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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!.
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.
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.
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.
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.