have a meal or libation, or just sit by the river in the sun in beautiful Adirondack chairs.  It didn't take us long to bring out our kayaks and launch them:

We had barely launched when Kathy encountered some shelly friends nestled on the far bank of the river.  I'm not sure what she said to them, but it made them pose for our photos, and those that know her best now call her, "The Turtle Whisperer":

The wildlife along the river was so plentiful that Jim and David could barely put their cameras down to paddle their kayaks.  This group - two ibis and a (?) limpkin - attracted our attention soon after Kathy finished her discussion with the turtles:

While those three birds sat proudly on their branch overhead and seemed hardly disturbed as we passed under, the great blue heron, as always, could not tolerate our presence.  For some reason, this one stayed put long enough for us to get his photo before flying off in a squawky huff:

And here is something we haven't seen before:  these "Midnight Cowboy" buddies resting amicably in the sun.

We almost missed this stealthy night heron who spied on us from leafy shadows:

The bird life was not only numerous, but gave us wide variety.  Here is a blue heron who pretty much ignored us as we paddled by:

Of course, we have to give you a few favorite alligator photos.  This one showed us his better side --

-- while this one rested casually on his favorite log:

Our first stop was Wekiwa Springs State Park, where we docked the kayaks, looked at the springs, and Jim and Lynn purchased a Florida state park pass:

The spring itself is off limits to paddlers, but visitors are allowed to swim in its clear, green waters:

As we were walking back down to our kayak dock, Kathy spotted a raccoon crossing a nearby bridge separating boaters from the spring, and Lynn saw him scurrying further along under the boardwalk toward our position.  We caught this one shot of him, trying to look cute and loveable but all the time harboring thoughts of piracy:

Having rested at Wekiwa Spring, we hopped back in our watercraft and paddled back down the Wekiva River toward Rock Spring Run.  On the way, we spotted what must be a record-setting number of turtles sunning themselves together on a log:

High above, we spotted an eagle we couldn't catch in photos, and a couple osprey, but this egret perched for our viewing pleasure --

-- as did this anhinga drying his/her wings in the sun:

Shortly, we reached Rock Spring Run, where we paddled a mile upstream against a firm current.  In the photo below, Kathy leads the way, with her navigators Lynn and Jim following in a very supportive way:

Yet another limpkin observed our strange human behavior:

Rock Spring Run provided us some real arm-and-shoulder exercised, working our way up its serpentine course, with our route ever changing its angle against the current.  We met several groups of paddlers who had put in at King's Landing, up near the source of Rock Spring Run, and paddled lazily down the run with the current.  Jim and Lynn had wanted to do the same, but we were reluctant to devote six full hours sitting (when 2-3 hours is more than enough), nor did we want to have to put into Rock Spring Run in 40F+ temperatures in order to meet a 3:30 pm shuttle at Wekiva Island; so Jim and Lynn graciously contented themselves with a paddle 1 mile up and back.

The paddle back downstream on Rock Spring Run and then the Wekiva River was very easygoing.  We saw no new wildlife (except a group of ibis poking their heads up out of a deep patch of lilypads, looking as if we had disturbed their poker game.  This gave us more chance to just enjoy the sun and easy conversation as we finished our outing.

After putting our kayaks away, we spent some time sitting in chairs by the river, catching up on things since we last saw Jim and Lynn in a hike on the Mt. Tammany Loop in the Delaware Water Gap in April 2021.  The facility has a beautiful riverside sitting area --

-- graced, where we sat, with a replica of a Frank Lloyd Wright statue, the original of which is installed at the Wright-designed-and-built Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona:

Lynn and Jim have more stops on their trip, including Big Bend National Park in Texas (which, by the way, makes us very jealous), so both they and we will be moving on in a few days.  We hope, weather and schedule permitting, that we might get a hike together early this week.

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