Thursday, June 30, 2005

Stoney Bayou Pond 1 -- St. Marks National Wildlife Reserve

I spent the first 3-1/2 hours today on the Wakulla. Got there about 10 am. The Weather Channel had the rain chance at 40%--on the way there I caught a local forecaster on the radio putting it at 70%. Bit of a difference there...

The Wakulla was serene and sublime, as usual. Quite a few other paddlers out on the water. Blue sky, sunshine, and a few friendly white clouds were all I saw overhead the whole time. Many, many gators in the water, and many manatees as well.

A triple-decker!

When I left there it was still fairly early in the day and there was no sign of rain so I decided to go back to the St. Marks NWR to finally check out access to the pools there (see earlier post). This time I was successful. The boat ramp is off the road, and it turns out that apparently it's ok to park on the berm, so that solved that problem. I unloaded the Mystic on the (very stoney) ramp and parked the car.

I set out paddling to the right. Lots of underwater growth that comes up near the surface but does not hinder paddling. Very nice shoreline. And surprisingly few birds. I was only out about 30 minutes when very dark clouds started to crowd the sky very quickly, so I decided to turn back and leave this for another day.

It started raining before I got to the boat ramp, and I passed through quite a cloudburst on the way home.

So no real report on this pool right now, but I plan to get back there soon. I think a great day trip would include an early start on this pool, which I believe you could circle in no more than 90 minutes, and then maybe crossing the road to explore pool 2. After that, a drive to the lighthouse and a walk on the path that goes along the Gulf, where you can see pelicans roosting on wooden posts in the water, and I'm sure assorted other things. A great paddling/hiking combo.

But that's for another day. Stand by.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A few paddling links

If I post the same trip destinations every time I get to them, this will just be a lot of repeats, since I have my favorite spots that I spend the most time on. On the other hand, if I only post trips to places not already described here, this blog will stagnate. So I've decided to add a non-trip post and share a few of my bookmarked paddling sites, many of which are, of course, Florida-based.

Top Florida Canoe Trails--This has a list of paddling destinations with short descriptions of each.

How Fast Will You Float Down River--Converting cfs to mph--River current is always measured in cfs (cubic feet per second). How can you use that info to figure out how fast the current is? Well, the short answer is that there are too many other factors for there to be a hard and fast rule. But this page at least offers a way to roughly estimate how fast or slow the current may be.

Georgia Boat Ramps --A handy map of boat ramp locations in Georgia.

Historic Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail-- Map and description of this paddling trail.

Happy paddling and stand by for the next trip report.

(Pulled over for a rest on the St. Marks River, spring 2005)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Merritt's Mill Pond

Also known as Merritt Mill Pond. I went here once early last year and have been saying I would go back again, and this day seemed like an ideal opportunity. Unheard-of 20% chance of rain. So I got up, did some editing work (gainful employment can so get in the way of paddling time), and then headed out.

This is a long way from my home, about 100 miles or a little more. So it will never be a regular paddling spot for me, but at once-a-year intervals, it's well worth the drive. Last time I went I put in at the public boat ramp on Hunter Fish Camp Road. This time I decided to visit the Blue Springs Recreation Area. Their website says they have "new boat docks," which I leapt to the conclusion meant that they had something resembling a boat ramp. When I got to the little entrance gazebo to pay my $2 entrance fee, I asked the guy whether they had a boat ramp. He said well, no, and started to point down the road to the public ramp area. I asked if I could put in on the beach. He said no, because the swimming area was fenced off from the rest of the pond. Then he said that actually I could put in over to the side beyond the swimming fence, that was where they put the canoes in. Ok, that should work. He took down the chain blocking the way to the docks (Authorized Vehicles Only), and, duly authorized, I drove down there.

It looked ok, and it looked like I could get back out, too (I have noticed that putting in and taking out are two very different things--on land you can maneuver the boat however you want it--coming back, particularly if the bottom drops off near shore, can you maneuver back to a position that will allow you to step OUT of the boat??). So this would work. I unloaded the kayak and paraphernalia and then parked the car under a tree nearby. While there, I went up on the dock and took a picture of the pond (which is like a wide, long river, really) (actually not that long).

