Ginnie Springs, Florida
May 24-26, 1996
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time
At the end of May, I had taken a camping trip with the group Single Outdoor Adventures (SOA) to Ichetucknee Springs and the surrounding area. We had visited several of the springs in the area and had snorkeled in most of them, but despite there being three certified divers on the trip I was the only one who had brought any gear along and none of them wanted to rent any. I was a little disappointed at being down there and not getting the chance to dive any of the springs so after that trip was over, while everyone else headed back to Atlanta, I drove back up the road to Ginnie Springs.
Ginnie Springs is a pure diver's resort. There are more wetsuits than swimsuits and the sight of someone lugging a pair of tanks across the road or of someone gearing up at the picnic tables is a common sight. The facilities are very nice and include a well equipped dive shop and training facility. I found the staff there to be very helpful and courteous.
Arriving back at the springs, I went to the counter to check in. As I checked in I told the staff at the counter that I did not have a buddy and asked if they knew of anyone else there who was looking for one. They said that that should not be a problem and that I should do down to the main springs area and ask around.
As it turned out, luck was with me. Three students from North Carolina were checking in at the next register. One of them turned to me and said "Well, there are three of us. You can buddy up with one of us if you want to." And so I had my dive partner.
We introduced ourselves and I discovered that they were on their way back home after several days in the Keys. Two of them were cave divers and so had stopped in at the springs to check them out on the way back. I teamed up with Gerry who, like me, was not cave certified. After talking for a while the four of us collected our wristbands and gear and headed for the springs.
Ginnie issues wristbands to indicate what type of diver you are. Snorkelers get one color, regular divers get a second, and certified cave divers a third. There are different fees associated with each. You also get a parking sticker for your car. Equipment is available for rent but all I needed was a tank.
Our first stop was the three Devil's Springs; Devil's Claw, Devil's Eye, and Devil's Ear. There are two wooden platforms at the edge of the spring; one at Eye and one at Claw. The platforms provide a place to put on your gear and have ladders for easy entry and exit. There is also a large, cheerful sign hanging over the springs; "Caution: Divers have died here" Uh-huh. The sign continues, stating that no lights are allowed except by certified cave divers. (Remember those wrist bands?) Apparently the management at Ginnie Springs feels that without lights, divers who are not certified are less likely to enter the caves. At any rate, Gerry and I left our lights behind as we entered the water.
The primary impression I have of Ginnie Springs is of the clarity of the water. This is the only place I have been where I would describe the visibility as "unlimited". I could see everywhere within the run, from the bank to the end where it entered the Santa Fe river. (More on that later.)
Our first stop was the Devil's Claw spring. This is a narrow crevice. I worked my way down about 15 feet into it and took this picture, which shows the incredible clarity of the water. Remember, I'm hanging onto the side and stirring up the bottom here! Our two cave divers managed to make it a little further than I did but there didn't seem to be that much to see here. I would guess that the crack went down about another 20 feet but it is hard to be sure.
We next swam over to the Devil's Eye spring. This is a large, almost circular opening about 30 feet across and 20 feet deep. At the bottom, a low but wide cave opens to one side. This seemed to be the main attraction for the cave divers. Guide lines were tied off everywhere, all leading into the opening. We watched as several divers entered the cave and disappeared. Our two cave divers stuck their heads inside then backed out, indicating that it was too crowded inside for them. We exited the opening and proceeded to the Devil's Ear.
Devil's Ear turned out to be a narrow shaft near where the run entered the Santa Fe river. The spring is most easily located by looking for the clear patch in the water. I declined to enter the shaft and floated above it while the others took turns drifting downward then back up.
Surfacing, we paddled out into the Santa Fe river and, trailing our dive flag on a float, let it carry us down to Ginnie Spring itself. The water in the Santa Fe is a distinct contrast to that in the spring runs. It is a very dark brown, sort of like strong tea. The color comes not from sediment in the water but from tannin leached from the leaves and roots in the area. Visibility in the river is about 5 feet. So, we stayed on the surface and drifted. We saw several turtles on the surface, sitting on bits of tree root. After a while we reached the run for Ginnie and entered it.
Ginnie has a fairly long run about 6 or 7 feet deep. It ended at the mouth of Ginnie Spring itself; a circular pool about 50 feet across. There is a nice wooden dock along one side of the pool and a lot of swimmers and snorkelers were on the surface. The pool is about 25 feet deep and there is a wide horizontal crevice at the bottom. Ginnie has an outflow measured in millions of gallons of water a day and I could definitely feel the pressure of it looking into the entrance.
Our two cave divers plunged straight in and Gerry and I cautiously stuck our heads into the opening. The cave got a little higher inside and sloped downward and away from us. Several divers were in the cave, which was lit by their lights and the light from the entrance.
We declined to enter the cave and waited in main pool for our companions to return. I found a few small fish hanging around the edges of the pool but the number of swimmers on the surface kept most of them in hiding.
When the cave divers returned they reported that an opening at the back of the cave led to a second, lower cave. This second cave had a pair of openings leading still further down and back but both openings had been closed off with metal gratings. We drifted back down Ginnie's run to the river and then down the river to Dogwood Spring.
Dogwood Spring was the smallest of the springs we visited. The water in the run was almost shallow enough to stand up in. The spring itself was a narrow shaft barely large enough for one of us to enter at a time and peer into the narrow opening beyond.
I had snorkeled the other two springs, Twin Springs and Deer Springs, earlier in the day and knew them to be even smaller and shallower than Dogwood. So, rather than swimming back upstream to the main springs, we exited the water using the platform at Dogwood and trudged overland back to the office.
Turning in my tank, I said goodbye to my diving companions and took advantage of the bath house to shower off before my trip back to Atlanta. Somewhere along the way my weight belt vanished. I assume it is still down there somewhere.
Overall, I found Ginnie Springs to be a very nice and interesting dive. For a non-cave diver there is probably not enough there to warrant a trip specifically to Ginnie Springs. But as one part of a larger trip; perhaps a visit to several of the Florida springs, or as a warm-up/cool-down dive on a trip to or from the Keys, it is definitely a worthwhile stop. For cave divers I am certain that it is an even more interesting destination.
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