Sunday, May 4, 2014

Suwannee River Overnight Paddle

State Parks visited:  78

The last time we were on the Suwannee River was New Years' Day a few years ago, and it was high time for a return visit.  Chris suggested an overnight paddle trip, and so we planned it for the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Olivia ended up staying with my parents for the weekend, so it was just Chris, Xandra, Rob, and me. 
We used the shuttle service provided by Canoe Outpost Suwannee River, with me and Chris leaving our cars at Suwannee River State Park and taking the shuttle back to our launch spot, Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.  But first, a yummy beer to start the journey!
The scenery was immediately the star of the show.  From the tannin-browned water to the limestone cliffs, white sandy beaches and twisted, moss-covered oaks, this was unlike anywhere we had paddled before:

Pretty soon we also began seeing small caves in the limestone, and even a freshwater spring.  Of course, we had to explore!
Not sure if you can see the orange blaze in the background there, but that's a section of the Florida Trail.

It was the first of several magical stops!
We paddled onward, enjoying the fall colors.  Northern friends, don't laugh!  This is our Florida-style fall color!

Pretty soon I saw something that sent my dirty mind running.  I pointed it out to everyone, and of course we had to stop for pictures.  One picture in particular had us all dying with laughter, and it has actually found its way around the internet.  Enjoy!
Just out of curiosity, have you ever seen a tree with testicles? 
Okay, so back to the river.  Our destination was the Holton Creek River Camp, which is a stop along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.  Eventually we rounded a curve and found the stairs and signs and knew our day on the river was done.  Xandra ran up and found the campground hosts, securing us one of the (free!) screened enclosures for the night.  We unpacked boats, secured them, and deposited our stuff at camp, and got some firewood.  While our weather had been pleasant and warm during the first day, the night was going to be cold.  And then, exploration and dinner.

The hosts insisted this was the largest cypress tree in the world.

There was even a full double bath house.
Sunday morning was cold and windy.  We had a long paddle ahead of us, and we knew we needed to be on the water early.  And did I mention it was cold?  Much, much more than Saturday.  Brrr!
The guys loaded up our gear while Xandra and I cleaned up our site. Once we launched, it wasn't long before we realized we would paddling into and fighting the wind all day.  It was a complete turnaround from the day before.  But, it was also not long before we came across the first of several springs that feed into the river.  And, like the day before, we explored.

Nothing like a fossilized sea biscuit to remind you that Florida used to be underwater!

The day went on like this.  Caves, springs, wind, hard paddling.  Hard, hard, hard paddling.  Our journey was beautiful, though!

The final bright spot of our journey was another spring.  We looked over and saw caves like in the last picture.  Further exploration revealed clear water flowing out of it...a freshwater spring flowing out of the cave.  It was amazing!  We parked the boats, took off whatever shoes and socks we were wearing, hiked up our pants, and climbed in to get a better look.  The outside cave led into another chamber.  You could see where there had been a cave-in, and sunlight was streaming in on some plants that grew in the protected environment.  It was, in a word, magical.

Soon after this, the boat ramp at Suwannee River State Park appeared.  Our journey was over.  And let me tell you, it was the most difficult journey I've ever loved.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chassahowitzka River

State Parks visited:  78!

