Tag Archives: boating

Is Tate’s Hell State Forest Really Hell?

Is Tate’s Hell State Forest a Bad Place to Visit?

So how bad is Tate’s Hell State Forest? That depends on perspective. Archeological research reveals that Native Americans didn’t use the area very much, probably because it was mostly swampland that drained into estuaries of East Bay and the Apalachicola River, and more fertile ground was found nearby. Logging/lumber/and wood product companies took ownership and attempted to drain the land in the 1950s, inadvertently endangering the environmental health of the bay.

Tate's Hell State ForestCebe Tate fought insects and suffered a snake bite while searching for the Florida panther who was preying on his livestock. He probably also shared the swamp with alligator snapping turtles and eastern box turtles, snakes, including the Apalachicola king snake and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and alligators and bears.

Old Cebe Tate slogged through acres of wetlands rife with biting insects before he finally found his way out. Tate’s Hell Swamp makes up 70% of Tate’s Hell State Forest, but prairies offer dry footing and host a wide variety of pitcher plants (designed to trap and digest insects) and other wildflowers, as well as a variety of grasslands.

The Florida black bear, once almost hunted to extinction, is making a comeback these days, and human-bear confrontations can be just as dangerous today as it was for Cebe Tate then. When in Tate’s Hell State Forest or Swamp, use caution when encountering a Florida black bear. Do not crouch or lie on the ground. Instead, speak calmly and assertively and back up slowly. Noise will often scare the bear away, as well.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is 187,710 acres of rugged country and a four-wheel drive is recommended. Amenities such as trash containers are non-existent, so be sure to take all garbage with you when you go. Caution is strongly advised when swimming or boating, and diving into streams and rivers is prohibited. Primitive camping is available in selected areas for a nominal fee and there are 12 tent camping sites at the Womack Creek recreation area, which also offers a bathhouse with hot showers.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is definitely rugged country, but that’s part of its attraction. We’ll explore those in the next post.

Snook Haven, a Retreat to “Old Florida”

Snook Haven: Retreat to an Earlier Era in Venice, Florida

Snook Haven is accessed from the intersection at Old Venice Avenue and River Road in Venice, Florida (exit 191 off Interstate 75). A sign at the entrance of a dirt road points the way in. The drive takes you deep into the jungle that leads to the banks of the Myakka River, just upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, and the small clearing known as Snook Haven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

History still rests here, despite the modernization of running water and electricity and yes, even an unpaved parking lot. First used by indigenous Native Americans, it became an excellent smuggling site and hideaway for rumrunners in the 1920s and 30s and a perfect watering hole for the locals who knew how to keep their mouths shut.

As prohibition waned, other interest moved in on Snook Haven. A New England businessman was the first to develop the area, building a house by the river for himself, and several cabins for his fishing pals. He also generously kept the place supplied with willing young ladies whose job it was to keep the guests happy. Today, the property is not nearly as nefarious and is under the ownership of Sarasota County. The on-site restaurant is still rustic and serves up local cuisine and the cabins house the boat rental and other businesses, none of them selling moonshine or favors of a different sort.

The site caught the eye of Hollywood scouts as the perfect location for jungle wilderness movies, such as “Prestige” in1931, a movie about, of all things, the French Foreign Legion. One of the Tarzan movies was filmed in the area around Snook Haven, as well as the 1947 “Revenge of the Killer Turtles”, and, of course, as with an artistic endeavor, many of the movies did not reach such heights of glory.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I must admit that I’ve never encountered a killer turtle on any of my canoe trips up and down the Myakka. Most of them seem pretty laid back.

 

Swamp Walk #5

 

186

I do keep a close eye on the alligators, though, and keep a respectful distance.

 

 

Alligator hunting season started a few weeks ago and it opened with a bang when two Venice fishermen caught a 12 ½ foot alligator in the Myakka not far from the Snook Haven landing (photo courtesy of wwsbtv).

It took an hour to overpower the massive alligator and the men feared the giant gator would sink their 14 foot fishing boat. In true “Old Florida” style, once the taxidermist is done, the men plan to donate it to the Snook Haven Restaurant, which seems fitting.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but the new managers of the restaurant are displaying other impressive examples of local habitat. If you’re lucky enough to go today, you’ll enjoy live country music entertainment from 11 AM until mid to late afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Island Name Origin and Ownership

How Was Dog Island Named and Who Owns It?

