We paddled up some of the side channels that feed the river. Looking at a map, I saw that the side channels start with a spring and that eventually flows into the river.
There was a strong wind blowing from the cold front that came in that day so it was nice to get into a smaller side channel, protected from the chilly air.
The side channels were also narrower and shallower.
We stopped on a bank of the main river for "lunch and bushes".
The second side channel was slightly deeper and clearer than the first.
It passed through two springs. They were very blue, but the water was cloudy (total dissolved solids?)
We eventually reached a point in the creek that was too shallow to continue paddling. We pulled the boats over and continued on foot, walking through 4 inches of crystal clear water over white sand. There were trees shading overhead, filtering the light.
Even though it just looks like a sand path in the picture above, it's not. It's a creek! There is an egret in the background.
You can see the line of blue in the middle of the picture. That is "The Crack". This is the spring feeding the channel we paddled up. It's literally a crack in the limestone. The water surrounding the crack is only a few feet deep. There's a rope swing hanging over the crack so it must be higher water at different tides. Still not deep enough for me to jump into... I really wanted to swim in it, but didn't because of the strong and cold wind in the main river that we had to paddle to return.
Heading back to the river, some other boaters let us know about three manatees in a nearby cove, so we checked it out. At first we couldn't find them but soon they started coming up and nosing our boats.
Ashley and my faces were in permanent "OMG THIS IS AWESOME" expressions.
My camera is an underwater camera so we stuck it in the water and just shot blindly to see if we could get pics of the manatees.
The manatees were huuuuge! They were the length of our kayaks and much larger in width. The continued to swim up to and under our boats, probably rubbing their backs. The second time one of them stuck her nose next to my hand, I just reached down and scratched her head.
There was a boat with a family in this area and the manatees headed over there. The kids on the boat reached over and stuck their hands in the water to pet the manatees. Next thing I know, the baby manatee is on it's back with it's belly and flippers in the air, getting a belly rub from the kids! I've swam with manatees once and I've seen them one other time so I haven't had that much interaction with them. Ashley had never seen manatees at all so we were both in awe the entire time.
I highly recommend this river and plan on coming back in warmer weather to swim. I also want to see the dolphins that are known to come to the river to feed.
We went with Lars from Adventure Outpost. He was extremely knowledgeable and shared interesting facts about the environment. I plan on going on more of his trips to explore the rest of Florida's springs!