Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weekend Getaway: St. Lucie Inlet Preserve and Seabranch Preserve State Parks

State Parks visited: 66

We recently had a weekend off together and wanted to go somewhere.  Typical, I know.  After our horrendous experience in Tallahassee...midnight (all night, actually) fire alarms, rude staff, etc., we had enough hotel reward points to stay somewhere free.  We just had to decide where!  The answer was south, so we got up early one Saturday morning, loaded up the kayaks,  and headed for St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park. 
The sky was overcast as we launched, and the tide was going out as well.  Paddlers on their way back in assured us we were in for a tough paddle, and they recommended we follow the island south.  We knew there were paddling trails in either direction, but being new to the area we took their advice.
Once we turned into the mangrove channel, the wind died down and we relaxed.  The sun peaked out for a few minutes, too.  I looked around and realized we were surrounded by mangrove crabs:
I knew there was supposed to be a small passage to the beach side of the island, but I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for.  We rounded a bend and, honestly, I would have missed the beach entrance if it weren't for a boat sitting there:
We got about 10 feet from shore when the mud had us stuck.  Oh yeah, low tide!  So, I took one for the team and got out to pull the boats in.  Here was my reward:
Oh yes, that was some stinky, shoe-sucking mud!  Well, we beached the boats and grabbed our beach gear.  The passage to the beach was cut through the sea grapes, and no-see-ums had begun to attack us fiercely.  Around this time the ladies with the other boat showed up and left, so we were pretty sure we had the island to ourselves.
Sure, we had the island to ourselves.  I think most normal people had read the weather forecast and seen the storms threatening the area.  But we aren't normal people, so we sat there and played at the beach.  The wind was so fierce...honestly, I've never experienced wind like this...and we sat there feeling like our skin was being taken off with the finest sand paper.  It was beautiful and painful at the same time!
We toughed it out as long as we could, but I think we were all pretty miserable.  The wind was just too much:
Soon enough, it was back to the boats and a quick lunch.  From here, our plan was to paddle further up the paddling trail so we could see the boardwalk that traverses the island.  We tried.  We really, really did.  Unfortunately the wind here was again too strong, and I freaked out because I was afraid of getting lost.  Still, what we got to see was pretty!
Eventually we paddled back out the main mangrove channel and up the side of the island, hoping to check out the dock and buildings.  The wind here was strong, but we managed!
There were so many birds on the island! We saw limpkins, roseate spoonbills, little green herons, and this guy.  He's a black-throated blue warbler:
Finally it was time to leave the island.  We made the short paddle back to shore, loaded up the kayaks, and grabbed some takeout before heading back to our hotel. We were all exhausted and still had a full day planned for Sunday!
After a good night's sleep and a decent hotel breakfast, we made our way to Seabranch Preserve State Park.  It's right down the street from St. Lucie Inlet, but the parks are completely different.  Our goal here was to hike and geocache.  First, though, we were treated to a rare sight:  the elusive Florida bobcat!  See it, right there in the last picture?!?  Okay, okay, I'm kidding.  They're apparently making some improvements to the park, and I'm referring to the piece of equipment by the sign. :)
It was extremely bright, sunny and hot as we set out, a marked difference from the day before.  There were some clouds in the distance, but we didn't let them deter us!
Florida Rosemary, pictured above, was everywhere.  Olivia got quite fond of pinching a few leaves and rubbing them between her fingers.  It smelled so good!
Onward, we marched, finding geocaches and enjoying our surroundings.  The rain did eventually fall, but we were so hot and it felt so enjoyable!  I've got to hand it to Olivia...she was a real trouper despite it being the longest hike she's ever been on (4 miles, give or take).
Not too much further, and we were back at the trailhead and parking lot.  We ate lunch and changed our shoes...nothing feels better than putting on flip flops after finishing a long, hot hike.  Then, the trip home.  Two days at two distinct and very different state parks, each a stone's throw from the other.  We had a phenomenal time!
The end!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Easter Weekend: Lake Kissimmee State Park

