When we left Tomoka State Park we headed south to Edgewater, Florida. We knew we would be seeing our friends Jenn and Jessica over the weekend because we were planning to park The Bullet in their driveway. We also knew we would probably be seeing alligators over the weekend too because we were planning to kayak Juniper Run in the Ocala National Forest.
Seeing friends is good. Seeing alligators while paddling in a small vessel that basically has you sitting at water level is not good. (Disclaimer: Kevin was not at all concerned about the alligators.)
We arrived at Jenn and Jessica’s house on Friday afternoon. We were thrilled to discover that they own a home with a flat driveway that is exactly the right length for The Bullet. What thoughtful friends! It was so perfect, in fact, that we said we might come back at the end of the trip and live in their driveway for awhile. They thought we were joking…but were we? I guess they’ll find out soon enough.
Jenn and Jessica are friends of ours from the dog rescue world. We met them two years ago when they helped us rescue a sweet old dog named Newman, who needed to get from Miami, FL to Savannah, GA to join us at Retired Retrievers. They volunteered to drive a section of the trip and we’ve been friends ever since. They’ve also helped us rescue several more dogs since then.
Jessica and Jenn have four dogs of their own, and their pack was really great about letting Noah and Snappah hang out with them. Most of the pictures we took of their crew were blurry – with six dogs in the house (their 4 + our 2) it’s tough to get anyone to pose for a picture. So here are four headshots that we borrowed. Clockwise from the Frenchie in the top left: Murphie, Griffin, Riley, and Apollo. Such a loving and beautiful family.
When we first decided to do this RV trip, we came across an article about Juniper Run in the Ocala National Forest and put it at the top of the list of places we wanted to kayak while we were on the road. It’s a 7-mile waterway with lots of twists and turns, so with travel time to get there, kayaking time, and time spent waiting for the shuttle ride back to the start, it would have been too long to leave our dogs alone. Fortunately Murphie, Griffin, Riley, and Apollo were happy to dogsit. Although Snappah and Noah seem to be wondering why the youngsters are expending so much energy to wrestle each other when they could just be napping. Those young whippersnappers.
With the dogs in good hands, we were up early on Saturday morning and set off for Juniper Springs. This is one of those “you just have to see it” kind of places. We now know why Juniper Run makes it onto multiple best places to kayak lists.
It is absolutely beautiful. For most of the trip the water is crystal clear spring-fed water that winds through a mix of lush forest and grassy prairies. We took a million pictures (most through a waterproof case) but they just don’t do it justice. Even on an overcast day the colors of the water and landscape were vibrant.
It is wild. The waterway winds through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness area, so once you leave the park you are on your own. There are no roads or other access points. You need to have what you need with you and you need to be able to get yourself to the take-out point 7 miles away.
It is peaceful. We were the first ones on the water that day and didn’t see another human being the entire time we were out there. The only sounds came from our paddles and the forest around us. In an increasingly noisy and connected world, the solitude was a rare and welcome experience.
It is pristine. Disposable containers are not allowed on Juniper Run. The park service will check your things before you head out. Aluminum foil, plastic cups, wrappers – none of it is allowed. Want to bring a granola bar with you? You have to unwrap it and put it in Tupperware or a similar non-disposable container. And the rule works. As busy as we’ve heard this run can get on weekends and sunny days, we did not see one single piece of trash. The ranger said they sometimes get pushback on this rule from cranky paddlers and she thanked us for thanking them for enacting it. Seriously, best rule ever.
Juniper Run is also full of wildlife. Being that it runs through a wilderness area, it’s a great place for all kinds of critters to make their home. We saw a raccoon. We saw lots of turtles. We heard some sort of large animal crashing through the forest and Suzanne is choosing to believe it was a deer rather than a Florida Black Bear or perhaps a Sasquatch.
We also saw alligators. Suzanne saw three. Kevin saw four. When we were discussing it after the fact, Suzanne said, “You mean you saw three, right?” Kevin admitted that there was “one very large gator” that he thought it might be better not to point out. Smart move, Kevin. Smart move.
Sadly, we have no pictures of our alligators. We chose to focus on not paddling into their personal space within the narrow waterway rather than taking selfies, but trust us, they were there. Two of them made grunting noises and submerged themselves to hide when we went by. The third one stood his ground, which was a little creepy. He knew he was bigger than us and there was no reason for him to move. If you want to know what the fourth one was doing you will have to ask Kevin.
Fortunately, despite Suzanne’s concerns, neither one of us was attacked and/or eaten by an alligator. Although Suzanne did get attacked by this palm tree that leaned over and got in her way.
It rained on us for the last mile or two of the trip, but it wasn’t cold. The shuttle arrived to pick us up about 30 minutes after we finished and then we were headed back to Jenn and Jess’ house to snuggle our dogs. While we were out, Snappah made himself right at home. He decided that the double water bowl set-up wasn’t because there are so many dogs in the house. He decided that it was intentionally set up that way so that he could wash his feet and hydrate at the same time.
We had a delicious meal that night at Yellow Dog Eats in New Smyrna Beach and highly recommend it. Obviously the name is awesome since we love Yellow Labs, but the food was amazing and the staff took great care of us. The restaurant does have a dog-friendly patio but it was past our dogs’ bedtime so we didn’t take them with us. For the record though, dogs do drink free there all day. After dinner we stopped by the New Smyrna Beach Brewing Company for some delicious beverages. We were back on the road and heading west the next morning but we are already looking forward to when we head back to the area later this year and squat in Jenn and Jessica’s driveway for awhile. Thanks for a great weekend. We’ll see you on down the road!