Ten Thousand Islands Report
(Everglades City, FL)


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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 2/22/2007 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: See 15 photos     Map & Directions: View


Everglades National Park (part 1 of 2)

My Report:

By Greg Bailey

By the time the sun rose over central Florida, the four of us (Franklin, John, A.J. and I) had been traveling over 2 hours. We finally caught up with Gus and Jerry and stopped for breakfast, but really didn’t have a clue as to where we were. Just south bound – destination: Everglades City.


We arrived around noon, with enough time to grab a sub sandwich and stretch a bit after the nearly 7 hour drive. By 12:30 pm we had pulled into the grassy parking lot that services the Everglades National Park canoe and kayak launches and noticed the many vehicles with kayak racks and trailers. My first thought was I hoped they all weren’t headed in our direction. Franklin effortlessly backed the 4 boat trailer toward the sloped ramp and we piled out to greet Mabel and start the kayak packing exercise. Stuffing 4 days worth of food, water and clothes wasn’t too difficult, particularly since everyone had planned and practiced it previously (right Jerry?). Our only problem was that it was expected to be cold at least one night, so we had to pack heavier clothes in case the forecast was accurate. Mabel, much to her credit, made no effort to bring along any firewood this time, since the tropical season of two years ago really whacked this part of the coastline, leaving plenty available for our favored nighttime activity – fireside chats and ponderings.

Picking up the loaded kayaks was very painful, with many groans shared among the group. Fortunately, no one pulled any muscles, tripped nor forgot anything of importance, and we were off at 1:30, entering Chokoloskee Bay with only light and variable winds. We set our sights across the Bay, to the channel markers identifying Indian Key Pass, and on everyone’s face I could see a grin or smile. Good to be on the water today, finally, after nearly 3 months of talking about this trip.

Paddling thru the pass, we encountered a few fishing boats, along with several long pontoon style sightseeing boats. Many of them were taking photos and videos of us, waving and pointing as if we were “something odd to see”. A couple of commercial boats came by and slowed just enough to push along some sizable waves, moving us along our route. One particular boat was headed in and undoubtedly had a great catch, since its hull was riding very low and its bow digging deep. It left some great big waves, but our loaded boats and skilled paddlers had no problem handling them. Heading SW, we expected to follow the channel for 4-5 miles, then turn toward the NW just north of Indian Key. However, our first (and possibly only) navigation mistake occurred when we turned too quickly and headed into Russell Bay, instead of Gaskin Bay. It was my fault for not checking the navigational beacon #s on the way down, but fortunately, we didn’t travel in error long before we all huddled together and agreed that we didn’t want to continue in that direction. Although the good natured ribbing continued for days, we only wasted about 20 or 30 minutes and were soon back into the swiftly moving currents of Indian Key Pass.

An hour or so later we were making the correct turn NW and coming into view ahead of us were the sandy beaches of Picnic Key, where the SWFLPC was permitted to setup camp. Picnic Key was pretty cool, with lots of sandy areas to spread out and explore. A lone port-o-let was stationed on the far end of the beach and a line was already forming (just kidding, about the line – the port-o-let was real). After saying our hellos and goodbyes to those friendly folks, we moved on to paddle through the narrow cut between Picnic and Tiger Key. After passing to the north of Tiger, we moved again back out into the currents, this time the lower portion of West Pass. Again, we could see white sandy beaches ahead, this time a crescent moon shaped beach which we suspected was to be our home for the next three nights – Camp LuLu Key. We pulled in around 4 pm, with plenty of time to scope out the beachfront and select our favorite spots. Our beach was pointing toward the open Gulf of Mexico, however more toward the southeast than west. That would take a bit of getting used to, reminding me of how the gulf coastal town of Cedar Key seems mis-aligned. On the west coast, facing the Gulf, we should be looking west!

Our first night was to be the coldest night, so we gathered a bit of firewood and got a warming fire started. The forecast was calling for a low near 40, but with the warm surrounding waters we didn’t think it could be too bad. The waters felt warm to stand in, and with the winds blowing from the NW, our campsite was situated perfectly for the assaulting cold front. The sky was dark and cloudy and we were all showing signs of the long day so we soon turned in for the night, an expected to be cold night in the Florida Everglades.

The next morning we awoke to a little sunlight and not so cold temps. The waters had receded due to the late morning low tide, and we had expected that, so we had no reason to hurry to start the day. The low waters has exposed the coral, with much of it “popping” as it dried. Various wading birds walked thru the small trapped pools of water, looking to select its morning meal just as were doing earlier.

