Grassy Waters Preserve; a short photo tour

In my previous post, I shared the history and often forgotten hiking trails of Grassy Waters Preserve. I know if I was reading that article, I’d want to know what was on the other side. Below is a short photo tour of the “other side” of the preserve. Early mornings and evenings are great for placid views and wildlife sightings.

Beautiful isn’t it? There are many programs available so check here for more information:

http://wpb.org/grassywaters/

Hogs Hammock hike in Grassy Waters Preserve

“You’re in the wrong place”. What do you mean I’m in the wrong place, the directions said Grassy Waters Preserve and I’m looking at the water right now? “You took a left, go further down and take a right.” What I wouldn’t give for good directions……….

So was the beginning of my hiking adventure through Grassy Waters Preserve.  Grassy Waters Preserve is located just west of the Beeline Highway on Northlake Blvd.  Correction, it’s on both sides of Northlake; heading west the first entrance is on your left. The second entrance is about two blocks further west on your right.

The Island Chain:

Grassy Waters Preserve is a 23 square mile wetlands ecosystem that serves as the freshwater supply for the City of West Palm Beach and the towns of South Palm Beach and Palm Beach Island. Historically, Grassy Waters was both a key component of the Greater Everglades watershed and the headwaters of the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River

Today’s trail was affectionately named Hog Hammock which made me immediately think of Pigs in a Blanket. Don’t ask me why, maybe it’s time for lunch.

Seriously though, Hog Hammock trail sits on the Hog Hammock Island Chain, which is a geologic formation known as Pleistocene Sand Ridge.  During the Ice Age, at peak glacial stages, the sea level was  as low as 400ft below its current level and Florida was three times its size. When the glaciers melted, the sea level was as high as 100ft above its current level.

See, it’s not a trail, its an island chain. Thankfully, the sea is low enough and there aren’t any dinosaurs to chase around, although there is one creature left over from that era; the alligator. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for him.

The First Loop:

As the trail leaves the parking lot, it  runs parallel to a clear stream where small fish and turtles can be seen.  Shortly after, you’ll encounter a fork with several signs. One says this is part of the NENA trail system, the other has trail info. It’s a loop so it doesn’t matter, but staying right provides the more scenic options quickly.

Several long boardwalks zigzag over the wetlands and provide ample views of the forest. It’s always tempting to look down from a boardwalk, but remember to look up. Colorful air plants, birds nests and other displays of nature can be seen.

 

Promontory Trail connection:

As you follow the trail, you’ll soon find yourself at a crossroads. One sign points left and says Exit, the other points right to Promontory Trail which dead ends in 1.1 miles.

The trail may dead end, but you have to go see what’s out there. You’re already this far out anyway. The trail is a tree lined berm with occasional access points leading off.  Some lead off to boardwalks with covered overlooks and others just lead off into the water or grasslands.

I can imagine alligators, deer, and other wildlife using these as cross over points. One side of the trail has the familiar lily covered water that you just know is home to some alligators. I looked and looked, but didn’t see a one.

The other side is grassy wetland that has the potential to be a huge rookery at the right season. While I didn’t see much wildlife at mid- morning, I’m sure early morning or late evening would yield much better results.

Other amenities:

As you near the exit on the return, there are a couple of areas with picnic tables to enjoy lunch or a take a break. After exiting the trail, there are more picnic tables and another trail that I’ll have to explore on my next visit.

Several people I talked to didn’t know this trail was here. Everyone is familiar with the boardwalk at the first turn off but not the second one. It’s amazing what you find when you venture a little further down the road.

If you’re wondering what was at my first stop, stay tuned for some amazing photographs!!

For more information:

http://wpb.org/grassywaters/

Kayaking the Lost River

“It’s a perfect day to be on the water” I commented to my friends as we kayaked. Blue sky, light breeze, and low humidity made for a picture perfect day to explore the Lost River.

The Lost River is located in Stuart, Florida just about ¼ mile east of the intersection of I-95 and Kanner Highway (76).  Exit the interstate, go East and you’ll drive right over it.

Today, my friends and I put in at a little park just the other side of the river. This park has a boat ramp and a dock so it’s easy to load/unload kayaks and canoes.