Very slight breeze, enough to be refreshing but not a hindrance. The water was unbelievable. It's too bad the color doesn't seem to make it to the screen. It makes the clarity of the Wakulla and Wacissa seem just a bit second-rate. I have never seen water like this before; I can't even describe it. In those areas where there is just sand on the bottom, the water above it looks so blue that I actually found myself wondering--if I scooped some water up in a jar, would the water actually be blue?? (No, I don't think so...) I spent most of the beginning of the paddle looking down into it, never mind the bank scenery. When it was completely flat, the effect was like snorkeling except from above the surface. Never seen anything like it. The water got a little less clear as I got farther from the spring (which is at the recreation area, though there are others).

This was mostly just for the pleasure of the paddling and the super underwater scenery rather than looking for birds to photograph. I did see a giant blue heron on the shore at the other end, but it flew away long before I got close enough for a picture. Found a sandy bank to get out and had a snack. Got to the dam end and turned around. No other paddlers, a few fishing boats sitting still in the water.

I stopped at the lower boat ramp and got out and submerged in the water for awhile to cool off--it was about 94 degrees out, and while the breeze certainly helped, it was still nice to get in the water, which was cool but not spring-cold.

While on my way back, I spotted a group of 4 ducks, sunning on a tree stump sticking up from the water. I'm afraid they saw me coming long before I got close to them and were well on their way to some kayak-free area by the time I got the camera up, but I did manage to snap a picture.

I got back to the rec area after about 4 hours of paddling, the usual. No problem at all getting out. Loaded it up, but then I parked up near the swimming area. I was feeling pretty overheated by this time. So I walked down and submerged in the spring.  The water was very CHILLY. But it felt good. I sat there for a minute or so and then headed home.

Stand by for more tales.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wakulla River and the New Paddle

Got up this morning and the sun was shining. I didn't have any work here, so I decided to head out to the Wakulla with the new paddle. Chance of rain was 40%, which, as I have mentioned, is pretty low for this time of year.

Well, the paddle (an Aquabound Tsunami) gets two thumbs up! (Of course, they are both my thumbs, so does that only cound as one thumb?) It's an excellent paddle, and while the blade is shorter and broader than the Mariner I am used to, it didn't seem to require any extra effort to move it through the water. And yet I felt that I was getting better propulsion from each stroke. So there you go, a hearty endorsement for this particular paddle. I plan to use this one regularly from now on.

The tide was going out for most of the 4 and a half hours that I was on the water; I'm not sure if it was that factor alone or something else, but the current was a little faster than usual today. The water was very clear, with the bottom visible even in the deeper areas, which was a surprise given all the rain we have had lately.

I had the river mostly to myself on the way to the upper bridge, I enountered a couple of fishing boats and 3 other paddlers in that whole distance. Once I got to the end, I walked around in the water for awhile to cool off, and had my usual muffin. Very shortly after launching from there for the drift downstream, I happened to glance over to my right and there were two manatees, just munching on the underwater greenery. I nearly passed right over them, and yet almost missed seeing them.

I let the current carry me downstream while I just sat back, dangled my hands in the water, and enjoyed the view. I passed several other paddlers.

About 3/4 of the way downstream I spotted a bird on a log by the side of the river, with several turtles on the same log. I thought that would make an interesting picture. I was moving rather swiftly with the current and so I was next to them by the time I got the camera on and up. It wasn't until I had taken the photo that I realized the bird was a wood duck, apparently a juvenile. I'm always much more excited about seeing a wood duck than I am a manatee (much as I like the manatees), so this was a pretty good day. The picture is not very good, I was moving too fast past it to get proper focus, but it was indeed a wood duck!

I'm afraid the turtle got cropped out of the pictures, which is no great loss since it was even less in focus...

After I went by the wood duck, I turned around to try taking another pass at him, but he hopped off the log and disappeared into the water deep in the woods, where I couldn't go. I have suspected all along that that is where these guys spend the summer. They are easier to spot in the winter time when they don't have all the foliage to hide in.

Caught these two turtles sunning themselves: While it looks like they might be making little turtles, they are actually fairly offset, you just can't tell in this picture. I'm sure there's some perfect caption for this picture...

Just as I was leaving the boat ramp after the downstream drift, with the kayak loaded in the car, it started to rain. Pretty good timing. It was a great trip, the Wakulla is always a sure thing.

Meanwhile, as far as other trips, I have decided to hold off on the St. Marks NWR "pool" paddle until I can get back there and check out better access spots than the ones I noted before. I had hoped to get there today to see if I could find a more suitable place to put in, but decided not to drive there in the rain....

