"I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god-sullen, untamed and intractable."
— T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages," Four Quartets
The waters of the Suwannee River take their sweet Southern time, collecting themselves from the primordial soup of Georgia's vast Okefenokee Swamp. As it glides into Florida, the dark river-tannin-tinted from decaying flora-mirrors white sandbar beaches, green cypresses, and pale limestone bluffs embedded with fossils from a long-ago ocean.
Halfway down its 250-mile jaunt to the Gulf of Mexico, the Suwannee fattens, fed by dozens of springs that gorge it with millions of gallons a day. Some are just a burble on the riverbank, but others are broad and deep, clear as glass and suitable for scuba. Beneath Peacock Springs winds one of the longest underwater cave systems in the Lower 48, with six miles of mapped passages. Farther downriver at Troy Springs, divers nose around the steamship Madison, scuttled during the Civil War.
The watery spelunkers and history buffs might also bump into living leviathans. All the springs stay a comfortable 72 degrees, making them the perfect winter getaway for portly, warmth-loving manatees. The rest of the year the waters are patrolled by armored Gulf sturgeons, whose razor-sharp bony plates protect them from predators; swimming up the Suwannee to spawn, the primitive fish haul their eight-foot bodies high into the air and smack back into the water. And year-round, alligators-some twice as long as a lanky diver-lurk beneath the surface, awaiting the unwary otter or wading bird.
Canoers too can follow the meanders on the 200-mile Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. Stops along the way offer hiking and birdwatching, while rustic cabins and river camps, thoughtfully spaced a day's paddle apart-and equipped with rocking chairs, ceiling fans, and screened porches-provide a little Southern hospitality.
EXPLORE: On Sierra Club trips this spring, kayak the graceful Suwannee or canoe with the family in the grand Okefenokee.