We left from the boat dock and headed toward the west. At first glance, the river appears to be brown or even black in color. In the shallow portions, you can see the river is actually a tea color; which comes from tannins, a natural color caused by decaying plant material.

The first 20 minutes or so of leisure paddling takes us through the neighborhood and the view is mainly houses on the river. The homes are nice, but old style with an emphasis on enjoying the river rather than seeing who has the biggest home.

Once past that section, the river turns into the natural oasis.  The banks are thick with lush trees including oak, palm and other varieties of green vegetation. The bank is so covered with foliage in most places that disembarking would require hacking a path. So for our breaks, we ‘d find an overhanging tree and hang out in the shade.

Like most adventures, there are multiple paths and the river is no exception.  Staying left through a couple of forks takes us further down the river. One of the forks we went right and paddled  around a lush,  tree covered island that had a landing area. It appeared big enough to pitch a tent or just have lunch.  We all agreed that’d be a fun place to pitch camp with some friends.

We continued down the river for about half an hour and then turned around. The river continued on, but the afternoon was fading  fast.

As we paddled toward the launching area, we spotted a large alligator sunning itself on the bank. My kayak is nine feet and this gator wasn’t much shorter from snout to tail. However , it was high up and far enough away to paddle up and get a few pictures.

My friends thought it was asleep, but as I kayaked around I saw his eyes open. As they drifted closer for a picture, the large gator ran down the bank and dove into the water right in front of my kayak!  Can you say back paddle? I can and I did!!

The gator swam down the river for a bit, then went under and that’s the last we saw of him. Unless someone has been illegally feeding gators, they generally will run away first. However, when dealing with anything that can and will eat you, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

We made it back safe and dry and agreed that next time we’ll leave earlier so we have more time for exploration.  This is one of those cool places that is just a few miles from home. Next time you’re out roaming, check out some of those “forgotten” places that are just down the street. You might just have your own Lost River begging for exploration.

Here’s a short video of the excursion: http://youtu.be/QSP-DNUekoA

 

 

Apoxee Park

As I was soaking up the serenity of nature, I was amazed at how quiet it was considering the proximity to busy civilization.   Natural areas within the city limits are a great respite from the city, but they often can’t escape the noise of the city. Somehow this park did and it was nice to fully immerse myself in the surroundings without the distractions of civilization.  apoxee water

The park is named Apoxee Park.  Apoxee (pronounced Ah-po-ee) means Beyond Tomorrow in the Miccosukee language and is the first of the City of West Palm Beach’s urban wilderness parks. Unique to the park is they use the wetlands to provide a new water supply (maximum 10 million gallons per day) in order to achieve both urban and environmental water sustainability.

apoxee owlFrom the parking lot, the trail is paved and shortly after provides two options; a paved loop or a dirt path to the right.  The paved portion is a short loop through pine and oak trees.  If you go in the late afternoon, you’ll hear the calls of the Great Horned owls echoing through the trees.  I was lucky to actually see and photograph both of them.  It is amazing that such a large, majestic bird can fly so silently.

You can walk the paved path in about ten minutes or so depending on if the owls are there. The dirt path is a much longer trail that is suitable for hiking and biking.

The dirt path is narrow and tree lined with occasional openings to catch a glimpse of the water.  A boardwalk here and there provides unobstructed views of the lakes.  Benches are strategically placed along the way to sit and enjoy the view of the water or just enjoy the sunshine. One of these benches amidst some trees was the perfect lunch spot.

Shortly after crossing the power line road, the trail forks and fortunately there is a big sign and a map. I took the right loop and found a long L – shaped boardwalk that traverses one of the lakes. Throughout the water is a variety of plant life that provides a carpet like covering on the bottom. The plant life is so thick in areas, it looks like small canyons under water.  Most rivers in the area have tannin (decaying plant material) so the water isn’t clear. Here the water is crystal clear and all the fish, plants and other inhabitants were visible.

The boardwalk dead ends into another tree lined dirt trail which is flat, straight and the perfect place to ride a bike. According to the map this trail stretches for  few miles if not more.  On the other side of this trail is another lake full of lily pads, birds and trees.  The serene view, gentle wind through the trees, and warm sun made for perfect place to just relax.  A strategically placed bench was the perfect place to hang out and enjoy the view. apoxee trail

According to the map, the trails extend for many more miles so I’ll be back with my bike to continue exploring and will provide an update.   Apoxee park is a nice oasis for a gentle walk, a medium hike, biking, or birding all right in the middle of town.

