In my quest to visit all of the springs on this list in 2015, I decided to take a little road trip to the Chassahowitzka River last Wednesday to check it out. Although I’ve driven through this area many times over the years en route to other springs, I’d never actually ventured out onto this river, and so it was unchartered territory for me.
Like I normally do when I’m traveling somewhere new, I searched on Instagram and Google images to find pictures of cool looking stuff in the area, and then investigated a little further to find out how to get to the good spots. My investigations led me to an area on the Chaz called “The Crack”, which was reportedly a little bit difficult to get to, but if the pictures I was looking at were any indication- it would be totally worth my time and effort to get back there and see it for myself.
So I set out bright and early on Wednesday morning, and aside from the horrendous traffic that I encountered going through Tampa (as always), the drive up was easy peasey and I made it there in a little bit over two hours.
I rented a kayak from the Chassahowitzka River Campground ($35 for the day), and after choosing a kayak that matched my nail polish as well as the color of the water (for the sake of pictures!), I was off in search of “The Crack”.
I guess before I continue on with my story I should point out a very important fact here, which is that I have the most horrible sense of direction in the history of all time, and that is no exaggeration. Go ahead and think of the person you know with the worst sense of direction ever, and then multiply that amount of directional ineptitude by infinity, and you would end up with me. In fact the first time I ever went kayaking, which was at Fort DeSoto in St. Pete, I got completely turned around and after several hours of paddling around aimlessly, I almost had to call the people at the kayak rental place to come and find me. The funniest/most pathetic part about that story is that all I had to do was paddle around an island in a big circle, and somehow I still managed to get lost. I could spend the next two days telling you similar stories of my getting-lost escapades, but just take my word for it…my sense of direction sucks.
So anyway, knowing this about myself, I made sure to ask the kayak rental lady for a map of the river and then I also asked how to get to The Crack and then also also I told her that I was terrible with directions and asked her how easy it would be to get lost on the river and she told me there was pretty much no way that could happen. Haha.
According to the lady at the rental place as well as another nice woman who I was chatting with before I launched, all I had to do was paddle downstream, take my 2nd left and then paddle all the way back to The Crack. Sounded simple enough to me, so off I went.
Although the day started off kinda chilly and totally overcast, after about 30 minutes on the water, the sun came out and it turned into a gorgeous day with bright blue skies and big fluffy clouds…
I made extra sure to keep checking to my left for the turn into The Crack (that sounds vaguely perverted, sorry), but kept running into dead ends and so I just paddled onward. I guess it would have been wise of me to ask how far down I had to paddle until I got there, but I didn’t and so I just figured I would keep going and eventually the turn would appear before me like a beacon in the night. Great plan! Oh, and by the way- the map I had with me might as well have been written in hieroglyphics, because once I got on the water I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was what or even which direction I was headed.
Now I have been on many a spring fed river in Florida, and although I clearly don’t know how to read a map, one thing I do know is that the farther away you get from the spring(s), the darker and less clear the water becomes. So after about two freaking hours of paddling, I finally came to the realization that I had long since missed my turn. The water was now a dark brown color with zero visibility, and I was obviously not in Kansas anymore.
Instead of turning around and heading back immediately, I decided to instead stay put and wait for a boat to go by so I could ask specific directions on how to get to the stupid Crack. I still wasn’t 100% positive that I had passed it, and I would’ve been extra pissed off at myself if I had turned around unnecessarily. So I waited there for about 15 minutes in two feet of murky dark brown water with fish jumping out of the water all around me and probably a thousand alligators surrounding my boat, and then finally an airboat passed by which I frantically flagged down. I explained my situation to the folks on board, who quickly confirmed that yes I had just paddled about two hours past my destination.
I was beyond pissed at this point and wanted to strangle my own self for being so stupid, but I had left my noose at home on that particular day and so I decided to turn around and head back in search of the elusive Crack.
Here are a few photos I snapped on my way back (it’s a bit backwoods-y ’round these parts, as you can see)…
After what felt like an effing lifetime later, the water finally started to turn clear and I knew I was getting close. It was also reassuring to see kayakers again, as they were noticeably absent from the swampy area from which I had just come. I suppose that should’ve been a clue that I was going in the wrong direction in the first place, but that’s hindsight for ya, I suppose.
I soon spotted a guy in a kayak who was pulled up on shore nearby, and so I paddled over and asked him if he knew where The Crack was. He told me that he had just been there and pointed up ahead to where there were about four or five kayakers off to the right. He told me to turn right where the kayakers were and to just keep going back until it dead ended, at which point I would arrive at The Crack.
“It’s not too far at all…” he added.
By this time it was about 3.5 hours since I first launched from the rental place, and I was hot, sweaty, irritated, and desperately wanting to arrive at my destination so I could get the heck out of my kayak (my back and butt were killing me from sitting in the same position for so long), and finally jump into the deliciously refreshing spring water.
I made the right where the guy had told me to, and then started paddling back.
And then I kept going.
I don’t know how long it was that I kept paddling, but I was becoming increasingly irritated, and then I started thinking that maybe I had turned too soon and was going in the wrong direction. Again.
After about ten more minutes of paddling, I may or may not have completely lost the last little bit of patience I had left in me, and because I am a mature adult with remarkable impulse control, I screamed “I hate this fucking river!” at the top of my lungs, which made me feel just a tiny bit better. I decided that I would paddle for ten more minutes, and if I hadn’t found it by then I was gonna turn around, take my kayak back to the rental place (if I could find it), head home, and never come back to this stupid place ever again.
