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Archive for the ‘Paddling’ Category

I began “Day 2”of my summer vacation with a paddle on the Blackwater River in Milton, Florida. I rented a sit-on-top kayak from the Blackwater Canoe Rental and selected the 11-mile paddle from the Bryant Bridge (north of Milton) to Deaton Bridge. The outfitter dropped me at 9:30 a.m. along with three folks from Alabama.

Dark Waters of the Blackwater River

Boning claims that the Blackwater is among the most pristine of Florida’s rivers. Blackwater comes from the Choctaw word “Oka Lusa” which means “water black.”  At lower levels, the river is tannin-colored (rusty looking in the lowest spots) but turns black at deeper levels.  The Blackwater River begins its journey in the Conecuh National Forest in Southern Alabama.  It flows about 56 miles south, then west, on its way to the Blackwater Bay. When it reaches Florida, it passes through the Blackwater River State Forest.  The Blackwater River is an Outstanding Florida Water; thirty-one miles are Designated Florida Paddling Trail as well.

So, I paddled away on the tannin-colored water under clear, sunny sky, waving goodbye to the folks from Alabama who had been nice enough to invite me to join them. I took in the scenery and sighed—to my right, a high sandy bank, etched throughout the years by the twists and turns of the river, topped by tall, straight pines.

For over two hours, I paddled in silence, little sign of life. A couple lazy hawks flew overhead, and then I saw low-flying aircraft from the nearby Eglin Airforce Base—a strange reality check. Briefly, my mind flitted to a scene from the African Queen, but then they were gone, and I melted back into my seat and took in my surroundings: white cedar, cypress, water oak, pine, wax myrtle, and magnolia.

The river offered an occasional shady spot and a light breeze, only minimal relief from the sun. The sides of the river alternated with white sandbars on one side and sandy banks on the other—similar to the Perdido. High waters and storms had scooped out the banks, leaving tree roots exposed. A sandbar beckoned me; I stopped for a quick stretch and a dip to cool off.

Occasional Shade on the Blackwater
Occasional Shade on the Blackwater

About 2.5 hours into my paddle, tubers appeared in their blue, green, pink, and yellow tubes, decorating the white sandbars like sprinkles on a cake. My spiritual retreat ended, as I paddled past wading sunbathers and sandbars adorned with umbrellas and coolers. Teenagers stood on high banks while from the water below, others dared them to jump.  I couldn’t watch.

Four hours after my put in, I passed under the Deaton Bridge, and pulled my kayak out of the water. My outfitter connection awaited me there.

(Blackwater Canoe Rental. 6974 Deaton Bridge Road, Milton, Florida. https://www.blackwatercanoe.com/. (850) 623-0235  or (800) 967-6789)

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Vacation time had arrived at last, and this summer, I planned to return to the Panhandle for three paddles. It was long overdue—I had originally scheduled it for July, but I fractured my wrist (handstands) and had to delay my trip. My cast came off Friday, two days before I left for the Panhandle.  I figured a few days of paddling would be good therapy.

I chose the most westerly river I could for my first paddle: the Perdido River. In Spanish, Perdido means, “lost” or “lost river.” If you look at the map, the Perdido River draws the north-south boundary between Florida and Alabama, and there is so much history here as the Spanish, British, French, and of course, United States, struggled to gain possession of these lands. (Boning) The Perdido originates in Alabama and travels about 58 miles from Alabama to Perdido Bay—which is part of the Gulf.  It includes nine miles of Florida Designated Paddling Trail from Barrineau Park to Adventures on Perdido. The Perdido is also an Outstanding Florida Water.

Adventures on Perdido (formerly part of Adventures Unlimited) is the only outfitter on the river.  Linda and Dave are the owners; theirs is a small mom and pop outfitter in the middle of nowhere. They have enough canoes to meet the needs for busloads of vacationers, but I found the choice of kayaks limited. A sit-on-top would have been nice under the hot sun (and Linda’s recommendation), but theirs were too small to hold my cooler and supplies, so I opted for a sit inside. As it turned out, it had wacky tracking, and whenever I stopped paddling, the kayak turned right–a bit like that crazy cart I sometimes get at Publix.

