Rainbow Springs State Park: An Antidote to the Florida Heat

Rainbow River

According to the Website floridasprings.org, “Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and is designated a National Natural Landmark…The spring pool is about 250 feet wide and shallow, with especially clear blue water flowing over the beds of green aquatic plants and brilliant white limestone and sand…Seven vents contribute to the first-magnitude group near the spring bowl and are augmented by five more springs and hundreds of sand “boils” to create the Rainbow River. The river runs about 5.6 miles before joining the Withlacoochee River.

During the early twentieth-century the area was home to phosphate mines, parts of which can still be seen on park hiking trails.

Waterfalls built on old phosphate mining waste

The 1930s brought tourists and the spring became a theme park that included a zoo, gardens, rodeo, monorail, a swimming pavilion and artificial waterfalls built on old phosphate tailings.

Like many of Florida’s older tourist attractions, it couldn’t compete with the mega attractions in Orlando so closed in 1974. It reopened as Rainbow Springs State Park in the 1990s. after local volunteers supported the acquisition and restoration of the park.

Today pleasant  gardens and shady hikes invite a visit.  Butterflies and ancient trees abound.

Monarch enjoying a meal

 

Zebra: A common Florida Butterfly

 

Gulf Frittilary

The  Park provides a great place to escape the heat and swim in seventy-two-degree water in the head springs or kayak or tube down the river.We try to visit the park about once a year as this is the closest major spring to the Tampa Bay region. Florida springs are the perfect antidote to beat the Florida heat.  The gulf water and pools around our areas are all in the 90s.  The spring water though, ah a lovely seventy-two degrees!

Rainbow Springs State Park Swimming Area

The park tubing concessionaire, Nature Quest, rents tubes and provides tram service every twenty minutes up the river.  You grab your tube, float with the current, and two hours later you are pleasantly cool.  Tubing is available between April and the end of September (Before Memorial Day and after Labor Day rentals are limited to weekends)

Nature Quest Rents Tubes and Kayaks at the Park

We arrived around eleven: a reasonable time for a week-day but we probably would have been too late on the weekend as the park closes when the parking area fills. Early arrival is also advised because of frequent afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. For people, desirous of a quieter experience, I suggest a visit during the week or early or late in the season. Between the entry and two tubes, it cost us $45.  This includes the state park admission, tube rental and the tram ride north.

We floated two miles in about two hours. All manner of boats, tubes and kayaks take advantage of the cool water.  Given the crowds, we still saw quite a few birds, including anhingas, blue herons, and ibises. The water is clear, and feels just wonderful, as the air temperature was in the nineties.

A few important details: alcohol, coolers and disposable packaging (water bottles, food packaging and the like) are all prohibited on the river. The outfitter will keep your keys for a small fee. Additionally, even if you bring your own tube, you will still pay the $15 per person fee.

Perhaps the only drama occurred when I tried to pose for a photo at the end.  I did find out that the current near the end is strong enough to make it difficult to paddle the tube against the current.  Thus, into the water I went to paddle back to the ramp and off floated a sandal and hat.  Just a word to the wise.

An Unplanned Ending to a Great Tubing Trip (Photo Courtesy of Caity Mellicant)

 

Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens
Sunken Gardens is located in a great St.Petersburg neighborhoodFlorida

Florida has forty-two different botanical gardens to choose from. At 4 square acres, Sunken Gardens is perhaps one of the smallest Botanical Gardens in Florida.  But, what it lacks in acreage it makes up for by its location near downtown St. Petersburg, with its great music, art scene, and huge selection of eateries.  The Gardens are also co located with a children’s museum housed in an historic building.

Sunflowers
Colors lurk in interesting places
dutchmans-pipe
Look up for unique plants

Most of Florida’s old roadside attractions have been well catalogued, though Sunken Gardens seems to have missed out..perhaps because only bits and pieces still exist.

Old Forida
A Doorway to Old Florida

But, it exemplifies the kind of hybrid garden/zoo that was common in the state.  Thus the unique collection of birds here and the occasional interloper.

Chilean Flamingos
Chilean Flamingos
parrot cages
One of the many parrot cages
Racoon
A raccoon visits

Because of its age, this garden has some of the oldest trees and bushes that we see in the metropolitan area. Remnants of old Florida remain with the fauna here relatively unique. From the photographer’s perspective this  clearly provides opportunities.  It’s possible to come here mid-day and still have shade.  The flamingos, common in the past, in front of hotels and the like are now limited to places such as Sunken Gardens.  There are many flowers and birds that provide macro opportunities, but a wide-angle lens is useful for capturing the amazing landscape provided by the old live oaks, ferns and colorful Bougainvillea. On the other hand, the day I took these photos had started out bright, but my sun disappeared….making for a pretty dark day as reflected in these photos.

The small size of the garden and the seemingly steep entrance fee here are issues. The much larger Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo is free (described in a future post).   However, members of the American Horticultural Society, available with nearly any Botanical Gardens, membership will get a free pass here and Groupon has discount offers. These Gardens are worth a visit in conjunction with a visit to the ever-improving downtown St. Pete, or perhaps the Children’s Museum.