Exploring the Mangrove Islands

Fred Howard Park is a favorite of mine to paddleboard from.  There are a lot of different areas to explore depending on which direction you decide to go in.  Last weekend we decided to take off straight out and up towards a bunch of mangrove islands that we couldn’t see from where we were but knew where there thanks to Google maps.

We basically paddled from the dinosaur’s hand to right over his head.

Mangrove islands are a lot of fun to paddle around because they are full of birds, schools of fish, and usually quite a few rays as well.

The one thing they don’t often have is a place to stop and walk around.  Mangroves tend to make a place a bit unfriendly to walk.  Those are basically sharp sticks growing up all over the open ground.  Even if it wasn’t horrible karma to go through there breaking everything, ouch.  Beautiful though.

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As a result I was kind of excited (like a 5 year old is kind of excited to see a bunny) when I saw this:

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Those are real, actual not mangrove trees towering over the mangroves.  Definitely worth investigating. We paddled almost all the way around the island before finding a small beach. And some fellow paddlers.

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There was a nice sized clearing of sand and even a patio table and old grill someone had brought in.  Of course there was also the mandatory ‘people have partied here and left their shit behind’ trash but it seems that is everywhere, regardless of how remote a place may seem.  There was even a used-to-be-nice huge tent tangled in the trees.  I get the feeling that wasn’t put there on purpose.

The people we ran into were pretty cool and said there’s another island close by that someone had actually built a bar on.  Sounds like a place we’ll have to find!

 

 

Weeki Wachee

My daughter has been bugging me like crazy to take her paddleboarding.  That sounds like a no brainer, but I usually go super early in the morning, way before the rental places open and I usually don’t have to pay anything since I have a board.  Free is good for a favorite pastime, right?

But I love the fact that she’s interested in it so we decided to find place to rent boards and go a little later than usual.  My partner in crime and my daughter immediately conspired (this is a common thing, I can’t win) and after much Googling and mapping told me that Weeki Wachee is closer than my usual paddling site (Fred Howard Park) and they found a place that rents boards as early as 8 am.

What?

Weeki Wachee is the faraway land of mermaids, manatees and clear blue waters.  I always think of it as being in the same area as Crystal River, about an hour + drive from home, and a place where no one rents anything earlier than about 10.

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I couldn’t argue with that, so we reserved our boards and off we went to The Kayak Shack.  I gotta say, if you’re going to spend the money to rent boards this is the way to go.  They have plenty of stress free parking and really nice people working there (plus a couple of huge, gentle dogs that may or may not be part of the staff).  They load you up in a van and drop you and the boards off about 5.5 miles up the river.  You get on and can just drift/paddle down the river as you choose until you get back to the shack.  In the few places you have a choice of paddling left or right there are very clear signs letting you know which way to go.  If you are feeling lazy you can literally just drift the entire way.  If you don’t stop to get in the perfectly clear water (don’t be foolish, jump in!) you will get back in three to four hours with zero effort.  Don’t want be on the water that long?  Paddle and you’ll get there sooner.

If you prefer to bring your own board I was told there is a place nearby open to the public to put in, I’ll let you know where after we bring our boards up and find it.  Paddling upstream is quite a challenge in some places, so be certain to start off going upstream so that you can relax a bit on the way back.

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One thing to make note of – a few sections of the river are INFESTED with yellow biting flys.  These things are no joke.  We brought cream bug repellent and all of us look like we have chicken pocks on our legs and are occasionally still crazy itchy, especially after being in the heat.  Bring bug repellent SPRAY, not cream so that after playing in the water you can immediately spray more on.  I usually don’t use bug repellent but I was ready to drink the stuff it it would have helped.  After I got home I bought a bottle of extra DEET camping bug spray and a bottle of all natural stuff, next time I go I’m testing both and will let yo know if the natural stuff works.  Cross your fingers for the natural stuff working. Either way, this stuff is right up there with sun screen for must haves if you go paddling at Weeki Wachee.

Paddling this river is like paddling in paradise – clear blue water, huge fish swimming under you, the occasional manatee and scenery right out of a movie.  We even had a raccoon following us along for a few minutes!

If you get the opportunity you should definitely visit Weeki Wachi.  If paddleboarding isn’t your thing you can also rent canoes and kayaks, or go see the mermaids!  I have yet to see a mermaid…

 

 

Craggy Gardens

The whole point of driving all the way to Asheville, North Carolina from Tampa was to see fall. I’ve never seen it and though I don’t have a bucket list if I did seeing fall and snow would be on it.

So the first morning we woke we woke up at the you-know-what of dawn (seems to be becoming a weekend ritual) and drove about 45 minutes (I think north?) to Craggy Gardens. Why get up so early when on vacation?

Because this. The top picture is of the sunrise and the clouds we are looking down on. Ya, I’ll wake up for that.

Craggy Garden SunriseAs if that wasn’t enough a baby bear ran in front of the car on the drive up.  Having never seen one I babbled like a 2 year old about it until my partner in crime was probably ready to slip me a Valium, but hey, it was cool. And he pretended like I wasn’t crazy annoying, so all good. 🙂

Once the sun was up we started hiking. Turns out hiking in the mountains for 8 hours after living in totally flat Florida for 8 years was a wee bit tiring.  But totally worth walking being a chore for like 3 days.

2015_10_26_North Carolina trip2I had forgot how much I loved wandering about in the mountains, sloshing up streams and generally spending entire days just exploring outside. The entire day we saw one couple after we had turned back to the car, no one else was on the trail at all. Perfection.

What was missing?  Well, I had kind of expected more color.  There was lots of yellow and gold, but very little reds except for one tiny little tree. The best place of all was about 500 feet of the trail where the leaves on the ground looked like rose petals (in spite of no red in the trees above) which seemed like at any moment a fairy could fly by and you wouldn’t even be surprised.

2015-10-26Now I am not and was not complaining about the lack of red color in the trees, because truly the place was beautiful.  But wait until you see what we found on the drive out.

Classic fall. Can’t wait to show you.