Santa Fe River

At this point in reading my blog, you're probably thinking, "GOD are Claire and Travis one of those couples who ONLY spend time with each other?"


Well, yes and no. I live in Tallahassee, Travis lives in Gainesville. We see each other about every other weekend, so when that happens, we tend to hang out solo. But we DO have friends! Here's proof!


Our friends Casey and Perry got hitched, and because they are such wonderful people they chose to do the deed at O'Leno State Park in High Springs, about 20 minutes north of Gainesville. This is one of Florida's first state parks, built by the fine men of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It was built on the sight of a ghost town, originally called Keno after a popular gambling game. But in 1876, after the town got a little more reputable, they changed the name of the town to Leno so people wouldn't get the wrong idea about its fine upstanding citizens. The town died out when the railroad was built to bypass the town, and its hotel, saw mill, and town center eventually became abandoned. People started called it "Old Leno", and now it's O'Leno.

What's cool about this park is that it swallows up the Santa Fe river. Literally! The headwaters of the river are Lake Santa Fe, but about 45 miles downstream the river takes a nosedive underground, and emerges three miles later at River Rise State Park. This is all because of Florida's crazy limestone foundation, which is porous and highly susceptible to erosion. The result is sinkholes, springs, underwater caves, and natural land bridges.

O'Leno is set up for a party, complete with a chapel, an event hall, and even rustic cabins for overnight guests. Casey and Perry's charming little wedding fit right in with the brilliant spring growth happening in the forest, and Travis and I partied hard and danced harder- but not TOO hard, because we are both tired farmers. We retired to our cabin around 11:30, with plenty of time to sleep before the next day's adventure.

Because why waste a good trip to High Springs? RIGHT? The Canoe Outpost was right there, just ten minutes away! So after a diner breakfast we rented a giant canoe and hit the water.

We're really good at canoeing at this point. The only thing that causes steering problems is when one of us has to bust out the 'nocs to try and identify a bird or see if we can spot a tiny little baby turtle resting at the Shell Station.

It had rained a bunch the week before, so not only was the river brown from all the tannins leaching out from the leaf litter, it was also flooded at some points.

And it was cold. Like in the 60s. In April. In Florida. Travis prefers cool or cold weather. He actually LIKES having to be forced to wear beanies in the winter. He's a weirdo. So he was having a great time but I was pretty chilly the whole time. I did not appreciate being chilly, but that is because I want to go swimming literally every opportunity possible.

The Santa Fe is fed by hundreds of little springs, some of them large and swimmable and some of them just little gurgles up from the limestone. We stopped in at Poe Spring to check it out, but unfortunately because of the rain, it was tea colored instead of the usual sapphire. But you see that ripple? That's water pumping up out of the ground and into the spring run.

But that water was still a constant 72 degrees, ten degrees warmer than the air outside. We saw a girl slip out of the water and into her kayak, which I thought was brave. She had a bigger hoodie than me though. Poe Spring is a great little picnic spot- there are bathrooms and pavilions and if the water were clear it would make for amazing swimming. But not for today. We continued on downstream, and watched the clearer water of the spring mix with the dark tannic water of the river.

We passed all kinds of pretty things.

And then we passed something else entirely.


Obviously we were very intrigued. We paddled up the spring run of Lily Spring, and parked the canoe for a second so we could take a look around. An old man sat on a dock behind a waist-high wooden partition across the spring. "Are you Naked Ed?" I called. "Well, not right now!" was his response. And that's how we met Naked Ed, the leader and enforcer of a little nudist spring retreat.

As I said earlier, it was a little chilly so Naked Ed was wearing pants that day, but on warm days he sits out on his dock in the clothes he was born in. He bought the property surrounding Lily Spring in the 80s, and since then he has built himself a little encampment for himself along the river, and invites others out to camp and hang out at his spring.


Ed said he gets all kinds of people visiting him, some just passing through, some staying the night to camp. Clothing is purely optional, and Ed has become somewhat of a policeman of his nudist hideaway. You know, not everyone can take their clothes off and stay out of trouble. He's gotta watch for creepy old dudes with cameras, he requests that children put on clothes when strangers paddle in, and he's had to ask a few people to leave and never come back. It's interesting all that can happen when normal rules (clothes) don't apply. Well Ed certainly had a lot to say on the subjects of his extremely brittle bones (he's broken all this arms and legs), the beer a fan brewed and named after him, and how some of his visitors are just too lazy to walk out of the water and up to the bathroom to pee. He would have kept talking damn day if I hadn't paddled away literally mid-sentence, but visiting Lily Spring was certainly an unexpected detour. Maybe we'll stop by when it's warmer and get the full Naked Ed experience.

We finished up our trip at Rum Island, where the canoe outfitters picked us up. Not bad for a quick day trip. The Santa Fe eventually feeds into the Suwannee, so there might be an epic canoe-camping trip in our future once the busy farm season is over. My advice is that if you do plan on making a trip down the Santa Fe, try and pick a time where it hasn't rained recently and the springs will be bright blue and poppin'. So we'll save that for next time.