Short ride on the Ocean to Lake Trail

What a beautiful day! The cloudless deep blue sky and gentle breeze made it a perfect day to get outside.
Aside from just getting outside anywhere, today’s goal was to explore the section of the Ocean to Lake Trail that leaves from Riverbend Park in Jupiter Florida. I knew it was a hiking trail, but rumors had it there was a section open to bikes.

Starting in Riverbend Park, I followed the trail that goes under the bridge for Indiantown Rd. The Ocean to Lake Trail begins on the north side of Indiantown road. I sunk into the mud and spun my way out as I went through the trail entrance. This is going to be my kind of trail:) I had heard reports of this trail being very wet and at times deep. Fine by me; if you’re not getting dirty you’re not having any fun!

Today, the most mud was right there at the entrance. The trail splits right after the entrance; one section goes straight and the other goes right. The straight trail connects with the same one the right fork does; it’s just a straight line. The right fork meanders through the trees and is narrow but an easy, smooth ride. It’s hard packed and in one short spot there are some big roots, but that is the toughest part of the trail.
The right fork leads into the main trail which at times is a two track dirt road
so you can ride smoothly and gain some speed if you’d like.

Further down the trail narrows again and enters a stretch of sugar sand. Thanks to the previous day’s rain, it was an easy peddle through this short stretch. There is a restroom here, aka outhouse and a short trail that leads to the Loxahatchee River and the famous dam. You can watch kayakers and canoers attempt to go up/down this small dam. Today the river was really clear and looked inviting but I wasn’t prepared to jump in. Maybe next time.

The trail continues and at times is very narrow and often I just ducked and went through the vegetation. Another reason to wear a helmet! Fortunately nothing was big enough to knock me off the bike either.
The trail ends up at a fence that borders noisy interstate 95. If you go left from here the trail dead ends into the river. Going right it follows the highway and then turns back toward the entrance. I thought for sure there was a path under the bridge of the interstate and to the other side. I’ll have to review some maps and see if I missed a turn.

Either way it is only about a two mile ride that, with a couple of exceptions, is very easy and would be fun for any ability.
It was a great day to be out and I enjoyed being in the forest again and feeling the fresh air. There’s nothing like a walk/ride in the woods to nurture the soul.

For more information:
http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/riverbend/index.htm#.U2bQq3jD_IU

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/

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/

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/

Norton Art After Dark

That’s a guitar? I tilted my head and eventually saw it. Art is always subject to interpretation and this evening was no exception as I explored the Norton’s Art After Dark series. With the time change upon us I thought it timely to explore indoor excursions.

As a photographer, I find it interesting to see other people’s perspectives and in an art museum, you see quite a variety.  Like the long black acrylic plank leaning against the wall which was part of the West Coast Minimalism movement. Art After Dark

Or the 8 foot by 8 foot gunmetal grey square, with squiggly lines at the bottom and protruding dots at the top. I guessed something at night and was close. The artist’s depiction is of the beach, ocean and a starry night.

As I continue, I enjoy the mental challenge and enjoy how different artists break the normal rules; like the clay sculpture with finger impressions to convey the artist’s role in the creation.

History is always interesting and art has plenty.  For example, I didn’t know that Picasso and Braque developed the Cubism style in 1900. They challenged the Renaissance concept that a painting should present a subject from a single point of view. They looked at their subjects as if they were seen from multiple perspectives and then composed accordingly. See, now those pictures make sense.

Art After DarkI also found it interesting the effect of world events on art.  Paintings during the World Wars often were dark to convey the sadness and emotion of the times. Some were optimistic, but you didn’t know the interpretation till you read the accompanying story.  A picture is worth a thousand words but the artist’s story behind it is priceless.

In addition to browsing the three different floors of the gallery, there was a short tour on surrealism, an artist’s talk, and a jazz band on the lower level.

Art After Dark is every Thursday night with a different theme. Doors are open from 5-9pm and the cost is $12. County residents have free admission to the museum at the following times though:

Palm Beach County residents receive FREE admission on the first Saturday of every month. *
West Palm Beach residents receive FREE admission every Saturday. *

* Must present valid photo ID

http://www.norton.org/

Philip Hulitar Sculpture Gardens

What do you do during lunch? Surf the internet? Seriously, you do that all day long anyway.  It’s time to get out of the office and enjoy some fresh air. If you work near the downtown West Palm Beach,  we have the perfect place to enjoy lunch. It’s also open on the weekends so now you have somewhere to go this weekend.

The sculpture gardens are another shining example of preserving the land and yet allowing public enjoyment.  You’ll have to read the interesting history, but some of the contributors included; Mrs. Folger, Mr. and Mrs. F. Warrington Gillet, Jr., and Marjorie Whittemore to name a few.

Located due east of the Society of the Four Arts and surrounded by a fence, it’s not readily visible. An open wrought iron gate is your only clue. Quick side note, can you name the Four Arts? Answer at the end, so no skipping ahead!

As the name implies, the sculpture garden contains an eclectic mix of landscapes and art. Immerse yourself in the tropical plants and pools of the Chinese garden. Stand in wonder at the funky art reaching skyward and wonder just what defines art and why you didn’t think of that.

Step inside the large pavilion with the gigantic fruit art and the fountain flowing from the kids’ statue faces. Sit under one of the trellis areas and enjoy the shade. Or go all the way into the NE corner and sit in the solitude of the trees. Back here you’re also out of view of the general public so it’s like having the place to yourself.

The gardens are free and open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm. Ok, so here’s the answer to the Four Arts: Art, Music, Drama, and Literature.

For more information:

http://www.fourarts.org/sculpture-garden

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