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A Week Of Adventures: Lake Powell, AZ

A Week Of Adventures: Lake Powell, AZ

Posted by on Jul 5, 2016 in Arizona, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, Travel | 33 comments

The first glimpse is surreal—a vast sapphire body of water shimmering against a backdrop of picturesque, orange-hued sandstone buttes. At 186 miles long and with more than 90 side canyons that snake into the desert landscape, Lake Powell holds the title as the second largest artificial lake in America.

Honestly, we prefer our lakes created by nature, and our rivers running free. But Lake Powell, straddling the border between Arizona and Utah, happens to be close to some unique places that have long been on our list—Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend, among others. And so, mid-May found us at Wahweap campground on the shores of Lake Powell, just upstream from Glen Canyon Dam. With our apologies to Edward Abbey and the Sierra Club (both of whom ardently opposed the dam), this is an undeniably beautiful place.

Once a remote desert canyon, Lake Powell came into existence after the dam was completed in 1963. An ambitious 10-year project that corralled the mighty Colorado River, the dam was built to control the flow of water downstream and generate a cheap supply of electricity. As perhaps a not-so-surprising side note, Lake Powell has become a mecca for water recreation in the arid Southwest.

But damming the river has come at a high price—as the lake filled, it drowned canyons of legendary beauty and hundreds of archeological sites sacred to the native peoples. The environmental issues are equally devastating, from pollutants caused by heavy recreational usage to erosion and loss of native species. Everything and everyone downstream has been affected—including the Grand Canyon, a close neighbor. Obstructing the natural flow of the river also means that the reservoir behind the dam—Lake Powell—is slowly filling up with mud.

More than five decades after the last bucket of concrete was poured, Glen Canyon Dam continues to be plagued by controversy. (It’s obviously a complicated situation, but if you’re interested, the Glen Canyon Institute presents an intelligent discussion of the issues.) Whatever your point of view, in another 150 years, the dam will likely be obsolete. By then, Lake Powell will have amassed enough silt to significantly impact storage capacity, and the dam will be decommissioned. However, proponents of removing the dam advocate acting sooner rather than later to facilitate cleanup and restoration of the canyon (as you can imagine, it’s easier to remove 50 years of silt than 200 years accumulation).

In years to come—probably not in our lifetimes—there will be those fortunate to once again explore the beautiful canyons that currently lie beneath the lake. As for us, we thoroughly enjoyed short hikes to nearby Horseshoe Bend and Hanging Garden, both within the National Recreation Area, as well as a guided trip into Lower Antelope Canyon. These are not places one can commune with nature in solitude—especially the famed photography destinations of Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. But they’re renowned for good reason, and well worth a visit.

Antelope Canyon lies just outside of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on Navajo Nation Land. An extraordinarily beautiful slot canyon famous for a just-right combination of sculpted sandstone walls, color, and ambient light, it’s the most visited and photographed slot canyon in the Southwest. If you go, expect to be in a herd. Despite the crowds, we thought it was worth the $26 entrance fee (per person). The tours are well run, and our guide was enthusiastic and informed.

We’ve visited both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, and prefer the lower canyon—it’s much less crowded, and in our opinion, more interesting. The half-mile walk through the canyon involves steep stairways and tight passages, so if you’re claustrophobic, this tour isn’t for you. Some photographers favor the upper canyon because the light shafts at certain times of day are especially striking, but we think both canyons are equally beautiful. If you go, choose a sunny day—that’s when you’ll see the best colors in the canyon.

We also experienced—I can’t say enjoyed—kayaking on Lake Powell. We put in at Antelope Point Marina, intending to explore some of the side canyons. Too many speedboats and too many people not paying attention to the “No Wake” signs made it more stressful than fun. In talking later with a kayak guide, he recommended putting in before 7:30 in the morning or after 3:30 in the afternoon—and never on a weekend.

Last but certainly not least, we enjoyed meeting up with fellow full-time RV’ers Mike and Kathie  (Life Rebooted) who also happened to be staying at Wahweap. We had fun sharing happy hour and stories of the traveling life on a scorching afternoon at our site—it was so hot that I couldn’t motivate myself to get out of my chair to get my camera. We hope to catch up with them in Florida this winter—and we’ll be sure to get a photo next time around.

About the RV Park: Wahweap RV Park and campground is within the National Recreation Area but run by a concessionaire. The park is well kept and the views are amazing—depending on your site. The older section (loops A, B, C) is tiered, with spacious pull-through and back-in sites, asphalt or concrete pads, and full hookups. (We stayed in loop C in a back-in site and loved it.) The newer section (D and F) is laid-out in typical RV-park rows. Nice bathrooms, coin operated showers and laundry, and decent Verizon coverage. It’s an expensive option for a National Recreation Area ($44 per night with AAA discount!) but it was a relaxing stay with a gorgeous view.

