Monthly Archives: February 2017

Suwannee Quest 13 – February 18-20, 2017

For our 13th monthly Suwannee Quest paddle, we used the holiday weekend for a 3-day, 2-night paddle.  We started at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park and took out at Ivey Memorial Park in the town of Branford  We covered 27.3 River Miles or about 31 paddling miles.  Our Suwannee Questers have now completed all of the Suwannee River in Florida down to Fowlers Bluff.  We hope to finish from Fowlers Bluff to the Gulf of Mexico next month.

For several of the folks on this trip it was their first time camping from their kayaks, so there was a lot of email coordination before the trip and we made things easy by using two of the River Camps.  The River Camps along the Suwannee were built by Suwannee River Water Management District on land they own and are administered by Florida State Parks.  They are only accessible by boat or hiking trails, no vehicles are allowed.  The River Camps include a picnic pavilion with grills for cooking and gathering out of the rain, 5 small screened sleeping platforms, potable water, hot showers, flush toilets, campfire rings and tent sites.  Definitely not a primitive camping experience, but a good progression for beginning kayak tourers. The sleeping platforms can be reserved (which I recommend if paddling in a group, on holiday weekends, and during the school Spring Break period) or you can take your chances and just show up.  

Cooking on the grills at the picnic pavilion at Peacock Slough River Camp

Cooking on the grills at the picnic pavilion at Peacock Slough River Camp

Sleeping platform at Adams Tract River Camp

Sleeping platform at Adams Tract River Camp

 

 

SATURDAY
We met up at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park and unloaded all our boats and equipment there.  We then drove all our cars down to the take-out in Branford where we were met by our shuttle van driver at 10 am who returned us to the state park.  After final loading and a safety talk we launched onto the river a little before 11 am under leaden skies.  The weather report for the day was light rain for several hours and within a few minutes of our launch the rain started. It never poured on us, but it never really let up either and some people with inadequate rain gear got a little chilly.  The only way for some to stay warm was to keep paddling, so that’s what we did, not even getting out of our kayaks for lunch.

Paddling in the rain after leaving Lafayette Blue Springs State Park

Paddling in the rain after leaving Lafayette Blue Springs State Park

Eating lunch in our kayaks in the rain

Eating lunch in our kayaks in the rain

With the river running high and fast and no real stops, we got to Peacock Slough River Camp around 2:30 in the afternoon.  And just before we arrived the rain stopped for the day.  So we were able to unload without getting any of our gear wet and spread our wet clothing out to dry.

Our kayaks all snugged down for the night at Peacock Slough River Camp

Our kayaks all snugged down for the night at Peacock Slough River Camp

We had arranged ahead of time for everyone to bring frozen foil dinners for this first night on the river and we cooked them over charcoal in the camp grills.  While the charcoal was heating we moved into our platforms, took showers, put on dry clothes, and hung out around the campfire circle.  After dinner we bought some wood from Dave, the campground host, and built a nice campfire.

Hanging out in the campfire circle at Peacock slough River Camp

Hanging out in the campfire circle at Peacock Slough River Camp

Sunset over the Suwannee River from Peacock Slough River Camp

Sunset over the Suwannee River from Peacock Slough River Camp

Camaradery around the campfire at Peacock Slough River Camp

Camaraderie around the campfire at Peacock Slough River Camp

SUNDAY
After breakfast in the pavilion we packed up and left Dave the Host and Peacock Slough River camp under gray skies, but our spirits were lifted by the fact that the rain was over for the weekend.

Leaving Dave and Peacock Slough River Camp

Leaving Dave and Peacock Slough River Camp

We stopped at a couple of springs, but the Suwannee was so high most of them were flooded and tannic.  Just about the time we sighted the old Drew Bridge blue patches started appearing in the sky so we paused for a little break on a sand bank.

The old Drew Bridge - a railroad swing bridge abandoned in 1920

The old Drew Bridge – a railroad swing bridge abandoned in the open position in 1920

Only the larger springs were pumping out enough water to keep the Suwannee at bay and one of the large springs on this stretch is Royal Springs where we stopped for lunch and a couple of brave souls actually went swimming and had fun fishing and jumping off the platform.

Lunch break at Royal Springs County Park

Lunch break at Royal Springs County Park

After lunch we also paddled a little ways up Suwannee Blue Springs which was running strong.

