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Pelicans at the Put-in

We started from Chokoloskee Island Resort and Marina, whose parking lot is the very first thing you see as you come across the bridge from Everglades City into Chokoloskee. This is a big resort property chain. II think they took over land that was once a National Park Service put-in. They charge $10 per day just to park.

A better and cheaper option would be the park service "ramp" at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and ranger station in Everglades City (where you get your permits). But the marina option saved us 3 miles of paddling on both the first and last day, and a mucky low tide put in at the ranger station.


Chickee at Sunday Bay

This was our only chickee campsite. Too bad - chickees are breezy and bug-free most of the time. Note the clothing on the right - standing out in the wind. We had paddled into 15K headwinds for most of the afternoon, which turned out to be the norm. Sunday Bay had small waves.

The double chickee is located off the main bay in a small cove sheltered by mangrove islands, so the water here was calm. This campsite is hard to locate when traveling southbound on the Wilderness Waterway. You have to go well past marker 123 and even then I'm not sure it's visible. Check description in A Paddler's Guide to the Everglades.

Sunday Bay from the Chickee

The water was calm back in the cove where the chickee is located, despite wind and waves on Sunday Bay.



Loading Boats on the Chickee

The tide varies by about 3 feet here, so you can get stuck making a difficult landing, loading or launching at low tide!


The Last House

We saw this on the way to Watson's place. Apparently it's the last privately owned dwelling in the park. It looked maintained and perhaps occupied.



The Dock at Watson's

Watson's place on the Chatham River has a grassy clearing for camping. This historic spot was owned by EJ Watson at the turn of the 19th century. Watson operated a 35 acre sugar cane plantation here. In addition to being a successful business and family man, he was also said to be a ruthless killer. In fact, several grisly murders and a suicide took place at this very spot. Though there are some artifacts, the only evidence we found of ruthless bloodletting was the bugs (biting midges).

For a great read on this and the frontier culture of the region, get Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen.


Gator

OK I have to admit we did not see this guy while paddling. Since we were mostly in salt water, and gators prefer fresh water, we didn’t see any. Turns out there are crocs in the saltwater! But they are rare, and paddlers don’t see them. Probably a good thing, since they are reputed to be meaner than alligators!



Happy, Sunny, Mellow Paddling!

It wasn’t always like this!because we couldn't make it through a cut at low tide.


Tide Flat Landing

These were common. The 3 foot tide range doesn't make for big currents, but it does translate into mudflats and shoals. We had to backtrack once because we couldn't make it through a cut at low tide.



Our Campsite at New Turkey Key

Since we'd just had a brutal bug night at Watson's, we were grateful to be on the "outside", and we took pains to find the windiest spit of land on the key.

The official campsite (and latrine site) here is on the middle of the island, facing south, but we camped on the southwest end.

The northeast end is attached to Snake Key at low tide, though the charts don't show it. This area has some tempting camping spots, but I think they can flood if conditions are right.


Wallowing

I was supposed to be setting up camp, but it was HOT that day! Temperatures in the 80s. Water temps in the high 70s.



Tent Site on the West End of New Turkey Key

After our days in the "backwaters", I was really happy to be camping on familiar sand and salt, away from the bugs. The drawback, of course, is that you're more exposed to wind, waves and weather.


Racoon-proofing

We hung our food here, because the trees were right for it. The raccoons are smart, and possibly more aggressive on the outer keys. We were told “hard-sided container” by the ranger, who approved of stowing food in our boat, provided we turned the boat over or otherwise protected the hatch cover. Also we had to stow our water – raccoons will go after it.

We heard tales of other pushy rodents from paddlers we met. There are no bears or large mammals out here – not enough fresh water to support them.



The View from Pavilion Key

"Pavilion Key is a beach camper's dream! Others will have the same dream. Be prepared to share it!"

from Johnny Malloy's A Paddler's Guide to the Everglades.


Giant Beans

Or were they peas? There is a plant called the sea bean, but I'm not sure this was it. I took a chance and tasted the peas inside the pods, and they were good, when ripe!

I know, this is not recommended.....



Our Campsite at Pavilion Key

Note the kayak. It's there to guy the tent to. We landed on Pavilion Key at noon, and heard tornado warnings and 70K winds predicted on the weather radio. We spent the next hour plus preparing for a big blow, then spent two hours waiting for it to happen! Luckily it wasn't as bad as predicted. Turned out to be a lot of dramatic sky and wind without too much lightning, so it was awesome to watch it roll in. And of course we were thankful not to be on the water.


Walt, Appearing Casual

He's not casual. He's watching the cold front line roll in from the west as the wind-driven tide creeps up on the east - 5 feet from our tent. He's wondering which one's going to get us first.

It's Christmas Day, and we're all alone on Pavilion Key1 Turns out the park service wouldn't let people go out that day, due to the impending bad weather!



