Saturday, April 15, 2006

Florida -- Wakulla River

The Wakulla is * clearly * a spring-fed river. Clear, blue, and beautiful! Peggy said it’s one of her favorite places to paddle, so I figured it would be a winner. We went first to the state park at the spring. There is a swimming area and a platform that looks down into the spring. Talk about blue!

They say it goes 300 feet down into an elaborate aquatic cave. Private boats aren’t allowed in this part of the river “a good thing”, one guide book says, “because the place is overrun with alligators.”

Dale and Tyler took put me in the river a few miles down under the HW 365 bridge, then they headed 4 miles farther down to HW 98 to meet me an hour and a half later.

The current is light and I found the water to be amazingly clear. I talked to one man in a canoe and he said its browner/greener than he’s ever seen it – on past trips it was clear as drinking water. Well nonetheless, I was impressed. It sure wasn’t Mississippi water. I could see the bottom at 10 feet; beyond that it was a little hard to tell if it was vegetation, rocks, or manatees on the bottom.

I spent the first half mile wondering if I would be able to tell a manatee if there was one below me. A mile later I spotted two on the right side of the river, and they were unmistakable in shape and size. I think I saw them on a trip to Florida when I was 11. Don’t remember seeing them when I lived in Ft Walton Beach in ‘89-‘91. I wouldn’t have guessed they would be so unconcerned about my presence. I stayed close to 10 minutes and drifted pretty close to them. Here they are munching side by side. Is that cool or what?

I remembered to take a video with the digital camera, and got a nice 25 second shot of them sticking their noses up to breathe, moving around a bit, and as a rare additional treat, emitting a stream of bubbles from the opposite end. Boy was Tyler impressed when I showed him a video of a manatee fart! :- )

There are quite a few private docks on the river. I bet that land costs a bundle.

The turtles were bold; they must get tired of plopping in the water every time someone goes by. I saw a few birds but not as many as I thought I would. Either Peggy’s really good at spotting them, or they were just elsewhere that day. There were a lot of fish, and I’d say other than the manatees, the gar were the most impressive creatures. The gar were huge, 3 or 4 or even 5 feet long, cruising around the river in all different directions like cops on patrol. I could have got a picture of one if I tried hard enough, but there was so much else to look at. I found myself wondering if I would see more above the water if I wasn’t so intent on looking IN the water.

We headed straight home from there and it took 5 ½ hours. Good chance we’ll go back some day. I’m interested in seeing the lower part of the river when it gets into the tidal area. Overall it was a really great place to paddle. North Florida has a lot to offer and provided for a great family trip.

Florida -- Merritt’s Mill Pond

Spring break trip mission: camping, fishing, and kayaking. Inspired by Peggy of paddletales we headed to Florida around Tallahassee for a few days, April 11-13th. We took the dog, Jazz, which limited our options somewhat but was fun. She’s a good boat dog and did fine in the john-boat. For the road trip, the kayak rode on top of the john-boat which we pulled on a trailer, and the dog rode in the Truck backseat with Tyler. We had the tent and all that ready and loaded in the truck, but we were trying to do a lot already so we kept it simple and rented one of the cabins at Merritt’s Mill Pond Arrowhead Campground. That turned out to be a winner because the highlight of the trip for Tyler was renting the paddleboats, particularly the barracuda which is like a jet ski and has a prop instead of a paddle wheel.

I did a kayak venture about halfway up the pond on Tuesday afternoon. Got to the power lines and just a bit beyond. There’s a strange humming in the woods just north of the power lines. Don’t know what that could be. Other than that it’s a quiet, peaceful place. A lot of houses and docks, but still mostly natural surroundings.

Very blue, clear water! There’s a lot of grass and algae and that covers half the bottom. It’s strange, makes you feel like you’re on a magic carpet floating 12 feet high, looking down on bushes, grass, and trees. Turtles and fish are easy to spot swimming around. Some of the plants make it hard to paddle through. Once my paddle snagged and I almost had to drop the paddle or flip the boat, but at the last second it let go. I didn’t have a lot of time before sunset so I headed back.

Wednesday we took the boat up to the top of the lake. The recreation area was closed, but we found one of the large springs (THE large spring?) on the west side under a rocky cliff. I was fascinated with the water coming up out of the spring and how it made kaleidoscope patterns with the rocks. Dang it -- my camera batteries died just before we got to it. New mission! I knew I had to make it back in the kayak later in the day. So a little while later I set off from the campground again, went all the way to the top of the pond, and visited the spring again. Got some good pictures this time.

It was a long trip back since I haven’t done any long trips lately, but felt great. The general conditioning I’ve done lately, jogging, spinning, biking, walking, seems to make a difference in stamina even though I haven’t been paddling much. Well, now’s the season, so I intend to paddle a lot if I can figure out the transportation challenges.

The pond was a beautiful place to camp and kayak.