Paddling up Suwannee Blue Springs run

Paddling up Suwannee Blue Springs run

In the late afternoon sun we arrived at our destination for the night at Adams Tract River Camp only to find the bottom of the steps and banks underwater.  This is where the group really pulled together, helping each other to unload and secure their kayaks, since they had to be unloaded one at a time at the steps and then the kayaks carried up to the top or the stairs, pulled up almost vertically under the stairs or left to float in the river for the night.

Unloading at Adams River Camp - one kayak at a time

Unloading at Adams River Camp – one kayak at a time

Kayaks secured almost vertically at Adams Tract River Camp

Kayaks secured almost vertically at Adams Tract River Camp

After all the hard work of unloading everything and getting the kayaks tied down we thoroughly enjoyed the amenities at Adams Tract River Camp (except for the non-functioning sinks and spitting water in the showers) as we settled in for the night.  After dinner we all gathered in the picnic pavilion for a while, then around the campfire again.  During the night we took a break to walk out into a meadow where the stars were so bright and the light pollution so slight that we could see the Milky Way arching across the sky. We had to lean against a fence to avoid being overcome by this “dizziness in the face of les espace infinis”.

Hanging out in the picnic pavilion after dinner at Adams Tract River Camp

Hanging out in the picnic pavilion after dinner at Adams Tract River Camp

MONDAY
An early start on our last day was rewarded by a magnificent sunrise.  After breakfast we bid farewell to Adams Tract by loading each kayak – one at a time – although this time we were a little better and faster at it.

Sunrise over our kayaks at Adams Tract River Camp

Sunrise over our kayaks at Adams Tract River Camp

Loading up on the stairs at Adams Tract River Camp - one kayak at a time

Loading up on the stairs at Adams Tract River Camp – one kayak at a time

A couple of miles downstream we stopped for a leg-stretch break at Troy Springs State Park. The spring was closed to swimming due to the high water level so we paddled right into the swimming area for our break.  The water over the sunken steamboat Madison, which you can usually wade to easily, was about 6 feet deep.

Taking a break in the swimming stairs at Troy Springs State Park

Taking a break in the swimming stairs at Troy Springs State Park

An hour or so later we stopped at Little River Springs County Park for lunch.  As no one else was in the park we paddled into the swimming area there as well.  “Parking” our kayaks was a little difficult due to the high water, but we managed using the swimming ramp and rock walls. Again, a couple of brave souls managed a swim.  While there we also found an entire field of Atamasco Lilies in bloom.  We had seen a few plants along the river, but here they covered an area of several acres.

Lunch break at Little River Springs County Park

Lunch break at Little River Springs County Park

 

Underwater scene at Little River Springs

Underwater scene at Little River Springs

A whole field (several acres) of Atamasco lilies

A whole field (several acres) of Atamasco lilies

Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasca) at Little River Springs

Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasca) at Little River Springs

Atamasco Lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) at Little River Springs

Atamasco lilies at Little River Springs

 

After our lunch break it was only a couple of miles to our take-out at Branford.  We ducked into Branford Spring for a paddle through then pulled up at the boat ramp.  By 3:30 pm all the happy campers were on their way home after a wonderful weekend of camaraderie, good food, and new skills learned on the Suwannee River.

Branford Spring at our take-out at Ivey Memorial Park

Branford Spring at our take-out at Ivey Memorial Park

Ocklawaha River – January 11, 2017

For our second monthly Florida Trail Association we repeated the second on the Lower Ocklawaha from Rodman Dam to Johnson Field Landing on State Rd 19.  But this day our paddle was under bright blue skies with temps warming into the upper 70s.  It was chilly when we arrived and as we crossed the dam a mist covered Rodman Reservoir creating an ethereal beauty.  About the only time you can call Rodman Reservoir beautiful!

Early morning mist over Rodman Reservoir

Early morning mist over Rodman Reservoir

On this trip we again stopped for lunch at Davenport Landing for lunch and a leg stretch and again, this time or purpose, took the northern braid to parallel the main channel of the river.  This group seemed to have a little more trouble with the one place on the braid where we had to either scooch over a couple of logs or crash through the branches of a recently downed Sweet Gum tree, depending on which side you took.  But everyone got through dry and unscathed so it all just added to the adventure.

Forcing our way through the fallen Sweet Gum tree

Forcing our way through the fallen Sweet Gum tree

Again we saw lots of little gators, most of them under 3 feet long.  Some of them were sunning on logs in the water and some were resting in the vegetation.

A little gator peeking

A little gator peeking out …

A little gator crawling out onto a fallen limb

… before deciding to crawl out …

A little gator deciding to swim away from us

… then seeing us deciding to swim away into cover.

