This week’s posts cover a small section of the Suwannee River, from the bridge at CR 340 north of Bell southwards to Manatee Springs in Chiefland. The Suwannee is a wild blackwater river that runs from Southern Georgia through Northern Florida and out to the Gulf of Mexico. Stephen Foster, who immortalized the river in song, never visited it.
North Central Florida has no beaches, but it does have water and plenty of it. Lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and swamps are all potential tourist destinations in the region and are preferable, in my mind, to raging undertows and thong bikinis. Because the Florida tourist has not for the most part caught on to the glory that is rural riverfront Florida, the river remains largely unspoiled and easily accessible. The part of the Suwannee I visited is located in what is known as Florida’s “Nature Coast,” which geographically covers not only the actual coast but the inland area where I caught up with the river at Fanning and Manatee Springs.
The trip began as all trips should, with a monster. It then passed through High Springs and out County Road 340 towards Bell. Yes, this is me. I have become unstoppable since buying a pair of hiking boots and realizing that I could pair them white shorts. The monster head was a sudden fashion inspiration.
High Springs is a small town northwest of Gainesville. It has one excellent restaurant (The Great Outdoors) and a bog-standard water tower. While attempting to photograph the tower, I was approached by a local who wanted to know if I were new in town. He’d been living there for 51 years and 17 months, he said, and then he added that he’d gone to school right through the fifth grade.
Farms and bibles are mainstays along County Road 340 and throughout rural Florida in general. The sign is alive with the idea that sets the tone for this part of the Bible Belt. I knew I would not be encountering its opposite. The Devil, it turns out, only plies his trade as far south as Georgia*.
The Suwannee River at the border of Lafayette and Gilchrist Counties. The visitor was soon to find out that farming and religion were not the area’s only activities. To that list of two we can add drinking and fine art. Beer bottles were strewn along the river’s edge and graffiti decorated the underside of the bridge.
It seems to me that if you want to engage in a bit of misdemeanor hooliganism, you probably shouldn’t do so by artistically immortalizing yourself with your real name and county of residence. That aside, Lee Hamm would do well to continue his education in his chosen art form.
In case your adventure under the bridge left you a little underwhelmed, this gas station offered the chance to eat, dance, and get drunk. Who is Mike and what makes his barbecue of such apparent local repute? As it is in other rural areas of Florida, you are expected to be on a first-name basis with the locals. Signage like this is not infrequent.
Taking a turn down the US 129, we we back in “Beef, It’s What for Dinner” country. This is persuasive advertising at its finest; after bypassing gator tail, barbecue and hotdog stands, my companion was soon chowing down a half-pound smoky bacon Swissburger “all the way” (which took me a minute to realize meant “with the works”).