My favorite local trip; river to the ocean

This is one of those local trips that’s a lot of fun because it’s not just kayaking. I begin on the river and kayak for about 30 minutes, then kayak through a narrow channel that takes me to a barrier island. From here, I walk across the island which is more like a jungle, and end up on the beach. Since the beach is only accessible by boat, its usually very serene.
Here’s a quick video of the scenery. Sometimes great places are close to home. Enjoy!

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/

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

 

 

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/

My First Take on Paddleboarding

“You ever done this before?” Dan asked. “No but I have kayaked”. “Well this is more like canoeing than kayaking” he said. “I’ve done that too so I should be good.”

This was my first experience paddle boarding so I was nervous and curious at the same time. Myself and nine other first timers met a boat ramp in Hobe Sound Florida.   As we watched Dan unload the paddle boards we all had the same questions.  Would it be hard to balance? How do I get on this thing? How about off? If I fall off, what do I do?

We picked our paddle boards and the adventure began. Thanks to Dan’s great instructions, we found it’s not that difficult. To launch the paddleboard, place it near the dock. Then sit down on the dock and place your feet on the board. You’re basically using the board as a footrest at this point. Gently, climb on and kneel on the board. This wasn’t too difficult, but you’ll be free floating at this point so stay to the center for best stability.

Ok, we all survived that part. Now was the real test, standing up.  To stand up, you lean forward and almost do a pushup. I gently stood up and the board began wobbling side to side. After a few side to sides, I settled in to a fragile balance and began to make my way.  Paddling helps keep you balanced so moving is good.  It is just like canoeing though; you steer yourself based on the side you paddle.

Once I got into a rhythm the wobbling subsided and I could focus on enjoying being on the water. It’s a bit like riding a bike; once you get going and stop thinking about falling it is fun. I saw stingrays, pinfish, and mullet. One advantage of paddle boarding is that you stand up so you have a much better view of the marine life and surrounding areas.

We paddled along and then came our main challenge; crossing the river among the boat traffic.  The boats didn’t concern me because it’s a “no wake” zone and they were going very slow.  I could just see falling off in the middle of the channel. The water would be dark, deep and even with a life jacket, I’d be scared.  Some of the group wiped out here, but fortunately I made it.

We made it to our halfway point which was a small beach on the barrier island. Getting off the board was easier than getting on; just walk off the board into the sand. We walked across the sandy barrier island to the Atlantic Ocean.

As we crested the top, we were met with a post card view.  The ocean was sea green and turquoise in color with rolling waves set against a clear blue sky. The water was that perfect temperature to just sit in.  During the trip over we did our best to stay out of the water. Here, the water was so inviting we stayed in.  A few adventurous souls paddled out into the rolling waves with varying degrees of success.

After enjoying some time in paradise, it was time to make the trip home.  The rest was much needed because the return trip was facing into the wind. It wasn’t the strongest wind, but enough that if you weren’t paddling, you were going backwards. Using shorter strokes, I was able to maintain momentum into the wind.

On the way back we saw a large Osprey nest with both parents. They eyed us warily as we went by and we all looked up in awe. You see so much more wildlife when you’re on something that’s quiet.

I mentioned that paddle boarding is like riding a bike and just like riding a bike, you’re most likely to crash in your driveway. I was just across from the dock watching a boat go by when a small wave caught me by surprise and down I went. Fortunately, I caught myself and didn’t end up in the water. Just a reminder from the water gods that I’m not on land yet and to pay attention.

It was time to disembark and Dan warned us about this part. He must’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times. People start off tentative, gain confidence, then return to the dock and crash. You’re supposed to slowly glide up to the dock and slowly sit down.  I slowly pulled up and promptly sat down. My butt went one way and the board the other. I didn’t go in the water, but it was far from graceful.

Another fun day and I survived in spite of myself. If you’ve been wondering about paddle boarding, definitely give it a try. You don’t need any experience, it’s not that difficult and it’s fun to explore on the water.

 

Myakka River State Park

Numerous friends had recommended that we visit Myakka River state park.  They said we’d love it because of the kayaking and all the wildlife. After all the recommendations, we had to check it out.

Located about 2 hours from the East coast of Florida, it is an easy drive through the center of the state. Along the way you’ll see the historic section of Florida; wide open prairies and cattle ranches.

We had reserved a cabin and sometimes those are a hit or miss depending on the amenities. This one was perfect; decent size kitchen, with a large great room that housed a fireplace, dining room table, and bed.  Out back was a small porch and a picnic table. Of course, it had the most important thing; air conditioning.

