Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lake Seminole

It was finally time to take the tent for a test drive, and there seemed no better place than Three Rivers State Park near Sneads, Florida (see earlier post).

I got there at about 1:00 pm, and got set up in a campsite. This time I was in site #6--very nice! In fact, as it turned out, I had the entire right side of the campground to myself--clearly the camping gods were smiling on me for this first trip.

So off I go, on Lake Seminole. Every time I have visited this lake to check out this area, the lake has been far too choppy, due to wind, to paddle. On this first day, it was mirror-flat. So there I am, happily paddling away and enjoying the day. I see something odd ahead. At first I thought it was just an oddly-shaped limb extending out from the water (there are portions that have many such protuberances). Well, then it seemed to look like a bird...but not exactly. As I approached, I decided that perhaps this was a heron standing in front of some kind of "underwater hazards" sign that had been put out for powerboaters.

No...this was a heron apparently flashing me as I went by...

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(Hey Lady, check this out!) Very strange. Incidentally, this bird struck this same pose again further along on my trip. I chose to see it as a curtsy.

After this particular display, and after I passed by, he (okay, or she) flew ahead of me to the shoreline. He/she tried to look normal over there.

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I paddled for a little over an hour, as the sun started to sink lower ("in the west"--how poetic!). This lake does have gators, though I never saw any on any logs or any of the small sandy beaches that I passed on this trip. I did, however, see this one cut in front of me. It then submerged (I hate it when they do that), and I waited to see where it would reappear. Sure enough, there it was, making its way parallel to the shore.

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I turned around eventually and headed back to the campground. Here is Part One of the arty photos of this set--one of the growing tree stumps that protrude from the water.

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(Actually, the full-size version of that makes nice computer wallpaper...) I also caught up with my heron buddy (or another; they tend to look generally alike):

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Back to the campground for dinner. As the sun was setting (see above for poetry), I went for a walk around the area. This is a popular fishing lake, as evidenced by the following snapshots.

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This is Florida; we don't get fall colors. The gold in those shots is coming only from the sun being so low in the sky. It was very, very vivid.

A great night in my tent. I have never had moorhens

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and herons sounding off in the background while I fall asleep, so this was a wonderful novel experience for me. (I took that picture this morning--the moon was full last night but not quite that bright.)

The next morning was the start of another perfect day--cool weather and a calm lake.

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I set out from the campground boat ramp. The sun wasn't quite fully up yet and so the pictures showed more shadows and different lighting than usual. At the risk of boring you, another heron shot from early this morning:

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I was out for about 4 hours. What a great time, it was cool out (finally!) and I saw a fox squirrel along the bank (it left before I could get a picture). A bald eagle flew out from a tree. Lots of kingfishers chittering away and flitting around.

And of course, I spotted a cardinal, one of Florida's most prominent shorebirds.

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Ok, fine, not a "prominent" shorebird. It was probably here on vacation from Ohio. Perhaps it skipped the part in the tour book about alligators. Or it's one of those thrill-seeking cardinals you hear so much about.

It was a great two days. This park is really nice. Unfortunately, this park's campground will be closed from October 21 until November 24th while they upgrade their plumbing and electrical provisions. Hurray for the improvements, but I'm not thrilled about having to wait another month to get back there.

I have a few other places in mind to camp, and several day trips planned. Stand by for those.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Withlacoochee River

Back to the Withlacoochee River, launching again from Suwannee River State Park, this time with The Husband.

Plan A was to put in at a boat ramp we had launched from a couple of years ago. We had not made any note at that time of the directions to that boat ramp and only remembered that it was off Hwy 6 and somewhat remote. When we failed to recognize any turnoffs, we decided to stop at Madison Blue Springs State Park to see if the ranger there could give us directions (this is where we got directions to it the first time). There was a note on the door to the ranger station informing us that the ranger was out to lunch. So we gave up on that plan, but decided to look around before defaulting to Suwannee River State Park.

