Off the Beaten Path from Tallahassee: Jackson County, Fla.
When you drive through Jackson County (it’s tacked along the Florida-Georgia line about an hour west of Tallahassee) there’s a good chance you won’t see anything out of the ordinary. The reason why is that many of the county’s highest-profile attractions are out of sight, and are destined to remain a mystery… unless you know where to look.
On what amounts to a rural scavenger hunt, you can wade into the water, visit small towns, and travel underground to discover these five natural attractions and destinations that are sure to leave you searching for more.
On the surface, this heavily wooded state park looks like any other. But your perspective will change as you creep below ground and enter one of the most dazzling cave systems in Florida.
In a world that seems to double in speed daily, much of the cavern’s beauty is discovered in the Zen-like pace at which it was created. On a guided tour through a subterranean forest of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, flowstones, and terraced pools, a ranger will point out that a full century will pass during the drip-by-drip formation of just one cubic inch of limestone.
Millions of years in the making, Florida Caverns State Park is a place you should see… today.
2) Spring Creek
You could follow Highway 90 from its starting point in Jacksonville to its terminus in Van Horn, Texas, and chances are the only place where the heavily trafficked highway spans a gently flowing river is in the Jackson County seat: Marianna.
Judged by the small parking area beside the crystal-clear stream, relatively few motorists are aware a waterway is rushing below the rushing traffic. But those unloading kayaks, inflating tubes and rafts and carrying masks and fins and snorkels to the riverbank know that something special awaits them. It is a soothing two-mile journey down the creek to the Chipola River.
Have extra time? Stick with it and 100 miles later you’ll drift into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola.
There’s only one first-magnitude spring in the Chipola River Basin and it happens to be upriver from Spring Creek.
Six miles northeast of downtown Marianna, 202-acre Merritt’s Millpond reservoir is the centerpiece of the park, the main spring gushing forth with an estimated 77 million gallons of cool, clear water each day.
All in all, it’s a refreshing delight for swimmers, anglers, kayakers, and divers who are following in the footsteps of Spanish explorers who camped near its banks in the 1500s – and the Native Americans who were here before them.
4) Take to the Waters
It’s not just Spring Creek and Blue Springs that appeal to Jackson County’s visitors and residents. Within its boundaries are the above-mentioned Chipola River as well as the Apalachicola River, Chattahoochee River, Compass Lake, Round Lake, McCormick Lake, Lake Seminole, Parramore’s Landing, the Woodruff Dam and, in Sneads, the Three Rivers State Park – all of which are highlighted on the Jackson County Waterways website.
While only a small town in the northwest corner the county, Graceville offers two charming attractions.
On a quiet downtown street, Service Drug Store has been serving customers since 1906. More than a century later, they still dispense medicine at the pharmacist’s window and, even better, deliver delicious ice cream sodas, banana splits, malts, and milkshakes at the old-fashioned soda fountain. When you step inside, you’ve stepped back in time.
That’s a feeling you’ll experience again when you visit the Heritage Village on the campus of the Baptist College of Florida. Although you’ll need to call in advance to see them (850/263-3261), historic structures – a one-room schoolhouse, several Baptist churches, and the relatively ornate Carlton House - moved to the campus and restored for display stand out on Jernigan Common.
• Honorary Mention: Two Egg
For fans of Old Florida, there’s no place like Two Egg. Located 15 miles northeast of Marianna, legend has its name came about during the Great Depression when some farm kids would repeatedly barter two eggs for goods at the general store.
Aside from a few homes, there’s very little to see – but a picture by the town signpost makes a great souvenir. (Footnote: Academy Award winner Faye Dunaway was born in Two Egg and raised in neighboring Bascom.)
For more information, check out visitjacksoncountyfla.com.
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