I hope to get out again later this week. Stand by.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cherry Lake

I got up this morning and found that it was a work-free day (I am self-employed, work comes in via the Internet overnight--or doesn't...). So of course I wanted to head out for a paddle. The sun was out, a good omen for the day--we had a very severe thunderstorm late yesterday afternoon. However, I really didn't feel like driving forever to get to a paddling place, and I didn't want an overly exertive paddle. I had done a somewhat rigorous workout yesterday, why overdo it?

So I took out my Gazetteer to see if there were any lakes (no current to battle in lakes) nearby that I had overlooked the last 20 times I looked for nearby lakes. Surprise! There actually was one that I had forgotten about. Cherry Lake is about 20 miles from my house. Many people had advised not attempting to canoe or kayak on it during summer because it was filled with motorboats, water-skiers, and jet skis. It's a very small lake, only 479 acres. It fit the criteria for today--nearby and simple. My husband and I had taken our canoe out there once in February a year or two ago and we had seen two swans (extremely uncommon in north Florida!) on it. I wondered if they were still there.

Twenty miles is not that far to go. This would come under the category of an RWK--Recon With Kayak. I'm checking it out--and just in case, I'm taking the kayak with me.

As I approached the lake on the road to the ramp, I was surprised to see no boats on it at all. When I got to the boat ramp, a teenager came over to collect the ramp fee, and I mentioned how surprised I was that it was so empty on such a pretty morning (it was about 11:00 at this point). He said that it was very unusual, there are typically a lot of motorboats on the lake at this time--particularly with the kids out of school. I unloaded the Mystic and left it on the ramp while I parked the car.

There was a light breeze, causing some ripples on the lake, only enough to cause a slight bobbing as I started around the edge. This lake is about 95% populated, so I didn't expect much in the way of wildlife. I did find this egret hiding in some tall grass in one of the few areas with no houses:

When I got about halfway around the lake, the breeze quit entirely and the lake became glass smooth. It was effortless paddling--just what I had wanted for today.

And then--swans! These are among my favorite birds, and it's most unusual, as I mentioned, to see them around here (I feel fairly certain these were brought in to the lake by one of the residents of the area). There are two of them, and they are gorgeous. I seriously doubt that they have seen a kayaker before, or at least it's a very rare sight, so they kept their distance and kept one eye on me the whole time I was nearby. They are such pretty birds, particularly when they glide across the water.

In this picture below, you can see that the swan wants to swim away from me, but still wants to keep tabs on where I am...just won't completely turn his (her?) back on me...
The rest of the paddle was mostly uneventful, just a nice peaceful pass around the lake. It only took 90 minutes to circle the whole thing at a very leisurely pace. I enjoyed it there, and I like that it is so close, but I think I will probably save future trips for either very early morning visits (nothing like a lake at first light!) or off-season paddle trips. Pretty much every boat dock I passed had a jet ski on it, under it, or moored to it. I lucked out today but can't count on that happening every time.

I had hoped to get to the Wakulla this Saturday but it looks like there's one of those tropical storms brewing in the Gulf (here we go again!) and it's not looking good weather-wise for a paddling trip this weekend. Maybe it won't linger long and we will have some decent weather next week.

I guess we'll just stand by and see.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Wacissa River

Headed out to the Wacissa River on this warm sunny day. I was meeting up with Scott, a local paddler. Scott was trying out his new kayak for the first time.

We left the boat ramp at about 11. We put in at the headspring, which means the first part of the paddle is downstream.

We went in to "Big Blue," the spring about a mile down the river. The water really is a brilliant blue color there, and the channel leading to the springs is very picturesque. After a short stay in the springs area, we headed back out to the main river.

We spotted several birds as we got farther downstream, including another (or the same as pictured earlier?) limpkin. My picture of that didn't turn out as well as I had hoped...oh well, win some, lose some.

We paddled all the way down to the island three miles from the boat ramp. Got out there and stretched a bit, I had my customary muffin snack. Then it was time to head back upstream. On this part of the journey, we were fighting not only current, but a low wind (I would estimate about 6 mph, didn't use the anemometer today) as well. This made the return trip a tad more strenuous than the first half!

This turned out to be another 4-hour paddling trip, my standard length. The Wacissa is a beautiful river, I never get tired of spending time there.