At 9:30 a.m., Dave dropped me at the Perdido River Wildlife Management Area access, just south of Barrineau Park.  From here, I paddled south with Alabama on my right and Florida on my left—how cool is that? I spent the next three hours alone on the tea-colored waterway under the hot August sun.  The wide river (often about 50 feet wide) and tall palms, cedar and cypress offered little shade! I made do with the sit inside kayak and flung my legs over the sides—not very ladylike, but it was very relaxing and much cooler with my feet dipped in the water.

A Peaceful Perdido River
A Peaceful Perdido River

The river was quiet—no people, no animals, no gators or snakes. Three hawks flew overhead and disappeared. I took in the beautiful white sandbars and the high sandy banks while I snacked on trail mix and fruit. However, as beautiful as these all were, the condition of the river was disappointing. Dead wood in the water collected trash all along the river—reminders of inconsiderate humans. Although the Perdido Wildlife Management Area includes 15 miles of frontage on the river, portions are also owned by individuals (evidenced by many plastic chairs on sandbars) and gun clubs. I wondered who was responsible for keeping it clean.  This river had so much potential, but it seemed neglected.

Truthfully, I can’t say that Perdido makes my “top ten” list. However, is there anything better than to paddle down any Florida river in the midst of nature?

(Adventures on Perdido. 160 River Annex Road, Cantonment, Florida. https://adventuresperdidoriver.com/. (850) 968-5529 or (888) 863-1364)

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Admittedly, my favorite rivers are remote, narrow, and twisted with a lush green canopy, lots of wildlife, and little human life.

However, a girl can enjoy an occasional frolic in a busy setting from time to time…right?  I had just paddled Waccasassa the day before, and this Saturday in May, I would paddle my 30th river (Yippee!).  I knew that Crystal River would be busy, but I expected it to be fun as well.

A Hot, Lazy Day on Crystal River

About 30 springs in and around King’s Bay make up the headwaters of Crystal River. The springs keep the Bay to a refreshing 72 degrees and a prime spot for the manatees during the colder months—however, not so many manatees hang around in these warmer months. Crystal River runs about 7 miles westward from the Bay before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. (Boning)

So, mid-morning, I rented a sit-on-top kayak from Birds Underwater, planning to dip my feet in the cool water while paddling under a very hot sun.  I paddled away from the dock, hugging the shoreline, and took in my surroundings.  Sailboats and pontoon boats anchored around the Bay, painted a beautiful picture of a lazy afternoon on the water. Boats loaded with manatee-seekers and scuba divers coasted by.  Ahead of me, a parade of paddlers in their colorful kayaks paddled away.

I paddled towards the Three Sisters Springs, watching a couple dolphins frolicking in the water to my right.  The birds splashed around me, seemingly accustomed to the hub-bub: osprey, pelicans, cormorants, and ducks.  After I passed under a bridge, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge appeared to my left while private residences lined the canals to my right.  I followed the colorful kayak parade to the Three Sisters Springs, entering what could have been a themed swimming pool at Disney.  Paddlers sat atop trees that had fallen across the crystal clear water while others sunbathed on their kayaks. I half expected to see a mechanized mermaid arise from the water singing an enchanting song about life under the sea. I slid from my kayak into the chilly (eek!) water and spent some time cooling off.

Before returning to the outfitter that afternoon, I took a paddle around the tall grasses of Buzzard Island. I did see one manatee lifting its snout out of the water as paddlers looked on. As I neared the outfitter, I could hear music coming from Crackers Bar, Grill, and Tiki. A cold beer was beginning to sound darn good!

Now that I’ve become somewhat familiar with King’s Bay, on a return trip I would like to paddle across the Bay and down the river. Although the river is not narrow and twisted, Huff claims that it is wild and natural—except for the occasional passing motor boat, that is.

