Phil, Alec, and I at the launch site
We brought 2 of our own kayaks and rented 2 canoes from Everglades Adventures through the Ivey House. They were by far the best place we have rented from any year. They were on time (even though we weren't), flexible, and had great pricing even for non-hotel guests. We got started about an hour later than intended which made us nervous since we didn't want to end up fighting the tide. We still had plenty of time to make it out of the long, boring channel though before the tide changed and even saw some wildlife.
We weren't 100% sure of where we wanted to camp yet but knew it was between the north side of Panther Key, Hog Key, or Whitehorse Key. We stopped for a quick lunch on the south side of Panther Key then headed around the gulf side, passing some feeding Bull Sharks,to head to Hog Key. While Hog Key looked beautiful from far away, it was definitely lacking in camping options. Over the years we have become somewhat of campsite snobs and now only the prettiest will do. We jumped back in the canoes and decided to head back to Panther Key. We chose the spot right near the lagoon entrance.
Our campsite at sunset
The next morning we decided that we would keep our campsite for the next 2 nights and just do day trips to explore the other keys in the area. We first headed back over the Hog Key to check out a beautiful cove Eric told us about.
Path to cove on Hog Key
Cove on Hog Key at low tide
Next we headed over to Whitehorse Key since we had seen many beaches on it on Google Earth. Whitehorse Key ended up being gorgeous with many beautiful beaches to camp on. We ran into a couple of guys from Tennessee who said the rest of the group was on the other side of the island but we didn't hike all the way around.
Exploring Whitehorse Key
Next, I wanted to go check out Dismal Key, where a hermit used to live. We still haven't learned our lesson and yet again did not have a GPS, but it looked easy enough to find on the map. Unfortunately, somewhere we took a wrong turn and ended up in some lagoon. We were able to backtrack and get back to our campsite but I was super disappointed.
That evening while we were cooking dinner, my husband set up a fishing line baited to catch Bull Sharks. Sure enough, within 30 minutes we heard the whirl of the reel and we hooked a bull shark. Everyone took turns reeling it in so we could get pictures before releasing it.
The next day we decided again to attempt to find Dismal Key. This time, Eric gave us good directions since he is expert navigator, and we found it without any problems. I had read the autobiography written by Al Seely (one of the former hermits of Dismal Key) and had been wanting to visit it for awhile. I had studied on Google Earth where the house and other buildings had been located and by following the tree line was able to find it! Other than the cistern, there's not much left in terms of buildings. We found the ruins on an old dock, the cornerstones of where the 1935 cabin used to be, and possibly the remains of an outhouse. We did find tons of old bottles, cans, and other home furnishings such as pieces of rugs, the old icebox, and a bed frame. I'm not sure which hermit it was since there were 2 in the later years but someone really liked Busch Beer since we found hundreds of beer cans out there. It's a great lesson in recycling.
Pile of old trash where center of house was
Cornerstone of house?
What's this? (We believe it was an ice cube tray from fridge)
Playing archaeologist on Dismal Key
Different plant life than on other keys
We were also interested in the very different plant life on Dismal as opposed to other keys. Dismal Key is almost entirely made up of an old Native American shell mound which makes it much taller than other keys. It also contains a huge variety of plants such as Gumbo Limbo trees, wild poinsettia, and many types of cactus. After exploring Dismal Key, we ate some lunch on the oyster shell beach. On our paddle back to Panther Key, we had to fight some strong winds, which made us feel as if we earned our beer when we got back to camp.
Relaxing in the water after returning to camp
That evening we caught another Bull Shark while prepping dinner. Eric also caught some Redfish so we grilled those up for the omnivores. For some reason, we were surrounded by bees while cooking dinner. They weren't threatening in anyway but just annoying. So we created a bee feeder out of a lid filled with Mountain Dew and that kept them focused on that and not us.
The next morning we had planned on paddling all the way back to Everglades City but Eric's weather radio was warning us of headwinds up to 19 knots. We decided our best bet was to wake up incredibly early since the wind usually picks up in the afternoon. We woke up at 6AM and launched by 8AM, but when we rounded the point of Panther Key we were smacked with strong winds. We quickly came up with a plan B of going back to Port of the Islands and calling Everglades Adventures and having them pick us up there. Unfortunately, with this decision we were fighting the tide the whole way back. However, it was still the better option since those winds would have slowed us down tremendously and tired us out.
It was, again, a great trip with good people and good food. That's all you need!