Ready to Leave Pavilion Key

The front had blown through and the water had calmed, but we still had 20K winds. Luckily, they were mostly in our favor.


Beach at Rabbit Key

Rabbit Key has several tiny beaches like this one. You could paddle in at mid to high tide, then camp in a clearing behind the beach in the mangroves.

This beach is on the northwest side (the opposite side from the latrine).



Camping Spot in Mangroves

This would be best for very windy weather - if it's not windy, you'll want to be more exposed to reduce bug potential.


THE Primo Spot on Rabbit Key

This tent site sits on the northeast tip. It's open to the breeze but sheltered by a few mangroves. It gets cut off from the latrine at high tide by a tiny tidal creek and slough.

At low tide the egrets and wood storks come to the slough to feed on trapped fish.



Inland Swamp on Rabbit Key

Rabbit Key is not easy to circumnavigate on foot. There are parts I never got to see, even though it's small. There are inland pools and swamps like this one, which make it interesting to explore.

The story is that EJ Watson was buried here after being gunned down on at the Smallwood Store Chokoloskee (his body was exhumed almost immediately, and moved to a family plot in Ft Myers).


White Mangroves in Swamp on Rabbit Key

It was here that I re-learned the 3 mangrove types. Red mangroves tolerate salt water and grow with their feet in it, so they're the ones you see the most when paddling. Their tangles roots are reddish.

Black mangroves grow behind the red ones on higher ground, but their roots may still be covered at high tide. They have "knees" like cypress, which are thought to help them obtain oxygen. In South Florida they look like trees (they can be over 40 feet tall). They have dark bark compared to the others.

White mangroves grow upland of the others - apparently they can tolerate being in brackish or fresh water but not salt water. In some environments they grow prop roots, like the ones in this picture. Though there's nothing "white" about them, their large "legs" are much lighter in color than the others. When you see a black mangrove next to a white mangrove, their names will make sense!

Then there's the Buttonwood, a distant relative that's also common. Locals used to cut and cord buttonwood to sell or to make charcoal (which they sold). It's dense wood. It's very very hard work.



Scenery from Rabbit Key


Fixin’ to get ready to start cooking….



Dog and Pony Show

These guys were a team. They'd come to the tiny slough next to our campsite to feed on the fish that were trapped by low tide. The Ibis, with its constant probing and rooting, seemed to be doing all the work. The egret would stand nearby, one leg bent, looking bored. Then a fish would dart away from the ibis, and the egret would snatch it up. Very tricky.

I hope the ibis got something out of the arrangement....


Watching the Weather Change

The fronts usually come through quickly. If you're lucky enough to be on land with your camp set up, they're fun to watch. Seems to me to be a good reason to paddle short distances, get up early and get where you're going before all H%^ breaks loose!



More weather


Lone tree

I guess this spit used to be higher. As the tide comes in you can watch the two "currents" meet here. Very cool.



Roots


Osprey Tree

We saw many Osprey, and learned some of their habits. Usually they were pretty casual about humans, and I had some great sightings on this trip.


Nest

It was only after I took these pictures and was headed away that the 2 osprey came back and let me know I was too close.


Chickee at Sunday Bay

This Osprey is P___d off and taking names. I'd like to publicly apologize - it did not occur to me that they'd be nesting in December!



and I don't know what is IS.....


This Vine is EVIL!

DO NOT get near this thing, even to photograph the amazingly prickly fruit pods. It has barbs on its stems, too, and will reach out and grab you. It can sink its talons into Goretex. What can it do to flesh?!

It's called the Nickernut, and apparently it's seeds have been used to make jewelry in the Caribbean.



Back in the Mangroves

This was our last day. It was very windy on the "outside", and we were glad to get back into the shelter of the mangrove islands, even though we did get slightly lost once or twice.....

And the wind continues to be a pain....


Another Osprey Nest



Landing at the Smallwood Store

This was not our take out but a welcome stop after battling the wind and running aground most of the day. The Smallwood Store is a museum, restored to the days when Ted Smallwood supplied the pioneer families of the region with staples.

There is so much history here, it’s really worth a visit. Bring money for the museum donation. After six days out, we were very fired up about buying an old time CocaCola in 10 oz bottle from the authentic 1940s vintage water-cooled chiller!

If you’re reading Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen, you’ll definitely need to see this place!


Tourist Shot

The Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City.

Jimmy Buffett goes here!



Yard Art?


Wood Stork

Though we didn't get a picture of a Wood Stork til after our paddling trip ended, we saw lots of these "underdogs" of the bird world, and learned something of their feeding habits, etc.

It's nice to see they're making a bit of a come back here.

In general, this trip was fantastic for watching shorebirds. It seemed like we were always close to some activity that I'd never observed anywhere else. I'm not sure why this is, but I was thankful to have both my waterproof monocular (I wear this on my PFD) and a pair of binoculars.


Guess who we saw going into the Waffle House in St Pete?