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Ponce de Leon Springs, the Fountain of Eternal Youth? The Surrounding World Just Might Be!
Nestled in tall pines and elegant cypress this Park offers renewed youth as you revel in natural beauty, in its pristine twin-vortex laughing waters.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is located in the northwest panhandle area of Florida, and local legend has it that this is the long-desired 'water of eternal youth'. 'Tis stated with a friendly knowing smile and the admonition to 'Go see for yourself.'!
Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer in very early American history searched many areas of Central America and Florida in the 16 century but never achieved his dream of finding the fabled 'Fountain of Youth'. There are several claims of various beautiful natural water-springs in Florida and the southern states for this title, but this small State Park in the upper near-Alabama area in Holmes County, Florida is perhaps the more legendary of the "De Leon" state parks in Florida.
Ponce de Leon State Recreation Area sits about forty miles inland north of the world-famous Emerald Coast vacation area of Destin, Pensacola, Panama City and Apalachicola, Florida which shows off its blinding white squeaky sand beaches, its pristine clear ocean shores, and its high-rise vacation hotels and tourist activities.
credit: Emerald Coast Tourism Guide
Water flow of the twin-flow springs is around 14,000,000 gallons a day of clear 68 degree water..
The flow of Ponce de Leon Springs into Sandy Creek runs into the *Choctawhatchee River just a few miles to the south. When the water levels of the rainy season rise enough, the back-flow from Sandy Creek can actually meld back into the springs themselves. *(Pronounce the river phonetically, Chock ta hatchy.)
Fishing is allowed in Sandy Creek, so because of this occasional back-flow there may be a few fish within the springs pool though this is not typical. There are nature trails to follow, a picnic area with tables under the tall southern pine trees, swimming in the clear springs and wading in the creek, and exploring the beautiful green mystery of southern forest. No overnight camping facilities are available. There is an onsite Park headquarters building with historical and travel information, snacks and trinkets available. The minimal fee for entrance is just $3.00 per vehicle or $1.00 for bicyclists or pedestrians.
There is one small quaint motel in Ponce de Leon, but facilities are abundant in De Funiak Springs, Crestview, Marianna, Mossyhead, or down to the Emerald Coast vacation areas in Panama City, Apalachicola, Destin and Pensacola.
Historical map of northwest Florida showing the Ponce de Leon area in the late 1800s.
This northwest area of Florida panhandle is considered a rural area, but it has an evident history of being populated throughout its pine forests, swamplands, sandy soil, small farming areas, with cattle herds, chicken barns, and even known moonshine stills. In current modern day times, the distinction between the cities of south Alabama and north Florida are just 'legal notations', and the time zone change just minutes east is not a notable problem with those who live by the rise of the sun and the moon in their relaxed daily life.
Some of these native people will proudly explain how they have familial roots reaching back into pre-statehood history and have in the past not differentiated between the history of Mexico and New Mexico, and considered that anyone north of Alabama and Missippi is a 'damyankee'. Only after you are proven trustworthy might you receive a spot of their prized 'corn likker', but never would you be told it was made way out in the swamp where one had to chase off the alligators and snakes. And even if you were inclined to, it is unlikely you would be able to voice an impertinent question for some time after ingesting the white-lightening liquid!
If one should be so lucky to be accepted into trustworthiness, a special invitation to a backwoods cookin', might have consisted of possum or squirrel, or even 'gator meat. That with the collard greens and side bacon sopped with 'biscuit', blackeye peas, strong black chicory coffee poured from cup into the saucer to cool and sip-- and then perhaps the offer of a 'chew' afterwards, would seal the acceptance of friendship, while chawing and spitting from the front porch onto the clean-swept sandy yard.
It has been illegal to kill alligator for many years now and this rule is considered acceptable. With the onset of increased population there are fewer alligators around anyway, and most are sighted near the Choctawhatchee River or only deep into untraveled swamp areas. The loud harumph-harumph roaring of an alligataor would be reminiscent of a dinosaur-sized frog!
The people are hardy, simple and thrifty with the self-sufficiency that necessity dictates, and only in recent years has their once unnotably quiet world become a part of the busy interactive vacation business that is so much a part of this whole area. There are modern houses built now snuggling near the many small lakes, some with their own artesian wells; cabins and vacation sites in the hidden rural areas, much desired to renew the stressed spirits of people relaxing deep into the pre-modern vacation realm of the piney-woods world.
