Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Crack - a little turbid from all the recent rain

Chassahowitzka – July 26, 2017

A couple of weeks ago a paddling friend mentioned she had never been on the Chassahowitzka River (aka The Chaz).  Since she was due to return to her work in the local school system shortly we sent out a few emails and put together an impromptu little trip to introduce her to a special place.

We met up at Chassahowitzka River Campground at 9 am to make sure we were on the river before the crowds.  The parking fee there remains $5 per vehicle ($7 for car and trailer).  I was pleased to see that the hand launch area next to the concrete boat ramp had been improved since my last visit.  It’s much wider (maybe room for about 8 kayaks to pull up at one time) and full of nice sand.  You can pull your car up into the unloading area only 30 feet from the water.

Sandy beach now at Chassahowitzka River Campground boat ramp

A nice sandy beach now at Chassahowitzka River Campground boat ramp

From the boat ramp the 5 of us headed upstream 0.2 miles to the “Seven Sisters”.  This is an area with at least 7 visible spring vents.  The tide was high, just turning when we arrived, so we were able to paddle over all the vents and look down into the clear water below.  The best part? We had it all to ourselves!   It was a little early for a swim or leg-stretch break, so we just admired and took pics.  As we were leaving 2 female kayakers paddled in and we were able to leave them to enjoy the springs to themselves.

Entering Seven Sister creek

Paddling up the Chaz

The Seven Sisters

The Seven Sisters

Spring vent at the Seven Sisters

Spring vent at the Seven Sisters

Heading back downstream, just past the boat ramp we ventured into Crab Creek where you can usually find some ducks and other water birds.  While the springs were clogged with vegetation and algae and really looked quite ugly we did see some String Lilies and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  Exiting Crab Creek I found the entrance to Lettuce Creek on river right, but the way looked blocked with lots of trees down, so we passed it up this trip.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) on Crab Creek

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) on Crab Creek

String Lily, also called Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum) on Baird Creek

String Lily, also called Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum) on Crab Creek

From there it was on to “The Crack”.  We reached Baird Creek just as a couple of canoes were coming out and they were the only other people we saw until we were on the way out ourselves.  So once again, we had the place to ourselves.  On the way up we saw bunches of Saltmarsh Mallows in bloom which brightened up the salt grass banks and watched several immature Little Blue Herons stalking the shallows.

Paddling up Baird Creek through the salt grass

Paddling up Baird Creek through the salt grass

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) on Baird Creek

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) on Baird Creek

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) on Baird Creek

Saltmarsh Mallow – related to Hibiscus – on Baird Creek

Immature Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Baird Creek

Immature Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Baird Creek

About 1/2 way up we diverted into a little cove on creek left.  It was occupied by a nice-sized gator, about 7 feet in length, and clearly Lord-of-All-He-Surveyed in his little patch of water. And passing through the narrow passage to get back out to the creek, we saw a Water Moccasin (aka Cottonmouth) coiled up under a palm tree, warming in the morning sun. Fortunately he was not at all interested in us, even though we passed less than 3 feet from him.

Well-fed gator in his little cove.

Well-fed gator in his little cove.

Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) on Baird Creek

Water Moccasin aka Cottonmouth basking under a palm tree

Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) on Baird Creek

Closeup of the Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) on Baird Creek

From there it was rather uneventful until we got to the upper end of the creek.  We paddled under lots of leaning and downed trees and got a bit of a work out navigating them in shallow water, but with the tide close to high we were able to paddle all the way up to where the cypress knees block the creek – only about 150 feet from “The Crack”.  We beached the kayaks and waded through ankle-deep water the rest of the way.

Beaching the kayaks just before The Crack

Beaching the kayaks just before The Crack

With all the rain in recent weeks “The Crack” was not as clear as I have seen it in the past, but it was lovely in the morning sun with lots of little Blue Gill, Sheepshead and minnows swimming in the deeper water.  We swam and had a snack break as we enjoyed the water and each others’ company for almost an hour – all by ourselves!.

The Crack - empty of the summer weekend hoards

The Crack – empty of the summer weekend hoards

Little fishies in The Crack

Little fishies in The Crack

The Crack - a little turbid from all the recent rain

The Crack – a little turbid from all the recent rain

Paddling back down Baird Creek, we passed the two female kayakers we had met at the Seven Sisters and well as some men in canoes paddling up.  We also had even more fun with the down trees, this time with the current carrying us along.

Paddling down Baird Creek

Paddling down Baird Creek

Paddling through a network of leaning trees

Paddling through a network of leaning trees on Baird Creek

When we hit the Chaz again we headed downstream again and decided to paddle up Salt Creek to see if we could find some of the springs there.  With the tide going out we weren’t sure how far we would make it up, but wanted to give it a try.