After touring the island a bit, we found hermit Mike’s place. It was steadfastly built, with 8x8 posts sunk into the ground, 5 inch floor joists, all hoisting the 20 ft. by 20 ft. hideout 6 feet about the sand. The story we heard later was that Mike lived out in the rough for many years until finally some of the locals pitched in and built him a sturdy, semi-permanent structure to finish out his last years. I believe he lived until the early 1990s, and now several entities are negotiating the building’s rightful ownership, and decide what to do with it, since it sits on a National Estuary protected site.

We decided to push our now empty and light boats into the water around noon, since the incoming tide had completely covered most of the exposed coral. Our paddling plans were to head southeast toward Indian Key, Kingston Key and possibly Jack Daniels Key, with no intent to push hard, but rather to enjoy the sights and sounds. We had mild following winds and a light chop as we headed toward SE, looking at the expansive beaches on the west side of Tiger Key. We noticed one orange tent along the beach so Franklin, John and I diverted off-course to see if we knew who it was, while the others made a beeline for outside tip of Tiger Key. Not seeing anyone associated with the tent, we moved on to catch the others. Soon we had Indian Key in sight and we passed just north of it. Wanting to paddle through the mangroves, we changed course to pass just north of Kingston Key just as the winds began to stiffen. Looking for a place in the sun to stop for lunch and to warm a little, we continued around almost to the bottom end of Kingston, where we found a flooding lagoon. A 4 foot gash allowed water to enter and escape, as dictated by the ebb and flow of the Gulf’s sea swells, and a very nice deposit of crushed shell seemed to be an ideal place to stop. After lunch and snacks we walked around our little sandy spot and soon discovered we were surrounded by water, so we couldn’t go far, nor get lost.

After a nice lunch and long break, we re-assembled and launched our boats back into the waters. Having noticed the increased wind velocity just before lunch, we kind of expected to paddle back into the winds, but to our surprise the winds began to subside on our way back to Camp LuLu Key. Just after rounding the eastern tip of Picnic Key, A. J. noticed someone paddling alone in a green sea kayak coming in our direction. After speaking to her he realized that she was headed to Picnic Key, but was unsure as to where it was located exactly. She appeared quite happy to have seen us come along. This paddler had made the trip out from Everglades City solo and also made the same wrong turn into Russell Key, but in her case she was approaching almost 5 hours for her trip! She was in good spirits though and was happy to see her friends when we all pulled alongside the beach where the SWFLPC had established their camp. Having been on the water for a while already we were kind of anxious to get back to our campsite, so we didn’t stay long. The sun was still a few hours away from setting but the gray skies were holding firm, and it appeared that we’d have another dark night with little or no stars.

Saturday morning brought forth calm winds and lots of Florida sunshine. When the incoming tide had arrived, we were again back on the water and headed NW (up the coast) toward where we thought some other kayakers from our club might be staying. We never located them but had a beautiful day to paddle. Saw two sea turtles and some dolphins, along with a large spotted ray. We first headed toward Round Key then Gomez Point, but decided to divert through the mangroves. A.J. stayed on the outside in the calm Gulf waters while we disappeared into a maze of green waters, blue skies and red mangroves.

The beautiful green waters swept us through many turns until we reentered open waters looking at Round Key from the inside. With A.J. back with the group, we cut through a narrow path in the center of Panther Key. It was so narrow at one point that we only had five feet of clearance around a large sand berm. Several camping families had camped on that pristine, protected piece of sand. We stayed north of Hog Key then headed SW, looking straight at White horse Key. The north winds were getting stronger now so we stayed in the protect area and never rounded Whitehorse, where the larger camping areas are located. It appeared that the other side of Whitehorse was exposed to the strong N and NW winds – not a place to kayak camp on this day and weekend. We spoke to a couple of Boy Scout Expedition leaders walking among the numerous felled trees caused by the previous tropical storms. To test their wit and sense of humor, John asked them if they had any trouble finding fire wood. They smiled and laughed out loud, passing the test with ease. Most of their youngsters seemed to be asleep, with one sitting upright yet huddled under a large blanket. We found another little beach head to break for lunch, and then were soon back on the water to make the 4 mile paddle back to our camp.

