The Santa Fe is a river of beauty, tranquility and mystery. It began at some distant unknown time in the Pliocene Epoch when the waters covering Florida receded one last time (until now) and our state emerged from the ocean and became land once more. It begins in a swamp and ends in an underwater waterfall entering the Suwannee River.
Millions of years before the Santa Fe was born, Florida had been a grassy savanna teeming with many types of animals which no longer live on this planet. Giant hog-like creatures the size of bulls, tiny horses and camels, huge beardogs and giant terror birds, all gone forever. The river cuts through the soil and rock and reveals the layers where the fossil remains of these animals can be found today.
Fossils are our connection to the wonderful animals of a lost world of the past that no one will ever see.
Through the millions of years that the Santa Fe has existed, there have been times of drought when the river was dry and trees grew in the channel. During these periods, some perhaps lasting hundreds of years, river-bottom springs or pools were likely magnets for wildlife and thus drew Florida’s first early human inhabitants, whose stone tools and weapons can be found buried along the banks of the river, from its origin to its end.
Even more so than today, the water in the river then was the focus of life and sustenance for its human and animal inhabitants.
The bottom of the river goes down to the karst called Hawthorne, Avon Park or Ocala Limestone, formed eons ago from untold trillions of tiny sea-creature skeletons when this rock formed the floor of warm, shallow oceans. All along the bottom are cracks and crevices, some holding secrets of old things, and some are narrow slits of windows into the aquifer where cold spring water surges upward. If you are immersed in the river, these underwater springs are sudden cool spots in the summer, and sudden warm spots in the winter. When the water is murky, they are like diffused balls of glowing, blue light because of the clear spring water.
Just as we recognize the beauty of the flowing waters past the cypress knees and vegetation, so is there the submerged beauty of the river which is a separate, silent world of its own. Diffused light reflected through clear water on the white sands and emerald plants create special colors and hues of blue not seen above. Vistas disappear in the distance and depths much like fog on the surface obscures resolution and detail. The natural magnification of water energizes the colors of the rocks, gravel and plants which in the sunshine creates a universe of brilliance and sensation.
Creatures of this world are abundant, teeming and colorful: green, black and silver bass approach out of curiosity; groups of mullet flash by like silver torpedos, timid crawfish peek out from under rocks, turtles with mossy green backs and bright yellow bellies scoot away, and long strands of wavy eelgrass dance in the current. One cannot truly know the Santa Fe by staying only on its surface; one must explore its depths to know the spirit and soul of this ancient river.
Beauty and mystery. This is why I love the Santa Fe River. Some of the best and most enjoyable days of my life have been spent in this river, alone, seeking the secrets of time, quietly immersed in the wondrous awe of nature and history at its best.
For this I feel extremely fortunate.
About the Author & Photographer
Jim is a professional paleontologist and a board member, historian, meeting-goer, news gatherer, writer and reporter, and super-informed commentator extraordinaire for Our Santa Fe River.
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