Next Up: A Spectacular Hike In Buckskin Gulch

Lake Powell

Our Spacious Site At Wahweap Campground

View From Our Site

Houseboats On The Lake

Antelope Point Boat Launch

Ready To Go Fishing

Kayaking On Lake Powell

Sea Of Humanity At Horseshoe Bend

Don't Expect Solitude

A Condor Sails Overhead

Colorful Horseshoe Bend

Trying To Get The Entire Circle

Full View Of Horseshoe Bend

On The Hanging Gardens Trail

The Hanging Gardens

Orchids And Ferns In The Desert

Expansive Views From The Trail

Glen Canyon Dam

Overlooking The Lake From The Dam

Bridge Across The Colorado

Ken's Tours, Lower Antelope Canyon

John, Our Excellent Tour Guide

Heading Down Into The Canyon

Not For The Claustrophobic

Photography In A Herd

Worth The Crowds

Incredible Sandstone Swirls

Sunlight Illuminating The Curves

Alone For One Second

In Beautiful Antelope Canyon

A Demonstration Of Sand And Light

A Shower Of Sand

The End Of The Tour

Emerging From The Canyon

Lake Powell
Our Spacious Site At Wahweap Campground
View From Our Site
Houseboats On The Lake
Antelope Point Boat Launch
Ready To Go Fishing
Kayaking On Lake Powell
Sea Of Humanity At Horseshoe Bend
Don't Expect Solitude
A Condor Sails Overhead
Colorful Horseshoe Bend
Trying To Get The Entire Circle
Full View Of Horseshoe Bend
On The Hanging Gardens Trail
The Hanging Gardens
Orchids And Ferns In The Desert
Expansive Views From The Trail
Glen Canyon Dam
Overlooking The Lake From The Dam
Bridge Across The Colorado
Ken's Tours, Lower Antelope Canyon
John, Our Excellent Tour Guide
Heading Down Into The Canyon
Not For The Claustrophobic
Photography In A Herd
Worth The Crowds
Incredible Sandstone Swirls
Sunlight Illuminating The Curves
Alone For One Second
In Beautiful Antelope Canyon
A Demonstration Of Sand And Light
A Shower Of Sand
The End Of The Tour
Emerging From The Canyon
Lake Powell thumbnail
Our Spacious Site At Wahweap Campground thumbnail
View From Our Site thumbnail
Houseboats On The Lake thumbnail
Antelope Point Boat Launch thumbnail
Ready To Go Fishing thumbnail
Kayaking On Lake Powell thumbnail
Sea Of Humanity At Horseshoe Bend thumbnail
Don't Expect Solitude thumbnail
A Condor Sails Overhead thumbnail
Colorful Horseshoe Bend thumbnail
Trying To Get The Entire Circle thumbnail
Full View Of Horseshoe Bend thumbnail
On The Hanging Gardens Trail thumbnail
The Hanging Gardens thumbnail
Orchids And Ferns In The Desert thumbnail
Expansive Views From The Trail thumbnail
Glen Canyon Dam thumbnail
Overlooking The Lake From The Dam thumbnail
Bridge Across The Colorado thumbnail
Ken's Tours, Lower Antelope Canyon thumbnail
John, Our Excellent Tour Guide thumbnail
Heading Down Into The Canyon thumbnail
Not For The Claustrophobic thumbnail
Photography In A Herd thumbnail
Worth The Crowds thumbnail
Incredible Sandstone Swirls thumbnail
Sunlight Illuminating The Curves thumbnail
Alone For One Second thumbnail
In Beautiful Antelope Canyon thumbnail
A Demonstration Of Sand And Light thumbnail
A Shower Of Sand thumbnail
The End Of The Tour thumbnail
Emerging From The Canyon thumbnail

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Kayaking With Manatees

Kayaking With Manatees

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Florida, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, Music, Travel | 28 comments

“There’s one!” I call out to Eric. An enormous grey blob rises slowly to the surface of the crystal clear river, exhales loudly, and sinks again to the sandy bottom. It’s a West Indian manatee, a roly-poly aquatic mammal that seeks the warmth of Florida springs in the winter.

We’re kayaking the Ichetucknee River in northwest Florida. It’s one of our favorite spring-fed river kayak trips, in part because we usually have the opportunity to commune with a manatee or two. And in the winter or early spring, there are few other people around. We wait patiently, and the gentle giant decides to investigate our presence. It floats to the surface, exhales again, and swims lazily toward us.

With an overstuffed sausage of a body, a flat paddle-shaped tail for propulsion and small front flippers for steering, the manatee is an engagingly awkward creature. The wrinkly face and the wide, whiskered snout merely add to its appeal.

Closely related to elephants (the family resemblance is easy to see), manatees are enormous creatures—the average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs around 1200 pounds. One could flip our kayak in a heartbeat. But these docile herbivores seem incapable of doing harm. By nature, they’re curious—even friendly. The manatee sidles up to our kayak and floats beside us for a bit. It swims beneath our kayak a couple of times, and then moves back to its shallow turquoise pool, where it proceeds to perform a series of leisurely rollovers before sinking back to the bottom and resting.

Even if we didn’t see manatees, we would still love kayaking the Ichetucknee River. It’s a beautiful three-mile paddle from the headspring to the southernmost takeout point. Our favorite way to kayak the river is a six-mile round trip paddle—if you do this, put in at the south end, so that you have the current helping you on the way back downstream. (If you don’t have your own kayak, there are several good outfitters in the area.)

About the campground:

Because Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a day-use park only, we stay at nearby O’Leno State Park, just 15 miles down the road. Situated on the banks of the picturesque Santa Fe River, the park offers thirteen miles of hiking and biking trails that we put to good use. There’s always something fun going on at the park—while we were there this time, we enjoyed a wonderful presentation on owls given by volunteers from a local wildlife rehab facility and a free afternoon bluegrass concert given by musicians visiting from New England.