There were a lot of divers there, this is a popular spot for scuba fans. The spring is really something to see. The park is useless as a launch area unless you have a lightweight and indestructable boat, since the path from the parking lot to the water is very long with many steps. But it's still an interesting spot. I took this view of where the spring water joins the Withlacoochee River:

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Here's a shot of the spring itself--the water is a gorgeous blue color (as they usually are...)--

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We had a picnic lunch at this park and then progressed to the SRSP to do some paddling.

This trip was similar to the one I took a couple of weeks ago and covered the same ground.

Shortly before reaching the shoals that were the turnaround point last time as well as on today's trip, we came to an old bridge structure--all that remained were the very tall concrete supports on each side of the river. With a little addition on top that someone had added. Here's the long view of the bridge support--

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You may notice what appears to be a figure perched on top. Zooming in with the camera reveals what that is:

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Love the bottle next to him--nice addition!

The drift downstream was peaceful and relaxing. Great reflections of the rocks.

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The weather has finally cooled off and the sun was low in the sky. One of the best times to be on the water. My only regret about today was that we managed to spend three hours on this river totally surrounded by no deer to photograph.

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While we were paddling upstream we passed a group of people floating downstream--there were several canoes and kayaks. When we got back to the boat ramp at the park, some of those people were still there loading their boats, and we chatted for awhile. They were part of the River Rats group from Gainesville and seemed like a great bunch of paddlers. They have a website, drop in on them!

I'm hoping to get in another overnight paddling trip this coming week--with the tent, weather permitting!--stand by to see if that works out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Merritt Mill Pond and the Wacissa River

Back to Merritt Mill Pond, one of my favorite places to paddle. It's a 2-hour drive from me, though, which is just outside my limit for a day trip. Therefore, I made arrangements to stay in a "camping cabin" in a campground on the lake (it's still just a tad too warm here to take the tent; I would also like to wait for one good cold night to kill off the mosquitoes!).

I can't recommend that particular campground to anyone, tenter or RVer. But it was nice to be so close to the lake! So off I go.

The lake is 4.35 miles long, and fairly narrow (for a lake). Portions of it are populated, and you can't paddle too close to shore anywhere on it because of the many cypress trees that line the edges, as well as a lot of what looked like algae growth but might have actually just been duckweed. The water is crystal clear, clearer even than the Wacissa or Wakulla (when it is normal). There is a lot of standing timber on the bottom that you have to watch out for. The lake varies in depth but never seems to be over about 8' deep (that could be an illusion brought on by the water clarity, though!). It runs from a headspring and empties into a river, so there is a current on it, but it's very mild.

Here's what it looks like for essentially all 4.35 miles:

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I saw only one fishing boat the entire time I was on the water, which was about 3 hours. I did, however, see a beautiful great blue heron:

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For those of you who are reading this from anywhere other than the South, that curly gray stuff hanging down to the left of the bird and slanting in from the upper right corner is Spanish moss.

I haven't taken a turtle picture for awhile; they are so plentiful everywhere that I paddle that I tend to overlook them, so I decided to capture these two.

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That green stuff you see is what prevents you from paddling near the edges.

I got up to the park at the top, where the spring is. I had been shown on an earlier trip, during which I launched from the park, where I could put the kayak in--a kind of unofficial launch point (they don't have a boat ramp). The park was evidently closed today and so I was the only one there. It occurred to me that if I wanted to go over to the swimming area at the spring, I would have it all to myself... but it was getting late and it gets dark earlier these days so I just stretched my legs a bit and then headed back to the campground.

This morning it was cool and very calm out. My cabin overlooked the lake and I thought about going back out after having my coffee. But then I decided that with Merritt so calm and flat, Lake Seminole, only about 30 minutes away, a lake I haven't been on for a long time, would also be calm and flat. So I packed up, said goodbye to the people who had been staying in the site next to the cabin (who had with them 3 horses, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 1 parrot, and 2 hamsters), and headed out.

And it got very windy and very overcast very quickly. Shoulda gone on Merritt while I had the chance.