The housing market has now become a lucrative pasttime as the native people bargain their way to monies unthought of in their past, via their long held properties. Third, fourth and even fifth cousins- once-removed are part of the buy and trade or sell ongoing gossip scene, and everyone has tales to share and knows who not to tell it to!
This distinctive world surrounding Ponce de Leon's quest may hold a key to what Senor Juan wanted.
Historical interest of Ponce de Leon, the Town
When you have enjoyed your stay at the Park and now want to explore its neighborhood, you can walk north on 181A for a half mile to the small area of town and review much of its history. The current population is about 460, but over 2,000 students are served by the school area. The railroad was a vital part in this small town, even now without a single traffic stoplight. The depot is now only available in pictures and memory, but the railroad gave a facinating growth in history for this tiny town and its ingenuous populace. Trains still run through town with their cargo and will occasionally include passenger cars.
You might visit the small historical grocery store that sits alongside highway 181A across from the site of the Veterans Memorial, for a refreshing drink and snack, and stroll to the Memorial on the grounds of the now-gone Ponce de Leon School, or if you did drive, fill up at one of the gas stations in town.
You can watch the bouncing waters of Sandy Creek, or Blue Creek aside the Veteran's Memorial or walk across the highway to buy trinkets and souveniers at Flutes and Vegetables. You might rent a canoe to slip past the alligators in the Choctawhatchee River nearby. You will be welcomed warmly in this small historical town - the jail is also gone.
There is the brick Town Hall and the First Baptist Church, a trim white board building that stands sentinal near the intersection of Hiway 90 and 81N. The Post Office is nearby to send your interesting messages home. (Of course, they're read!)The first post office was built in 1853 when the sugar cane plantations afforded work to many, as did the peanut farmers at harvest time. And cotton was a steady crop with bales being delivered to boats on the Choctawhatchee River for shipment to the mills and manufacturers. A thriving township, this tiny independent place of hard work and seasonal harvests, supplied to distant populations.
Ponce de Leon is tucked on both sides of Highway 90 and was a needed 'country stop' for many a tourist who needed gasoline, a snack or directions. Its quiet demeanor now does not flaunt the facts of its Spanish Trail attachment, of dependence on the Railroad, of the sugar cane or peanut and cotton growing farms that portrayed a different foundation of life in the 19th century. (The newer I-10 traffic just south now, passes by with hardly a glance.)
But perhaps even now, you may find a jar of real sorghum molassas, or the freshly boiled peanuts-in-a-shell, for these are considered a prized tradition, a coveted delicacy and best when they are plucked from the salty simmering water and eaten hot! The apologetic store clerk will tell you that the canned ones "Just aren't like the real thing!". Perhaps you will be offered a freshly cut sugar cane stalk to chew, but nowadays that is a rarity. Even more so would be the sharing of a family recipe of scrambled eggs and pig brains for breakfast.
As time has strolled by this quaint niche of history, it has left its indelible mark of an honorable struggle to maintain, to make pace with the noisy world of manufacture, the buy-sell and grow of business conducted. Though it has in citified ways failed this, the reality and pride of its historical base and value remains in the productivity yet simple friendly lifestyle of its inhabitants.
And the Emerald Coast beckons again.
Leaving the tall pine forrested hills and an ocasional luxuriously green vineyard, past blackberry bushes, chicken farms, dog racetrack, past the old Ponce de Leon School, we wend the new highway southward toward the beach area.
Rested, renewed, delighted in our splashings in the 'fountain of youth waters', primed by gainful historical knowledge of a prideful pioneer people, we are ready for saltwater, sand, shells, coquinas and the blinking inviting lights of the city!
Here comes music, dancing, jumping the waves, shellfish, tropical fruits in luscious array, attentive waitstaff, and...credit cards! Here is the place to get sand in your sandals, for it is told, "Get sand in your shoes and you will always return". So we will!
Methinks that Mr. Juan Ponce de Leon got sand in his shoes, too!
Do you need more persuasion to come visit this ageless paradise?
Just a few more enticements to beckon you Southward, to tempt your desire to absorb the beauty and relaxation, the excitement and new adventures of the Emerald Coast. Perhaps you will even meet Senor Juan Ponce de Leon on your travels. Never can tell...!
Brief video of actual dive into vortex of Ponce de Leon Springs
- 2011-Feb6 Ponce De Leon Springs Florida - YouTube
Luke Miller and Jean Taylor Martin snorkel the Ponce De Leon Springs prior to their Diving in Morrison and Vortex Springs. This was a small quaint Florida St...