There are two loops in the campground; we much prefer the Magnolia Loop. The sites are more spacious and level, the road has fewer potholes, and it’s walking distance to the river and the start of the hiking trails. Water and electric hookups and decent Verizon coverage for a very reasonable $18.00 per night (gotta love the awesome Florida State Parks).

Next Up: Treasures Of The Forgotten Coast

Kayaking With Manatees

Early Spring On The Ichetucknee River

Great Blue Heron In The Cypress Knees

Just A Few Tubers On The River

Turtle Conga Line

A Challenging Spot To Navigate

The Favorite Manatee Hangout

Coming Up For Air

Swimming Over To Investigate

Hanging Out With The Manatee

Rolling Over

And Over And Over

Great Egret In Breeding Plumage Finery

A Perfect Day On The Ichetucknee River

Snorkeling In The Springs

Biking The Trails At O'Leno State Park

Rainy Day Hike At O'Leno

Barred Owl Showing Off At A Nature Presentation

An Afternoon Of Bluegrass Music In The Park

Musicians Barter For Campsites

Dogwood In Bloom

Tufted Titmouse In Our Campsite

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Spacious Sites At O'Leno State Park

Kayaking With Manatees
Early Spring On The Ichetucknee River
Great Blue Heron In The Cypress Knees
Just A Few Tubers On The River
Turtle Conga Line
A Challenging Spot To Navigate
The Favorite Manatee Hangout
Coming Up For Air
Swimming Over To Investigate
Hanging Out With The Manatee
Rolling Over
And Over And Over
Great Egret In Breeding Plumage Finery
A Perfect Day On The Ichetucknee River
Snorkeling In The Springs
Biking The Trails At O'Leno State Park
Rainy Day Hike At O'Leno
Barred Owl Showing Off At A Nature Presentation
An Afternoon Of Bluegrass Music In The Park
Musicians Barter For Campsites
Dogwood In Bloom
Tufted Titmouse In Our Campsite
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Spacious Sites At O'Leno State Park
Kayaking With Manatees thumbnail
Early Spring On The Ichetucknee River thumbnail
Great Blue Heron In The Cypress Knees thumbnail
Just A Few Tubers On The River thumbnail
Turtle Conga Line thumbnail
A Challenging Spot To Navigate thumbnail
The Favorite Manatee Hangout thumbnail
Coming Up For Air thumbnail
Swimming Over To Investigate thumbnail
Hanging Out With The Manatee thumbnail
Rolling Over thumbnail
And Over And Over thumbnail
Great Egret In Breeding Plumage Finery thumbnail
A Perfect Day On The Ichetucknee River thumbnail
Snorkeling In The Springs thumbnail
Biking The Trails At O'Leno State Park thumbnail
Rainy Day Hike At O'Leno thumbnail
Barred Owl Showing Off At A Nature Presentation thumbnail
An Afternoon Of Bluegrass Music In The Park thumbnail
Musicians Barter For Campsites thumbnail
Dogwood In Bloom thumbnail
Tufted Titmouse In Our Campsite thumbnail
Red-Headed Woodpecker thumbnail
Spacious Sites At O'Leno State Park thumbnail

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A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs

Posted by on Mar 10, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Florida, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, Travel | 30 comments

I don’t think there’s any more beautiful place to kayak and swim than the spring-fed rivers of Florida. Crystal clear waters—often an astonishing hue of aquamarine—wind through stands of palms and cypress festooned with Spanish moss. Herons and egrets pick their way across watery fields of lily pads; turtles sun themselves on ancient logs; osprey and hawks sail overhead.

“These springs have healing powers,” said a young man standing on the edge of jewel-like Rainbow Springs, just before diving into the cool, crystalline pool. One thing I know for certain—there’s nothing that soothes my soul like paddling or floating in these magnificent waters.

Florida possesses the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth—geologists estimate that close to 1,000 springs burble to the surface, most in the north and central parts of the state. Fed by the Floridan Aquifer—Florida’s underground river—the springs rise through porous limestone labyrinths, thousands of gallons per minute emerging at a refreshing temperature of 72 degrees. The constant year-round temperature provides refuge for the docile manatee, which gravitate to the relatively warm waters of the springs in the cooler winter months.

During hot, sultry Florida summers, the springs are a refuge for people. I’ve spent some of the most splendid days of my life swimming in Wakulla Springs and tubing down the Ichetucknee River. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Eric and I discovered the delights of kayaking Florida’s spring-fed rivers. After our first experience on the Ichetucknee River in 2013, we were hooked—we returned three times that winter and spring to paddle the river. This year we expanded our horizons, and embarked on a kayaking extravaganza in Central Florida, the mother lode of Florida springs.

We booked two weeks at three different parks in early February (all only 50-60 miles apart), and kayaked five different spring-fed rivers—the Wekiva River, Rock Creek, Salt Springs, Alexander Springs, and Rainbow River. Kayaking in Florida is especially wonderful in late winter/early spring, when there are few other people on the rivers. It was a near perfect two weeks—with so many other springs and rivers to paddle in Florida, we’re already planning next year’s adventures.

• Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located at Wekiwa Springs, the headwaters for the Wekiva River. (Wekiwa-Wekiva—the spelling difference confuses everyone, even locals.) No matter, it’s a terrific state park, a lovely spring, and a beautiful river for paddling.

