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

Juniper Creek – July 1, 2017

Another member of the Florida Paddling Trails Association and I met up on their Facebook page and planned this nice little 7-mile paddle.  Although most folks never realize it, the Juniper Creek run does not end at the Juniper Wayside where the Juniper Springs Recreation Area shuttle picks you up.  Juniper Creek continues on down to empty into Lake George and there is also a parallel stream for half of the way called Little Juniper Creek.

Map of our trip

For this trip we put in at Juniper Wayside on SR 19, paddled down Juniper Creek to Lake George, turned north and paddled along the lake shore for about half a mile, then turned into Little Juniper Creek for the return to our cars.

The morning trip downstream on Juniper Creek was calm and restful, except for the pretty large gator I scared up just after the start!  I was still adjusting my seat in a very narrow section only 2-3 minutes into the trip and didn’t see him until the last minute.  He trashed his head at me to let me know that I was too close!   But he swam one way and I paddled the other way, so no harm done and it was a good reminder to me to pay attention.

Small gator

Small gator

For most of the morning we had Juniper Creek to ourselves.  A couple of airboats passed us, headed upstream, but the creek was fairly wide and they were courteous, so except for the noise shattering the natural sounds they were no bother.  We saw a couple of little gators in the vegetation lining the banks, an osprey pair wheeling overhead, a few turtles sunning on logs, and lots of Eel grass, Sagittaria, a few Swamp Hibiscus and some Mallow.

Grasses in Juniper Creek

Grasses in clear Juniper Creek

Saltmarsh mallow - Kosteltzkya pentacarpos - a relative of the hibiscus

Saltmarsh mallow – Kosteltzkya pentacarpos – a relative of the hibiscus

Broadleaf arrowhead - Sagittaria latifolia

Broadleaf arrowhead – Sagittaria latifolia

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper - Romalea guttata

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper – Romalea guttata – a voracious garden pest, but quite colorful

We entered Lake George at a shallow spot where many pontoon boats were rafted up for lunch and swimming.  The laughter of children drifted to us across the distance.  Two words of warning about Lake George which is a wide spot in the St Johns River.  Most important for paddlers is that it is quite large and very shallow.  That means any bit of wind across the lake can create significant waves.  And it can get very windy, especially in the late afternoon.  The second thing is that it is loaded with gators, so don’t go swimming with anyone that you can’t out-swim 🙂

Approachng Lake George

Approachng Lake George

Boats rafted up on Lake George at the mouth of Juniper Creek

Boats rafted up on Lake George at the mouth of Juniper Creek

 

More birds and wildflowers greeted us along the shoreline of Lake George as we turned north.  We saw Black Vultures and Osprey in the tall trees, hibiscus, mallow and rattlebox in the bushes, a stately Great Blue Heron and a pair of Green Herons – one of whom posed for me on a log.

Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus - Hibiscus coccineus

Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus – Hibiscus coccineus

Swamp Pink Hibiscus - Hibiscus grandiflorus

Swamp Pink Hibiscus – Hibiscus grandiflorus

Osprey - Pandion haliaetus

Osprey – Pandion haliaetus

Great Blue Heron - Ardea Herodias

Great Blue Heron – Ardea Herodias

Green Heron - Butorides virescens - lift his head features in alarm at something in the water

Green Heron – Butorides virescens – lifting his head feathers in alarm at something in the water

Rattlebox - Crotalaria spp

Rattlebox – Crotalaria spp – a member of the pea family

As we neared the mouth of Little Juniper Creek Cynthia recognized a friend of hers anchored  in his pontoon boat.  We paddled over and he invited us onto the boat for lunch.  From waist deep water it was easy to exit (and easier to get back in than I thought it would be).  He had cheese and crackers and peanut butter pretzels, I shared my sliced apples and Cynthia shared her turkey and spinach sandwich so it turned into a nice and unexpected smorgasbord.

After lunch we entered Little Juniper Creek for half of the paddle back – my favorite part of the trip.  Little Juniper is narrower than Juniper, starting out fairly wide at the mouth but narrowing to about two paddle widths as it approaches Juniper.  At one point there is a long island in the center, so I took the high road and Cynthia took the low road and we met up in Scotland at the end.  And it’s too thick overhead at the east end for airboats which was a blessing we realized as soon as we came back out into Juniper Creek.

Cloud reflections on Little Juniper Creek

Cloud reflections near the mouth of Little Juniper Creek

Little Juniper Creek becomes narrow and winding

Little Juniper Creek becomes narrow and winding

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

Enjoying Little Juniper Creek

Enjoying Little Juniper Creek

It was only 1.5 miles back to Juniper Wyaside but it really was spoiled by the constant parade of airboats.  Again, all but one – a young man probably trying to impress the girlfriend clinging to him – were courteous, slowing to idle speed (which the whole river is signed as idle speed/minimum wake but they don’t seem to pay any attention to it) as soon as they saw us. But the way was so narrow, the noise so loud, the wake was still appreciable (especially after the two passes by the young man and his girl) and the wind and spray from their prop wash was so bad that it certainly put a damper on the end of the trip.  And of course no gators, turtles or birds were left to be seen while crushed vegetation followed in their wake.  Not to mention the area just south of Juniper Wayside where they raft up and play music that can be heard even over the sound of their engines. I really don’t understand why Juniper Creek and Little Juniper Creek can not be declared a motor free zone.  There are hundreds of other little creeks off Lake George in the area that are available to motorboats to explore and party.

So if you want to enjoy this beautiful little trip my advice is to get out very early (there is no gate at Juniper Wayside, you can launch as early as you like) so you are off the river by 11 am when the airboats start showing up or do it only during the week or the winter when.