We also again saw lots of Great Egrets gathering for breeding season.  Great Egrets (Ardea alba), along with their cousin the Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), are normally solitary except during breeding and nesting season when they gather into colonies.  During breeding season the Great Egret has filmy feathers (aigrettes) that flow from the back and the beak can darken from yellow to orange.  If you can get close enough you can also see that the area around the eyes turns greenish.

A small colony of Great Ibis

A small colony of Great Ibis

Great Egret in breeding plumage

Great Egret in breeding plumage with filmy aigrettes cascading from the back

We also saw a few String Lily (Crinum americanum) plants along the banks.  Also called Swamp Lily, these are common wildflowers on streams in Florida.  They flower from late fall through early spring.

String Lily or Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum)

String Lily or Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum)

We read the braids correctly again today and popped out onto the main channel of the Ocklawaha just west of the SR 19 bridge having enjoyed our backwoods adventure on a picture-perfect winter day.

The SR 19 bridge from the Ocklawaha River

The SR 19 bridge from the Ocklawaha River

 

 

 

Ocklawaha River – February 8, 2017

With our monthly paddles for the Florida Trail Association we usually schedule a paddle on Wednesday for those available during the week and the same paddle on the following Saturday for those who can only get away on the weekends.  This month we chose a section of the Lower Ocklawaha River, from below Rodman Dam to Johnson Field Landing on SR 19.  A paddle of only about 7.8 miles, but a beautiful stretch of the untamed Ocklawaha River.  Another plus is it that it is generally frequented only by a few bass fishermen in smaller boats.

Just as we passed these young men pulled in a small bass.

Just as we passed these young men pulled in a small bass. They released her back to the river.

Tuesday night we had a big storm – lots of rain, some hail, and high winds, so Wednesday morning was still overcast and kind of gloomy.  Rain was predicted for the day but the chance of thunderstorms was very low, so we decided not to cancel.  As it turned out, since everyone brought their rain gear, we only had a brief sprinkle as we were loading the last two kayaks before heading home.

We met up at the Rodman kayak launch on the west side of and below the dam and after unloading and setting up our own shuttle, the 9 of us started out about 9:30 am.  The weather although overcast, was warm as we glided down the river with a gentle current.  The first stretch is part of the original route of the river, but because of the dam channeling most of the water into a spillway canal, it has only a mild current.

"The Gang" on the lower Ocklawaha

“The Gang” on the lower Ocklawaha

After about 2 miles the spillway canal joins the river and the river widens with more water and a stronger flow.  If you look back upstream on the canal you have a good view of the downstream side of the dam.  I hope I live to see the destruction of the dam and a return of the river to its original state.

A view of Rodman Dam from downstream

A view of Rodman Dam from downstream

Another couple of miles down the river brought us to Davenport Landing.  This was once a steamboat stop along the river where the boats would stop for fuel and is now a US Forest Service campsite.  Unless the river is very high there is a nice sandy landing area here for kayaks.  Since no one was camping there the day after the big storm we had lunch and a leg-stretch break up in the middle of the lovely camping area.  Billed as a camping spot for river paddlers, it is usually filled with long-term car campers since there is a forest road leading in to it and it’s free.

Davenport Landing

Davenport Landing

Davenport Landing campsite

Davenport Landing campsite

After lunch the group was eager to get back on the river.  Perhaps a little too eager, since the guys up front took a wrong turn to the north into one of the river braids and by the time we caught up with them it was a long way back to the junction.  But after a look at the GPS we determined that taking the next little creek to the right would get us onto a more southerly braid that would eventually take us back to the main channel near our takeout.  The only question was, would the braid be open all the way?   But we decided to play explorer and ventured on.  As it turned out, we made it through with only one tight spot and it was a delightful trip – much narrower, more twisting and shallower than the main river.  Along the way we saw several little gators (under 3 feet), a few Great Blue Herons, and a lot of Great Egrets gathering in colonies for the breeding and nesting season.

Just a little guy sunning - under 3 feet.

Just a little guy sunning – under 3 feet.  You can still see his yellow baby stripes on his belly and tail.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Egret in breeding plumage

Great Egret in breeding plumage

At the end of our adventure in the backwoods braid we emerged out into the main channel of the Ocklawaha exactly where we were supposed to – just west of the SR 19 bridge and our take-out of the day at Johnson Field Landing.

The boat ramp at Johnson Field Landing

The boat ramp at Johnson Field Landing