Once unpacked, we set off on our bikes to explore. I really enjoy biking around parks because I see so much more by going slow and I can explore trails along the way.  We peddled down the main grade past a bridge with an overlook into a canal. A perfect place to view alligators, but they were not to be found this time.

Continuing on, we saw vast grassed prairies that would be perfect for a giraffe or Rhino to roam. Further along, the road is enclosed by a canopy of trees with that beautiful hanging Spanish moss. Hanging like a sheer curtain, the moss gives the trees such character.

In the “middle” of the park is a large lake complete with a boat ramp and boat tours. A large concession stand and store are conveniently located there too.   A variety of foods were available, but on this hot summer day it was two words: ice cream!!!  Sitting upstairs, we had an unobstructed view of the lake and boat launch. Anhinga, a small gator, herons and the like were easily spotted.

Continuing on, we ventured further away from civilization and found a long boardwalk that had a panoramic view of the area. There wasn’t anyone else out there so it was perfect. Course, I’m sure in the winter when the weather is nicer, more people wil l be there.

The afternoon was winding down so it was time to head back to camp. Late afternoon is always a great time to see wildlife and this was no exception. Numerous hawks flew over and sat in the trees just above us.  A few deer trotted across the road and into the woods.

As we entered the cabin, sweaty and hot from the long ride, we were thankful for the air conditioning. We had heard about a drum circle and great restaurant at Siesta Key so we cleaned up and headed out for a more “civilized” evening.  About 30 minutes away was everything you could want in civilization. Great restaurants, pristine beaches, and more.

Arriving back at the cabin around 9pm, we still had a sense of adventure and knew that there would be wildlife out at night.  A blast of the bug repellent, a couple bottles of water, and a camera and off we went exploring.

I opened the moon roof for a view of the stars and gently drove around the park at a meagerly 10mph. Wow!!! The things we saw that night were unforgettable.  Frogs, snakes, and all kinds of crawly things were everywhere. We couldn’t drive more than 10 feet without seeing something interesting.  We stopped so much and saw so many things, I felt like I should be shooting one of those wildlife by night shows.

One of the most memorable scenes was a barred owl that flew down from the tree into the road, picked up a frog and flew up into the tree. To see that right in front of you is truly unforgettable. I had my camera, but there are times it’s just better to watch life unfold. Yeah, I miss a few shots, but I have some fond memories.

And this was just day one!  The next day we did even more exploring of the trails including a boardwalk that provided a 360 view above the tree canopy.

So my friends were right; Myakka River state park is a very fun place to visit. You can kayak, bike, experience nature first hand and civilization is not far if you need it. For more information, check out their website:

http://www.myakkariver.org/index.php

RiverBend Park

This past Sunday I revisited one of my favorite parks, Riverbend Park. I call it one of my favorites because it’s not like a park at all. You won’t find concession stands, ball fields, bleachers, acres of concrete, or the usual signs of civilization.

It’s a place to get away from it all without being too far away. I can totally immerse myself in nature and not contend with tons of people. Sure the parking lot is full most of the time, but thanks to its size, you don’t encounter a lot of people.

This Sunday was really nice because the park was brimming full of water. While the rest of the country is in drought, we’ve been fortunate to have rain every day. The canals and ponds are full which gives the park such character, color, and of course brings in more wildlife.

One of my favorite spots is at the end of bridge that dead ends. When you first ride or walk up, it just looks like another bridge over water. Stop for a minute, drink your water, take a few pictures and the natural beauty will appear. You’ll see Garr swimming, turtles coming up for air, Apple snails on the bank, or the reflection of the hawk soaring overhead. It’s like stumbling into a play in the middle of a scene; the actors may pause while you sit down, but once you’re settled the story resumes.

My second favorite place is a trail opposite the picnic area and across the canal. It’s a place where the trees are surrounded by glass like water which makes it perfect for capturing beautiful reflection pictures.

Course one of the main attractions is the variety of wildlife. I always see hawks, wild turkeys, deer, and the ever present vulture. Each visit is unique and this time I stumbled upon a group of woodpeckers enjoying their community of trees. I particularly enjoyed watching one skip along the railing of the bridge. Every so often he give it a few resounding raps with his beak and move on. 

If being on land is just not your thing, you can also kayak through the park and down the Loxahatchee River. Kayaking, wide smooth trails for walking, running, biking, lots of photographic opportunities, and a variety of wildlife. Now you know why I think it’s almost perfect.

Shhh…don’t tell anyone.

For more information go here: http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/riverbend/index.htm