I've decided to postpone my Homosassa trip till late fall, when the weather will have cooled down a bit--I'm not sure that summer is the ideal time to be heading even farther south. Meanwhile, I have ordered a new paddle. I currently use Aquabound's Mariner, which is a really efficient lightweight carbon paddle. I decided to add its sister style, the Tsunami (also by Aquabound), to my paddle bag. Both are the same weight, 27 oz., but the Tsunami's blade is a little shorter and fatter, giving it a little more bite in the water (or so they say, we shall see). I suspect that that might be useful in high current or very windy conditions. I have always used the same blade shape and have only upgraded to lighter weight paddles, so this new blade shape could be an interesting change. It's due to arrive here next Monday and I will take it out for a test paddle as soon after that as possible.

That's all for this time, stand by for my next trip report and a review of the new paddle.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Carpe Diem-ing

In north Florida in June, July, and August, when the weather forecast predicts a 50% chance of rain, we know that that may be the best we’ll see for awhile, so we take our chances with it. That seemed like low odds compared with the rest of the 10-day forecast ahead of us, so I decided to load up the yak and head to the Wakulla River. While the Wacissa is closer, there was also wind in the forecast and the Wacissa is wider and the wind tends to build up a good speed as it rushes down (or up) it. The Wakulla is narrower and twists and turns more, which tends to help things a bit.

I got to the river at 10:30, which is a new early record for me—I’m usually putting in closer to 12:30. During the 60-mile drive from my house to the boat ramp, I noticed that the pavement was wet almost all the way, and I drove under clear blue skies with a few white puffy clouds alternating with an overhead view of nothing but gray clouds layered over grayer clouds. No telling what the day was going to be like.

I was surprised to see 3 cars in the parking area of the boat ramp (it was looking decidedly rainy when I got there), as well as several cars in the parking lot of T-n-T, a canoe and kayak rental place that is directly adjacent to the public boat ramp. I chatted briefly with the owner of T-n-T, who told me that she had rented 5 canoes so far that morning. She also told me that the manatees were back in the river after having left following some sort of treatment that was applied to the water to kill some of the underwater growth (which could easily get out of hand).

I lucked out—I had sunshine all day. A couple of times I heard some distant thunder rumbling and dark gray clouds periodically scuttled across the sky on one side or the other of the river, but the sun managed to keep shining through. The river was gorgeous today, as usual.

And I did see three manatees.

The wind was a bit strong, though. It was coming from behind me as I went upstream. Not a constant wind, but when it gusted, it reached 10 mph (I know this because of my handy dandy anemometer—what a cute little gadget!). At times it pushed me upstream. The water level was very high. Between the help from the wind and the total lack of current, I made it to the top in 90 minutes instead of my usual two hours.

The birds were out on the river. This heron landed right beside me as I drifted downstream, so how could I not snap his picture?

I was on the river three and a half hours, which is 30 minutes short of my usual shortest paddle time. By the time I got to the boat ramp, the wind was constant and still strong and it was time to get out.

Since it was considerably earlier in the day than when I usually head for home, I decided to take a little side trip down to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge to check out the boat ramp there. I have never paddled in saltwater and I’m not sure I have any interest in it, at least not alone, but I wanted to see how it looked. No real verdict on that—it was too windy to get any real sense of what it would be like to paddle there under calmer conditions. However! On the way to the lighthouse—oh, here’s a shot I took today from a hiking path alongside the water—

--anyway, I digress—on the way there, I saw a sign by the side of the road that said that boats were permitted in the pools from March 15 – October 15. Hang on a second—in the pools? Pools? What pools? Right after passing the sign, I passed one of the “pools,” which at this time of year was much more like a lake. The wind was whipping the water up pretty well and so again it was a little hard to know what it would be like on a more ideal paddling day, but this showed definite possibilities! A reasonably sized lake in the middle of a national wildlife refuge would almost have to have lots of great birds on or around it, wouldn’t you think? Photo ops galore. While investigating the Gulf paddling potential, I snapped these gulls by the saltwater boat ramp:

So this is the plan. If the weather continues as it has, I hope to get away on a short paddling trip down to the Homosassa River and Crystal River area of Florida next Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve never been on either of those rivers and I have been waiting for a chance to try them. But the next local trip will definitely be back to the St. Marks NWR to try a paddle in the pool. Access wasn’t great—there was a nice little ramp that was off the main road, with no place to park, making it somewhat useless. In the area set aside for parking by the pool (there is also a walking trail next to it), there is no ideal launch site, but that’s the beauty of a kayak, it seems we can always find a way into the water.

I’ll be back after the next paddling trip. Stand by.