Bushnell, FL - Events of Monday, March 10, 2014
Like Silver Springs we visited a few weeks ago, Rainbow Springs is another one of the "Old Florida" attractions that was not able to weather the rise of Disney and other theme parks of the early 1970s. Rainbow Springs was a roadside attraction that began in the 1930s, flurished in the 1960s, and closed in 1974. Fortunately, as with Silver Springs, the state of Florida eventually stepped in, bought the land around the springs, and made Rainbow Springs a state park. Rainbow Springs State Park is located in Dunellon, FL about an hour north of Blueberry Hill. We headed there for a visit on Monday.
The main entrance to the park is at the headsprings and is located off US 41 just north of Dunellon. The entrance road and the walkway to the ticket window are lined with azaleas. Pets are permitted in the park, so Freeway got to go.
Admission to Rainbow Springs is $2 per person at the headsprings entrance. There are two entrances on the other side of the park off SW 177th Ave. - one is for tubing and the other is for the campground. Tubing costs $10.60 per person; and campsites, which have full hookups, cost $30 a night.
Rainbow Springs, previously called Wekiwa Creek by Native Americans and Blue Spring by early settlers, is an artesian spring that produces about 490 million gallons of water a day. There is evidence of human habitation dating back about 10,000 years.
Right inside the entrance are nice views of the headsprings and the river from the terrace. There is a swimming dock at the headsprings.
The area near the springs first attracted attention in modern times the late 1880s when phosphate was discovered. Phosphate is an important component of fertilizers.
In the 1930s, the area around the spring was developed into a tourist attraction and the name was changed to Rainbow Springs. They thought the new name was more distinctive.
To compete with the glass bottom boats at nearby Silver Springs, Rainbow Springs began to offer "submarine" tours. The boats at Rainbow Springs were not actually submarines, but "sub-boats" with deep hulls that allowed visitors to sit below the waterline and look out through glass windows. There aren't any sub-boats left at the springs, but they did have a model of one in the window behind the small gift shop. The blue portion with the portholes would have been underwater.
The real heyday of Rainbow Springs was in the 1960s. Bird and animal exhibits, riverboat rides, a rodeo show and monorail ride with cars shaped like leaves gave visitors plenty to do.
As with many other "Old Florida" attractions, Rainbow Springs began to decline in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The completion of interstate highways in Florida in the late 1960s began to divert tourists away from smaller attractions and toward major theme parks like Disney World, which was first opened in 1971.
Rainbow Springs closed in 1974, and the facilities fell into disrepair. In 1990, Florida purchased the land around the springs, and the state park officially opened to the public in 1995.
From the entrance, you can follow the walkway to the right to the swimming dock and to the canoe/kayak rental area or you go to the left to see some of the remnants of the old tourist attraction. All the main walks at Rainbow Springs are paved. We headed to the left first.
Back in the late 1930s, they built several artificial waterfalls on the rock plies left over from the phosphate mining days. Water is recirculated from the river by pumps.
A side path loops past where the zoo for the old tourist attraction was located. There visitors can see the remnants of the old animal cages.
The rodeo attraction was at the far end of the property. The pavement in the photo below ran through the middle of the stable that was used to house horses for the rodeo. The depressions on either side are where individual stalls were located.
The rodeo arena has been converted into a butterfly garden. There was one lone volunteer weeding the beds and paths in preparation for spring.
Since Florida is warm most of the winter, most people don't realize there is a dormant period here just like there is up north. Dormancy is triggered by the shorter days in winter. In the north, dormancy protects plants from cold; but in Florida, dormancy protects plants from the winter dry season.
We chatted a while with the volunteer, who was originally from Connecticut. He said within about a month, the butterfly garden would begin to come alive with new growth, and within two months, there would be flowers everywhere. Although there were a few flowers elsewhere in the garden, we had to be content with just a few blooms here and there in the butterfly garden.
From the butterfly garden, there is an unpaved nature trail through the pine and palmetto woods. Because it was getting late, we decided not to take the nature trail because we still wanted to see the swimming area on the other side of the headsprings. On the way back to the headsprings, we did follow an azalea-lined, side path that went past the pools at the tops of the waterfalls.
At the headsprings, we watched the swimmers a few minutes, then walked a little farther to the canoe rental. Dogs aren't allowed in the water at Rainbow Springs; but there was no one around the steps that led down to the water between the swimming area and the canoe rental, so we let Freeway get close to see what he would do. He leaned down from the bottom step to sniff and taste the water, but there was no way he wanted to get wet. Maybe someday we'll be able to coax him into the water when we're at a place where dogs are allowed to swim.
In addition to canoe and kayak rentals, you can also launch your own boat. We saw a couple in an old wooden kayak paddling up the other side of the river. Talk about Old Florida!
As we said, there weren't many flowers blooming yet in the butterfly garden, but there were more flowers blooming elsewhere. The flowers in the photo below are as follows:
- top row - azaleas
- middle row - magnolia, salvia
- bottom row - iris, camellia
From Rainbow Springs, we took the back roads to Bushnell. After we dropped Freeway off at the motor home so he wouldn't have to sit in the hot car, we went back out to Beef O'Brady's down the road from the RV park for lupper. Although we were just there with Marilyn and Alan, it was Burger Monday at Beef O'Bradys, and we were hungry for a good burger. On Mondays, the "Build Your Own Burger" (regularly $7.99 with fries) is only $4.99. The burgers were yummy!
We relaxed around the motor home the rest of the afternoon. We did a few chores, ran a few errands and relaxed over the next few days. We got a little lazy again, but there is bound to be more sightseeing in the near future, so stay tuned.