We enjoyed the campground for the spacious sites and the miles of excellent hiking and biking trails. The kayak launch, however, is a total pain because you have to carry your kayak down a ridiculously long, steep trail to the river. We opted instead to drive a few miles to Wekiva Island, a very cool “resort” that offers an easy kayak launch site for $5 (they also have kayak rentals), a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the river, and an excellent selection of local brews. We launched twice here, once to paddle the Wekiva River, and another time to paddle the narrow, very shallow jungle-like Rock Creek, which has tea-colored water because of natural tannins.

About the campground:

We really liked Wekiwa Springs campground. The sites are spacious and shady, with partial or full-hookups ($24 for water/electric) and decent Verizon. There’s lots of hiking and biking available in addition to kayaking (the park also offers kayak rentals).

• Salt Springs Recreation Area, Ocala National Forest

Honestly, kayaking Salt Springs isn’t too exciting—it’s a wide river framed by grasses and there’s not a lot of wildlife along the banks. But this is a wonderful place to see manatee, especially right off of the kayak launch area. The gentle giants lolled and rolled all around our kayaks—and we didn’t get one decent photo.

About 25 miles away is Alexander Springs, which turned out to be one of our favorite spring river runs. The springs are a long way from the parking lot, but they graciously provide kayak carts, which made hauling our 70-pound kayak a breeze. Alexander Springs also offers kayak rentals.

About the campground:

There are several campgrounds located near springs in the Ocala National Forest, but Salt Springs is the only one with hookups—full hookups, no less. The sites are spacious and level, many with beautiful oak trees for shade. Verizon worked fine for us. In addition to kayaking, there’s a huge wonderful swimming area walking distance from the campground. The campground is a deal at $19 per night with the Senior Pass, $29 otherwise.

• Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon

Rainbow Springs is considered by many to be one of the best springs in Florida. It’s certainly the most colorful we’ve seen, with waters that are a kaleidoscope of blues and greens. The spring itself is a delight for swimming. We kayaked one mile upstream to the swimming area, and then six miles downstream to the Withlacoochee River, where we conveniently took out at Blue Run of Dunnellon Park (we arranged our own bike/truck shuttle, but there are several kayak outfitters that provide rentals and shuttles).

The Withlacoochee Trail is nearby, and we spent a hot, sweaty day grinding out 24 miles of biking—against the wind both directions, which made it seem more like 200 miles. Still, it was beautiful, and swimming in Rainbow Springs was a rejuvenating reward that afternoon.

About the campground:

Rainbow Springs has spacious, level, sandy sites (most every campground in Florida is sandy) with full-hookups. Good Verizon. The kayak launch is about ¼ mile from the campground. Although the spring is only about a mile from the campground via the river, the only access point by land is a long winding 7-mile drive. But the beautiful springs are well worth a visit, and access is free if you’re staying at the campground.

Next Up: Lovely Historic St. Augustine

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs

Spacious Campsite At Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wonderful Trails At Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs

Kayak Launch On Wekiva Island

Kayaking The Wekiva River

Limpkin Looking For Lunch

Success! Escargot!

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Immature

Purple Gallinule

One Of Many Turtles Sunning

Beautiful Green Heron

Yellow Pond Lily

Wekiva Island

Lovely Little Rock Springs

The Jungle Paddle On Rock Springs

Wood Stork In The Trees

Kingfisher Chattering

Excellent Campsites At Salt Springs Recreation Area

Swimming Area At Salt Springs

Salt Springs Kayak Launch

Salt Springs Viewed From Our Kayak

Transporting Our Kayak To Alexander Springs

The Ubiquitous Gator Warnings

Alexander Springs Kayak Run

Green Heron Watching Us

Beautiful Alexander Springs Paddle

Little Blue Heron

White Ibis

The Timucuan Trail At Alexander Springs

Protecting Florida's Springs

Who Brought The Hotdogs?