When I was in middle and high school, I had a friend named Jean.  Her family had a cabin on the Chassahowitzka River, long passed down through several generations.  They liked to spend long weekends at the cabin, a two-room structure without electricity or running water, and Jean and her brother were often allowed to bring friends along. 
I was fortunate enough, several times, to be one of those guests.  I was fascinated by the little cabin.  It was a completely different environment from what I knew of travel.  Launching from a local boat ramp, the cabin was only accessible by water.  Watching Jean's mom brew coffee with an old percolator.  Making faces at Jean from our bunk beds.  Looking for alligators off the dock at night with a flashlight.  Going scalloping in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.  I loved visiting.  I don't think I ever realized that the 'Chessawhiskey,' as I knew it, was part of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, or that I wouldn't visit it again after we graduated high school.
We lost Jean in a car accident in 1998.  I'm still close with her family, and my own daughter...Olivia Jean...reminds me daily of what a special friend Jean was.  I've gotten several invitations to go to the cabin with her family.  However, I can't imagine it being the same. 
Chris turned 30 last year.  To celebrate he decided to go paddling down the Chassahowitzka River, and he invited us along.  There are many natural springs that feed into the river, and Chris wanted to go see as many as he could.
We launched at the same boat launch used by Jean's family.  It was strange, vaguely remembering what it looked like over 20 years after my last visit.  Once we got under way, we were quickly treated to a sight:  Otters!  Playful otters, about 5 of them.  They were very curious about us, but they kept their distance.  We watched for quite awhile.

We paddled on and saw several springs.  We did some geocaching as well.  Our final destination on the river was a place commonly referred to as Miss Maggie's Crack.  It's a spring set way off the main river, and it's like a secret party spot.  We weren't there for partying, exactly, but we still wanted to see it. 

The waterway became more and more narrow, the trees thicker.  Eventually we had to abandon our boats and walk the rest of the way in shallow water.  And then, there it was:
We only spent a little while at Miss Maggie's.  Just enough time to soak up some cool spring water and then eat our lunch.  Then it was time to drag the boats back out and make the return journey to the launch.
Our trip that day brought back so many memories for me.  Parts of my youth I wanted to share with my family...the joining of my younger memories with what I was currently seeing.  The desire to visit with Jean's family again and make a visit to the cabin, which I realize now probably meant more to me than I ever realized.  I am really so very grateful for the time I was able to spend there.
I can't wait to go back.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birthdays! We celebrate outdoorsy-style!

State Parks visited: 76

In the time since I last posted last year, we've all gotten just a bit older.  Birthdays are special events, and worthy of a celebration!  Olivia turned 9 last summer, and true to form, she asked to visit a state park on her big day.  Her choice?  Gasparilla Island State Park. But first, a quick stop in Englewood for some geocaching:
Yep, this boat grave is a geocache!
The state park is home to a lighthouse, beaches, and a range light.  We were fortunate enough to make it there while the lighthouse was open since it closes for the month of August.  So, we looked around the lighthouse, enjoyed the beach, and took in the scenery
Beautiful birthday girl!

Railroad vine

The range light at the other end of the island

Birthday girl playing under the watchful eye of a crab.
Next came my birthday in August.  I chose two parks, and we made a whole weekend out of it.  I've always wanted to see Florida Caverns State Park, and we also decided to visit Falling Waters State Park as well since it's nearby. 

Falling Waters is absolutely has the highest waterfall in Florida at 73'....not bad for my flat state!  They also have hiking trails, camping, and a neat (and very active!) butterfly garden.  I am so glad we made the additional stop to see it!
Olivia with a statue of the CCC Worker.  Florida Caverns was one of our first 9 state parks, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

She stayed like that for a looooooooonngggg time.

Florida Caverns is near the Chipola River, and the river was quite high when we were up there last summer.  Our cavern tour was abbreviated, then, since several rooms were flooded.  Despite the shorter tour, we really enjoyed ourselves!  Our tour guide was funny and kept goodheartedly teasing Olivia. 
After the cavern tour we hiked around on some of the trails in the park.  They were amazing!  So green and luscious.  Every once in awhile we would come across another cavern opening.  It was so neat to stand there and feel cool air emanating from the openings! 

My heart+my soul

My birthday was great!  Just a week later is Rob's birthday, and to celebrate we returned to a favorite spot: Sanibel Island.
This year we decided to go kind of luxurious, and we stayed at the Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island.  We've never stayed at a resort like this!  It was a ton of fun.  We spent our time in a cabana on the beach, tossing a beach ball around in the pool, shelling, eating awesome food, and really just letting go and relaxing.

Three different birthday celebrations.  One awesome summer for my happy little family.  We are indeed blessed.
Paula :)