Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spectacular Bike Ride!

From the St. Mark's Rail Trail trail head just below town to St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge. Perfect temps, a little breezy, blue skies, beautiful day. I stopped at The Wilderness Way in Wakulla (the town of) and spoke with those folks for a while, and they graciously answered all my questions about trips and put-ins and equipment and such. Then I got off the trail onto Bloxham Cutoff Rd (SR 267) to Newport and then on down the Lighthouse Rd. all the way to the end. It was marvelous.

Bike is definitely the way to see the wildlife refuge. In a car you'll drive by too many things while you go from spot to spot, and you can cover more ground on a bike than by foot. On a fat tired bike you can ride all the dikes, and there are miles and miles of them. I had the good sense to bring my field glasses (knobblers) and a bird guide, so I just went through at a leisurely pace to see what I could see. What I saw was: common moorhen, American coot, cormorant, lesser scaup, redhead (duck), little blue heron, snowy egret, tricolored heron, brown pelican, pied billed grebe, old turkey vultures, a pair of adult bald eagles with a juvy in the nest, laughing gulls, Forster's terns, kingfisher, eastern kingbird, boat tailed grackle, mockingbird, indigo bunting (!), red winged blackbird. I also saw a plant called a Horrible Thistle, not quite in full bloom yet, but deserving of its name.

On my way out I notice an armadillo coming out of the brush ambling towards the road. I slowed down (he didn't) and came to a stop a few feet short of him. Aside from a couple pauses to look me over, he didn't seem that impressed by me, so he carried on across and passed about 3' in ahead of my front wheel and then waddled into the tall grass on the other side. Stupid animals, them. They're by far the most common roadkill around here. Cute in a funny looking kind of way though, so I was pretty entertained.

The bald eagles must be a fixture down there. I've seen at least one every time I've been on the property (except with Mike a couple weeks ago, but we only touched on the end of the road to eat our lunch). The nest was up in a tall pine tree maybe 50 or 75 yards off the road, but clearly visible. It was huge and dominated the top of the tree. The juvenile was also huge, and was very active and bounced around in the nest a lot, fluttering its big wings and facing into the wind (working up the courage?). They were a highlight.

The ride out was pleasant but uneventful up until the last 5 miles or so, when I started to cramp a little and my ass started to go numb. But that's alright. Just over 50 miles round-trip. I came home and cut a salad out of the garden and Aimee made dinner while I took a shower. Chicken Marsala, the freshest salad possible with homemade honey mustard dressing, bread, and red wine. Damn y'all. That's a good day. Sure to be a good night's sleep now too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Merritt's Mill Pond

Some customers in the bike shop recently told me about a lake an hour W of TLH called Merritt's Mill Pond, which was notable for being spectacularly clear. It's located right outside Marianna FL (page 32 in your trusty FL gazetteer, B1). MMP is very linear, never more than 100 meters wide, and runs roughly 4 miles NE to SW, beginning with Blue Spring at the N end and terminating at a dam. The water is, in fact, super clear where it comes out of the earth at the spring at a rather voluminous rate, enough to create some current the length of the lake. If you didn't know better, the flow and appearance of it would convince you it's a river.

With the help of a local or two, I found a sandy launch spot at the end of Day Loop Rd just down from the park at the spring (only open Memorial to Labor Day). I paddled the short distance up to the spring and spoke with a couple cave divers who were about to go down. The whole of N FL is world renowned for cave diving due to all the water that carves its way through the soft limestone (see previous posts about Lake Jackson, Leon Sinks, the St. Mark's River, the Wakulla). There was a 10'x10' swimming platform out in the middle of the spring, so I moored up to it and scrambled on. I stripped down to my trunks and dove into the cool clear water. It's 69 degrees year round, which is what I would call refreshing; you don't want to hang out in it too long, but it feels good to jump in for a minute. After that I layed on the platform and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my skin for a while. When I'd had enough I headed S all the way to the end and then back up.

As a paddling destination, MMP isn't that great. Yes, it's very clear, but it's not that large, and aside from the water clarity, unremarkable. There's a lot of cypress stumps just below water level, which I ran into 7 or 8 times in my kayak (it'd be murder on a motor boat). It wasn't unpleasant, but I wouldn't drive the hour again just to paddle. With the park at the spring closed, though, a boat is the only way to access it, which keeps the crowd down. So maybe a place to escape the heat in the off season? Florida Caverns State Park is nearby, so maybe coupled with that.

I saw a huge flock of cormorants (you can see the double crest for which they're named right now, breeding plumage), great blue heron, great egret, red shouldered hawk, turkey vulture, crows, kingfisher, osprey, and one very large bass. I really will get some photos from the last few trips up soon; my hard drive is full and I've got to make some room before uploading new photos.

