Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

On to O’Leno State Park

Tuesday March 26 and Wednesday March 27, 2013
Site 28, O'Leno State Park
High Springs, Florida



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We don’t have far to go in moving from south of Gainesville at Paynes Prairie to North West of Gainesville at O’Leno so I go out running and afterwards stop  ‘one last time’ at the Visitor Center viewing tower.  And look who is here to see me off.

We haven’t seen the buffalo after that first time but the horses have become pretty faithful.  This morning the colt is napping but s/he looks up just as I leave the platform and have put my camera away.

Bye Guys!   It’s been fabulous spending time with you.

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After showering, breakfast and battening down the hatches we are out of the campsite just before the 1pm check out time.  The trip is just my size, 45 miles up I75, then 7 miles to and through the big town of High Springs on Rt 441 to a large, deep Site 28 at O’Leno state park home of the disappearing Santa Fe River.  But more about that later.





1st Day at Oleno

Today is the day to check out the park. 

O’Leno has a total of 61 campsites divided into two campgrounds.  Dogwood is near the entrance station and Magnolia near the picnic grounds, rental cabins and nature center all further into the park. 


I’ve chosen Magnolia since it is closer to the river and most of the trails but it is also the least secluded and potentially the least quiet.  But it’s nicely wooded and the sites are large.  Each campsite has water, electric, and in ground fire pit and a picnic table.  There is one bathroom in each loop.  And just FYI, they close it for an hour and a half every day from 11:30 to 1:00 for cleaning.   Heaven help you if you need it during that time.


We walk the short distance from the campground down to the center of the park on the river.  It’s a lovely setting and one of the first things we see is an explanation finally of why “O” Leno.


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O’Leno is named after the town that once stood here.  No it’s not an Irish town.  It’s name was Keno and then Leno.  When it became a ghost town it was known as ‘old’ Leno.  Beats me why the park calls it O’Leno.


The park is located along the banks of the Santa Fe River which is a tributary of the Suwannee.  The Santa Fe is a 75 mile slow moving dark brown river.  It is particularly unusual in that if you are kayaking along down stream, all of a sudden it picks up speed and disappears.  No more river, just a round sink.  The river goes underground and reemerges 3 miles away in River Rise State Preserve where it is again a slow but much wider river.   This is one of the two main things we have come here to see.   But that’s further down the river.



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The not so scenic swimming area is a roped off section of the river up stream from the bridge.  Kayakers and canoeists can not paddle through it and down to the sink.






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The buildings put up by the CCC are located here.  The biggest is the mess hall right on the river.

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O’Leno is another of the Florida State Parks created by the CCC in 1934.  All of their structures are still in use nearly 80 years later.  Mess hall is a terrific building inside and out.  The camp boys ate in here from the kitchen behind the left hand fire place and enjoyed meetings, lectures and entertainments presented from the stage in front of the fire place on the right.




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The room is open and airy with shuttered windows, clear story windows and the doors opposite each other.  All are screened and create great ventilation.   Notice the carved totem poles as vertical supports.  I wonder if one of the boys was from the Pacific Northwest.  I don’t think there were any Native totem poles in Florida.  But I like them just the same.


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The other CCC buildings, 16 cabins and a very interestingly designed building now being used as a museum,  are also here but we don’t check these out today.  We want to have time to hike the yellow trail down to the sink and to see the bridge.


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But the most famous creation of the Civilian conservation Corps in O’Leno is the suspension bridge over the Santa Fe River.  It is the second of the things we most wanted to experience in the park.  The bridge still spans the river.  But our timing is terrible as it is under renovation, first time in 25 years, and won’t be open again for another 2 weeks.  I’m sure with all the people trying to swing it and kids being kids it needs repair but it’s a serious bummer planning error. I had no idea.  Kind of like the hours of Devil’s Millhopper.  I’m feeling a bit unprepared recently.


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We have read that the park also features sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, river swamps and sandhills so we start off down the River Trail which not surprisingly follows the river to the sink.  The wild azaleas are in bloom and it is a really lovely hike.





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From its headwaters at Santa Fe Lake the river flows over 44 miles to this point, the Santa Fe River sink, where it disappears.  It reappears 3 miles away at the Santa Fe River rise and flows 35 more miles to reach the Suwannee River.  900 million gallons of water a day flow underground through this sink.   Because the river flows underground here a natural bridge is formed between the sink and the rise enabling Native Americans and early pioneers to cross the river.  And enabling us to walk down one side and back up the other.

Just imagine, here you are paddling down the river and oppps, no more river, just a big circle.


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The local residents of the sink don’t seem to mind the duck weed at all.


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When I looked closer I thought…. has he got his arms around his log holding on tight to keep from going round and round like the other things in the sink.  What do you think??

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From the land bridge vantage point behind the river sink, I can zoom in and see up the river as it comes to the sink.

It is very interesting to watch the water hyacinth patches go around and around along with other debris that has reached this can go no further point.  


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The River Walk  crosses the land bridge where some wooden bridges span sinkholes.  We find gorgeous bayou looking cypress swamps with knees.  Looks like a convention of gnomes doesn’t it?


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We walk down the river on the opposite shore until we again reach the suspension bridge which we can’t use to cross back over.  We have to walk the trail in reverse.   But I don’t mind at all because it is a lovely hike.