(Outfitter: Bird’s Underwater Inc., 320 NW Hwy 19, Crystal River, FL. https://www.birdsunderwater.com/. (352) 563-2763)

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An hour and a half up the river, and I found myself stuck on a log, disappointed that my swift paddle maneuver didn’t work, after all.  It was close to low tide, and even if I could get over the log, chances are, it would be more difficult on the return! I could see the narrow, twisted river in front of me, beckoning, and I hated that I couldn’t go further.  Below me, I peered through the clear, cool water, too deep for me to stand in to hoist the kayak over the log…not that I’d want to stand in the river after seeing the huge gator a while ago.

Stuck on a Log–Waccasassa River

It had been months since I had been on a river—not since the holiday break in December. I’ve been working my way up the west coast of Florida on my paddling trips. In December, I paddled the Withlacoochee River (south), and I loved it, so when we started our four-day work week at the college in May,  I headed back to that area to paddle a couple more—beginning with the Waccasassa River.

The funny thing about the Waccasassa (besides saying the name) is that few people in the area seem to know where the heck the river is located.  However, it wasn’t difficult to find; the put in is a few miles south of US 19 on CR 326—the intersection a straight shot north of Crystal River—about 29 miles. CR 326 dead ends at the Waccasassa River Park.

The Waccasassa—named by the Seminoles—means “there are cows.” The river runs about 29 miles from its source at the Blue Spring west of Bronson to the Gulf. Along the way, it picks up waters (and some of its dark color) from a swampy area, the Waccasassa Flats in Devil’s Hammock.  As it travels southwest, the Wekiva River, Otter Creek, and Cow Creek add to its flow. (Boning)

So, I arrived at the park and hauled the kayak off the top of my car, put in at the boat ramp and paddled east, away from the bay. A few folks, probably locals, sat along the banks in old lawn chairs, their fishing lines in the water. It seemed a familiar and comfortable spot for them.  I gave a wave and a “phew, hot morning!” as I passed.  I looked forward to the shade of the river.

Twenty minutes later, I reached the fork in the river. To the left, the Waccasassa, to the right, the Wekiva. I stayed on the Waccasassa.  Just as I entered the wilderness, a huge gator took a running leap from the low bank and belly flopped into the river to my left (at least this is how I imagined it based on the loud sound he made).  Satisfied that he got my attention, he swam out to greet me.  I chatted only briefly with him before I paddled swiftly away, watching my back to make certain he didn’t follow.

Once I passed under CR 326 bridge, the distant boat noises I had heard earlier disappeared. The river narrowed, and I moved through the dark water—scooting around the many downed trees. As I paddled east, the water seemed to become clearer, and soon I could see mosses growing on logs below me.

The Natural Beauty of the Waccasassa River

I loved this–alone on the river, surrounded by low banks adorned with cypress, cabbage palm, pine, maple, oak, and Florida willow. Much of the property along the river is state-owned with no development.  I paddled quietly, listening to the noisy cawing and chirping going on in the trees.  I saw ducks, herons, swallow-tailed kites, ospreys, ibises, and an occasional turkey moving clumsily from tree to tree.

Fish jumped around me, and crabs scurried up the banks as I paddled past. The banks held colorful reminders of springtime—patches of white, purple and yellow flowers brightened my journey. The Waccasassa is not a designated Florida Paddling Trail—which may be why I now found myself stuck on this log. However, with its natural beauty and peaceful tranquility, it was a pleasure to paddle. I finally wriggled my kayak free of the log, and headed back to the park.

(Outfitter: Crystal River Kayak Company. 1332 SE Highway 19, Crystal River, Florida. https://crystalriverkayakcompany.com/. (352) 795-2255.)

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I stood in the close quarters of the tiny outfitter’s office with Jackie, the owner. “We have alligators and snakes here, just so you know,” she warned me, and then she demonstrated how to remove a snake from a paddle. Truthfully, alligators don’t bother me, but I’ve yet to encounter a snake in a Florida river—strange as that might seem after 28 rivers paddled. So, I listened and asked questions (“What kind of snakes?” “How big are they?”), secretly hoping that the cold weather would keep the snakes away.