I decided to go ahead and go to Three Rivers State Park anyway to check out their campground. It's really, really nice, and definitely on the The List. It's small, but feels very safe and it's very pretty there. I checked out the different sites. #8 is right at the boat ramp--easy to just walk the boat between the site and the ramp. And great view of the lake. But it's wide open with no privacy at all. Meanwhile, #18 and #20 are both very closed in and private and cozy--but require driving the boat to the ramp and then taking the car back to the site (they won't let you park at the ramp). I peeked into the bath house--it was sparkling clean and spacious. There is a host camper there now but the ranger told me they would be leaving at the end of the month, with no replacement in line.

Of course the lake was way too choppy in that wind to bother even attempting to paddle it.

My next option was the Lake Talquin park I like so well, the exit for which I would pass on the way home.

When I got to that exit, the wind was whipping the trees around, so I did not exit.

I had some errands to run in Tallahassee so I did exit there and got those done. Next--and last--possible paddling spot would be the Wacissa, on the way home from Tallahassee. By now there were large patches of blue sky and the wind had died down.

I put in at about 1:30. I decided to only paddle for an hour downstream and then turn around, I was starting to feel the effects of yesterday's paddling and wandering around the campground as well as a somewhat sleepless night.

Saw this egret there, in addition to the usual limpkins and a small blue heron.

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When I turned around, the wind came back with a vengeance. Glad I only went an hour downstream. It let up a bit after about 30 minutes. I passed two other kayaks and a guy fishing (who said "I have never seen water this clear!").

This was a good trip--although I wish I could have gotten out on Lake Seminole. Ah well, next time. Stand by.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Back to the Wakulla; Back to Normal

Well, actually the river is only about half back to normal.

The day broke under a heavy overcast and so I abandoned plans to go paddling. I had finished a big job yesterday and no new work came in this morning, so I decided to have my breakfast while watching a CSI episode that I had Tivo'd. When I got up to get a second cup of coffee I noticed that--yikes--sunshine had appeared and lots of blue sky was visible. Abrupt change of plans (oh, the joys of autonomy), and 20 minutes later I was loading the Mystic in the car to head to the Wakulla. The last time I was there was August 10th, almost 2 months ago. At that time it was very, very muddy. Hurricane Dennis had swept through earlier in the summer and taken out all the underwater vegetation and the bottom remained stirred up as the tide came and went. I wondered how this river, my favorite, was doing.

It's doing pretty well! The first part was a little bizarre in that the river bottom was always covered with thick underwater grasses and reeds. Today it was clearly visible, but utterly barren except for a few logs. Very strange to see. The bottom is visible in all the parts where it's naturally shallow. In the other parts, the water is now green instead of brown, and while it's a bit murky, it's a real improvement over the mudhole effect. The current behaves differently because of the lack of vegetation, running much faster with nothing to slow it down. I got there around low tide time, which used to be fine. This time I faced strong current. Based on my my observations over the four and a half hours I was paddling today, the best time to get there now is about three and a half hours after low tide. The current was minimal and the shoreline looked a lot better at that point in time.

Nonetheless, this is a pretty river.

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I saw several birds on it, including this one, which I believe is a type of night heron. It showed no alarm at all at my presence, completely ignored me.

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The paddle upstream was pleasant, despite the somewhat strong current. I am more interested in scenery than speed so I went at a comfortable pace (did I mention the joys of--oh, yes, that's right, I did). I noticed that the folks at the River Plantation housing division have a brand new sign aimed at keeping people off their boat ramp and dock, this one includes the info that violators will be prosecuted. It's interesting that in all my trips to this river I have only seen a River Plantation resident using the boat dock once. They all have their own little docks. But they really don't want anyone using their neighborhood dock to get out and have a stretch or just take a break.

I came to a couple of people drifting downstream in a canoe. They told me there was a large gator on the shoreline up ahead of me. And sure enough, there was. There's no perspective here so you can't really tell the size (I looked around for someone to ask to go stand next to it to give it that perspective, but alas, no one was around), but this one is about 6' or a little bit longer, which is fairly big for this river. This gator did not even open its eyes the entire time I was maneuvering myself around to get the picture and clicking the shutter several times, nor when I paddled away. I actually wondered if it had choked on a bird and expired, but on the way back downstream this section of shoreline was underwater and the gator was nowhere to be seen so I guess it was just sleeping soundly...

