Going off course in Palatka

Funny story. On my way from Sebastian to Gainesville on Saturday I stopped at Palatka’s Riverfront Park and unloaded my bike with the intention of riding across the St. John’s River and taking the Palatka-St. Augustine trail to Hastings and back.

No sooner had I crossed that humongous bridge than I remembered that I had forgotten to lock the car. So I turned around and crossed the bridge again. By which time I had lost my appetite for Hastings, having ridden that trail many times.

Which is how I ended up riding in the opposite direction to Ravine Gardens State Park. I’ve been there many times as well, but not in several years.

It was nice being back. I suspect a lot of folks from my neck of the woods (GNV) have driven through Palatka many times on their way to the beach and never even thought about visiting this hidden gem tucked away just a short distance from the main highway.

It’s a natural wonder, no question. And a tribute to the creative, sculpting power of water. Mere limestone being no match for the persistent drip, drip, drip, trickle, trickle, trickle effect over the millennia.

The loop trail that encircles the park is only 1.8 miles. But it’s got some steep climbs and gorgeous views. So I ended up doing half a dozen loops just to get in the mileage. Then I went on to Brown’s Landing for a few miles more.

There were surprisingly few people on the loop road on this Saturday afternoon. I suspect the summer heat keeps people away – at least people who don’t know about the loop’s ample shade canopy and the natural cooling effect of the very spring water that carved out the ravine in the first place.

There are bricks everywhere. Some for erosion control, some just for looks. But Palatka is a city of bricks. Has been ever since the town burned to the ground in a previous century and they decided that wood isn’t where it’s at.

Numerous trails lead down from the edges into the ravine.

And here’s the thing about trails. You never know where one is going to take you until you put your feet down upon it and let it have it’s way with you.

The springs that cut the ravine down to size were the original source of Palatka’s drinking water.

These two kids asked me what the park was like before they put all this stuff in. Listen, that happened during the Depression! How old do I look anyway? There’s never a hungry gator around when you need one.

Maybe I shoulda tossed them into the deep mud.

We always think we can make water do what we want it to do. And water always sets us straight.

Listen, they used to come from miles around for the chance to be Palatka’s Azalea Queen. Eat your heat out Atlantic City.

So whatever limestone didn’t get eaten away by water ended up as pillars in the Court of States.

Plus used to make some very nice fountains, not to mention that miniature Florida version of the Washington Monument.

Oh, and William Bertram was here. I think he wrestled an alligator or cavorted with the locals or something.

A cabin. I got nothing more.

This is Ron’s Florida. You ought to see it some time.

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