State Parks visited: 64

We decided to spend our Easter weekend camping, and Lake Kissimmee State Park fit the bill nicely.  They had a program going on for kids, plus their weekend cow camp was open as well.  I was so excited!
After a long, traffic-filled trip after work on Friday, we arrived at our campsite in the dark.  The campsites seemed large and somewhat private, but there was some sort of party going on at the site next to ours.  There was a fest tent, Chinese lanterns, flowers on the tables, and someone playing guitar.  Everyone was singing along, including me.  At first we were a little skeptical...who wanted partiers for camp neighbors?...but we eventually realized we were witnessing a special event of some sort.  More on that later!
We woke up Saturday morning and headed down to the boat launch/concession area.  Since it was Easter weekend, the park was hosting an egg hunt and various activities for the kids, and Olivia was really looking forward to it!  There were crafts also, and Olivia made this cute egg, which is now on her bedroom door.
And she's off!
I wish you could have seen the thousands of brightly colored Easter eggs spread out on the ground, in the trees, on the picnic tables, etc!  There were tons of kids running around searching, grabbing, laughing, and having a great time, too! 
At this point I feel the need to share that this trip was our trip of forgetfulness, starting off with Olivia forgetting her Easter basket.  A quick look through the car found a reusable Walmart shopping bag for her to gather eggs with.  I also forgot my hiking shoes, which meant I only had flip flops to wear all weekend.  And, I forgot my glasses.  Yay for challenges!
The park also offers Segway tours, which they were setting up for here.  Seems like fun!
After all the eggs were found and counted and prizes were awarded, and crafts were made and games were played, we wandered around the concession area and boat launch:


There is a huge picnic area and several trailheads that are in this area.  There's even an observation tower:
Our goal for the day was to actually get out of the park.  The Lake Wales Ridge State Forest is nearby, and there are two short trails that are on the Trailwalker list.  So, we decided to go for a hike!

This was a hot day, and the trail was somewhat hard to follow.  The trail markers were faded by the sun and blended into the surrounding scrub.  Still, we persevered (including me in FLIP FLOPS!) and made it to the end.  We were rewarded with a laugh on the way back to camp by a homeowner with a sense of humor.  If you see the markers on either side of this driveway, these are strollers in the shape of dolphins.  They used to have them at both the mall and Sea World when we were growing up!
We headed back to camp to relax a bit before dinner.  A closer look at the Chinese lanterns hanging in the next site revealed 'K+T' on them, and we speculated on what names they stood for.  Yep, it appeared someone had gotten married!  We all made suggestions, from Kate and Tyler to Kyle and Tamara.  Robert won with his suggestion of Kake and Taters, so that's what their names were to us.  When the wedding party walked through the site, we asked who the bride and groom were, and wished them a happy future.
Who's that little guy?  Easter morning dawned bright and beautiful, and we found this little bunny fearlessly spreading cheer to everyone who walked by.  Olivia was worried the Easter Bunny would pass by our camp since she had forgotten her Easter basket.  A quick exploration of our camp revealed that the Easter Bunny knows how to improvise!
We had gotten a new lantern, and that clever bunny used the lantern box as a makeshift basket.  Clever, clever, clever.  And then, breakfast! Around this time, Kake and Taters stopped by and introduced themselves.  Turns out, their real names are Kim and Tim.  They had gotten married Friday in the cow camp because it was a special place to them.  What we witnessed Friday night was the afterparty for their wedding reception.  It was very special!  And, they brought us some of their reception desserts, homemade baklava and camera-shaped cookies since Tim was a photographer.  It was such a nice gesture!
Pretty soon it was time to pack up camp.  We had lots left to do!  First thing was stopping to take a few pictures of our amazing park:

Then it was time to check out the cow camp.  The cow camp is as authentic as it was in 1876, when cow men (don't call 'em cowboys!) would herd Florida Cracker Cattle (and please...'cracker' is not a derogatory word here) through the state to sell at market.  Nobody owned the camp.  It was there for whoever needed it, and there were several like it throughout the state.  Herds were run by 2-3 cow men, and they'd rest a night and then clean the place up for the next group passing through.  It was extremely fascinating!

This cow man is demonstrating his drag technique.  This is not a whip. They referred to them as 'drags' because they'd sit the handle on their shoulder, dragging it behind them, keeping it at the ready should harm come their way.  He was very clear that the drags were not used on the cattle.  It would flay the skin wide open and lessen the value of the cattle, if not causing them serious injury.  And the term 'cracker?'  It comes from the cracking sound he was demonstrating in that last picture.

Finally, time to leave.  We didn't head straight home, though!  We had one last Trailwalker trail to hike (yep...flip flops again) before we could begin the journey home.
When the wind blows...always...stop to enjoy!
Our hike went awry when the trail split and there were no trailmarkers to guide our way.  There are several multi-use trails in this area, so we really didn't want to take a wrong turn and get lost.  So, we made our way back to the car the way we had come in.
And finally, home.....The End!