Here’s a short video of the boardwalk: http://youtu.be/THrKrn9iRRg:

For more info on the park: www.wpb.org/park/apoxee-park/

Corn Maze fun…at night

It had been one of those cerebral days, aka: too much thinking. I called my friend and said it’s time to do something more fun with our mind, let’s do a corn maze…at night.

This will probably sound obvious, but just to keep everyone on the same page: a corn maze is a field of corn that the owners plow paths through in the form of a maze.  Just like a normal maze, the corn maze has dead ends, paths and often specific designs. If viewed from the air, it’d probably look similar to a crop circle.

I’ve wandered through ones in North Carolina and the corn was so tall you couldn’t see over it which makes it very challenging.  Here in the Florida winter, I wasn’t sure how high the corn would be, so I knew the night time option would be best. Plus, being outside and wandering around under the stars is just the ticket.

The corn maze covers seven acres and is located at D&D U Pick Family Farms in Palm City which is one of the largest UPick-em farms on the Treasure Coast of Florida.  We had to watch a video that described the different features of the corn maze including word games, educational games and the most important: a red gel holder that reveals the map on the flyer. The map is hidden with that funky ink (technical term, I know) that you can only see with a red light.

We had to bring our own flashlights so I brought  “man” flashlights; two Eveready tactical LED flashlights which have blue, red, white and infrared beams.  Did you catch I had a red light? You know what I’m about to say next…..I took the red light, shined it on the flyer and voila! The map of the maze was revealed!

The kids next to us thought it was the coolest thing ever, so we let them borrow one of my flashlights. They just loved playing with all the different LEDS and exposing the map. If you want to add some excitement to your adventure, just add a couple of kids. Especially when they’re not yours!!

The parents politely told us we didn’t have to stay with them, but they were fun to lead us around.  Nothing like child- like wonder to remind you to have fun.

It was a perfect night to be outside; cool and crystal clear with the sky dotted by stars and the familiar constellations.  It was fun to go where you think you should and then figure out where you really are. Oops! How’d we get over here?

At one point we crossed a bridge that had a view of the entire maze. It was pitch dark and you’d see little beams of light around from other people all over the maze.  With seven acres to explore, sometimes those lights were way out there.

We found our way out and said good bye to the kids and parents, but the adventure continued. As we walked back, there was another maze that we just had to do.

It was the fortune maze and the objective was to find the five different color stations. At each station, dip a different finger, from the same hand into a color. Once you had all five fingers colored, exit the maze and match the colors to see your fortune.

This maze was smaller in size and a little easier, but we still found a couple of dead ends. For me, the hardest part was matching my finger colors to the pictures on the board. Five fingers with five different color combinations was quite a selection to choose just one match.

One of the guides who had stopped to give us a ride made it easy; start with your thumb color and then work it backward.  My fortune was friendship comes easy to you. That works, I’ll take it.

We definitely enjoyed exploring the corn maze at night because of the mild challenge and being out under the stars. Next time you get a chance, check out a corn maze and enjoy a family fun way to enjoy the outdoors.

Here’s more info for D & D Family Farms:

http://www.danddfamilyfarms.com/maze.php

Camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness

I’ve visited Disney’s Ft. Wilderness campground and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. When I got the chance to camp there with a group for only $28, I was in!!

A quick disclaimer…..if you’re used to quiet primitive, back country camping this isn’t it. This a fun, lots of activities happening, place.  Even if by chance you don’t hear many people, you will hear and see the fireworks from the nearby parks. 

The campground is very pedestrian, bike, and golf cart friendly. In fact golf carts seem to be the preferred mode of transportation.  There are also free buses to take you around the campground or to other Disney locations.

My first evening of exploring, I ended up at an outdoor amphitheater. Kids, of all ages, were roasting marshmallows and the concession stand had cookies, popcorn, hot chocolate, and the like.  Shortly after I arrived, they began showing a Muppets Christmas movie.  Lots of families and kids milled around so it wasn’t perfectly quiet, but it was fun to watch a movie under the stars.