Rainy Day At Rainbow Springs State Park

Kayaking The Rainbow River

The Lovely Rainbow River

Incredible Waters At Rainbow Springs

Cormorant In Turquoise Spring Waters

Azaleas On The Rainbow River

Clouds On The Rainbow River

Red-Shouldered Hawk

River Otter On The Rainbow River

Cooling Off In Rainbow Springs

On The Withlacoochee Bike Trail

A 24-Mile Ride On The Withlacoochee Trail

Taking A Break

Enjoying A Hike With Riley And Karen

Eastern Bluebird On A Palm

The Elusive Gray Catbird

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs
Spacious Campsite At Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wonderful Trails At Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs
Kayak Launch On Wekiva Island
Kayaking The Wekiva River
Limpkin Looking For Lunch
Success! Escargot!
Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron Immature
Purple Gallinule
One Of Many Turtles Sunning
Beautiful Green Heron
Yellow Pond Lily
Wekiva Island
Lovely Little Rock Springs
The Jungle Paddle On Rock Springs
Wood Stork In The Trees
Kingfisher Chattering
Excellent Campsites At Salt Springs Recreation Area
Swimming Area At Salt Springs
Salt Springs Kayak Launch
Salt Springs Viewed From Our Kayak
Transporting Our Kayak To Alexander Springs
The Ubiquitous Gator Warnings
Alexander Springs Kayak Run
Green Heron Watching Us
Beautiful Alexander Springs Paddle
Little Blue Heron
White Ibis
The Timucuan Trail At Alexander Springs
Protecting Florida's Springs
Who Brought The Hotdogs?
Rainy Day At Rainbow Springs State Park
Kayaking The Rainbow River
The Lovely Rainbow River
Incredible Waters At Rainbow Springs
Cormorant In Turquoise Spring Waters
Azaleas On The Rainbow River
Clouds On The Rainbow River
Red-Shouldered Hawk
River Otter On The Rainbow River
Cooling Off In Rainbow Springs
On The Withlacoochee Bike Trail
A 24-Mile Ride On The Withlacoochee Trail
Taking A Break
Enjoying A Hike With Riley And Karen
Eastern Bluebird On A Palm
The Elusive Gray Catbird
A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs thumbnail
Spacious Campsite At Wekiwa Springs State Park thumbnail
Wonderful Trails At Wekiwa Springs State Park thumbnail
Wekiwa Springs thumbnail
Kayak Launch On Wekiva Island thumbnail
Kayaking The Wekiva River thumbnail
Limpkin Looking For Lunch thumbnail
Success! Escargot! thumbnail
Little Blue Heron thumbnail
Little Blue Heron Immature thumbnail
Purple Gallinule thumbnail
One Of Many Turtles Sunning thumbnail
Beautiful Green Heron thumbnail
Yellow Pond Lily thumbnail
Wekiva Island thumbnail
Lovely Little Rock Springs thumbnail
The Jungle Paddle On Rock Springs thumbnail
Wood Stork In The Trees thumbnail
Kingfisher Chattering thumbnail
Excellent Campsites At Salt Springs Recreation Area thumbnail
Swimming Area At Salt Springs thumbnail
Salt Springs Kayak Launch thumbnail
Salt Springs Viewed From Our Kayak thumbnail
Transporting Our Kayak To Alexander Springs thumbnail
The Ubiquitous Gator Warnings thumbnail
Alexander Springs Kayak Run thumbnail
Green Heron Watching Us thumbnail
Beautiful Alexander Springs Paddle thumbnail
Little Blue Heron thumbnail
White Ibis thumbnail
The Timucuan Trail At Alexander Springs thumbnail
Protecting Florida's Springs thumbnail
Who Brought The Hotdogs? thumbnail
Rainy Day At Rainbow Springs State Park thumbnail
Kayaking The Rainbow River thumbnail
The Lovely Rainbow River thumbnail
Incredible Waters At Rainbow Springs thumbnail
Cormorant In Turquoise Spring Waters thumbnail
Azaleas On The Rainbow River thumbnail
Clouds On The Rainbow River thumbnail
Red-Shouldered Hawk thumbnail
River Otter On The Rainbow River thumbnail
Cooling Off In Rainbow Springs thumbnail
On The Withlacoochee Bike Trail thumbnail
A 24-Mile Ride On The Withlacoochee Trail thumbnail
Taking A Break thumbnail
Enjoying A Hike With Riley And Karen thumbnail
Eastern Bluebird On A Palm thumbnail
The Elusive Gray Catbird thumbnail

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Almost Paradise: The Florida Keys

Almost Paradise: The Florida Keys

Posted by on Feb 15, 2016 in Birding, Family, Florida, Friends, Gallery, Kayaking, Travel | 26 comments

For years, I’ve seduced Eric with tales of the Florida Keys. I tell him of days spent snorkeling over coral reefs, paddling lazily through gin clear waters while lemon yellow and neon blue tropical fish dart through an undersea forest of staghorn coral and swaying purple sea fans. I paint images of cerulean skies and calm turquoise seas that go on forever, the hypnotic music of gentle waves caressing the shore and palms rustling in placid tropical breezes. I want to recapture these halcyon days of my youth—and I want to share the experience with Eric.

But darn it, the weather just won’t cooperate. Two years ago we spent three weeks in the Keys in early November. It was unseasonably hot, humid, and the no-see-ums were relentless. High winds churned the seas, making it too choppy and murky for snorkeling. In 21 days, we spent one hour snorkeling—it was a less than ideal day, and we merely snorkeled in the mangroves—but it was that or nothing. I assured Eric that this was not typical weather for the Keys. And so I vowed we would try again, and reserved the first two weeks of December in our favorite waterfront site at Curry Hammock State Park.

Our site was idyllic, tucked into the mangroves and overlooking the ocean. We strolled on the beach in the early morning and at sunset, enjoying the antics of the wading and shore birds. We launched our kayak just steps from our campsite, paddling out into the beautiful shallow aquamarine waters. Other days, we navigated trails through mangrove tunnels, sharing the dense thickets with Yellow-crowned Night Herons and Snowy Egrets. It was gorgeous—almost paradise—except for the heat, humidity, bugs, winds, and thunderstorms.

Apparently the Keys were in the grip of a weather pattern that would not relent. “This is unusual,” everyone kept saying. (Not for us, apparently.) We dodged the rainstorms, or got soaked while biking or walking on the beach. (Who cares? It’s a warm, tropical rain!) When the wind wasn’t too ferocious, we kayaked. I think we managed to kayak every paddle-able waterway in the middle Keys. If we weren’t in or on the water, we were in the trailer with the A/C on, because we were suffering mightily from the heat and humidity. (In our defense, so were the natives.)

And we spent lots of time in the company of family and friends, which made everything better. Fellow travelers and bloggers Sherry and David (In The Direction of Our Dreams) were camped a couple of sites down from us, and we had a great time catching up with them after our last meet-up in Florida two years ago. We kayaked together, took a boat trip out to Lignumvitae Key for a holiday celebration, walked on the beach, and enjoyed being neighbors in our tropical locale.

