Category Archives: Suwannee Quest

Suwannee Quest 14 – April 29-30, 2017

For our 14th and  final Suwannee Quest paddle, we paddled the river from Fowlers Bluff to the Gulf of Mexico, 16.5 River Miles or about 18.9 paddling miles over 2 days.  We used the town of Suwannee as our base camp where the Anderson Landing River Camp provides tent camping with a single shower/toilet and a rustic but welcome screen house for cooking, eating and lounging away from the bugs.  To the west of Anderson Landing is a very busy public concrete boat ramp, while Immediately to the east is Bill’s Fish Camp which offers RV sites and simple but very clean motel rooms with kitchenettes.

Demory Creek boat ramp, next to Anderson Landing

Demory Creek boat ramp, next to Anderson Landing

 

 

Anderson Landing River Camp

Anderson Landing River Camp from the water

Bill's Fish Camp RV campground

Bill’s Fish Camp RV campground

On Saturday morning Captain Kay from Suwannee Guides (suwanneguides.com) met us exactly on time at Anderson Landing to shuttle us up to our put-in at Weeks Landing.  A couple of things to note here.  First, Weeks Landing is in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and while the road is well maintained it can be flooded when the water is only sightly high.  So check with the land manager or Suwannee Guides before deciding to use Weeks Landing as a launch or pick up site.  Second, we had finished our previous Suwannee Quest paddle at Fowlers Bluff, but since it is on the east side of the river and we were on the west side and the nearest bridge across the Suwannee is up in Old Town, putting in at Fowlers Bluff would have added over an hour to our shuttle.  Since it is only about a 1/2 mile paddle upstream from Weeks Landing to Fowlers Bluff, we decided it made more sense to paddle the extra mile than to drive over an hour around.

Putting in at Weeks Landing

Putting in at Weeks Landing

We were on the water by 9 am, under hazy blue skies.  The 1/2 mile paddle upstream to Fowlers Bluff went by quickly and after a brief in-boat break we turned our boats around and headed downstream.

Paddling past the houses at Fowlers Bluff

Paddling past the houses at Fowlers Bluff

Nearing the end of its wandering path to the Gulf, the Suwannee is over 500 feet wide and with only a few exceptions the banks are low and swampy.  Cypress trees form the overstory with lots of Spatterdock and bushy wildflowers along the water’s edge.

The wide Suwannee with borders of Spatterdock

The wide Suwannee with borders of Spatterdock

Cypress and swampy borders

Cypress and swampy borders

We saw a lot of Sweet Pepperbush, Late Purple Aster, Swamp Rose and Swamp Leatherflower along this section.

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) bush

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) closeup

Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens)

Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens)

Swamp Rose or Marsh Rose (Rosa palustris)

Swamp Rose or Marsh Rose (Rosa palustris)

Swamp leatherflower (Clematis crispa)

Swamp leatherflower (Clematis crispa)

Swamp leatherflower (Clematis crispa)

Swamp leatherflower (Clematis crispa)

Around noon we stopped at the only real high spot of ground along this stretch – Fletcher Landing.  We had a nice lunch and leg-stretch break and found some Florida Wild Iris (Iris virginica) growing nearby.  Soon after settling down in the middle of the landing to eat we were joined by a Fiddler Crab.

Fletcher Landing - the perfect lunch site

Fletcher Landing – the perfect lunch site

Florida Wild Iris (Iris virginica)

Florida Wild Iris (Iris virginica)

The Fiddler Crab that came to lunch

The Fiddler Crab that came to lunch

After lunch we continued downstream, struggling against a strong headwind and passing several creeks that would be worth exploring.   Around 4:30 pm we finally approached Demory Creek and saw the first houses of the town of Suwannee.   Turning into Demory Creek and its maze of canals we took the first canal to the left then past the marina took a right into the canal leading to our campsite at Anderson Landing.

Reaching Demory Creek and the town of Suwannee

Reaching Demory Creek and the town of Suwannee

The turn towards Anderson Landing

The turn towards Anderson Landing (The sign is dangling in the water and pointing the wrong direction) so look for the flag past the Suwannee Marina.

Pelicans greeting us at Bill's Fish Camp

Pelicans greeting us at Bill’s Fish Camp

Waiting in line at the boat ramp

Waiting in line for the boat ramp

After a quick shower and change of clothes we gathered for dinner at the Salt Creek Restaurant where we celebrated with seafood, margaritas and a perfect sunset over the Gulf salt marshes.

Sunset over Salt Creek

Sunset over Salt Creek

On Sunday we were up early to pack and get back out on the water.  The weather report was for 25 mph wind gusts in the afternoon, so we wanted to get going early.  Just as we were leaving Captain Kay from Suwannee Guides showed up and gave us some advice on various routes out through the salt marshes and islands.  We launched, following the canals back out through the town of Suwannee.

Paddling down the canals in Suwannee

Passing under one of the bridges in Suwannee

Passing under one of the bridges in Suwannee

Paddling past the Salt Creek Restaurant

Paddling past the Salt Creek Restaurant where we had dinner on Saturday night

We paddled south following the channel between Goodson and Odlund Islands to an abandoned home at the end of the power lines.  We had been told that this was the oldest remaining home in Suwannee.  We took about a 1/2 hour break exploring the old home and its out buildings.