Then I headed back to camp and grabbed a shower. It was great; I had the place to myself and plenty of hot water.  The next morning I went to brush my teeth and there was a long line. The next night I did the same and there was no one there again.  Speaking of the shower, it was as nice as the shower at home. Wall to wall earth toned tile with an inset for shampoo, soap, and shaving supplies.

Comfy Shower Stall
Comfy Shower Stall

One of the advantages of camping at Ft. Wilderness is the proximity to all the Disney areas .The next day we caught the boat to the Contemporary resort. From there, took the monorail to the Grand Floridian for some exploring.

Now, if you’ve never been to the Grand Floridian at Christmas, you need to go. At the front, you’ll be served roasted chestnuts and apple cider. Once inside, there’s an incredibly large Christmas tree that can only be described as Disney in size. Every year, the crew makes a full size ginger bread house and you can listen to them describe how they built it.  On the other side of the house, you can buy all sorts of sweets and treats.

From there, we hopped a bus to Downtown Disney for lunch. After wandering around the shops, it was time to catch a bus back to the campground.

After seeing lots of people out holiday shopping it was time for a quiet bike ride along the trails.  There are two nature trails that run between Ft Wilderness campground and the Wilderness Resort. One is paved and follows the road between the two resorts. The other is dirt and is accessed from behind The Wilderness Lodge, just beyond the main pool off to the right. You’ll see bike rentals and such and the path begins there.  It’s common to see deer along this path and you can also enjoy some nice views of the Contemporary Resort across the lake. The dirt trail connects back to the paved trail so you can easily find your way back to the campground.

After exploring the trails at dusk, I headed back to the campground and quickly found the golf cart Christmas parade. Each cart was uniquely decorated with lights, figurines, sound systems and the like.   Definitely plan to explore the campground at night so you can enjoy all the holiday decorations.

Here are video links to the golf parade:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5oKx-SbdVs&feature=youtu.be
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho09lJPXNqg&feature=youtu.be

Afterwards, I made my way back to the beach for a front row seat to the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. The fireworks start at 10pm, but if you want a beach chair, get there by 9:15. Course, just bring a blanket and you can sit in the sand. It’s the same view.

At the beach, you can only see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. From the campsite you can hear/see the fireworks from Epcot at 9pm and Magic Kingdom at 10pm.

I was only there two days, but could’ve easily spent a few more. There is plenty to do for kids and adults at the campground and surrounding areas; bike rentals, boat rentals, kayak rentals, carriage rides, horseback rides, a show, multiple swimming pools, etc.

The winter season is usually the busiest because the weather is cool and dry. So plan to come and spend a few days. Even if you can’t camp, swing by and enjoy the festivities.

For more information: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/campsites-at-fort-wilderness-resort/

Halpatiokee Park

I was supposed to meet friends at Halpatiokee Park early this morning but they were really late. So I decided to explore the nature trails by foot. This park has plenty of biking trails and that’s usually how I explore the park. I love to bike, but this morning I was on foot and enjoyed a totally different perspective. 

Walking the trails early, there wasn’t the usual rush of people. A hawk flew over, landed in the ball field and began poking around at something. Since it was early, the sky was filled with all types of birds as they made their way to wherever they go. Have you noticed that birds leave early and return around dusk; they don’t have to work, so just where do they go? I guess anywhere they want:)

The nature trails wind through dense foliage and periodcally parallels the Lost River. Along the way, there are “unofficial” walkouts where you can access the river. Halpatiokee is Seminole for “Alligator Water” and I can personally vouch for alligators being in the water so don’t plan on jumping in. Early morning, the water is perfectly smooth and provides mirror like reflections of the overhanging trees and foliage on the adjacent bank.

One of the walkouts was just too good to resist so I sat for a bit and it was so peaceful! Being out in nature is a great way to clear the mind of useless clutter.

After some time, I continued on the nature trail which then connected to the main paved trail around the park. Since there weren’t many people around, it was a great time to just stroll, take some pictures and relax.

DSC_0442In addition to nature trails, there are mountain biking trails for all levels, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball fields, and picnic areas. It’s a great place to have some fun on your own or with a group.