We also spent many delightful days and evenings with Rick and Karren, my aunt and uncle who have called the Keys home for many years. Sitting on their lovely screened patio overlooking the water while sipping gin and tonics or floating in their pool provided a welcome respite from the heat. We biked with them on No Name Key (and had a brew at the quirky little No Name Pub); enjoyed several delicious seafood meals together (including an evening of Florida lobster at their beautiful home); and went boating when the weather cooperated, including a cruise through Toilet Seat Cut.

We tried for two weeks to find a day to go snorkeling. But every time we made plans, the winds picked up and the seas sported white caps. But finally—finally!—a morning dawned when the sun was shining, the seas were calm, and no storms loomed on the horizon. By chance, it also happened to be my birthday. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect gift. Rick fired up the boat, and we sped out to Lighthouse Reef, one of the premier snorkeling locations in the Keys. Paddling around the reef, scores of colorful tropical fish weaving around us in the beautiful clear waters—it was just as magical as I remembered. I want to go back. But I think we’ll try February next time.

About the campground:

Curry Hammock is our favorite Florida State Park campground in the Keys. It’s small, the sites are spacious and private, and there’s excellent beach and kayaking access. In our opinion, the best sites are on the waterfront. It’s not cheap, at $38.50 per night (water and electric only)—but it’s a bargain when you consider that anything else in the Keys goes for around $100 and up per night in season. It is absurdly difficult to get campsite reservations in the Keys, and the competition is fierce. Persistence and luck seem to play a big part in reserving a spot in paradise. Being good has nothing to do with it.

Next Up: Everglades Exotica

Our Perfect Site At Curry Hammock State Park

So Many Choices

Path To The Beach Next To Our Campsite

The Beach At Curry Hammock

Sunrise At Curry Hammock

Brown Pelican Surveying The Ocean

Reddish Egret With Breakfast

Willet

Black Bellied Plover

Fishing Buddies: Willet & Reddish Egret

Another Windy Day At Curry Hammock

Kayaking With Sherry And David

Holiday Adventure With David And Sherry

Pelican Mohawk

Paddling Through The Mangroves

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Snowy Egret In The Mangroves

Great Blue Heron, White Morph

Immature Little Blue Heron

Kayaking To Indian Key

Indian Key Historic State Park

Indian Key, An Island Ghost Town

Tricolored Heron

Rick And Karren's Tropical Paradise

Curious Manatee In The Canal

One Of Several Evenings With Rick And Karren

Florida Lobster Dinner With Rick And Karren

A Lovely Day Cruising Toilet Seat Pass

Toilet Seat Art On Toilet Seat Pass

Boating To Breakfast

A Beautiful Day For Snorkeling

Alligator Reef Lighthouse

A Queen Conch (Returned To The Ocean)

Sunset At Curry Hammock

Our Perfect Site At Curry Hammock State Park
So Many Choices
Path To The Beach Next To Our Campsite
The Beach At Curry Hammock
Sunrise At Curry Hammock
Brown Pelican Surveying The Ocean
Reddish Egret With Breakfast
Willet
Black Bellied Plover
Fishing Buddies: Willet & Reddish Egret
Another Windy Day At Curry Hammock
Kayaking With Sherry And David
Holiday Adventure With David And Sherry
Pelican Mohawk
Paddling Through The Mangroves
Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Snowy Egret In The Mangroves
Great Blue Heron, White Morph
Immature Little Blue Heron
Kayaking To Indian Key
Indian Key Historic State Park
Indian Key, An Island Ghost Town
Tricolored Heron
Rick And Karren's Tropical Paradise
Curious Manatee In The Canal
One Of Several Evenings With Rick And Karren
Florida Lobster Dinner With Rick And Karren
A Lovely Day Cruising Toilet Seat Pass
Toilet Seat Art On Toilet Seat Pass
Boating To Breakfast
A Beautiful Day For Snorkeling
Alligator Reef Lighthouse
A Queen Conch (Returned To The Ocean)
Sunset At Curry Hammock
Our Perfect Site At Curry Hammock State Park thumbnail
So Many Choices thumbnail
Path To The Beach Next To Our Campsite thumbnail
The Beach At Curry Hammock thumbnail
Sunrise At Curry Hammock thumbnail
Brown Pelican Surveying The Ocean thumbnail
Reddish Egret With Breakfast thumbnail
Willet thumbnail
Black Bellied Plover thumbnail
Fishing Buddies: Willet & Reddish Egret thumbnail
Another Windy Day At Curry Hammock thumbnail
Kayaking With Sherry And David thumbnail
Holiday Adventure With David And Sherry thumbnail
Pelican Mohawk thumbnail
Paddling Through The Mangroves thumbnail
Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron thumbnail
Snowy Egret In The Mangroves thumbnail
Great Blue Heron, White Morph thumbnail
Immature Little Blue Heron thumbnail
Kayaking To Indian Key thumbnail
Indian Key Historic State Park thumbnail
Indian Key, An Island Ghost Town thumbnail
Tricolored Heron thumbnail
Rick And Karren's Tropical Paradise thumbnail
Curious Manatee In The Canal thumbnail
One Of Several Evenings With Rick And Karren thumbnail
Florida Lobster Dinner With Rick And Karren thumbnail
A Lovely Day Cruising Toilet Seat Pass thumbnail
Toilet Seat Art On Toilet Seat Pass thumbnail
Boating To Breakfast thumbnail
A Beautiful Day For Snorkeling thumbnail
Alligator Reef Lighthouse thumbnail
A Queen Conch (Returned To The Ocean) thumbnail
Sunset At Curry Hammock thumbnail

