Sunday, March 23, 2014

#90 Shangri-La Spring (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Shangri-La Spring
On the north shore of Merritt's Mill Pond just downstream from Blue Springs is one of the most beautiful places in all of Florida. Shangri-La Spring is #90 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida. Please click here to see other listings as they appear online.

Currently accessible only by boat, Shangri-La Spring flows from a vent or crack in the limestone about 800 feet down the mill pond from Blue Springs. The maximum depth is 10.5 feet and the water flows up from the ground at a year-round temperature of 68.97 degrees.

The spring is much smaller than its upstream neighbor (Jackson Blue Springs is the only First Magnitude Spring in the Chipola River basin), but it makes up for its size with spectacular natural beauty.

A scout enjoys the view of Shangri-La during a guided tour.
A 20-foot bluff rises above the Mill Pond at Shangri-La, once used by Graham Air Base as a picnic area and recreational complex, and the huge boulders and natural plants that surround the spring are stunning. The water is crystal clear.

Shangri-La is embedded in the history of Jackson County. The first Spanish explorers to enter the area passed by in 1674 while following the real Old Spanish Trail. Often confused with U.S. 90 or the current county road of that name, the original Old Spanish Trail angled northwest from present-day Sneads to Blue Springs via what is now Providence Church and Reddoch Roads.

Shangri-La in Jackson County, Florida
Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda, a Catholic priest who accompanied that expedition, later described the area around Blue Springs and Shangri-La in glowing terms:

...[A]round it are numerous huge rocks and habitable caves frequented by the Indians on their hunting trips for bear, deer and buffalo, of which there is an abundance. The soil for three or four leagues round is rich and suitable for all kinds of cultivation. There are very excellent wild grapes on the many vines, and many luscious chestnuts. Here we spent the night, thanking God for such a pleasant and delightful spot uninhabited save for the wild animals who enjoy it. - Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda, 1693.

Spectacular view of Shangri-La and Merritt's Mill Pond
The Old Spanish Trail led west to the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River at today's Florida Caverns State Park after passing Shangri-La.

Soldiers under Major General Andrew Jackson explored the caves and rocks around Shangri-La when the U.S. Army camped at Blue Springs on the night of March 10, 1818. The First Seminole War was then underway and Jackson had invaded Spanish Florida on the orders of President James Monroe. He was on his way to attack Pensacola.

Crystal clear water of Shangri-La Spring
Less than one year after Jackson and his men passed through, the first American settler laid claim to the rich lands surrounding Blue Springs and Shangri-La. The adventurous frontiersman William Pyles settled on the site of what is now Blue Springs Recreational Area, which encompasses both Blue Springs and Shangri-La. Florida was still part of Spain when he arrived, but he spent at least one year there clearing fields, building a cabin and raising a crop.

Pyles' claim soon passed to Major William Robinson, who built a comfortable home on the hill overlooking Blue Springs. Robinson's plantation covered 3,100 acres encompassing both Blue and Shangri-La Springs. Some idea of the appearance of the area at the time was left by Rt. Rev. Michael Portier, the Catholic Bishop of Florida, who visited the major at his home in 1827:

" high as the trees themselves"
...Rocks were to be met as high as the trees themselves, and bordered around with wild flowers, while sweet-scented shrubbery decked the sides and summits of these pygmy mountains. Natural wells, underground caves, oak trees blasted by lightning or cast by the tempest across our narrow pathway like an artificial bridge - everything was present to enhance the spectacle. - Rt. Rev. Michael Portier, 1827.

Robinson lived at Blue Springs (then called Robinson's Big Spring) and Shangri-La until his death. His lands eventually passed to his relative, Governor John Milton.

View down into the cave at Shangri-La Spring
Arriving in Jackson County during the late 1840s, Milton folded Major Robinson's former lands - including Shangri-La - into his Sylvania Plantation. Accounts from the time note that Milton often enjoyed fishing and walking along the banks of the springs and stream to escape the pressures of Tallahassee during his tenure as Florida's Confederate governor.

Confederate soldiers also enjoyed the crystal clear water and scenery while stationed at Camp Governor Milton, which incorporated Major Robinson's old home at Blue Springs. Some of these men carved their names into the rocks of Shangri-La Bluff and they rode past the spring on their way to the Battle of Marianna in 1864.

Shangri-La Spring today is owned by the state and protected by Jackson County Parks & Recycling. Future work will open the grounds to the public, but for now the scenic spot can be accessed by boat via the mill pond or by canoe or kayak when Blue Springs is open to the public during the summer season.


Anonymous said...

I have dove that cave numerous times Dale. My name is scratched inside the walls.

Matt Basford

Anonymous said...

Good Matt, let's deface it so you can look stupid

paddlesolo said...

Nothing to brag about, defacing a natural wonder.

Chipola Divers said...

Matt, you obviously don't know that scratching your name into the walls of a cave is illegal in Florida. It also destroys the beauty of the cave. Thanks for making a beautiful system less beautiful.