The Withlacoochee River. It sure is a mouthful to say. It’s a Native American term that means, “little big water” or “crooked river.”  I understood, once I paddled it. During the drier season, when the water is low, the “small” river twists and turns through sometimes high banks. However, when the rains come, the water flows high and into the woods so that the banks disappear and the river appears “big.” Paddling in the dry season, I could see how the high waters had left their marks on the trees.The Withlacoochee originates in the Green Swamp, along with the Peace, Hillsborough, and Ocklawaha rivers—a few of my favorites.  It travels west, then north, then west again, and it finally empties into the Gulf. It is an Outstanding Florida Water and is more than 140 miles long. Eighty-three miles is also a designated Florida Paddling Trail.

To get to the drop off, Jackie and I drove through the Richloam Wildlife Management Area in the Withlacoochee State Forest, scooting over on the dirt road to let hunters pass in their dusty pickups, hound dogs barking in cages in the back. If it had been later in the year, during the rainy season, I would have started my paddle several miles deeper into the Green Swamp at “High Bluff,” welcoming the extra couple hours of serenity and nature.  However, during the dry season, that portion of the river becomes puddles in places and requires a lot of portaging, so Jackie dropped me at the Lacoochee Park put in. From here, I had several miles to paddle back to the outfitter located on SR 575 and another five miles to the Sawmill residences where Jackie would pick me up.

I had layered up for a cool day of paddling—in the 60s when I began—brrr!  I had added the “required” orange vest (to ensure I would not be mistaken for a deer or hog by the hunters). The crisp air felt good as I paddled the quiet river. For nearly two hours, only the screeches of the occasional red-shoulder hawk broke the silence.

The Withlacoochee Dressed in Browns and Grays

Earlier, Jackie had described the beautiful colors of the river in the springtime; however, even in its neutral shades of brown and gray, the river was beautiful—like an old photograph. Naked brown cypress clung to the banks while live oaks and red maples added bits of green and red to the landscape. Cypress knees stretched to the sky as if in prayer—how appropriate for this ethereal habitat!  Young ibis in various shades of white and brown, stood sentinel atop of the brown river banks while vultures cast ominous shadows on the river, perhaps circling a carcass hunters left behind.  Black-crowned night herons, great herons, anhingas and egrets seemed to enjoy the river’s tranquility, watching quietly as I passed.

Shortly before I paddled under SR 575, I saw the first house.  After that, old wooden framed houses popped up on the banks here and there, and folks were out fishing. The low water created light turbulence in the water in some areas which made paddling fun.  In one spot, I struggled to get my kayak through overgrown vegetation and fallen trees, but I managed to do it without stepping into the dark water and muck.

Indeed, the cool weather had kept the critters away—no snakes or alligators on this trip!  However, the Withlacoochee is definitely a river I’ll return to when the water is higher and the banks are green. I imagine I will see an entirely different river at that time.

(Outfitter: Withlacoochee River Canoe Rental. 39847 SR 575, Dade City/Lacoochee, Florida. (352) 583-4778)

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Standing on the dock, looking down at the small, winding river, my thoughts drifted to childhood images of summers in Vermont, fishing from the banks of Joe’s Brook with my siblings. We would sit amongst the tall grasses—in the middle of nowhere—where we had moments ago caught grasshoppers and dug for worms to use for bait.  I love small rivers like this, the kind that twist and turn with banks dripping with foliage, trees casting shade for paddlers.

Blooming Vines on the Sebastian River

A funny thing about this river, the Sebastian, it seems no one agrees on what to call it. My guidebooks call it Sebastian River, Sebastian Creek, and St. Sebastian River.  At first I thought they all referred to different waterways, and I nearly passed this one up. So glad, I didn’t!

So, I rented my kayak from All About Kayaks—right across from Wimbrow Park, just off Airport Road, in Sebastian, Florida.  Steve drove me to my put in on the South Prong of the Sebastian—off Fellsmere Road (CR 512), giving me a three-hour paddle north to Wimbrow Park, about 4.5 miles. I would paddle the South prong which flows south to north and eventually meets up with the North Prong and empties into the Indian River.