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A Gathering Of Friends: Rocky Point, OR

A Gathering Of Friends: Rocky Point, OR

Posted by on Oct 24, 2015 in Birding, Friends, Gallery, Kayaking, Oregon, Travel | 26 comments

Our visits home to Ashland are always bittersweet—it’s wonderful to be in familiar surroundings and to spend time with dear friends. It’s also difficult to then pack up and leave, yet again. This time, our visit was much too short, and mostly consumed with appointments and repairs—for ourselves, and for our truck, trailer, and home in Ashland.

Nonetheless, we managed to squeeze in some fun time with friends (not nearly enough!), most notably a couple of days at Rocky Point the second weekend in October, which also happened to be the perfect launch point for our continued journeys. This apparently has become an annual event (two years in a row can be considered annual, right?) especially since we’ve all agreed that we want more.

The weather was gorgeous, as it often is in early October in the Klamath Basin. The aspens and willows were turning to gold, there was a crisp coolness in the air, and it was still mild enough to sit outside and delight in camaraderie around a blazing campfire. We enjoyed a communal campfire breakfast, a tapas party one evening (the food was outstanding!), lots of music, kayaking, and just hanging out and appreciating the beauty of nature and the great company. How lucky we are!

On the spur of the moment, Eric and I decide to spend an extra night—the morning is perfect for kayaking, and we can’t resist one more day on the lake before beginning our long journey to Florida. This is the epitome of a bittersweet moment—waving goodbye to our good friends as they one-by-one pack up and pull out of the campground. These are the moments when I think, “Do I really want to be doing this? Do I really want to leave good friends and home behind?”

I wander around the campground for a bit, taking in the beauty and the solitude, feeling grateful for the freedom of our lifestyle, mixed with sadness at leaving friends and what is familiar. And then, at the edges of my nostalgia, I feel a tinge of excitement pulling me toward the adventures that lie ahead.

We walk down to the dock and launch our kayak, gliding silently along the mirror-like waters. Our only companions are the Great-blue Herons quietly fishing, the American White Pelicans bobbing along in their choreographed dance, the Marsh Wrens scolding us in raspy voices, the Canada Geese honking in greeting, and the Bald Eagles majestically observing us from perches high in the Douglas firs. It’s a glorious send off.

A Gathering Of Friends: Rocky Point, OR

Autumn Colors At Rocky Point

Campsites Snuggled Along The Shoreline

Our Site In The Aspens

A Campfire Breakfast

On A Windy Day

Kath And Ted In Their New Kayak

Kayaking In The Marsh

Morning Gathering

Sharing Fun Stories

Saturday Night Tapas Dinner

All-Girl Ukulele Band

And More Music

Pelicans In The Early Morning Mist

American White Pelican

Launching Our Kayak

A Perfect Kayaking Day

Stopped By The Beaver Dam

Waving Goodbye To Our Friends

Until Next Year

A Gathering Of Friends: Rocky Point, OR
Autumn Colors At Rocky Point
Campsites Snuggled Along The Shoreline
Our Site In The Aspens
A Campfire Breakfast
On A Windy Day
Kath And Ted In Their New Kayak
Kayaking In The Marsh
Morning Gathering
Sharing Fun Stories
Saturday Night Tapas Dinner
All-Girl Ukulele Band
And More Music
Pelicans In The Early Morning Mist
American White Pelican
Launching Our Kayak
A Perfect Kayaking Day
Stopped By The Beaver Dam
Waving Goodbye To Our Friends
Until Next Year
A Gathering Of Friends: Rocky Point, OR thumbnail
Autumn Colors At Rocky Point thumbnail
Campsites Snuggled Along The Shoreline thumbnail
Our Site In The Aspens thumbnail
A Campfire Breakfast thumbnail
On A Windy Day thumbnail
Kath And Ted In Their New Kayak thumbnail
Kayaking In The Marsh thumbnail
Morning Gathering thumbnail
Sharing Fun Stories thumbnail
Saturday Night Tapas Dinner thumbnail
All-Girl Ukulele Band thumbnail
And More Music thumbnail
Pelicans In The Early Morning Mist thumbnail
American White Pelican thumbnail
Launching Our Kayak thumbnail
A Perfect Kayaking Day thumbnail
Stopped By The Beaver Dam thumbnail
Waving Goodbye To Our Friends thumbnail
Until Next Year thumbnail

 

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The Natural Beauty Of Lopez Island

The Natural Beauty Of Lopez Island

Posted by on Sep 23, 2015 in Biking, Birding, Friends, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, San Juan Islands, Travel, Washington | 21 comments

I can’t tear myself away from Lopez without one more post celebrating the incredible natural beauty of the island. Although small, Lopez is blessed with an abundance of opportunities for outdoor adventures. We bike, hike, or kayak—or at the very least, take a long walk circumnavigating the beautiful spit—every day while we’re on the island.

