High Springs B&B and Bicycle

By: Kara Chalmers and Nate Huff

A romantic, nature-filled weekend at Grady House Historic Bed & Breakfast in High Springs.

It's hard to miss High Springs' railroad heritage, my husband Nate and I realized while ordering sandwiches through the ticket window at the Station Bakery & Café, a converted depot. But this small town has a second identity: It attracts adventurers from all over for cave diving and snorkeling in the springs along its Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers.

Nate and I opted for canoeing, since the thought of dark, underwater caves makes me shudder.

Lily was the most memorable of the springs we visited, since it's home to Ed Watts, who lives in a grass hut on stilts and is usually wearing nothing more than his signature faux-fur loincloth. We had heard about Ed -- you need his permission to visit the island -- and I wasn't sure what to expect, but he was harmless, and a gregarious host.

With loincloths behind us, I figured the most daunting part of our excursion had passed. Kara, however, somehow picked up the local paper en route to our bed and breakfast - the lead story: The Grady House Ghost.

Luckily, innkeepers Paul and Lucie say the spirit at The Grady House is a friendly one, with a penchant for moving chess pieces overnight. Once a railroad boarding house, this craftsman-style home charms with creaking hardwood floors, claw-foot tubs and fresh-baked cookies.

With glasses of red wine from the carafe in our room, we wandered the house's gardens, toasting next to a moonlit Koi pond.

Kara claims to have heard footsteps that night, but I enjoyed ghost-free sleep, awaking to corn muffins and a delicious hashbrown casserole. Then it was off to O'Leno State Park, where we biked rolling dirt trails through mature pine forests. Children, undaunted by alligator warning signs, swam the cool Santa Fe. We hiked to the "river sink," where the Santa Fe mysteriously vanishes underground, emerging three-and-a-half miles later.

Leaving my world, we entered Kara's at The Wellness Spa of High Springs. I bravely submerged myself in a Japanese soaking tub for an hour of orange-and-peppermint-scented relaxation while Kara luxuriated in an elegant, cast-iron slipper tub. Owner Suzie Ann Clark then massaged the knots out of our legs and backs.

Thoroughly marinated and tenderized, we caught dinner at Springs Diner, a local institution with a traditional menu.

The next day, Nate and I said good-bye to High Springs and visited one of the area's must-sees - Mill Creek Farm. Also known as the Retirement Home for Horses, the Alachua farm is home to more than 130 horses that have been abused, neglected or retired from the worlds of entertainment and law enforcement. They are never ridden or worked, and spend their last years roaming freely. On Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the public can roam the rolling pastures for the admission price of two carrots.

Our next stop was Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville. There, we viewed the Alachua Sink, a depression usually filled with alligators as far as the eye can see. Vegetation covered the water during our visit, but we saw enough 'gators sunning on the banks to last me a lifetime.

The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, an old railroad route, starts at the prairie, so we climbed on our bikes. The trail took us up and down hills, past a continually changing landscape of prairies, lakes and forests.

The wildlife did not disappoint. A deer dashed across Nate's path, and a deadly coral snake - or so I was convinced - slithered into some high grass as I sped by.

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