More information here:

http://www.martin.fl.us/web_docs/prd/web/docs/xx_halpatiokee_info

Riverbend Park Moonlight bike ride

Riverbend is a beautiful park with lots of recreation opportunities in the northern section of Palm Beach County. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, walking, and historical tours are enough to fill a day or two easily. I know I spend a lot of time biking there and enjoy the diverse trails, wildlife and natural scenery.

Like most county parks, it closed at sunset, but last night we enjoyed a special treat: a moonlight bike ride through the park sponsored by the Palm Beach County Parks and Rec dept. There were about 30 cyclists of varying ages and bicycles along for the ride.  We split into three groups and each group was led by a ranger.

Periodically the ranger, who was also a naturalist, would stop and talk about something unique to the area. At one point, he shined his light into the water to show us an alligator. That was the extent of the wildlife I saw.  I’m sure there was plenty I didn’t see.

Since it’s just a casual ride, it was fun to meet new people and share stories as we rode.  With a large group, we were spread out along the trail and all you’d see ahead is the blinking rear light of the cyclist in front of you.  That’s fine when the trail is straight, but when the trail turns or forks and you lose sight, it got challenging.

At one point I had fallen back to talk with someone. We rounded the corner and there weren’t any lights.  The lady in front of me didn’t see which way the group went either. So here were a few of us cyclists at junction  with 3 different ways to go and it’s dark. We headed straight for a few yards, but didn’t see anyone, so we went back to the trail junction. One gentleman read the map and we embarked on a trail that would lead toward the campfire. dsc_0590

Just a few minutes later we caught up with the group; they had only made a loop so by turning around, we just caught right back up. That was convenient!!

It was just a few more minutes of riding till we reached a spot with a campfire and smores. Now this is my kind of bike ride!!  It was a good chance to get off the bike, enjoy some smores and actually see the people I had been talking with on the ride.

As we headed back toward the entrance of the park, the moon was just peeking through the clouds. The trail led by a lake so it was a perfect photo op to catch the moon as it reflected off the lake.

A fun, easy ride, nice people, beautiful park, and smores, what’s not to like. The good news is this ride is held on a regular basis and the next one is scheduled for Dec.28th.

dsc_0308Even if you’ve visited Riverbend Park before, you should enjoy the Moonlight Bike Ride. Call ahead to reserve your spot; It’s only $5 and includes the smores. You can bring a bike or call ahead and rent one. If you bring your own, it is recommended to bring a headlight and taillight.

For more information on Riverbend park: http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/locations/riverbend.htm

For a calendar of events: http://pbcgov.mhsoftware.com/

p.s. I included some day time shots so you can see just how pretty it is. Every corner brings something new.

Kayaking to Munyon Island

“It’s pretty windy out there. We’ve had some strandings so take your cell phone and here’s the park phone number”.  As I pulled away from the entrance to McArthur Beach State park, I figured “it can’t be that bad”. I’m just going to Munyon Island, not the ocean.

As I’m bringing my kayak to the launching site, 3 guys come back looking thoroughly beat. “It’s rough out there”. Hmmm…..this could be quite an adventure after all. 

With the strong wind behind me, I easily headed toward Munyon Island.  I kept thinking that heading back into those winds was going to be a problem.   Meanwhile, pelicans, osprey and anhingas could be seen enjoying a beautiful day on the water.

As I approached the island from the East, there is a small beach which is perfect for stopping and wading in the water. Today the tide was high so it was about ankle deep but still a nice place to take a break.

Continuing around to the North side of the island, there is an entrance to the interior waterways which are very tranquil. There are several dead ends so at the first fork, go left and that will take you to an open area. Stay straight, ignore the far right fork and a little ways down, you’ll see a pedestrian bridge over the water.  As I pulled up, 3 teens were doing backflips off the bridge into the water. That looked like fun, but I wanted to go explore the boardwalk.

At the west side of this bridge is a small landing area to disembark and take a stroll. If sand in your shorts during lunch isn’t your thing, just follow the boardwalk to the right. There is a large picnic area with tables and shade.  Beyond the picnic area is a boat dock and access to a small beach for relaxing or making sandcastles.