Shortly after making that decision, I started to hear voices up ahead, and soon came upon a group of teenagers who were pulled over and taking turns jumping off of a rope swing.
“Do you guys know where in the Sam Hill The Crack is?” I asked desperately.
“Yeah, it’s right back that way. Not too far at all…” said one of the Coors Light-drinking teenageers.
“Can you define “not too far” please? I’ve been paddling for over three hours looking for this place and I’m just about ready to give up….” I responded.
“It’s really not too far at all…maybe ten minutes tops. If you’ve come this far already, you definitely need to keep going- you won’t regret it“, said Coors Light guy.
So I kept on going, and sure enough after about ten minutes of dragging my kayak through the very shallow water, I finally made it to the entrance- woohoo!
The pictures don’t really do the beauty of this spot justice- it was absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and I was so grateful that I hadn’t turned around and gone back. I can’t think of a better word than “enchanted” to describe this place, which I know sounds totally cheesy, but really that’s how it felt. It was completely silent except for the occasional sound of rustling in the woods that surrounded the incredibly gorgeous water, and there were butterflies and dragonflies fluttering about. I kinda felt like Snow White, to be honest, although Snow White probably didn’t shout f-bombs when she found herself lost in the forest.
Anyway, I had the place to myself for about an hour, which gave me plenty of time to take lots of photos sans photobombers. It was such a picturesque spot that I was a little overwhelmed trying to decide which pictures to take from which vantage points, and even though I’m pretty happy with what I got, I still don’t feel like I captured the beauty of this place like I wanted to.
Soon after I finished taking pictures, I was ready to go for a swim, and although you’ll rarely hear me complain about having a place like this to myself, I was a little bit apprehensive about swimming alone. The rocks were really slippery, and the crevice in between the rocks (aka “The Crack”) was pretty deep, and if I were to slip and crack my head open I’d pretty much be SOL. I was kinda relieved when a couple in a canoe appeared near the entrance just as I was contemplating getting in the water, and thus I proceeded to jump in and explore.
I ended up staying there for another half hour or so, chatting with the two newcomers and looking on with horrified eyes as they both jumped from a rope swing into the water, and let me tell you- if ever there was a rope swing that had “head injury” and/or “paralyzation” written all over it- it was this one. You basically have to maneuver yourself to land in between the rocks while you’re midair, and if you miscalculate…well- you’re kinda screwed. The girl actually came really close to smashing into the rocks the last time she jumped, and that’s when I decided it was time to head back. Nothing can ruin a peaceful day on the river like a head injury can.
The paddle back out to the main part of the river seemed to go by much faster than the paddle in, and although I was kinda whipped at that point and ready to head back to the rental place, I soon spotted a momma manatee and her calf up ahead, and of course had to stop and check them out. I’ve been dying to get an underwater manatee photo since last summer when I bought my worthless piece of crap GoPro, and although there wasn’t really a good spot for me to get out of my kayak anywhere in the vicinity, I wasn’t gonna let this opportunity pass me by. So I paddled over to a marshy area nearby that was probably infested with snakes, tied my kayak up to a low-lying tree branch that was probably also infested with snakes, and proceeded to jump out of my boat and straight into four feet of muck. Probably one of the stupider things I’ve ever done, but hey- I wanted some manatee photos and I was willing to do whatever was necessary to get them…
Unfortunately, in my haste to get out of my kayak and away from the (probably) snake-infested waters where I’d tied up, I forgot to grab my mask and so I had to pretty much shoot blind. I still managed to get a few good photos, though, and although this was only my second time using my new Watershot Pro housing for my iPhone, I can tell you that it smokes the pants off of my stupid GoPro, which I abhor with a burning passion and routinely fantasize about smashing the shit out of with a hammer. The Watershot is much better looking, too…
So anyway, I ended up swimming with momma and calf for about 30 minutes- treading water with one arm, and taking photos with another. At one point, the momma swam up, wrapped her fin (arm?) around my waist and started pulling on me, which scared the living hell out of me and holy crap was she strong. There was a local fisherman in a boat nearby who heard me scream and told me not to be alarmed- apparently this particular manatee was a resident in this part of the river, and according to him, she does this to people all the time in an effort to get her belly rubbed. Sure enough, she started to roll over right in front of me, and although it was tempting, I’m a firm believer in leaving wild animals wild (it’s also against the law to touch manatees, but that wasn’t really my concern), and so I swam away from her a little bit and continued to observe from a distance.
The fisherman’s daughter, who was about six years old, was also in the water with a life vest on, and was grabbing onto the back of the baby as well as standing on top of her. It made me sad to see, and as much as I wanted to say something, I didn’t feel like it was my place to do so, and so I just kept my trap shut and took off shortly thereafter.
When I finally made it back to the rental place, I was sunburned and exhausted, but also completely satisfied with the day’s adventures as well as the photos I was able to capture. There were still more underwater caves nearby that I didn’t get a chance to explore, but I’ll definitely be back again, and this time I’ll (probably) know where I’m going. 🙂
Two springs down, 41 to go!
Weeki Wachee Springs was my first spring on the list of 43- you can read about my adventures on that river right here.