Although we are enamored by the adventure of exploring new places (obviously, or we wouldn’t be living in a box on wheels), we also delight in revisiting favorite spots. I think relationships with places deepen when we visit time and again, in the same way that relationships with people we hold dear deepen over the years.

We’ve developed enduring relationships with many places on Lopez. There’s Iceberg Point, with rocky cliffs that plunge to a cobalt sea and orange lichen-covered rocks that are the perfect complement to the deep blue ocean. Or Watmough Bay, with its snug little cove, tranquil turquoise waters, and fairy-like mossy trails. Shark Reef is our favorite spot for a glorious sunset picnic, with views of the lighthouse on San Juan Island winking in the purple-hued dusk, and the comical sounds of the seals barking, belching, and cavorting on the island offshore.

We love biking the peaceful, meandering island roads, stopping at farm stands along the way to pick up vegetables and eggs. And the kayaking—oh, it’s glorious. Getting onto the water opens up a whole other world of possibilities. There’s Mud Bay, with a surprising view of Native Northwest totems tucked into the red-barked madrones; Hunter Bay with rocky shores studded with purple and orange sea stars; McKaye harbor and a good long paddle to lovely Agate Beach; and Fisherman’s Bay for a leisurely paddle amongst wildlife and interesting boats.

You should come to Lopez at least once in your life. Really, you should.

If you’re interested in visiting the island, you’ll find tips here for the ferry journey, as well as camping options on Lopez: Living Local On Lopez Island. 

The Natural Beauty Of Lopez Island

Peaceful Island Biking

At Fisherman's Bay

With Linda And Steve At Fisherman's Bay

Kingfisher At Fisherman's Bay

Kayking Fisherman's Bay

Buster In Fisherman's Bay

Beautiful Day In Hunter Bay

Kayaking Mud Bay

A Perfect Perch For A Great Blue Heron

Oystercatcher On The Rocks

The Sea Stars Are Making A Comeback

Native Northwest Indian Totem On The Shore

Kayak Adventure With LuAnn And Terry

Kayaking To Agate Beach

On Watmough Bay Trails With LuAnn And Terry

Sun Dappled Mossy Trails

Vast Sky And Sea At Point Colville

Terry And Eric At Point Coville

LuAnn And Laurel At Point Coville

Hiking Chadwick Hill

View From Chadwick Hill

Above Turquoise Watmough Bay

The Beach At Watmough Bay

That Way To Iceberg Point

On The Trails At Iceberg Point

Foggy Day At Iceberg Point

Exploring Iceberg Point

John And Diana At Shark Reef

Herds Of Seals At Shark Reef

Late Afternoon At Shark Reef

Lavender Dusk At Shark Reef

Enjoying A Shark Reef Sunset

The Natural Beauty Of Lopez Island
Peaceful Island Biking
At Fisherman's Bay
With Linda And Steve At Fisherman's Bay
Kingfisher At Fisherman's Bay
Kayking Fisherman's Bay
Buster In Fisherman's Bay
Beautiful Day In Hunter Bay
Kayaking Mud Bay
A Perfect Perch For A Great Blue Heron
Oystercatcher On The Rocks
The Sea Stars Are Making A Comeback
Native Northwest Indian Totem On The Shore
Kayak Adventure With LuAnn And Terry
Kayaking To Agate Beach
On Watmough Bay Trails With LuAnn And Terry
Sun Dappled Mossy Trails
Vast Sky And Sea At Point Colville
Terry And Eric At Point Coville
LuAnn And Laurel At Point Coville
Hiking Chadwick Hill
View From Chadwick Hill
Above Turquoise Watmough Bay
The Beach At Watmough Bay
That Way To Iceberg Point
On The Trails At Iceberg Point
Foggy Day At Iceberg Point
Exploring Iceberg Point
John And Diana At Shark Reef
Herds Of Seals At Shark Reef
Late Afternoon At Shark Reef
Lavender Dusk At Shark Reef
Enjoying A Shark Reef Sunset
The Natural Beauty Of Lopez Island thumbnail
Peaceful Island Biking thumbnail
At Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
With Linda And Steve At Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
Kingfisher At Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
Kayking Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
Buster In Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
Beautiful Day In Hunter Bay thumbnail
Kayaking Mud Bay thumbnail
A Perfect Perch For A Great Blue Heron thumbnail
Oystercatcher On The Rocks thumbnail
The Sea Stars Are Making A Comeback thumbnail
Native Northwest Indian Totem On The Shore thumbnail
Kayak Adventure With LuAnn And Terry thumbnail
Kayaking To Agate Beach thumbnail
On Watmough Bay Trails With LuAnn And Terry thumbnail
Sun Dappled Mossy Trails thumbnail
Vast Sky And Sea At Point Colville thumbnail
Terry And Eric At Point Coville thumbnail
LuAnn And Laurel At Point Coville thumbnail
Hiking Chadwick Hill thumbnail
View From Chadwick Hill thumbnail
Above Turquoise Watmough Bay thumbnail
The Beach At Watmough Bay thumbnail
That Way To Iceberg Point thumbnail
On The Trails At Iceberg Point thumbnail
Foggy Day At Iceberg Point thumbnail
Exploring Iceberg Point thumbnail
John And Diana At Shark Reef thumbnail
Herds Of Seals At Shark Reef thumbnail
Late Afternoon At Shark Reef thumbnail
Lavender Dusk At Shark Reef thumbnail
Enjoying A Shark Reef Sunset thumbnail

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