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When we return to the center of things we take a look at the Santa Fe River flood gauge.  David is standing at the green 2012 band which is slightly taller than he at 6’.   SIX feet of water above the banks which are at least 4’ deep at this moment and the river seems very “normal”.  I guess I am glad I wasn’t here last year.

The red band at about his nose is 1998.  And the one WAY at the top is 1934.  The CCC started working on creating the park in that year.  How in the world???


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And of course no good hike is complete without a tree hug.  This park has some giant trees.  This one is right outside the CCC Mess Hall.  It’s so big I am off balance trying to get my arms stretched around it.

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  1. We've stayed there and did that same hike, but we didn't see any gators. I think those same turtles were on the same log, though. Have fun!

    1. I'm sure they were, permanent residents you know! :-)

  2. Another great post, Sherry. I find the sink hole fascinating. Not too long ago a big sink hole opened up and killed a man in Florida--is it the same sort of phenomenona? If I were those turtles, I wouldn't want to be sharing that hole with the gators. The green scum gives me the heebeegeebees. When you said the water swirls around, is it like a whirlpool? I guess with all these questions I should do some research on the web instead of asking you! :)

    1. Yes, just like a slow whirlpool. All the debris just goes around and around. I suppose if you had the patience you could stay long enough to see if anything gets sucked down in. I didn't - stay that is. :-)

  3. You sure are seeing a lot of different parks in FL and learning a lot. Thanks for the tours of the parks.

    1. You are welcome Teri. Perhaps you'll come to see some of them yourself. Thanks for commenting.

  4. I had to come back and show you what I found. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxbS42w_fU0

    1. Thanks for the link Nancy. The land bridge at O'Leno has quite a few sink holes. I took some pictures of them but they are very hard to see in terms of their depth. This does a pretty good job although that may be Ogden Lake which is along the trail he is hiking. But Sink holes can be huge as you could see from the bridge picture I showed. It is very possible that one day the limestone under your house could collapse and your house too.

  5. Sink holes always amaze me too. I still wonder how a whole house can be swallowed up.

    1. It is amazing. These holes are huge and when the limestone gets disolved it can just ZAP..........SINK. Makes me wonder about houses built in Florida. The whole thing is limestone I'm pretty sure.

  6. Ah that colt is adorable. Soaking up the warm sunshine while mom keeps guard. Ewww that sink hole looks nasty. Poor animals all covered in green slim. Maybe they like it?
    Don't fall in any!!!

  7. O'Leno looks like a really beautiful place, and I love the convention of gnomes. I think the CCC was one of the best things of the 20th century.

  8. Another pretty place! I love suspension bridges. We had one here over the Little Red River in a picturesque little town ... been there for umpteen years ... I just might go back there soon and write about that...

    Teenage boys well, a high school class was on a field trip. The boys started swinging the bridge ... it killed a fisherman's little boy by its falling down into the river as well as .. can't remember how many kiddos on the bridge.

    they never rebuilt it... that was ten years or so ... we loved going there... so sad

  9. You find some great parks. Looks like a wonderful spot to spend some time hiking and enjoying the nature. I love the work the CCC did, we have been to a number of parks throughout the States where we had an opportunity to some of their work.


  10. Oh my gosh, we were there yesterday and took the same hike. We saw alligators "eyeing" the turtles clinging for dear life on the logs as they spun round and round where the river disappeared. It's a beautiful park.

    Today we went kayaking down the Santa Fe River. The springs are beautiful. Enjoy your stay.

  11. Like short moves also. FL State Park campgrounds seem to have a similar look. Yet the surroundings so different. This sinkhole and underground river is intriguing but please don't explore it in the kayaks. The water looks so calm. Like to see the CC craftsmenship. Maybe a young native man far from home. I see people on that bridge and think you should talk them into allowing you one crossing. What a croc!

  12. Great Hike and really enjoying your tours of the northern state parks. They sometimes get neglected for the ones in Southern Florida. May have to spend some time in Northern Florida and check them out!!

  13. I'm sure you'll enjoy Oleno as you enjoy all the places you stay. We've stayed there a few times, but the last time I didn't care for the "decorating" they did with all the downed trees framing the campsites. Maybe they're gone by now?

    Don't forget to find Rum Island park. It's a wonderful place to kayak and you run into pretty blue springs all along the route. If I remember correctly, you travel down stream and you'll get to the most beautiful Ginnie Springs.

    Have fun!!!

  14. I'm looking forward to your post on your underground kayak trip. Do you have to paddle the whole three miles or can you just coast along? ;c)

    I'm continually amazed at the construction projects the CCC did. Where would we be today without all the work they did so many years ago? I think it's one of the best investments that America ever made.

  15. I agree with Paul. I think the CCC did an outstanding job. I also think we should have invested in our country again, just recently, instead of just randomly giving out stimulus dollars. We could have gotten a whole rebuilt infrastructure if we had.

  16. I'm glad to see you're far less cynical about the underground river than I was: Where I was cynical about the underground river.

    It was a pretty park, though, and I like CCC stuff.

  17. I always love your sense of imagination. Yes, that really does look like a convention of gnomes. Very cute!

  18. Very educational post! I enjoyed the discussion of O'Leno, the CCC and the pictures of the totem pole and the big tree! Amazing there was so much water during those floods!


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