More than just the ocean: My adventures inland
In case you haven't heard, we are in the middle of a VERY long, VERY frustrating and VERY detrimental red tide event here in Southwest Florida......while I would love to go into details, such as, why it's happening, has it ever been this bad and what can be done, it's far too charged of a topic to discuss here. This seemingly endless red tide event has deterred visitors, drastically altered income (and not in a good way) and even sent some people packing. In short, it's a hot mess. However, it has also opened a door to exploration for many of us. What's that old adage? Necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, it's the mother of exploration.
Typically, when people think of Scuba diving, they think of oceans. Fish, dolphins, corals, sharks, etc.. As it turns out there is so much more available to us then just ocean. Florida in particular, has an amazing array of inland dive sites that are each unique, mostly pristine, and nothing short of awe inducing. Crystal clear waters, spring fed waters, cave and cavern systems, rivers, sink holes and even the darkest dark you will ever encounter. There are a variety of options that are easily accessible and, depending on your desires and needs, well suited to dive training and dive fun.
Given the lengthy duration of this red tide event (yes we are banging our heads on the table over it and I may have lost some hair from it) we have had a door of opportunity opened to us. During the last few months, in order to complete dive classes and get more fins in the water, we have done some statewide exploring. Read on to see some of my most recent underwater adventures.
1) Lake Denton. My most frequently visited stop has been to Lake Denton in Avon Park, FL. This place is really special to us instructors. It provides clear waters, a moderate depth (max. 50') and a super cool rope course complete with fun little details for people to explore. It is a top spot for classes ranging from open water to tec. I spend a lot of time there. It's actually a nice little drive that let's me catch up on my favorite podcasts (shout out Paula Pants and #affordanything and thank you Ashley A for that suggestion!). I highly recommend this dive site. Though please make sure you take all your gear with you when you leave so you don't have to go back when you're more than 2/3 of the way home. Personal experience.
And no, there are no gators there.
2) Hudson Grotto. Oh Grotto, my old reliable friend. In case you didn't know, it's difficult to get to a deep enough depth to complete an Advanced Open Water course off the Gulf of Mexico. It's super shallow very far out and weather makes it more challenging. My friend the Grotto is a privately owned sink hole located in Hudson, FL, that reaches a maximum depth of 150 feet at it's deepest spot. We only go to about 100 feet for class but, recreational divers actually have some fun things to see on the deep dive portion of the Grotto.
The Grotto is filled with tannins from nearby pines and once you descend below about 30 feet it's pitch black. Like sensory deprivation pitch black. It's essentially like diving in iced tea. Make it to the 100 foot platform and turn off your light to fully enter sensory deprivation mode. Just you and the sound of your bubbles. It's quite an experience I tell you. I actually really enjoy it and have come to love this place.
At 30 feet follow a rope along the wall to find little trinkets put there by other divers. If you're lucky, you'll get to find the Buddha and give him a belly rub. It's an experience I think every diver should try.
3) Devil's Den Prehistoric Spring. This beauty is an absolute MUST SEE for anyone visiting the area. Located in Williston, FL, it's centrally located for the entire state. This is seriously one of the most beautiful bodies of water I've ever seen. It's part of the Florida/Georgia aquifer catchment area and as such, water levels can fluctuate. While we were there, the water level was about 10 feet higher than normal.
Devil's Den is spring fed (you can feel the current) and is a lovely 72 degrees (so wear a wetsuit!). It has a 120 foot diameter and a maximum depth of about 50 feet. It's shaped like an inverted mushroom with outcroppings, nooks and crannies. Some areas can be explored but, many are grated off for safety reasons. There are fossils to be observed but, please don't touch. Like most cave structures this one has fragile walls. Don't be the diver that causes any sort of collapsing structures by trying to take home a rock, okey dokey?
This is a genuinely gorgeous place and I highly recommend to all divers.
So, while shore diving has been less than desirable as of late here in sunny Sarasota, we've had some pretty darn awesome adventures exploring Florida's inland dive sites. These are all unique in some way and an absolute must do for your dive bucket lists.
Stay tuned as the adventures continue. Where, oh where will I go next?
On a side note: be kind to your dive professionals. We have been dealing with many, many months of lost income, inability to do what we love most and all around frustration as our livelihoods take a hit. So give us some love. Hell give us some tips! Because we are all pretty much one taco short of a combination plate at this point.