I put in under a beautiful clear sky, the crisp air and tinges of orange and gold along the river’s edge signaling that fall had finally arrived.  I paddled away from the dock on the dark, cool water, already captivated by this charming river.  I pushed aside branches to get through here and there and took in the uncoiffed landscape— tall grasses, leather ferns, oaks, cabbage palms, pines, and saw palmetto—all crowding the river—and blooming vines pouring off trees like waterfalls.

Paddling north, the St. Sebastian River State Buffer Preserve appears on the left, so it was on the east side where the houses popped up—usually not disturbing the serene surroundings, at least in the beginning. More than once I headed down a branch of the waterway, only to find that it dead-ended, and I had to turn back.

For nearly two hours, I paddled a narrow river where nature reigned.  My paddle was peaceful, serene, and fragrant. Water seeped into the woods over the low banks; occasional sand bluffs appeared on the west side of the river.

The country charm eventually gave way to a more estuarine quality as the river widened…and then, a dolphin slid in and out of the water in front of me.  I continued to enjoy the solitude of the river and the fish that jumped around me—sometimes near misses to my vessel.  Lazy turtles sunned themselves on fallen logs as great blue herons lifted themselves into the air. Before long, I spied colorful skydivers floating on the air currents in the distance—much the way the osprey floated.  Wimbrow Park was just ahead.

(Outfitter: About Kayaks (Steve). 25 Airport Drive West, Sebastian, FL 32958. https://www.aboutkayaks.net/. (772) 589-3469)

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I drove down a long leaf pine-lined country road to reach Adventures Unlimited, the outfitter for Coldwater Creek.  I felt “at camp” when I arrived.  Young boys directed me through a crowded parking lot.  Teens and families had lined up for the bus to the drop off.  Bold signs directed me up the stairs to the office, and more signs sent me out the back door and down to the storage area to pick out my life jacket and paddle.  It promised to be a busy day on the river!

Tea-Colored Coldwater Creek

Coldwater Creek originates in the Conecuh National Forest in Georgia.  Eighteen of its 28 miles are a state-designated paddling trail.  Its cool waters travel south through the Blackwater River State Forest and eventually join the Blackwater River as one of its major tributaries. (Carmichael)

I boarded the bus with about 10 others—all carrying coolers and other supplies for a fun day on the creek.  The Adventures Unlimited folks dropped us at their privately-owned property off Christmas Tree Road—giving us about a 7-mile paddle back to the outpost.

Paddling away from the put-in, I could see the sandy gravel bed of the creek through the shallow tea-colored water.  The sun shone hot, and I dangled my toes in the coolness beneath me, silently thanking the AU staff member who talked me into a sit-on-top kayak. Lush foliage surrounded me—tall long needle pines, oaks, and cypress.  A magnolia tree peaked out here and there.  I paddled around a bend in the creek and faced tall sandy bluffs. An “ahhh” moment.

However, soon enough, I realized the thing about paddling on the weekend—it’s not a serene, peaceful paddle and the only wildlife to be seen comes equipped with coolers.  Wide sandbars poked out into the creek, creating perfect nooks for family get-togethers. Children splashed in the water while their parents chatted and sipped cool drinks.  Tubers began to show up in large groups just past the Springfield Road put in—about four miles from my AU destination.  I quickly learned to maneuver around them, 20 or more at a time.

Shallow Waters of Coldwater Creek

So many of these folks traveled by canoes, and with the loads they carried, I understood why.  However, the low water level meant frequent portages for canoers, no doubt.  Even in a kayak, dodging the deadfalls and scooting around the wide sandbars challenged me, and more than once I got out and dragged myself to deeper water.

But what a beautiful creek!  Paddling this gravel-lined waterway, I could feel the downhill flow (a 2.8 gradient), and I sometimes felt as if I was sliding down someone’s flooded country driveway.    As I neared the end, I took a sharp left at a fork in the creek, where, for just a few moments, the swift waters hastened my journey and then delivered me safely back to the main waterway—a fun ending to my day on the creek.