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Near the upper bridge, I elected to go the direct route instead of veering off to the right to take the alternate way. The water went down to about 6" along that stretch; I was able to just reach in and push myself along with my hands when it got too shallow for paddling to be effective. When I got to the upper bridge I found a couple of kids--17-ish or so--with a power boat. I asked if they were coming or going, wondering how on earth they managed to get an outboard motor through such shallow water. They said they had put in at that ramp and gone downstream a little way, realized they couldn't use the motor, and took a very long time getting back to the ramp, since they had no paddles. The bottom is way too soft to walk back. They loaded up their boat and left and I headed downstream shortly after.

Saw another of those herons.

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It was a great day on this river and I look forward to getting back there. Meanwhile, the next paddling trip is planned to include an overnight early next week, which I am also looking forward to (a solo stay this time). Stand by for how that worked out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Withlachoochee River and Suwannee River

I met a friend who came up from the Orlando area to paddle the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers. We stayed overnight in a cabin at Suwannee River State Park between Live Oak and Lee (Florida), where the Withlacoochee joins the Suwannee.

We started with the Withlacoochee on Monday afternoon. No sturgeons were spotted this time, but the water was clear and the current relatively mild. We paddled upstream for about two hours, maybe a bit more. In the course of that time we paddled over 3 small shoal areas that didn't present too large a problem. A light rain fell on us at one point but quickly moved past. We ultimately reached an area that did stop us in our tracks.

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This was making a lot of wonderful water-rushing noise and was a very pretty spot. The area to the right appeared to present a portaging path, but it was a long way and we decided to just turn back at this point. We walked around for a little while and enjoyed the view and then headed downstream. A female belted kingfisher accompanied us for a large part of the way, landing on a tree branch ahead of us and then flying away just as I got almost close enough for a clear picture, only to land on a branch farther downstream to wait for us.

The next morning was overcast and breezy. After breakfast the sun appeared to be trying to break through and so we set off upstream.

This river has high banks and many interesting rock formations, as well as several sandy beach areas (see earlier post).

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The current varied again today. We passed over only one shoal area about 3 hours upstream, where I found myself above a bunch of rocks that were low enough for the kayak to pass over but I kept bashing them with my paddle, making forward progress a little difficult. While working my way over those, I noticed that the water on the other side of the river seemed to be running flat and calm. I went that way coming back and there was no problem at all.

It turned out to be a nice sunny day.

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The arrow is pointing to the friend I was paddling with (so to speak! In that current, every picture set me back downstream a ways, and as usual I was snapping away). As I mentioned before about this river, while the scenery is very interesting and makes for interesting pictures, there is a remarkable lack of wildlife. We stopped at a sandy bank a little past the shoals to have lunch, and then headed downstream. As usual, it took considerably less time to drift downstream with the current than to paddle upstream. The wind was blowing quite strongly in gusts as we approached the ramp--luckily it was coming at our backs so it hastened us along.

The cabins at this park are very nice, though there are only 5 of them. We were originally in #4 but a plumbing problem presented itself early on and we were moved to #3. No one else was in any of the other cabins. We took a walk through the campground. While my friend did not care for it, I found it to be very tent-friendly and picturesque. The forest floor is a blanket of pine needles (easy on the tent floor!), with many tall pine trees scattered throughout. Each site had water and power, we saw several picnic tables, I didn't notice if there was one on every site. The bath house was in good, clean condition. There are 30 sites; we saw about 4 or 5 RVs and one tent set up. It's at the boat ramp end of the park, with a parking lot separating it from the row of cabins.

We have rain in the forecast for the rest of the week and part of the weekend. I hope to get back to the Wakulla soon to see if it is any less muddy and murky yet. Stand by for that.