Sunday, September 15, 2013

Loxahatchee River Day Paddling Trip

Yesterday, my dad and I joined a group of friends for a day trip down the Loxahatchee River.  We met up in Riverbend Park in Jupiter, FL and rented our canoes from the Canoe Outfitters in the park.  We stopped under the first bridge to look for bats and found a few.

Because it's still the rainy season the water levels were very high.  The first section of the river was by far the prettiest.  It was open but not too wide.  It was lined with tall cypress trees and beautiful undergrowth.

Eventually it became narrower and curvier as it wound through the cypress and palm trees.  Luckily my dad is an expert paddler and navigated us without any real problems.

We stopped at a large downed tree, parked our canoes and most of us ended up swimming for awhile.  It was fun to try and swim against the strong current.  Shortly after this stop we arrived at the first dam on the river.  Because the water was so high it was barely noticeable as we paddled over it.  A short distance later we arrived at the second dam (also known as Masten dam).  When the river is lower, it can sometimes create a problem for paddlers.  There is a ramp to get your boat over it if you do not want to paddle over it. Again, due to high water, it wasn't a problem.  Soon, the noise from the Turnpike and I-95 bridges became louder and we eventually paddled underneath them.  Most paddlers choose this point to turn again and head back to the outfitters.  The outfitters are responsible for maintaining the river up this point and the state park service and responsible for everything further downstream.  Unfortunately, they prefer to let the river in this area between I-95 and Trapper Nelson's place remain in its natural state so it can be very challenging to paddle through.

This section of the river took the longest since we encounter many obstacles such as large fallen trees blocking the river, low hanging branches, spider webs, and confusing river forks.  We attempted to look for the Governer's Dock but never did see it.  We assumed the water might have been too high.  Finally, we reached Trapper Nelson's place in Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  

Here we sat at the picnic tables to eat our lunch while listening to stories from the park rangers.  They were certainly a wealth of knowledge about Trapper Nelson and his life in this area.  My favorite part was hearing the stories about Trapper's family members that had visited the park since his death in 1968 and had provided them with even more stories and artifacts.  After we ate, we walked around the compound to look at his cabins, "zoo", smoke house, and even a modern bathroom.  While Trapper Nelson lived here, he not only hunted and sold furs to live off the land, he also created a zoo and tourist attraction.  

Finally it was time to head back and meet our shuttles.  Downstream from Trapper Nelson's place the river becomes much wider.  We even ran into some motor boats and jetskis.  We also saw 4 manatees!

We stopped for a quick swim at the "beach" at Jonathan Dickinson before paddling the 1/3-1/2 mile back to the boat ramp.  The trip in total was somewhere around 10 miles and took us around 6 hours with all of our stops.  Definitely a fun but challenging trip!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Florida Trail: Jonathan Dickinson State Park East Loop

This past Saturday my dad and I headed up to Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, FL to hike the East Loop trail.  According to my guidebook it was listed at 9.8 miles.  We knew the weather was going to be hot so we arrived right when the park opened at 8 AM.  We started our hike by 8:15.  The first couple of miles are a bit challenging since you are walking on sugar sand.  Within the first 3 miles we started questioning the accuracy of my book's hike description.  According to the amount of time we had hiked, we should have gone farther than the books' description.  We assumed we were just making poor time due to the sand and kept going.  Eventually we reached a trail marker that proved we had gone a mile further than we had according to the book.  We headed towards the Scrub Jay campsite.  Because the entire park had undergone a prescribed burn about 7 months prior, most of the undergrowth was gone and there was almost no tree cover or shade.  This coupled with the sun's reflection off the sand made for a very hot hike.  We reached the Scrub Jay campsite, which consists of two large backpacking sites each with a picnic table and fire ring.  Here we stopped for lunch and discussed potentially camping here in the cooler months.  On our way out we passed a working water pump and a very fancy and clean solar powered privy.  Definitely a luxurious backpacking site!  At this point the trail split and you could continue on towards the Kitching campsite or head back to the parking lot.  We headed back to the front of the park.  While we had to cross over a lot of water obstacles, almost all of them had semi-hidden bridges off to the side.  Finally, we reached an ankle deep creek with no bridge.  We stopped to remove our shoes before crossing since the thought of hiking another 4+ miles in wet boots was unappealing.  The later part of our hike was much more challenging due to the 90 degree weather and lack of shade.  At one point, the trail joined up with a biking path and we didn't see any blazes for awhile.  Just when we were considering the idea that we had missed the turnoff, we saw a blaze ahead.  Just towards the end, the trail makes a sharp turn and detours you to walk along a really pretty lake.  We were definitely happy to reach the car!  Overall, this was a challenging hike due to the never ending sugar sand and high temperatures.  We will consider doing it again in the winter as an overnight trip.  Also, if you read a description about this trail and it is listed at 9.8 miles, this is incorrect!  It is actually 10.8 miles.  While the 1 mile difference is not that big of a deal, it created confusion during the first part of the trip.