(Outfitter: Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Center. 8974 Tomahawk Landing Road, Milton, Florida. https://adventuresunlimited.com/. (850) 623-6197 or (800) 239-6864)

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The Wakulla River surprised me—in a nice way. I knew enough about the river to know that it is wider and busier than most rivers I paddle, and I expected to see summer homes along the banks and boats in the water.  However, I did not expect the Wakulla to be charming and picturesque, with images that reminded me of a Highwaymen painting.

Places to Explore on the Wakulla River

The Wakulla River, both an Official Florida Canoe Trail and an Outstanding Florida Water, begins at the Wakulla Springs, one of the largest springs in the world.  It travels about nine miles until it meets up with St. Marks River, and then, just a few miles further downstream, it flows into the Gulf.  It’s not possible to paddle all the way up to the springs, as the river is fenced off at SR 365, three miles south of the springs.

Once privately owned, the land around the springs is now the site of a state-owned hotel and resort—the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park and Lodge. Financier Edward Ball constructed the resort in 1937; the state purchased it in 1986.  (Florida State Parks)

I put in at the US 98 bridge at 10:45 a.m., renting a kayak from TnT Hide-a-Way. It was Thursday, and I hoped for a quiet morning on the river.  I paddled north against a light current, toward the spring.  This was an out-and-back paddle, my turnaround point being the bridge at SR 365, about a four- mile paddle each way.

Shortly into my trip up the river, I met Josh, a local out for a quick paddle before going to work.  Josh, with a passion for Florida outdoors, was scouting out landscapes to photograph.  We chatted for a bit, and then he paddled ahead while I continued to discover the river.

Tall, old cypress dripping with long tresses of Spanish moss graced the edges of the wide river.  The water spread deeply into marshy woodlands creating small waterways to explore.  Below me, hydrilla and eel grass swayed with the current. Locals dropped fishing lines from small boats and leaned back to wait.

As I paddled further, I passed small cypress islands that divided the wide river.  I spotted wood ducks in flight and wood duck boxes mounted on trees. Outside one of these islands I paused and watched three playful manatees as they surrounded me, blowing bubbles in the water like children in a bathtub.  After all the rivers I’ve paddled, this was my first manatee sighting!

After the Rain

I made it to the bridge by noon, greeted by loud rumbles and ominous skies to the north.  When it began to rain on my return, I took comfort in seeing other paddlers on the river with me, and when the skies opened up, I was happy to see Josh tucked away under a wooden dock. I joined him, and we lingered together for awhile like two kids huddled in a tiny tent, watching the rain. Then after donning my disposal raincoat—we made a Butch Cassidy break for it and paddled out into the downpour. I couldn’t see far, but how beautiful the river looked in the rain! As we neared the bridge, the rain slowed.  I looked back and took a picture just as the rain ended, and we paddled the last stretch.

(Outfitter: TnT Hide-a-Way. 6527 Coastal Highway, Crawfordville, Florida. https://tnthideaway.com/. (850) 925-6412)

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I stopped my car and read the sign at the entrance to the outfitter: Econfina Creek Canoe Livery “Go With The Flow.” I briefly reflected on the river-life metaphor as I drove down the driveway and parked.

Embracing Foliage on the Econfina Creek

I chose Econfina Creek as my second river to paddle in the Panhandle.  Huff describes the scenery as “superb,” with giant cypress that arch overhead.  Carter et al. claims that many consider the Econfina the “most beautiful and challenging stream in Florida.” It sounded like a waterway I needed to paddle.

So, I selected my kayak from a generous inventory at the outfitter, and I put in right there at 10:30 a.m.—to be picked up at the end of my seven-mile trip at CR 388.  Although the water level seemed low, I paddled away on a strong steady current, through the twists and turns of the Econfina.

Econfina comes from a Muskogean Indian word meaning “natural bridge.” (Carter et al.) The Econfina Creek originates in the southwest corner of Jackson County, Florida, where a number of creeks add to the flow. Along the way, springs and runoff contribute even more until it finally discharges in Deer Pointe Lake in Bay County. (Boning). The upper portions of the creek run swiftly through limestone and high bluffs with a 7.9 gradient. A gradient 4 and lower banks on the lower portion where I paddled make for easier navigation.

