Paridise Found

Paridise Found
Text by Dan Volker
Photos by Sandra Edwards

Paradise Springs is very different from the other springs. Its not a place for non-divers to snorkel. Its not even a good place for certified divers who are novices. Its a GREAT place for experienced divers, or certified CAVE DIVERS though, and its also one of the most spectacular archeological sites recently uncovered for everything from Mastadon bones, early Indians, and a variety of life going back to the time of the dinosaurs and before. The cave at 140 feet depth actually has well developed stalagtites on it, indicating the cave was an open air, above water-table cave, prior to the last ice age...Many species of animal bones, including prehistoric camels, evidently found their way into this cave prior to its flooding with salt water, and ultimately its filling with fresh water from the spring (aquifer). You do need a map to get here, so rember to click here and print ours before going.
Sandra and I walked out in this field on an afternoon so hot you could fry eggs on blacktop. Of course we were far from any blacktop, and a good distance from any real "roads" at all. You just follow the tire tracks left in the deep grass, and relax for a while 'till you come to a white house with a dive flag painted on it. Way out in a pastoral kind of natural grasslands, something like a savannah in Africa, you see an oasis looming up ahead.
You park near it, and walk down into a small but richly vegetated place which is known as Paridise. (owners names are Jim and Nancy Paridiso---so there if you thought this was tacky!). The folliation opens just enough to make way for the steps carved into the slope, which drops down into a small pool of water.
In mid summer, as we were, there was a slight green tint to the surface of this small pond-like sinkhole, and the underwater descent I was planning on reminded me more of "Paridise Lost" than I wanted. But once through the first 15 feet of greenish water, our cave light suddenly began piercing into an almost infinite blackness, a chamber of enormous size, and visibility of over 200 feet. As sudden and welcome as this change was, even more appealing were the walls and ceilings of the cavern I was now in. Fossils were visible almost everywhere, sea biscuits littered the floor, and in several places I saw actual bones protruding from wall or ceiling.
As I entered a small passageway which brought me into the next chamber, the feeling of a cave system began to form a new awareness in me of this new experience. This new chamber had another passageway leading somewhere deeper, and this new tunnel would need exploring as well. After a narrower and twisting route through this passageway, the next chamber opens with great size and far more depth, with blackness extending down to below 140 feet. The cave instuctor I was with signaled it was time to head back, and that I could lead. Sure, no problem, although I was just starting to enjoy the Nitrogen at around the 130 mark, and I would have liked to go down just another measley 80 feet or so..., but fine. And as I began the return trip, I coul'nt help noticing there were several exit passages where I only remembered one!!??? Well, this looks like the right direction, I thought, as I picked on one and heading into it...which was reacted to by the instructor rapidly shaking his light side to side, as an indication to me that I had "chosen poorly". Luckier on my next pick, I realized first hand the value of cave reels and line markings, and why open water divers can't do caves without training. Of course, I usually don't have enough sense to get nervous, and this was just another neat part of the adventure. When we finally arrived at the 15 foot deep area just below the murkier water and the sunlight of Paridise, I found that performing a safety or deco stop was slightly more challenging than on an ocean dive. It is "bad form" and unsafe to stir up the bottom with your fins, and the area we had just travelled to had a shallow bottom I had to avoid. Normally I utilize a "sculling stroke" with my fins to stay exactly at a given spot on a hang, but here I would have been "stirring the sediment". Luckily, before I embarrassed myself with any stirring, I made the acceptable choice of swimming a spiral pattern around my instructor, to maintain proper depth and avoid bumping into the walls and more sediment.
I hope many divers and researchers of archaelogy visit Paradise Springs and enjoy it as much as I did. Because this is not what you would call a "tourist trap", it is much better to call ahead and reserve your dive day...They like to keep it personal and non-crowded, so just showing up is not always the best way to experieince it. The phone number for Paradise Springs is 1-904-368-5746, and e-mail to the collective group of Paradise Springs/Blue Grotto/Devils Den...should be accessable at by the time you read this.
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