Silver Springs State Park (River Side)
Bushnell, FL - Events of Monday, February 3, 2013
From the Spring Side of Silver Springs State Park, we hopped in the car and drove a little over a mile south on State Route 35 to the River Side entrance. The $8 entrance fee we paid at the Spring Side was also good at River Side.
River Side has picnic areas, numerous hiking trails, a museum, a cracker village and a campground. We drove through the campground, and it's pretty nice. Sites are spacious with palmettos and underbrush between them for privacy. There are about 60 sites with water and electric hookups. Most of the sites only have 30-amp electric, but there are a handfull with 50 amps. There were lots of empty sites.
Unfortunately, the museum and cracker village are only open to the public on weekends. They are operated by the Marion County School District in cooperation with the state park, and they are used for school groups during the week. There were two school buses in the parking lot when we were there.
Since the museum and village were closed, we decided to take one of the hiking trails. There are a couple of trails that end up at the Silver River, a trail called Swamp Trail, another called Sinkhole Trail plus a couple of other trails. We opted to do part of Sinkhole Trail.
The trails are fairly well marked, but we were apparently doing Sinkhole Trail loop backwards because all the trail markers were facing the opposite way. We picked up the trail at the main parking lot near the cracker village, and we could see some of the buildings in the village as we passed by.
Cracker is a term that was applied to English and American settlers in Florida in the 1700s. There is debate as to where the term "cracker" came from; but in Elizabethan England, "crack" (or Gaelic craic) was a term that referred to superfluous or entertaining conversation. This is where we get the saying "to crack a joke." Early settlers in Florida raised cattle and were known as cracker cowmen. Therefore, the name "cracker" could also refer to the cracking of their whips as they rounded up their herds. Although cracker can have negative connotations in some circles, the term is still proudly used today by native Floridians to indicate their family has resided in Florida for many generations.
The sandy trail passed through pine and palmetto woods. Fortunately, the school groups were busy in the museum and at the cracker village, so the trail was nice and quiet with only bird sounds and the crunching of sand and pine needles underfoot.
Along the way, we saw a several feral pigs cross the trail about 50 yards ahead of us. Unfortunately, Paul couldn't get the camera out fast enough to get a picture before they disappeared in the underbrush. As we arrived at the spot where we saw them disappear, we could hear grunting and rustling in the bushes; but we only caught glimpses of their butts as they scurried deeper into the brush.
The section of the loop we were taking was only a little over a mile in length so it didn't take us long to get to the sinkhole at about the halfway point. The sinkhole is about 20 to 30 feet deep and about 200 feet across. Because of the relatively dense vegetation surrounding the sinkhole, it is a little difficult to see. We walked part way down into the depression.
Sinkhole Trail intersects with Old Field Loop Trail a short distance past the sinkhole. We decided to take Old Field Loop back to where we parked instead of doubling back on Sinkhole Trail. Old Field Loop is a narrower, less used trail. We didn't see any additional wildlife, but we did see several different types of plants.
Yucca filamentosa (common names are Spanish dagger, Adam's needle, needle palm or bear grass) gets its name from the curly filaments along the edges of the leaves.
The return by way of Old Field Loop was a little longer than retracing our steps along Sinkhole Trail, but we enjoyed the different scenery and the birds singing. We made our way back to the car and headed back to Bushnell.
We got back to Bushnell just in time for a late lunch at Beef O'Brady's. Beef O'Brady's is a family sports bar chain that has locations all over the south. They have burgers, a nice selection of sandwiches, wings, a large number of delicious-looking appetizers and various dinner entrées.
We have been hungry for a good burger, and Mondays at Beef O'Brady's is burger day where you can get a Build Your Own Burger for $4.99 (regularly $7.99). The Angus burger includes your choice of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions and also comes with fries. Other sides are available for a $2 upcharge. Additional toppings for the Build Your Own Burger like cheese, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, bleu cheese dressing, chili, bacon or guacamole are available for $.75 to $2 extra. Margery had a burger with lettuce and tomato with onion rings for her side, and Paul had a burger with American cheese and poblono sauce with fries.
The burgers were juicy and delicious. The onion rings and fries were also great - nice and crunchy.
After our late lunch, we headed back to the motor home. Now that we're into February, we're hoping the warm weather will hold so we can get out more. Stay tuned.