At first glance, the mangrove swamp is a confusing entanglement of trees, roots and shallow bays.
But on a closer look, it is a habitat teaming with wildlife.
There are wading birds of all descriptions, vultures everywhere and alligators,
lots and lots of alligators.
Sunday March 7thPicked up by Kim at the airport, drove to and overnighted at Seminole State Park so we could put-in at Everglades City by mid-day Monday. It was cold that night at 8.2°C. Heck, it was warmer back in Ottawa 2,660K north of here! We had to carry potable water as the Everglades are either salt water or at least too brackish to drink. Water had to be rationed at 1 gallon per person per day. I'm glad that the weather was not overly hot. The water needed to be stored in heavy-duty containers as the racoons and rats on some sites are desperate for good water and will chew through light plastic to get at it.
Monday March 8th. Everglades City to the Lopez River via Chokoloske Bay.In Everglades City, everything has to be built on stilts. Getting ready to go. Notice all the big water jugs..
On the water by 12:30 at Everglades City - destination Lopez River campsite. A nice easy paddle at about 5mph to get confortable in the new canoe and the extra weight of 28 kilos of water.
Things to remember.Barnacles and oyster shells. A tourist tree. Barnacles and oyster shells can slice open feet if a person is not careful. Good quality neoprene water shoes that won't be left behind in the muck when getting over mud flats are needed. These trees are call a "tourist trees" because they are bright red and their bark is always peeling. A good reminder to slather in waterproof sunscreen lotion twice a day.
A great beginning.A beautiful day for a paddle. Kim enjoying the day.
A beatiful way to to start the trip. The water is generally about 1 to 3 feet deep so it doesn't take much wind to produce some serious waves.
At the Lopez River Campsite.The Lopez River Campsite Shell-mounds - the base for eveything.
Early settlers needed to store rain water and all that is left of their farms are the cisterns. As these sites actually have some ground rather than just mangroves, they are now campsites for visiting canoeist and kayakers. These higher spots are really just shell mounds - thousands of years in the making and covered in duff from leaves and dead trees. Weather calm and sunny. No rain. High 22°C. Low 12°C. Calm overnight.
Tuesday March 9th. Up the Lopez through Sunday and House Hammock Bays, over to the Chatham River and the Watson Place.Mangrove Island. Air plants.
Mangrove islands made for some interesting navigating as they all look the same. There is also no real place to land. Air plants dot most trees. They take everything they need from the air and are neither symbiotic nor parastic to the host tree.
Watsons Place campsite Turkey buzzards were everywhere. On the water by 08:00 watching the dolphins surfacing with a little blasts of air. Unfortunately, the water is so brown that only fins and backs could be seen. Arrived at Watsons at 13:10. The reputation of this place is quite forbidding. Around 1910, the owner, Ed Watson apparently killed some of his staff rather than pay them. After several bodies (including his housekeeper's) were found in the river weighed down with chains, the local residences formed a posse and killed Watson. When I landed all that was evident was an open area, a broken cistern and lots of vultures. Not the most auspicious arrival. Thankfully, the site filled up quickly with 16 university student kayakers that were moving into the gulf the next day. The only time I've enjoyed having lots of company when tripping. Weather partially cloudy. Winds East to South-East 4 to 16kph. High 23°C. Low 14°C.
Chiggers - what's a chigger?Chigger bites Citronella didn't work! I thought that my woollen socks and citronolla would protect my lower extremities from bugs, but that was not the case. A dozen chigger bites and at least 70 mosquito bites around the ankles proved otherwise. Citronella didn't work that well - back to good old DEET! Chiggers are an Trombiculidae that inject digestive enzymes into the skin to break down cell walls. They then lap up your pre-digested cell fluids. Aren't they cute!
Wednesday March 10th. Through Chevelier, Cannon, Alligator, and Dads Bays to Plate Creek via Gopher Creek.Gopher Creek - nice winding little alligator haunt. Big alligator - keep your distance.
On the water by 08:10 to find and paddle Gopher Creek. A great little spot with lots to see. Several large - very large - alligators were spotted sunning themselves along the banks.
