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The Fountain of Youth

The Taino Indians of the Caribbean whispered of a mystical land called Bimini, home to a Fountain of Youth, flowing with magical waters that turned old men young again. On March 3, 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, set sail with three ships from Puerto Rico, hoping to find the fabled island, and presumably, fortune, along the way. He encountered a much larger landmass instead, which he named Pasqua florida (easter of the flowers). 

​With time, the legend of the Fountain of Youth was woven into the Florida origin story as Ponce de León’s original quest. Despite numerous historians’ attempts to dismantle the myth due to lack of evidence, it persists, so much that the Fountain of Youth is seeded into the very DNA of Florida’s identity. Aquamarine waters shimmer enticingly in the warm sun, lapping at snow white beaches. Inland, dense palms quell the breeze while covering alligators; underwater springs break out into rivers, perfectly clear, fresh water streaming forth. The idea of Florida as a land with magical waters offering eternal health became the dominating theme for Florida’s earliest promoters; health spas sprouted up around springs, touting sunshine and cures for all manner of ailments. The campaign gained traction during World War II when grand hotels were compelled to house soldiers who would later return in droves with their families. Catering to tourists, a cultivated aura of youthful exuberance and fantastical whimsy gave rise to theme parks as well. Dinosaurs and mermaids took up residence, as did America’s favorite mouse.

As for Bimini, it turns out that there really is a small freshwater well, now adorned with a plaque commemorating the Fountain of Youth, on the road leading to the South Bimini Airport. Some three miles away from the airport, within the brackish mangrove swamp, is the Healing Hole, a pool that lies at the end of a network of winding underground tunnels. During outgoing tides, these channels pump cool, mineral-rich water into the pool, a well carved out of the calcium and magnesium-rich limestone rock by ground waters thousands of years ago. 

 A mermaid performs in a natural spring outfitted with an underwater theatre at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

A mermaid performs in a natural spring outfitted with an underwater theatre at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 A pirate ship at a mini-golf course in Orlando, Florida.

A pirate ship at a mini-golf course in Orlando, Florida.

 An actor channels Ponce de Leon in Lakeland, Florida.

An actor channels Ponce de Leon in Lakeland, Florida.

 Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

 Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

 Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

 Child by the ocean in Miami, Florida.

Child by the ocean in Miami, Florida.

 Woman in the Weeki Watchie River in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

Woman in the Weeki Watchie River in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 Swamp walk at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.

Swamp walk at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.

 Water at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

Water at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 Reflection in water in a tribituary to the Weeki Watchee River in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

Reflection in water in a tribituary to the Weeki Watchee River in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 Alligator wrangler at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.

Alligator wrangler at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.

 Bathroom at Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

Bathroom at Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida.

 Mermaid mural in Miami, Florida.

Mermaid mural in Miami, Florida.

 Woman in the ocean at Miami Beach, Florida.

Woman in the ocean at Miami Beach, Florida.

 Dolphin fixture at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

Dolphin fixture at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 An actor channels Ponce de Leon in Lakeland, Florida.

An actor channels Ponce de Leon in Lakeland, Florida.

 A gift shop in Orlando, Florida.

A gift shop in Orlando, Florida.

 The Shipwreck Bar in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

The Shipwreck Bar in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 A mermaid poses for photographs at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

A mermaid poses for photographs at Weekie Watchie Springs State Park in Weeki Watchee, Florida.

 Child on an alligator-themed playgound at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.

Child on an alligator-themed playgound at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.