The Lore of Old Florida, the stories about Ponce DeLeon and the Fountain of Youth, and pirates’ treasure, and giant alligators captured my imagination in grade school. It was the stuff of dreams and I would have loved to visit any of it. But I didn't. I grew up. (Well, maybe not grown up so much according to some people.)
Years later, as a family man with three adventuresome boys, the Lore was replaced by the Lure of Disney World and Universal Studios. Childhood stories based on history were replaced by fictions animated in the hysteria of our action-crazed culture. (sigh)
But now, with our family grown and self-sufficient, we travel to avoid today’s hysteria, to seek out the sublime and the natural, and to encounter our geological past as well as our own history.
While traveling between destinations in Florida we had a lull with no apparent destination, and it turned into a “Time of Old Florida Discovery”…a welcome throwback to calmer times.
We had two days between stays at a friends’ condos and Fort Desoto Park so we sought out local parks in the Sarasota-to-St. Petersburg area. We turned to Google and The Little Springs State Park looked promising. Described as a spring which was really a sink hole, it promised clear clean water and a geological find in a serene setting. That’s what the website said. In fact, it was so serene because it was closed. Gate Locked. Driveway overgrown with years of weeds. Oh well, no missteps in adventures, only detours of discovery.
Next on the map was Warm Springs Park. Following turn by turn directions we found ourselves nearly in the middle of an upscale neighborhood with names like “The Fountain” and “Youth Isle” and “Espanada” and “De Leon Drive.” And right there in the middle of North Port, Florida, we found “Warm Springs Park.” It bore no signage claiming to be The Fountain of Youth, but it did have very large portraits of Spanish explorers, some of whom could be assumed to be Ponce De Leon.
The Warm Springs turned out to be a mecca for those seeking rest and relaxation and restoration. The $20 per day entry fee was warranted. The spring has 8.5 million gallons of water flowing through it each day, more than enough to completely replenish it twice. It is crystal clear with a water temperature varying between 82 and 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Fifty four different minerals are dissolved in the water, and with the warm temperatures, are said by some to offer relief or to heal arthritis, rheumatism, and skin conditions.
Markers line off shallow swim areas around the perimeter of the spring, making for natural circular swim lanes. The middle grows gradually deeper from 4 ft. to over 200 ft at the center. Divers have discovered ancient skulls, animal bones and stalactites and stalagmites in caves adjoining the bottom, proving that the caves and bottom were once above ground, or at least dry, probably during the Ice Age. So it was a great place to visit and a true geological find, “discovered” by googling.
As for the swimming? We are native Michiganders. We camp in snow and swim with the ice floes. So much warm water to dunk in, with no snowbank to jump in or chilling wind to bring our body temps back to normal wasn’t enticing.
It seemed to us like so much “people soup,” and not really for us. But the aura of Old Florida, the one with haunting tales and mysterious treasures, briefly rekindled its own spark of rejuvenation. We were grateful for the respite, but we also learned we aren't quite ready to cook in the people soup pot just yet, and hightailed it on to real adventure.