Plate Chickee One of the chickee poles under the main sleeping platform. Arrived at the chickee around 15:30. Chickees, a Seminole word for a hut without walls, are nothing more than a 10x12 foot platform on poles. Poles rot in salt water. The entire right section was too rotten to walk on. Notice one of the badly rotted poles under the main chickee. At Kim's, suggestion, I made up four little gizmos that would slide between the boards in lieu of ground stakes for my tent. No protection whatsoever so I was glad the winds were light. Weather partially cloudy. Winds Southerly 5 - 10kph. High 28°C Low 19°C.
Thursday March 11th. Plate to WIlly Willy.Due to heavy winds and surf, I had some real problems with a similar set of mangroves. An anhinga drying its feathers and wondering what all the fuss was about. Paddling from Plate through Two Island, Onion Key, Third, and Big Lostmans Bays, then finally up Rocky Creek to the Willy Willy campsite made for a long tiring day with nasty winds. Started paddling at 08:30 and everything was fine until Onion Key Bay. There the winds started to get really nasty and we were going right into them. Our speed dropped to about 1 mph. I had a tough time keeping my canoe from wind-vaning as I had not properly adjusted the canoe trim fully to account for the 28 kilo water container. I finally got the chance to stop in the lee of a mangrove island to make adjustments. Thank goodness for that as, when we turned up Third Bay, we were right into the troughs and sideways to the same strong wind. At some weird junction of islands, tides and winds, we ended up crossing a set of hay-stacks that reminded me of the bottom of a white-water tongue! Then into the aptly named Big Lostman's Bay. The 20 - 25 mph wind kept pushing us toward mangroves even with an attempted wind ferry. Kim ended up in the mangroves, and I, thinking that I should go over to help, ended up in a worse way than she was. I broached and dumped some of my gear. Trying to bail a canoe while standing waist deep in the surf and being pounded into mangrove roots proved to be a challenge. I finally got the canoe empty and heading into the wind with the stern backed into roots. By getting up onto a dead mangrove, I finally dropped myself back into the canoe. While my antics were going on, Kim simply slogged through the waist deep water and pulled her canoe around a corner into a wind shadow and climbed back in. All I could think about was that really big alligator that I had spotted about 5 minutes before the dump. Once up Rocky Creek, all was well and quite calm.
Willy Willy was a welcome site.The Willy Willy campsite Using the canoes to block an alligator haul-out into camp. At Kim's suggestion, we stowed the canoes in such a way as to stop any alligators from coming up a gator haul-out and into camp. It was a good idea as we spotted a gator cruising back and forth in front of the camp for quite some time. As the winds started to pick-up, I moved my tent from underneath a tree that did not look very sturdy. They are called widow-makers for good reason. Weather cloudy. Winds south-easterly 26 - 37 kph gusting to 45 kph. High 27°C. Low 21°C.
Friday March 12th. Storm-bound at Willy Willy.Incoming storm. Staying put for the day. A gator that kept cruising back and forth in front of the camp After listening to the local weather on Kim's VHF radio, we decided to stay put for Friday. Our original return plan was via outer Gulf but the prognosis for wind and waves wasn't good. So we decided to retrace our inside route instead. That night and most of Friday, the winds were howling through the trees so wind-bound for a day was a good decision. Weather overcast and light rain. Winds to 33 kph and threats of thunderstorms. High 22°C. Low 17°C
Saturday March 13th. Willy Willy to Lostmans Bay campsite.Lostmans Five campsite. Off the water at Lostmans Five camp Up early and paddling by 07:00. The Plate Creek chickee was very small so we headed to Lostmans Five Bay campsite on the hopes of there being room for us. It was a rather straight-forward paddle until the wind pickup up mid-morning. My aerometor said sustained winds at 32 kph. Thankfully we were off the water when it was gusting to 45 kph. Lostman's was another very welcome site at 12:30. Lousy winds but not as bad as Thursday. We put up tents and spread gear around to dry. The sun was shining and, if it wasn't for the wind, it would have been a great day for tripping. Two Park Rangers arrived mid-afternoon. I met them on the jetty and said that we were squatters due to the wind. Their answer was "We know, that's why we pulled in." They were very pleasant and very helpful. Realizing that winds were going to be an issue for the next while, they re-booked us for Watson and Lopez. Weather mostly sunny. High 21°C. Low 15°C.