Paddling along the outside now with building winds and waves directly on our stern, we enjoyed the best paddling conditions thus far on our trip. Winds were 12-15 and waves about 2 feet, so the surfing boats (Franklin, Mabel and John) were leading the pack as the others were making it look easy and effortless. Within no time we came up to a thin sand bar, stretching out 100 feet or so inward from Round Key. We worked around it and beached on the leeward side of the key and got out to explore. Round Key has several piles of blocks and bricks as if something semi-permanent was once located there. This little key was not very big, with approximately 4 feet above high tide, so it wasn’t a place to be when a storm approaches.

With a short downwind leg of another 1.5 miles back to Camp LuLu, we were back on the water and picking up the wind push again. Within 30 minutes we passed around another point and into the calm waters facing the beachside community which had been our home for the past three days. Beautiful blue skies and clear waters had made for a great day on the water.

After re-starting the fire and having dinner, we started to relax amid the last spark of sunlight, when we noticed two kayaks approaching, one a tandem and the other a single. Right behind was another single kayak, and we watched them pass us by and land a hundred yards down the beach. After a few moments we decided it was time to say hello and great our beach buddies. It turned out to be a guided trip, with Tim the guide in the tandem along with a guest and a couple from San Diego in the single kayaks. They were paddling some very nice Seward composite kayaks, 18 ft. singles and a very, very heavy 22 ft. tandem. They must eat and drink well, we thought, as we all six grabbed a piece of the tandem and pried it up and away from the water. They arrived with about an hour of sunlight to spare, so we said hello but soon departed to allow them time to get situated, inviting them down to enjoy our campfire later if they wished.

Back at our site sitting around the fire and toasting our knickers (paddling shoes), along came another set of adventurers. These folks were in a canoe and appeared to be two adults and one small child. They made it right at sundown and proceeded further down the beach than the previous late arrivals. Due to their late arrival, we decided to wait and visit them the next day, particularly since they’d possibly have to setup camp in the dark. That is never easy, especially when guests arrive to chat and use up the last amount of sunlight.

I believe it was around 8 pm when it first appeared. We were still stroking the fire’s coals and searching the skies for shooting stars, when an incredible sight appeared in the skies. It was quite large and odd shaped, a lighted object appearing over the water toward the southeast. I hardly had a chance to finish my “what the heck is that …” statement when we all jumped up from our fireside seats and quickly walked to the water’s edge for a better unobstructed view. It looked very much like a large airplane or the Space Shuttle, floating down belly first, but lit faintly, and shaped somewhat in triangular fashion. It grew larger, but somewhat fainter and then totally disappeared in 2-3 minutes. Franklin said the image was too faint for his camera to recognize (all UFOs are, right?) so no photos were taken. Fortunately, to our dismay, none of us were taken either, so we probably missed out on our 15 minutes of FOX / CNN fame. It was interesting to listen to the other kayakers down the beach, expressing the same excited phrases with the same tones as we did. (Note: it was determined by Gus three days later that NASA launched a Delta rocket with 5 separately boosted satellites around the same time as our UFO appeared. The delta or cone shape must have appeared when those five satellites separated from the rocket and were boosted into different flights to obtain their proper orbit). Pretty cool and something we’ll always associate with this trip. All except for John, who after sitting down with the rest of us after the object faded, said “What UFO, I didn’t see a Dam thing”.

Our last surprise for the night arrived soon thereafter, when Tim and his guests walked up and presented to us a gift for helping with their heavy boats. Strawberry shortcake with whip cream topping! After a little prompting he spewed forth their dinner menu and it sounded something like one would hear at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, with lots of extras for dessert. No wonder their boats were so heavy! They must have packed a mini-fridge and generator to keep it all chilled as the chef desired. Tim’s guests were from San Diego and seemed to have really enjoyed their trip out from the mainland and along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. They were to stay only one night, and would be paddling back to Everglades City in a little different path than our group, but we hoped to see them again in the morning.

... end of Part 1 of 2

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Photos from Everglades City, FL:    (Click image to view full size)

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Franklin's boat hauler

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the lonely mangrove

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view from Camp LuLu

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the creeping vines of Camp LuLu

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low tide morsels

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coral yes, mud no, paddling no

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lagoon with a new cut

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strange seed pod

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blue skies

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where are we, exactly?

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his favorite hangout?

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hanging around on Round island

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Mabel checking her map

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choppy water on the return home

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Note AJ’s safety equipment on display (strobe light and machete)

 


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Special InterestsTen Thousand Islands



Post Date: 3/1/2009

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