Continuing my water exploration, I was surprised to see an eagle circle overhead.  Of course my camera was in the dry bag. Eagles are easy to spot because they have white heads, black bodies and white tails. Vultures are mostly all black, Ospreys are brown and white, and pelicans are pretty obvious.  Also when the eagle flies, its typically the only bird in the sky as the other raptors respectfully give it a wide berth.

The trip home was definitely an adventure. As I left the quiet waters inside the island, I could see the waves breaking against the beach in front of me. The only way out of the island was to head straight into the waves and wind. The waves broke across the bow in non-stop succession and I paddled hard to move forward. At one point I swore I was just paddling in place. I remembered the park ranger’s warning about strandings. Now I understand!

I kept paddling hard and finally got away from shore, but that was just the beginning. I had to get around the tip of the island which meant going parallel with the waves which is not good for staying upright. I managed to hold enough of an angle to move forward and yet keep from being tossed back into the beach. Once I rounded the corner, the wind and waves were at my back. Whew!! It’s much nicer this way.  After that long paddle into the wind, I was very glad to return to the launching area. Needless to say, I was pretty well spent for the rest of the day.

If you’re looking for a peaceful paddle with the option of stretching your legs and having a picnic, head out to Munyon Island.  Pick a day when the wind is calmer though.  I accessed the water via McArthur Beach state park which is $4 to enter. You can bring your own kayak or rent one of theirs.

For more information: http://www.pbcgov.com/erm/lakes/estuarine/munyon/

A day in Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Sometimes you want to be able to do a little bit of everything and that’s what you find at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  It’s one of those local places that are often forgotten about because it’s so close. Too often we’re looking to go far when sometimes your own backyard is good for some fun.

In my experiences there, I’ve camped, hiked, biked, kayaked, and even volunteered. Volunteering at a park is a great way to get involved and learn activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

Ok, so now you want to go, here’s my take on how to spend the day.

First off, go all the way to the back of the park and head out on a kayak. Early morning, the river is peaceful and you can see Osprey nests in the trees and the occasional alligator in the river. At the docks the river is wide, but kayak back a bit and you get into the narrow winding section. You’ll find dark black water that reflects the canopy of large trees and foliage. Turtles and alligators are regular seen back here.

Once back on dry land, grab your bike and head out for a ride. If you have a mountain bike, you can bomb down the many trails that Club Scrub maintains. Sugar sand, hills, planks, and other obstacles make for challenging trails. If that’s not your thing, you can still have a very nice bike ride.

The main road is suitable for cycling and you can explore the entire park on bike. One of my favorites is the old road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s not technical, but you’re off the beaten path and occasionally will see a hawk or turtle around. It has offshoots to connect to other areas of the park as well.

Now you’re probably hungry so head over to one of the many picnic areas and enjoy lunch near the river. The store also sells food and there’s nothing like an ice cold popsicle on a hot summer day.  While you’re in the store check out the times for the Trapper Nelson boat tour. It’s a motorized boat tour that will take you the historic Trapper Nelson homestead. You’ll learn a wealth of history of the park and its early caretakers. No paddling required, just relax and enjoy the ride. There is an extra fee for the boat tour so inquire before reserving.

After you’ve enjoyed lunch, visit the Kimbell education center and learn more about the park’s history, the variety of plant and wildlife, as well as the many programs offered. Kids welcome!  If you’re there in the summer, you’ll enjoy the air conditioning for sure.

For the rest of the day, it’s time to stretch your legs on the different hiking trails around. The Kitching Creek trail is a nice walk along the river. It connects with other trails so you can walk a nice loop by the river and return to the parking area. There are other trails near the Kimbell center and near the park entrance as well.

The finale of the day will be the walk up the observation tower to watch the sunset. The observation tower is a large platform with a 360 degree view. You can see the ocean Atlantic Ocean to the East and the expanse of the park to the West.

Well that was a full day; kayaking, cycling, boat tour, hiking, and sunset from the observation tower. With two large camping areas and cottages, you can spend the weekend and spread these amenities over a couple of days.

Next time you’re in the Jupiter, Florida area, be sure to spend a day at Jonathan Dickinson State park.

More info here:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson/