Sam and I kayaked the Santa Fe River yesterday, choosing the easiest and arguably most-sedate trip available, starting at the Highway 441 boat ramp, paddling upstream a ways, and then floating\paddling back downstream. We were looking for a quick trip and wanted to check out the water level upriver (we did Santa Fe River Park last week, downriver and with plenty of water — almost always, as it’s below Poe, Blue, and Ginny Springs).
Quite a few people on the river, maybe a bit odd for a Wednesday morning. A couple in a tandem kayak from High Springs, elderly, the woman on crutches with a missing right leg from the knee down but nonetheless a river paddler. Some high-school guys (“my mom checked me out of school early”) in a small powerboat there for the fishing. And a half dozen other canoes or kayaks paddling in the beautiful sunshine and mild temperatures.
We saw a small herd of two deer, grazing on a lawn near the woods by one of the very few houses on this stretch of the river. At about 11:00 A.M., late for deer to be grazing.
The photo above has NOTHING, obviously, to do with the Santa Fe River. It was taken on St. Maarten’s Island, which has an airport with a very short runway that starts near the beach, so pilots of big planes have to fly 30-60 feet above the beach to land on the end of the runway, giving them at least a fighting chance of not crashing. If there were a similar airport right next to the Santa Fe River, and if there had been a photographer nearby yesterday, you’d be looking at a picture of me in an orange kayak and Sam a blue kayak, similarly panicked.
We headed over to New Smyrna Beach yesterday for a beach weekend. It was cloudy yesterday and looks as though it will be again today, but it’s still fun looking at the waves (listening, too).
Walked on the beach yesterday afternoon, and I took a run down the beach this morning — surprisingly cool, though the sun was up (since it was behind the clouds a bit with a slight breeze off the 70-degree ocean).
There’s a regatta down the beach this morning, starts in about an hour.
Had a breakfast feast, Pam cooking cheesy grits with eggs and English muffins. Then down to the beach in the car — parked about halfway to Flagler Ave., within the course of the regatta. Did some walking, found a good place , and watched the boats tacking hard against the wind.
After that, seemed like a good idea to check out all the shops on Flagler Ave., the main street on the beachside. Had some cold Diet Cokes at Nichols Surf Shop, where I also looked at old pictures of lifeguards from the 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s (I started as a beach guard in the summer of 1966). Nichols also had a lovely blue Ovation guitar hanging on the wall, which not only had all six strings but was also in tune.
A fine lunch at Clancy’s Cantina (right, Tex-Mex food at a place called Clancy’s — hey, old Mr. Clancy, whose kids I went to school with, was from a Texas border town, and so are his recipes.
At lunch we were looking at Realtor.com on Pam’s iPad, which offers not only a Google map of the area but also markers of houses\condos for sale and their prices. So we started exploring, driving by nearly a dozen houses for sale, taking us all the way to the southernmost end of the island, where we checked out JP’s Fish Camp, a good place for lunch tomorrow and kayak launching.
On one of our stops to look at houses, we saw two Gopher Turtles (Tortoises?) engaged in a war: check out the picture,
and we also have video (iPhones are amazing, aren’t they?) that might go up later.
There’s an incredibly beautiful natural resource in the North Florida area (ssshhhhh!), which I haven’t blogged about because we rarely get there — it’s farther than the Santa Fe River, and it’s a bit of a hassle (explained below). I’m talking about Itchetucknee Springs, a clear spring run of about 3 miles that outflows into the Itchetucknee River and then into the Santa Fe River.
But Pam and I bit the bullet on Sunday and took two kayaks there. We’ve recently purchased a little folding, two-wheel cart, which is pretty much a necessity to carry the boats about a half mile through the woods from the parking area (Itchetucknee State Park) to the river at Dampier’s Landing. This allows us to go kayaking while using only one vehicle (otherwise we’d have to park a second car at Dampier’s Landing or the bottom).
So we unloaded, put both kayaks (one on top of the other, strapped together) on the cart, and headed to the river. Then quickly took a wrong turn toward “Midpoint,” and ended up bouncing along a very rutted path that would have eventually (maybe a mile) got us down to the river. But the rutted path was bouncing the boats off and we weren’t seeing the river, so we headed the other way, and ended up on the very smooth, paved path, with a wooden walkway part of the way, to Dampier’s Landing — the direction we should have gone in the first place.
But we made it to the water, and it was beautiful — clear, cool, many turtles, some herons, a few people in boats or tubes here and there but not a big crowd. Well, it was Easter Sunday, so maybe that kept the crowd down — also, the rangers will only let 600 people on the river daily at the top, anyway, in order to save the spring run from excessive wear.
We paddled about a mile upstream, and then turned back down a little short of the top, and the people in front of us yelled that they’d spotted a manatee. Super, amazing, as you can see.
We sat and looked at him\her for about 10 or 15 minutes, during which time he surfaced to breathe once but otherwise stayed still as I even drifted over him. First time I’ve seen a manatee in the Itchetucknee River, and I’ve never seen one from 4-5 feet away, immobile, for 15 minutes. And thanks to the other paddlers who alerted us, since Pam and I might have just thought he was a rock, a shadow, or a deeper place in the foliage.
Remember — ssshhh! Tell only your good friends about the beautiful Itchetucknee River. Everyone else who comes to Florida should just stay on the Interstates and go to Disney. Nothing but man-eating alligators here in North Central Florida, and sinkholes that’ll swallow your house.