Palms meet pines on the Chaz

Palms meet pines on the Chaz

Navigating the downed trees on Salt Creek

Navigating the downed trees on Salt Creek

Searching for springs on Salt Creek

Searching for springs on Salt Creek

And we did make it to the first spring on the eastern fork of Salt Creek, but from there (and on the western fork) our way was blocked.  We had some good wildlife sightings however, with Osprey, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, a Tricolored Heron and several more Yellow-crowned Night Herons keeping us company.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Salt Creek

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Salt Creek

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) on Salt Creek

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) on Salt Creek

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Salt Creek

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Salt Creek

With the tide going out, we paddled back down Salt Creek to the Chaz and headed back upstream to the boat ramp, ending our day of paddling around 2 pm.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the Chaz

Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the Chaz

Santa Fe River – July 12, 2017

A nice, short little paddle for the Florida Trail Association on the springs section of the Santa Fe River.  While set up for newbies with the option of renting a kayak, everyone who showed up for the paddle had their own boat and had spent at least a little time on the water.  The goal today was not miles, but to simply enjoy ourselves in the cooling springs along the Santa Fe as well as introduce folks from other areas in Florida to what the Santa Fe has to offer.

We met up at the River Rise boat ramp on US 27 outside High Springs at 9 am and after unloading and driving most of the cars down to Rum Island County Park 11 of us were on the water before 10 am.

"The Gang" sets off from the US 27 put-in

“The Gang” sets off from the US 27 put-in

Our first stop was at Poe Springs County Park at approximately 2 miles.  We left our kayaks on the rocky ledge at the entrance to the spring run and walked up into the spring to find we had the park all to ourselves.  We spent about 40 minutes playing in the springs and getting to know each other.

Parking at Poe Springs

Parking at Poe Springs

Wading up the Poe Springs run

Wading up the Poe Springs run

Exploring the spring vent at Pow Springs

Exploring the spring vent

Hanging out at Poe Springs

Warming up after cooling down in the spring

Another mile down the river we took a long break to investigate Lily Springs and eat lunch.  The water was a little cloudy in Lily, but not nearly as bad as it had been a month earlier just before the end of the drought.  All the rain we’ve had the last month has flushed out the spring run and the spring cluster at the top is returning to normal.  Plus we are now able to once again paddle up the spring run, rather than beach and walk up.

Lily Springs

Naked Ed’s old shack at Lily Springs

Hanging out at Lily Springs

Hanging out at Lily Springs

Heading down Lily Springs run

Heading down Lily Springs run

For the next mile we paddled slowly, enjoying the sun and had a few wildlife sightings.  A single Swallow-tailed Kite wheeled overhead.  Many turtles were out basking on sunny logs.  One member of the group scared up a young gator hiding in the river-side vegetation.  And I grabbed a picture of a solitary American White Ibis.  The Santa Fe is not really the place to go for wildlife viewing but we usually see a bit during the week.

American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

River Cooters sunning on a log

River Cooters sunning on a log

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)

Just before the top of Rum Island we stopped at one of my favorite little places of all – Jonathan Spring.  Small and intimate, a spring vent gushes out from under a rocky ledge.  The water is so clear it looks to be only a few inches deep but it will surprise you when you wade in and find it over your waist.

Jonathan Spring vent

Jonathan Spring vent

Jonathan Spring at the Santa Fe

Jonathan Spring at the Santa Fe

From there it was a short distance to the Rum Island County park boat ramp, but we decided to continue on a short distance to look in on Gilchrist Blue Springs.  It was a tough paddle up the spring run, mostly trying to avoid all the tubers and swimmers who invariably move right into your path.  But it’s a bit like a fun slalom course to anticipate their unexpected lunges through the water.  At the top it was too crowded at the private resort to paddle over the spring vent, but at least the group got to see the area to plan for a return trip.  If you put in at Rum Island County Park you can be at Gilchrist Blue Springs early enough in the morning to avoid the mass hoards. (Hint:  Blue Springs Park does not open its gates until 9 am.)  And best of all, Blue Springs Park, after being on the market for many years, has been purchased by the state for incorporation into the state park system.  This transition will occur sometime this winter and the beautiful springs system will be preserved from further development.

