Gathering my gear for both Lily and myself, I packed for the trip to see some ghosts. Rainbow Springs is an old is a former phosphate mine and later a tourist attraction that eventually went under as Disney took away the attraction and people no longer came to that area. Eventually, the state purchased the property and made it into a state park. The springs and falls still operate as they did back in the day.
I made sure to pack water for Lily and myself. In the process, I checked my gear and my hydration pack that I usually keep filled in case of hurricane became mold-ridden, so I had to pull a different hydration bladder from my stock.
Once I had that taken care of and verified Lily’s water bladders were full, I grabbed her pack and removed all the unnecessary items I stored for our big trip and narrowed it down to the water and a treat for the car ride. I grabbed snacks for me, as well as some sunscreen and bug spray. I moved Lily’s portable water bowl to the leash I used that day and hooked her into her harness. She was a bit hesitant to get into the car, but she eventually did, and we were on our way. We were leaving a bit later than I planned which had the potential of two issues I didn’t want to deal with: work traffic and the heat. The park opened at 8, and I was leaving around then.
Rainbow Springs in a little before Ocala from my side of the state, just past Dunellen. I did my research this time and saw how far it would be and which directions I could go. I opted for the scenic route, which took the same time as the direct one. This way, I was able to go through the Villages and see what that was looking like these days. I also passed through Yalaha. I mention this because there is an excellent looking German bakery we passed on the way. I was determined to get to the park before it got too hot, so I would check it out on the way back. We also passed an area that literally smelled like shit. Ironically, it is near the Mission Inn, a lovely resort in the middle of nowhere.
We finally made it to the park, and I gathered Lily’s pack and attached it to her harness. It kept shifting to one side, so I added the second coupler I keep on the leash to try to even the weight. I also grabbed her water bottle I always keep in the car just in case.
Earlier in the year, I purchased an annual pass for the national parks. The night before, I verified that this park was not included on the list of available parks but wanted to make sure. When I got to the gate, I had three questions:
- Do you take the National Parks Card?
- Do you have waterfalls?
- Where are they?
“I wish I had a map to give you, but we are all out. Follow the path and go to the left. We close at 8:15 p.m. Don’t get lost.”
I informed the lady at the front that I had Lily in case I got lost. She asked if I had water for the dog and mentioned most people forget to do that. I showed her all the water I had, and she was sufficiently pleased. She gave Lily some biscuits, and that helped with recall of where we needed to return. I paid the two dollars admission, keeping the receipt for re-entry, and we were on our way.
As I entered, I got the looks that I always get, followed by the comments. “What a beautiful dog.” “Awww, puppy.” “Is that a wolf?” Ignoring most of them, I continued down the path, thinking I had limited time because they closed at 8ish. As I walked, I heard the trickling of water. I saw the first waterfall. It was nice, as you can see:
I continued on, and a few steps later and heard another one. I stopped so Lily could get some water, as she started to pant in a way indicating she was dehydrating. Lily has a drinking problem, and if I give her too much, she will spill it all and start choking. I gave her small quantities, and she lapped it up quickly, still choking but less than usual. As I arranged myself to get all my gear in order, a man and little girl approached and asked if I would let them take a picture with Lily, who was laying at this point. I said it would be fine and the little girl posed while Lily did not. It took several tries, but eventually, they were happy and moved on their way.
As I grabbed my gear and got Lily back on her feet, I took some more pictures. We went from the second fall to the third and the girl, who was posing with Lily a few minutes before, was now standing in the waterfall posing. I mention this because there are signs all over the place explicitly saying not to do that. I guess specific rules are only for some people. I waited until they were done taking up space where I wanted to take a picture and decided to look up the reason I was there.
So, this park was not only house to falls but also springs. I had no intention of going to the springs because all the people were there, it was open-aired and not shaded, and I was not tubing, kayaking, or canoeing on my own. I’m not a strong swimmer, and it appears Lily isn’t either from recent experience. I didn’t want her life in my hands like that. Rather than her trying to jump in the water and having to deal with it, I opted not to go near it. The reference I was reading about the hauntings in that park is related to the springs and not the waterfall, although I found the place based on the “top seven haunted waterfalls in Florida.”
Lily and I continued our walk around the park. Just a few yards from the last waterfall (Rainbow Falls), there was a sign pointing to the butterfly garden and former zoo. We headed toward the zoo, and it was very lacking. I used to joke the Sanford Zoo was great when I was a kid. They had squirrels, raccoons, and a few birds. This place didn’t even have that. Although, it was abandoned a long time ago. I made the small circle that was that area and headed to the former rodeo that was now the butterfly garden. On the way, we walked past the path and circled to the next one and scared a little kid. Another one of the wolf comments came, but I just laughed and said that I live for scaring people with her. All she wants is to hug people, but she scares them even before it gets to that. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t wearing distinct colors as she was mainly red at the time. “What’s black and white and red all over? Lily in her backpack.”
They should have called the butterfly garden the damselfly or dragonfly garden because I saw more of those than butterflies. It took my second pass before I saw two butterflies. One was a monarch and the other I don’t recall, but it wasn’t a rare one. I have more in my front yard, but I also have a few plants that they were growing there. They had a sign saying they kept natural plants to conserve water. Personally, I think the butterflies were smart and hid in the shade so as not to burst into flame. It was so hot.
Lily and I continued and found a road that led to an opened area with a dredged field and uprooted trees. The only thing there was sunlight. On the way, though, there were raccoon prints in the sand. As we walked back, there were marking for a trail, but they didn’t go anywhere. It was getting hot, so I decided to head back and give Lily some more water. We went through the butterfly garden again, and I gave her water. As I sat, we were attacked by mosquitoes. I decided this was the time to put on some repellent. After that, I was fine. Again, I question the name of the area. Maybe it should have been Mosquito Garden.
Even though I just gave her more water, I saw a bowl of water that I thought Lily could drink from. She did and put her foot in the bowl as usual. Then laid down and stuck her head in it. After seeing she finished the drinking portion, I decided to fil the bowl again from the spigot that was there. Doing so made the entire pan go white. I decided that was too much and moved on. If it was the water from the spigot, that was gross, and if it was from the bowl, I feared for what might have happened to Lily. (She was fine after checking with a vet.)
We headed back because I thought there were areas I missed. I found a cool area with bubbling sand. At first, I thought it was a fish in, or bug on, the water, but as I got closer, I saw there were a few areas where the water was bubbling the sand up. I headed down the path that was in that same general area and saw a few turtles in the water. I tried taking pictures, but Lily kept pulling me.
I almost finished with the place after seeing I had explored virtually everything. I avoided the spring, as mentioned earlier. As I headed back, I looked at an app I was using to record my trip and saw that I had not traveled three miles yet. Saddened by this, I went around one more area and discovered the beginning of the waterfalls.
Right before leaving, I wanted to go into the gift shop. I saw a sign that said service animals only. I decided to be polite and ask first. I was informed service only, and they said they did not see tags on Lily. I produced them and mentioned they get lost in her fur. She warned the clerks of my approach and Lily, and I made a quick tour. She was happy because it was air-conditioned. I was happy that she didn’t knock into anything.
We headed home, and I didn’t quite make three miles walking. It was a nice park, but there are better parks closer. I did like the waterfalls, and they were soothing to listen to. I intend to visit a few more, and hopefully those will have the potential to be more haunted.
On the way, we passed the German Bakery I mentioned and decided somewhere between Lily being too tired and them not letting her in; I will go at another time without her.