Approaching old home on Odulund Island

Approaching old home and boat house on Odlund Island

Old home on Odulund Island

Old home on Odlund Island

Afterward we headed west to the main channel into Suwannee and took some group pics around some of the channel markers.  It was hard work keeping the kayaks together in the increasing wind!

Group picture attempt

Group picture attempt at the channel range marker

From there we headed to the southern tip of Harris Island for a picnic lunch on the beach.  The wind increased steadily and soon the sea was covered with white caps.

Harris Island

Harris Island

Lunch break on Harris Island

Lunch break on Harris Island

Boats pulled up on the beach at Harris Island

Boats pulled up on the beach at Harris Island

We put our heads down and paddled like hell straight into the wind to cross the shipping channel.  10 minutes of all-out hard work brought us back into the lee of the salt marshes on the pother side of the channel.  Fortunately, no power boats came through the channel during the crossing.  (Sorry, no pics of the crossing.  I would have broached if I have taken my hands off of my paddle.)  After that it was a fairly easy paddle back, using the salt marsh islands to protect us from the wind.

In the lee of the salt marshes, heading back towards Suwannee

Back in the lee of the salt marshes, heading back towards Suwannee

Design in the seawall

Design in the seawall

One thing to note when paddling this area.  The salt marsh islands are over your head and cut by wandering channels, so visibility is limited.  A map and compass and/or a GPS is really necessary to avoid becoming confused in the maze.

It's easy to get confused in the salt marsh isalnds

It’s easy to get confused in the salt marsh islands

Back once again at Anderson Landing we quickly packed up and left, feeling a real sense of accomplishment at having paddled the entire Suwannee River within the state of Florida.

Anderson Landing

Anderson Landing

 

Suwanne Quest Map

Suwanne Quest Map

 

 

 

 

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

Suwannee Quest 12 – January 14, 2017

For our 12th monthly Suwannee Quest paddle, we started at Boundary Bend boat ramp in Lee and took out at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park – about 13 paddling miles.  Several times during the day it looked like thunderstorms, but it never thundered or rained and the clouds were awesome as they built up higher and higher.

With several people getting lost on the backroads into Boundary Bend it was a late start, but eventually everyone got there and we were able to complete the shuttle.  We actually got on the river around 11 am.

Winter morning on the Suwannee River near Boundary Bend

Winter morning on the Suwannee River near Boundary Bend

 

Beautiful kevlar canoe kevlar canoe against Suwannee rock formations

Beautiful kevlar canoe kevlar canoe against Suwannee rock formations

Along the way we explored a bit of Bethel Creek.  It appears that the area was used as a borrow pit in building the local highway with no reclamation effort, so it provided a rather barren vista.  But it did expose a beautiful bluff and someday we would like to explore it further.

A side trip up Bethel Creek

A side trip up Bethel Creek

Inside the borrow pit on Bethel Creek

Inside the borrow pit on Bethel Creek

We stopped at Dowling Park River Camp for lunch so those people in the group who had never seen a River Camp could explore. Most thought it would be an excellent place to camp on a future trip. (River Camps are set up for paddlers and hikers and can only be accessed on foot or by boat. They include a cooking pavilion, potable water, flush toilets, hot showers, 5 screened sleeping platforms and lots of room for tent camping.)  Since the west side of the river around Dowling Park frequently floods, the sleeping platforms here are built up on stilts and the restrooms are portable units on flatbed trailers so they can be moved out if flooding threatens.

One of the sleeping platforms at Dowling Park River Camp

One of the sleeping platforms at Dowling Park River Camp

 

Lunch time at Dowling Park River Camp

Lunch time at Dowling Park River Camp

Even though we took a leg stretch break at a rope swing the water was too cold for swimming.

Break area with rope swing

Break area with rope swing

Later we stopped at Charles Spring to explore and the river water was definitely much colder than the 72 degree spring water – so I’m guessing the river water temp was about 60 degrees.

Charles Spring Run

Charles Spring Run

Swimming hole at Charles Spring

Having fun in the swimming hole at Charles Spring

As we continued down the Suwannee the afternoon clouds closed in.  But no rain or thunder, so all was good and the cloud formations were awesome.

Late afternoon clouds coming in

Late afternoon cloud formation

Afternoon cloud buildup

Afternoon cloud buildup

Arriving at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park ramp we had a surprise waiting for us.  An ultralight plane was sitting on the ramp, its wing tips tangled in the briars on either side.  While we waited out on the water, the pilot and his friend wrestled the plane around so it finally was sitting sideways on the ramp (now with its tail in the briars) and we could get around it.

Ultralight plane stuck in the briars on the boat ramp

Ultralight sea plane stuck in the briars on the boat ramp

Hauling our kayaks around the ultralight plane on the boat ramp

Hauling our kayaks around the ultralight plane on the boat ramp

A little later, as we approached the town of Mayo on our drive home, lots of emergency vehicles passed us headed back toward the park and the town of Mayo was blacked out.  We didn’t discovered until we got home that the pilot had gone back out on the river, clipped a power line over the river, and had died in the crash.  A sad ending to a beautiful day.