Sunday March 14th. Lostmans Five Bay campsite back to Watsons Place.Black buzzards this time. A good sunet. Maybe a good tomorrow. As we were getting tired of and wanted to beat the winds, we were on the water by 05:30 in the darkness. A wonderful paddle in the dark and into the morning sunrise. We arrived back at the Watson site by 10:30. Good because the winds started to pick again about noon. It's a tad boring when getting into a camp that early in the day but again time to take a few photos and relax. We also gave the vultures something to circle for a while before they also got bored and left. Weather mostly sunny with some clouds. High 21°C. Low 15°C.
Monday March 15th. Watsons to Lopez via the Gulf.The Gulf of Mexico. A brown pelican. We headed down the Chatham River and back up the Hudson before picking up our route at House Hammock Bay. Well worth the jaunt. The winds were gone and the skies were sunny, so a nice detour to the Gulf was warranted and enjoyed. All in all an enjoyable paddle - at least until the tides and winds started playing games. Unfortunately, we had not thought of the time change due to Daylight Savings Time. This threw a kink into our tide calculations so we spent another few hourse against the tides and winds. The confuence of the Chatham River, Lopez River and House Hammock Bay had a real mix of "funny" water that was fun to cross. White-water time again. Last night out. I was a little sorry to see the trip end even though it would have been nice to have lighter winds. Weather mostly sunny. Winds South-Westerly 16 kph to 24 kph. High 22°C. Low 15°C.
Tuesday March 16th. The Lopez River to the take-out at Everglades CityLooking over the gunnel at a little speed bump. Looking over the gunnel at a big speed bump. Kim had come up with a great way to finish the trip with a detour through Cross Bays and Mud Bay, down Hurddles Creek and over to Turner River. Turner dumps into the Gulf a short distance from Everglades City. It turned out to be a great paddle and a great finish with lots to see and no wind or tides to impeed us. During our creek paddles we would canoe over more than one basking alligator. We started calling them "speed bumps". Thankfully, they took no notice of us but it was a little unnerving to look right beside the canoe and see a 'gator.
Cross Bays and Hurddles CreekLots of ospreys and their nests. A very comon but very pretty tricoloured heron. Most of the first Cross Bay is mud flats which I found out the hard way. I saw what I thought was a big gator and just had to get that final picture. So into the mud flats I went skateboard style. One leg kneeing in the canoe and other pushing into the muck for traction. Thank goodness for neoprene boots with a good strap as losing a boot in the muck would have been easy and dangerous due to buried oyster shells. The "big gator" turned out to be a cute log and I had my work cut out for me getting back to deep water, if you can call 1 foot of water deep. It was a fun paddle along the coast at low tide watching the shore birds where we had paddled before. We landed at about 12:30, the finish of a very interesting canoe trip. Ouch, the motels are a bit pricey around here during tourist season at U.S. $150.00 per room.
Wednesday March17. Everglades City to Ft. MyersA cyprus swamp. Very different from the mangroe swamp Grasslands.
Kim knew of a non-paved road that went through both cyprus swamp and grasslands. It turned into an interesting drive with a lots to see for 20 miles and 3.5 hours. I was glad that I wasn't driving. It's much more fun with a camera in my hands anyway.
|Wood stork with the uglest bald head in Florida.||A double crested cormorant diving for fish.||A snowy egret.|
Thick, rather short triangular body and arrow shaped head. Perfect A water moccassin in its threat display. Along the way, we found a real beauty - the world's only semi-aquatic pit-viper. It's a water moccasin also known as a cottonmouth. He was not happy with us as he immediately went into his agressive don't-mess-with-me display. Absolutely beautiful and one of the highlights of the trip, next to the alligators, of course.
The Campsite Co-ordinates
|Our Campsites in Google Maps.||Co-ordinates in decimal degrees.|
|Lopez River Campsite||Lat. 25.78781 Long. -81.30617|
|Watsons Landing Campsite||Lat. 25.70917 Long. -81.24576|
|Plate Creek Chickee||Lat. 25.641 Long. -81.14905|
|Willy Willy Campsite||Lat. 25.5806 Long. -81.05558|
|Lostmans Five Bay Campsite||Lat. 25.63383 Long. -81.14244|