Huff’s description of the creek held true; tall, arching cypress, along with magnolia, several varieties of oaks (including Shumard oak and laurel oak) and pines, dogwood, and red maple embraced the waterway.  Similar to the Chipola River, the landscape varied with swampy wetlands on one side and high limestone banks/cliffs—these, dripping with lush ferns—on the other.  Lots of sandbars along the way made for an easy dip to cool off or pause for a snack.

Spring Along the Econfina Creek

Some of the land around the creek is privately owned; however, the few houses that appeared seemed to blend in with the surroundings.  The Northwest Florida Water Management District has acquired about 14 miles along the creek and has built viewing structures so people can access the springs.  I paddled past several of these springs along the way.  At Pitt Spring, I met two local women, Gail and Rose, who came to cool off on a hot day. During our chat, they described the beauty of the creek when the dogwoods and azaleas bloom.  At Emerald Spring (the main source for Econfina Spring water), a young family snorkeled at the base of the 25-foot limestone bank to view the spring’s powerful flow.

What a great place to be on a slow, lazy day! I hung my legs over the side of my vessel, dipped my feet in the clear, cool water and let the flow take me beneath the canopy, around the twists and turns of the river, returning to reality only momentarily to maneuver around a deadfall or a sharp corner.  I love vacation!

(Outfitter: Econfina Creek Canoe Livery. 5641A Porter Road, Youngstown, Florida. http://www.canoeeconfinacreek.net/. (850) 722-9032)

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Summer vacation, here at last!  I headed to the Panhandle to paddle a few rivers.  These would be my first in this area, and first up—the Chipola River.

I rented a kayak from Bear Paw Canoe Rental in Marianna—a local outfitter with a good selection of kayaks. The owner, Ricky, drove me just north of Marianna, to the put in at Yancy Bridge on FL 166. I began my peaceful paddle (9.8 miles) at 9:30 a.m., the only person on the river—what could be better?

The Caves on the Chipola River

The Chipola River, located in the Central Panhandle, starts north of the Alabama border.  It runs 80 plus miles to eventually merge with the Apalachicola River, close to the Gulf.  As it passes through the Florida Caverns State Park, the Chipola goes underground for awhile and then re-emerges.  Along its journey, various springs (over 60!) and creeks flow into it. (Boning) The Chipola is an Outstanding Florida Water, and 51 miles of it is a Florida Designated Paddling Trail.

Indeed outstanding, the Chipola did not disappoint me!  Almost immediately, a great horned owl flew over the river in front of me, landed on an overhanging branch, and watched as I floated beneath him.  Belted kingfishers and warblers darted here and there as ibis and herons chilled on the riverside.

Even with the recent rains, I could see the sandy bottom through the beautiful milky blue-green water, thick reeds and eel grass moving with the current.  I paddled the cool waterway shaded by thick foliage of oak (several varieties), cypress (draped in long tresses of moss), maple, magnolia, and dogwood, plus many others that I could not begin to identify. How strange not to spot a single cabbage palm!  The landscape varied with low swampy woodlands on the east side and limestone banks, bluffs, and caves on the west.

I did encounter one strange phenomenon—a constant humming coming from the woods for much of my paddle, perhaps some kind of insect. Ricky later suggested locusts.  (I believe the Florida version is called cicadas.)  Regardless, I imagined that a magical wood nymph, attempting to keep the river serene and peaceful, placed them there to help cover the sound of distant traffic sometimes present.

Just Along for the Ride

I stopped to climb and play when I reached the limestone caverns on the west bank—what a great spot for a picnic! However, I stayed close to the entrance of the caves, not wandering into the dark depths.  Further downriver, I followed a short spring run to my left and paddled around Dykes Springs, trying to capture the swirling blues and greens with my camera.  Back on the river, I paddled further and passed Spring Creek.

The thunder had already started, but I made it back to the outfitter at 1:30 p.m., just before the skies opened up and the thunder, lightning, hail, and rain began.

(Outfitter: Bear Paw Adventures. 2100 Bear Paw Lane, Marianna, Florida 32448. http://bearpawescape.com/. (850) 482-4948)

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