Florida mangroves create tunnel vision

Diane on the well-marked paddling trail

When Wessel suggested we take our kayaks and paddle among the mangrove islands at Weedon Island Preserve in Florida, my first thought was: we’ll get hopelessly lost for days and have to drink saltwater and eat alligator meat (after hunting them with our pocket knives).

I’d read that the state preserve (north of St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay) has two marked paddle trails. But I also know how easy it is to get turned around on the water, especially when all you see are water, sky, and outcroppings of mangrove trees.

A great blue heron waits for us to pass

As usual, Wessel convinced me to put my life in his hands, and off we went, our two Florida-based kayaks crammed into the Honda Civic (one on top, one out the rear), while I had to smoosh myself into a corner of the back seat. You can also rent kayaks right at the preserve through Sweetwater Kayaks.

Ibis colony along Papy’s Bayou

We chose the four-mile loop trail (the South Paddling Trail) over the two-mile up-and-back one. And, surprise, surprise, the trail wasn’t just marked, it was WELL marked. Even I, who can get turned around in my own neighborhood, was able to follow the sign posts, close to 40 of them. What a thrill! Thank you, Weedon Island!

After putting in next to the fishing pier, we crossed a little bit of the bay, then headed into the islands, paddling through several saltwater ponds and over seagrass beds and mudflats. As soon as we saw one marker, we’d look for the next. Sometimes they were a bit tucked away, but we never missed one.

Diane finds her way through the mangrove tunnel with half a kayak paddle

We saw a few jumping fish, great blue herons, egrets, and ibises. The real excitement was the mangrove tunnels, created by the trees and their exposed roots growing so close together that they form a canopy over tidal creeks. At times the passageway was so narrow we had to pull our detachable paddles apart and use only half. This is not the place to be when the bugs were out. In late December, no problem.

Wessel makes his way through mangroves

About a third of the way we pulled ashore at a little park for a picnic, the only stopping place along the trail. That little diversion would have been thoroughly pleasant had I not dumped a digital camera into the water while docking my boat. (Argh……..) The photos were saved, but not the camera.

The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip was along Papy’s Bayou, an area of deeper and open water, where we were greeted by cavorting dolphins. Thrilling! We can’t wait to return — next time with the waterproof camera.

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3 Responses to “Florida mangroves create tunnel vision”

  1. Suwannee Refugee Says:

    Those jumping fish were mullet, a true Florida delicacy when smoked. And those mangroves are something to behold. I feel very at home when I’m among them.

  2. Lauren Says:

    I want to paddle.

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