Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kayaking in HELL

Not that sulfurous lake of fire and brimstone, but on the Crooked River in Tate's Hell State Forest near Carrabelle in Franklin County, Florida. Tate's Hell came by its name about a hundred years ago, so the legend says, when a man named Cebe Tate pursued a Florida Panther into the swamp and became disoriented. He spent several days wandering in that wilderness, lost his gun, and was bitten by a water moccasin. When he stumbled out of the forest and into a couple of locals, who questioned him on his identity, he is said to have replied "My name's Tate and I've just been through Hell."

It's really not so bad, though I wouldn't want to spend a night out there lost and unprepared (lows are in the 20's down here lately).

I drove all that way down there because the rivers up here are still high from all the rain and the forecast called for enough wind to keep me out of the marsh. It wasn't so much the wind as the combination of the wind and the cold. I don't mind either one that much within reasonable bounds, but both of them at the same time is no good. So I figured that I could find some small tidal swamp crick where I could hide from the wind and not have to run any rapids. This morning that was the extent of my plan. I didn't know where I was going to put in or even what the name of the stream would be. I called the forest service office and they said they had some maps, but I gathered that those folks didn't paddle and thus couldn't offer much in the way of information beyond where the boat ramps are. There's a livery in Carrabelle that I'd noticed previously called Expeditions in Hell (great name, www.expeditionsinhell.com). I stopped and talked to a very nice lady there named Rama and she kindly suggested a few options and even gave me a map of the area (on sturdy waterproof paper with launches highlighted, no less). I took her first suggestion, the Crooked River. I put in on SR 67 just a few miles N of Carrabelle where the road crosses the river. From there I paddled E about 5 miles, to Crooked River Recreation Site #2, and back. I passed Rec Site 1 and both looked like great places to car camp. Birds were OK, mostly woodpeckers and kingfishers and the occasional green backed heron. It's a pretty narrow river, 20-40' across, very dark from tannin, through the forest, which is very swampy. The wierdest thing about this river is that the E end flows into the mouth of the Ochlockonee near the Gulf and the W end into the Carrabelle River. Both ends are tidally influenced. So there's no real direction the "river" flows. The section I was on changed directions several times. There are several launches that make for pretty easy access to the whole river. My section was about 10 miles total on an out and back trip in about 4 hours.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lake Jackson

We've been here for six months now and today was the first time I've been on Lake Jackson, despite its being only a couple miles from our house. It's a pretty good size urban lake that disappears every few decades when the silt plug in the limestone karst gives way and the lake goes into the ground until a new plug builds up and about a lake's worth of rain falls out of the sky. It's up now as high as many people have ever seen it. I've checked it a couple times now, but either didn't have a boat with me (just looking at the launches) or didn't find it appealing. Aimee's been bugging me to go since we got down here, but I wasn't excited about paddling on an urban lake that could turn into a giant flushing toilet. Besides, the part you can see on North Monroe Street looks like one giant lilly pad (not much water to speak of). On Sunday we went to the state park down the street from the launch on Crowder Rd to check out the Indian mounds and walk the nature trails. Afterwards we drove down to the boat ramp to look at the lake and see what there was to see. It was a pleasant evening with no wind and there were lots of birds, and for the first time I thought it might be nice to paddle there sometime.

Prospects for paddling were bleak today, as there was a 100% chance of rain, and it could last all day. It was already falling when I woke up at 7 this morning, so I pretty much gave up on it, especially after seeing the huge green and yellow mass on the radar. I ran errands and did responsible stuff for a couple hours. Then by noon it had started to clear and by one the sun was out and it was mid-50's and there wasn't any wind to speak of. I was on the lake by 2.

I didn't really go far, but I spent about 2.5 hours out poking into the swollen marshes and fingers watching birds. The birding was fantastic. I saw: pied-billed grebe, double crested cormorant, great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tricolored heron, white ibis, hooded merganser, turkey vulture, osprey (hit the water twice and caught a fish on the second try), American coot by the hundreds, killdeer, greater yellowlegs, belted kingfisher, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, European starling, yellow-rumped warblers (aka butterbutts), red-winged blackbird, grackle, and I'm probably forgetting some because that's a lot and I didn't bring a pen/paper with me, which I should in the future. Add that to all the warblers, wrens, cardinals, robins, chickadees, woodpeckers, and hawks I saw in the backyard this morning and that makes for a pretty good birding day.

There were lots of huge (almost fist-sized) snails that seemed to be associated with clumps of vegetation. Further research suggests that they are the Florida Apple Snail and the biggest snail in North America. I'll take a photo next time.