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/

Cypress Creek Natural Area

er a long conversation with the staff at Environmental Resources Management about the vast Northeast Everglades Natural Area (NENA) trail system, I decided to take a drive there and found an interesting location.

Butterfly

The 2,083-acre Cypress Creek Natural Area is located on the north and south sides of Indiantown Road near Jupiter Farms Road, approximately one mile west of the turnpike. Parking is available at Gulfstream Citrus Road and Indiantown Road. The natural area is part of the Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail, the old road that connected Jupiter with Indiantown. The original road was cut in 1899 and was in use until the late-1950s. A hundred years ago, the rugged 16-mile trip to Indiantown typically took two days.

Grassy trail at Cypress Creek Natural AreaI followed the trail that leads east from the main parking lot. At first glance, it didn’t appear to be more than a straight dirt road. Once out of sight of the parking area, the trail wound under tall oak trees along a canal with the usual vegetation and flowers. What piqued my curiosity was a foot trail that led north. I had to find out where it went. Just beyond the main trail was a small meadow with large trees that would’ve made a nice lunch spot. Further along, I spotted a family of raccoons out for a stroll.Raccoons at Cypress Creek Natural Area

Passing through different ecosystems, I came upon an areathat reminded me of a forest from a fantasy movie: tall trees whose branches provided lots of shade over a forest floor covered in leaves, bark, and tall grass. Combined with the threatening weather above, it took on a spooky quality. This would be a good place for a haunted Halloween trail. We could call it “The Psycho Path!”

The Jupiter-Indiantown multiuse trail has been opened since March. There is a parking area for cars and equestrian trailers, a chickee shade shelter with an information kiosk, an equestrian pitcher pump well, bike racks, horse hitches, and mounting blocks located along the trail. I especially enjoyed the wildlife observation platforms that provide nice photo ops.

Lake at Cypress Creek Natural AreaThere are bright blue markers to help you stay on course. It was easy to find my way in, but more importantly find my way out. I turned back in a futile attempt to beat the rain. I’m not sure where the other trails in this area lead to, but I’ll find out when it’s not raining.

For more information about the Cypress Creek Natural Area and the Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail, please visit http://www.pbcgov.com/erm/natural/natural-areas/cypress-creek/

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

Jupiter Lighthouse Moonlight Tour

The rain was pouring like a waterfall on the windshield and lightning frequently opened the sky to the West. Climbing a lighthouse to watch the moonrise didn’t seem like the brightest of ideas.  Pun intended…. 

We all know that if we don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes. That was true again and the cloudy skies parted and the rain left just in time.  As we made our way toward the base of the lighthouse, we had a brief history tour of the grounds. The day time tour spends more time exploring the history of the grounds so keep that in mind.  Just to the right of the lighthouse has to be the biggest Banyan tree I’ve seen. It’s been here 100s of years longer than me and I can’t  help but wonder what stories it could tell.

Who planted it? What children played in it’s branches? What changes has it seen? I wish it could talk, I would love to hear the stories.

After some photo ops, it was time to climb to the top. There are over 100 steps up, almost every landing has a window to rest, take pictures, or just poke your head out and look down.

Reaching the top, we are met with a cool breeze and a panoramic 360 degree view. To the west the storm clouds still lingered and set the stage for an incredible sunset.

As dusk fell, the 1000 watt light came on and the lighthouse was active. Each lighthouse is identified by its own distinct sequence of flashes. I thought each one just shone the same bright light into the ocean so shipgoers wouldn’t run aground. It’s amazing what you learn when you take a tour.

You have to poke your head in and see the Fresnel lens. This particular lens is of the first order, denoting the highest quality. I believe the range in pitch dark, no obstructions was either 26 or 29 miles. Considering the actual size of the bulb, that’s impressive.

The massive light and lens assembly is so well balanced it’s turned by only a 1/3 horsepower motor. It’s almost silent in operation.

Looking to the east, we watched the spectacular moon rise over the water. The moon rise over the beach is great, but from the top of the lighthouse is incredible. Instead of seeing the moon’s small reflection off the water, you see a large reflection stretching for miles.  It’s another one of those experiences that makes you feel small.

The magnificent sunset to the west, the inspiring moon rise to the east, and the cool breeze combined to make it one of those moments that could’ve gone on forever. 

When you’re in the area take one of the light house tours, you’ll learn a lot of history about the area and enjoy some great views. For more info: www.jupiterlighthouse.org