Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kayaking the River of Turtles

I have spent the past two years teaching and sharing the importance of the Loxahatchee River. In the Seminole language, "Loxhatchee" means basically "river of turtles".  While I talked about it everyday at work, finding the time to really take a day to experience this River for myself was elusive.  Just like I hear countless New Yorkers say they have never been inside the Statue of Liberty, I had never even kayaked the Loxahatchee River. Until a few months ago...

A small band of ladies decided to go kayaking on a sticky Tuesday that ended up pouring on us by the time we went home late that afternoon. We were a crew that included first timers to white water rafters.  And yes, some ended up in the water - but I'm not telling who because we all had a wonderful experience.  We stared in Riverbend Park (map below) that is now also known as Loxahatchee Battlefield Park.  It is a free park that is wonderful to bike, walk, bird watch, and even drop in a kayak or canoe. Our 3-person kayaks actually held 2 each, so in 3 small boats we headed out on a new adventure.

The Loxahatchee is an almost strange treasure to find in the mayhem that is south Florida. This early part of the river quite literally passes underneath Jupiter's major street - Indaintown Rd, and even tangles its way below I-95 and the FL Turnpike. The latter both being a maniacal drive most of the day and night. But once you settle into the chilly water, time actually slows. The lazy current makes for easy travels even for a novice on the water.  As you can see in the photos below, the local wildlife has always been aware of this haven, and expect to see all types of birds and reptiles for sure. Keep your eyes peeled, and the mammals come out too; both racoons and bats were sighted on this particular trip.  Also prepare yourself for the art of "portaging".  If you have never heard this term, well it is one you will not soon forget! For your reference:

por'-tage: the practice of carrying a canoe or other boat over land to avoid an obstacle on the water route

If the water level is low - you WILL portage at some point.  When reaching the first major obstacle, a dam, some of our crew chose to practice their portage skills... but "Not I!" said Callie.  With a bit of partner shifting, my coworker Melissa (seen as a SUP guide previously on this blogsite) was willing to drop over the damn with me.  Which is good, because it was definitely a 2-man task and approximately a 3' drop on that day.  Another pair followed us and they didn't stay quite as dry...

Christy and I had to turn back at the second portage worthy obstacle - the Masten Dam.  The first photo shown below is everyone in our group standing on the dam. The other girls did portage and continue up the River to I-95 before turning back for the day.  By the way, please pay attention while trying to lift the kayak - it may swing awkwardly and the person at lowest elevation (whether going up or coming down) is in a very tricky predicament, so be patient!  Why on earth would you be in a hurry anyway?
Relax.  Let the River work its magic and transport you back to the time of dinosaurs.  Large lillipads and ancient cypress trees cradle your through peaceful waters and air virtually free of the noise pollution that constantly follows urbanization.  Leave your mp3 player at home and listen to nature or chat with your partner. Take a few photos (and a waterproof bag for the camera).  This summer I will have my son on the Loxahatchee River - he will be 3 in one week.  We plan to drop in further up the River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, and maybe even take a boat up to the historical "Trapper Nelson's" site deep within the Wild & Scenic River.

Everyone on this trip agreed that there is a need to explore the Loxahatchee again as a group and to be prepared to kayak from Riverbend Park all the way through JD State Park and out to the Jupiter Inlet, and I cannot wait!  Enjoy the photos below to get a feel for our little 1/2 day adventure:
My awesome kayak crew from left to right: Christy, Melissa, Me, Rachel, Kaitlyn, & Hannah
This beautiful adult gator was approximately 7', very calm and very close! About 5' away from our kayak.
Native Yellow-Bellied Sliders on the "River of Turtles"
**photos by Kaitlyn Moore

If you don't have a kayak, but still want to experience Riverbend Park, try Canoe Outfitters at http://www.canoeoutfittersofflorida.com/

To experience the Loxahatchee without a paddle, try JD State Park and the Loxahatchee Queen II will take you there! http://www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson/

To learn more about the Loxahatchee River or to see some very cool photos taken from some of the area's local amateur photographers, visit http://www.loxahatcheeriver.org/about_the_river.php.  Be sure to check out the photo gallery to see the most recent pictures.
The wonderful FREE park where we started, then connected to the Wild & Scenic portion of the Loxahatchee.
Complete map of the Loxahatchee River from Riverbend to the Jupiter Inlet (www.loxahatcheeriver.org)
 There is truly no excuse for missing out on the treasures that are near wherever you may live.  There are islands that are still inland, and experiences to be had every day.  Don't just talk about it, or worse, talk about how you "never" had the time and missed the opportunity altogether. As always, I am happy to have been "offshore" once again and look forward to the next adventure!

It is practically summer - go get wet!
-Callie

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