Paddling up the Gilchrist Blue Springs run

Paddling up the Gilchrist Blue Springs run

Blue Springs Park, crowded on a typical summer afternoon

The spring vents at Gilchrist Blue Springs

The spring vents at Gilchrist Blue Springs

The clear water of Gilchrist Blue Springs joins the tannin-stained water of the Santa Fe

The clear water of Gilchrist Blue Springs joins the tannin-stained water of the Santa Fe

After winding our way between the swimmers back down to the Santa Fe we paddled back upstream to our takeout at Rum Island County Park.  After completing the shuttle most of us shared an early supper at The Diner in High Springs to rehydrate and replace some of the (few) calories we had burned.

Salt Creek – July 8, 2017

A wonderful paddle in a new location for me – Salt Creek in St Augustine, FL.  Salt Creek runs north-south between the Matanzas River and the Atlantic Ocean.  We met up at the boat launch area (hand launch only) in Anastasia State Park and paddled up to the St Augustine Inlet and back – about 5.2 miles.

 

The boat launch in Anastasia State Park is right on Anastasia Park Drive, about half way between the entrance station and the campground.  There is a covered picnic pavilion, a nice restroom with a cold water shower for rinsing off the salt water, and a building and shed for the boat rental.  You can rent kayaks, canoes, SUPs and sailboats (small cats) there from Anatasia Watersports.  The launch area is a nice beach about 200 feet from the parking area.

Anastasia State Park launch

Anastasia State Park launch

Anastasia Watersports at the launch site

Anastasia Watersports at the launch site

Once on the water we paddled north with low vegetation-covered dune ecosystem on both sides as long as we were within the State Park.  Almost from the beginning the St Augustine Lighthouse becomes the most prominent feature on the skyline to the west.  Shortly after paddling past a slight bend to the west you leave the state park and houses, marinas, docks, and boat anchorages start to appear.  But only on the west side, the state park occupies the entire peninsula to the east.  We crossed the center boat channel to the east side to enjoy the natural surroundings, but our eyes were also drawn to many of the boats, particularly the lovely sailboats at anchor.

The St Augustine Lighthouse on the western shore

The St Augustine Lighthouse on the western shore

St Augustine Lighthouse and beautiful sailboats at anchor

St Augustine Lighthouse and one of the beautiful sailboats at anchor

Avoiding the marked channel with it’s zipping powerboats we kept close to the eastern shore as we headed into a beautiful sandy beach area called Conch Island for a lunch/snack break and a swim to cool off.  The dunes were covered by Sea Oats and Rattlebox, at least on the eastern shore.  Sea oats in particular are considered a primary beach stabilizer because of its massive root system. They are also important both as a source of food and habitat for birds, small mammals and insects.

One of the beaches on Conch Island

One of the beaches on Conch Island

Rattlebox

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)

Sea oats (Uniola paniculta) against a blue summer sky

Laughing Gull on the beach

Laughing Gulls on the beach

Great Egret and Laughing Gull on the beach

Great Egret (Ardea alba) and Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) on the beach

Laughing Gull on the beach

Laughing Gull

Great Egret in flight

Great Egret in flight

Has Friday been here?

Has Friday been here?

After our break we headed north to St Augustine inlet, keeping to the eastern shoreline to avoid the main boat channel.  At this point, with the wind picking up and the clouds increasing, we turned around for the day.  Going back we hugged the western shore, paddling past the marinas and boat anchorages.  Aside from the lovely boats, this afforded us a magnificent view of the dunes on the eastern shore.  As we approached the state park however we discovered the folly of staying on the western shore as the tide ran out – extremely shallow water.  We had to get out and walk – sometimes even drag – our kayaks for about 100 yards before we could find water deep enough to float our boats.  Fortunately the bottom was sandy rather than sucky mud so we left no shoes behind.

St Augustine Inlet with the Ursina Bridge in the background

St Augustine Inlet with the Ursina Bridge in the background

Paddling back through the boat anchorage

Paddling back through the boat anchorage

Osprey in the sailboat spreaders

Osprey in the sailboat spreaders

Beautiful barrier island dunes on the eastern shore

Beautiful barrier island dunes on the eastern shore

Walking our boats through the shallows

Walking our boats through the shallows

Back at the state park launch, after the loading up the boats and rinsing in the cold water shower, we drove up to The Conch House for a late lunch.  This is a marina-resort-restaurant complex with indoor and outdoor seating.  We chose a tiki hut on the back deck.  Not only could we see the lighthouse from our hut but we had a great view across Salt Creek towards the Atlantic and were able to watch a Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) fishing the low-water mud flats while we ate.

The Conch House

The Conch House

A view of the St Augustine Light from our tiki hut

A view of the St Augustine Light from our tiki hut

Clouds over the Atlantic

Clouds over the Atlantic

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) fishing the mud flats

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) fishing the mud flats