Minus the sliding board and such, it's a nice spot.

From the spring looking SW

Monday, March 8, 2010

St. Mark's River, Fort to Lighthouse

After hemming and hawing a little about where to go for the Geezer's second day we settled on putting in at the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park (the fort) down in the little town of St. Mark's. In addition to the little museum they run there's a public boat ramp and a nice grassy spot which makes for a great kayak launch. I had heard, again from Georgia at The Wilderness Way, that from there you could go about 4 miles downriver to a spoil island that made for a great lunch spot, and then either head back up or carry on towards the wildlife refuge, depending on conditions and your inclinations.

We were on the water around 10:30, slightly before low tide, so we had the last of the outgoing to carry us down. Warm temps and almost no breeze. We found the little island, and it really is a nice spot for a snack, or to overnight (it's designated as a camp site on the FL circumnavigation trail). We decided to go ahead and make the run for the lighthouse to eat lunch. By this point the sea breeze kicked up pretty good, and so that last mile or so was pretty arduous. The corner of the Refuge that you naturally end up at (on the Lighthouse Pool trail) has a fine little sandy beach for pulling onto, and a covered picnic table for lunching, which we took advantage of. After lunch we wandered around the lighthouse a little before heading back upriver. For the trip back up the tide was coming in, and more importantly, the wind was to our back. It chopped the water up pretty good. There are a bunch of oyster bars that are only a few feet wide, but are arranged in long arcs across the river, which can be a hassle for a kayaker, and a nightmare for a motorboat/sailboat, especially at night when you can't see them.

Birds: common loons, American coot, common moorhen, boat-tailed grackle, great egret, great blue heron, snowy egret, laughing gulls and several other gulls and terns, brown pelican, American white pelican (a first sighting for me), cormorant, ring necked duck, and others I'm sure but that's all I can recall right now.

I took a few pictures, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow because I'm tired and full and ready to fall asleep again. Geezer takes off tomorrow and I'm off, so I could paddle, but I don't think I will. A day of relaxing might be pretty nice. Cheers.

Venerable St. Mark's Light, begun in 1829, moved to present location in 1842.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wacissa Spring to Goose Pasture

This one is going to be short and sweet because I've had a full day on the water and I'm full of dinner and a cocktail or two and I'm about to crawl into bed for what's bound to be a very restful night of sleep.

My very good friend and former coworker from SMKC days, Mike aka The Geezer, is down visiting for a couple days. He got in last night and we made plans to do the whole Wacissa River today, which is about 10 miles. So this morning we loaded up two cars and he and Aimee and I drove out to the spring (about a thirty minute drive) and unloaded. Then we set up the shuttle, which is a pain in the ass. From the spring it's 15 miles on FL 59 to the coastal highway (98), and then a few miles to cross the Aucilla and turn down some poorly maintained and unmarked sandy roads to the take out at Goose Pasture Recreation Area. It's about 45 mins each way, when you know exactly where you're going, which is tough without the signs (it's not impossible, but I was glad there were a couple people along the way to tell me I was headed down the correct road; important note: when you get to the fork on Goose Pasture Rd you want to stay to the left). The morning started off very chilly (frost on the cars) but warmed up so it was comfortable for Aimee to watch the stuff and read a book and watch birds while we set up the shuttle. We finally got launched a little after 11.

The river was beautiful; pretty clear despite all the recent rain. Temperature was perfect at 65 F and there was just a little S wind every now and then in the open sections. We checked Big Blue Spring for a sec and then headed downriver. Found a lunch spot just above the old dam about halfway down for a nice break in the shady woods. Finally pulled into Goose Pasture at about 4. Along the way we saw a few gators, lots of big turtles (cooters? I'll have to check the books tomorrow), little blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, common moorhen, American coot, kingfisher, red shouldered hawk, greater yellowlegs, eastern phoebe, brown pelican, cormorant, turkey vulture, heard a few barred owls (who cooks for you!?). The great egrets are in their breeding plumage and have long delicate plumes and bright green lores. They were nearly driven to extinction at the turn of the 20th century for those plumes because ladies just had to have fashionable hats.

After we pulled out Aimee spent another hour or so patiently waiting on us to get Mike's car back down there to load up. It's a great trip but a very involved shuttle. Not one I'd want to do real regularly for that reason, but the river itself is lovely.

Big thanks to Georgia at The Wilderness Way who graciously answered all my questions and offered advice and unsolicited updates on the status of the dirt roads at Goose Pasture. Go rent a kayak or take a trip with them.

Now to bed to rest up for another one tomorrow. Cheers.