Dog Island is actually a bit of land (less than 7 miles) that separated from St. George Island, and is one of a group of barrier islands that protect St. George Sound and Apalachicola Bay. It even sported a lighthouse at one time, built in 1838, that was later destroyed in 1899 by a hurricane that devastated the mainland town of Carrabelle.

There are various stories surrounding the origins of its name, the most outlandish being that it is a sanctuary for dogs to live out their last years without the stress of urban life. Untrue! I did see one dog with its owner walking on the beach one day, though. Some claim Dog Island is so named because the shape resembles a crouching dog. I don’t buy into that one, either. I thought that perhaps the origin of the name was connected to a stray dog that had been found on the empty island or a similar story, but it turned out not to be the case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are two more likely explanations. Wikipedia attributes the name origin to the French, who discovered it in 1536, listing wild dogs, the shape of the island, and the practice of dropping sailors (known as “dogs”) there before going in to the mainland, preventing the men from abandoning ship, as the origin of the island’s name.

I think our ferry captain, Rusty Cahoon, is probably a bit more accurate. During the Civil War, Union armies would transport prisoners by boat, using Dog Island as a drop-off point. The prisoners were referred to as “Sea Dogs”. While the commanding officers went into town to drink and secure supplies, those left behind were unlikely to attempt an escape with a risky swim to shore.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The story of Dog Island ownership is an interesting one. Evidence (pot shards, a 9th century canoe) of early Native American presence has been uncovered, and later, piracy and smuggling occurred. At one time, the island supported a thriving turpentine business, but it wasn’t until Florida businessman Jeff Lewis purchased it shortly after World War II that the idea of development began to threaten the area. Mr. Lewis, it seems, had some very definite ideas concerning the island and its future. While he did sell some lots to individuals, most of the island is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, which helps protect the fragile ecosystem on Dog Island, including the annual turtle-nesting season.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Nature Conservancy and the private homeowners value this island, as do most visitors. Help keep the area pristine by doing all you can to minimize your carbon footprint while here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

Life’s Not Always a Beach. Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

We walked again, this time to the other side of Dog Island and the dock area where we came in. It gave us a different perspective of the island…and lots of sandspurs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We passed private planes and private boats, but we only saw one other person, driving away from the dock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Three boats were in. One was the car ferry, and when we returned a truck was parked next to the inn. We’d left the unit unlocked, but the visitors were more interested in the shells on the beach than in my wallet. “Too late!” I wanted to shout. “We picked the beach clean hours ago!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dinner was much better! More dehydrated camping food: Chili Mac & Cheese. The Velveeta cheese I’d brought had gone bad, but we still had half a wheel of Gouda left over from lunch, so I tossed the Velveeta in the trash and chopped off some of the Gouda, and also used the last of the Ritz crackers we’d had for lunch to top off our bowls of warm, spicy chili. We ate on the wood deck, enjoying the cool air as the chili warmed our bellies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just to be on the safe side about finding all the shells, though, we walked again after the people left in their truck, only this time we went in the other direction of Dog Island.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The wind blew strong during the night, revealing every crack and crevice in the old building known as the Pelican Inn. Its whistle down the breezeway sounded like a child crying for help. Spooky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Morning dawned through open windows and we rose just before sunrise. I filled my travel mug with hot tea and grabbed a plastic bag for shells and we headed for the beach just as the sun rose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The tide had receded much further out and the shelling was excellent. Private planes flew in and out but the beach remained deserted. When I finished my tea and my bag was full of shells, I went back to our unit and despite the Goodwill-style dishware, I managed to whip together a three egg omelet along with toast and butter (I forgot the jam!). Why does everything taste so much better when you eat it outside? As we ate, we watched dolphin leaping and feeding on fish in the Gulf of Mexico that nearby fishermen couldn’t seem to land.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our stay on Dog Island would be ending soon. The sun sparkled and shimmered in the sun, undulating with each wave. Seashells littered the beach, strung out on the sand like scattered pearls from a broken necklace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For now, though, we drank in the scenery, pulling it deep in our souls, to save for a later day.

Seeking Seclusion? Try Dog Island!

Dog Island is Private, but Not Exclusive

Dog Island, off the coast of the Florida panhandle, is a favorite spot of mine. In fact, it may hold the #1 position, so prepare to return with me, time and again, because one entry will never be enough.

Our trip to the island was not without adventure. Our start was delayed by a half hour and rush hour traffic in Tampa is never fun, but we’d cleared the area by 7:45 am so we missed the worst of it. The fog near Gainesville was almost cozy, like driving through clouds, which is what it is, I suppose. Watching it roll off the horse pastures in Ocala reminded me of my stays with country cousins, those primeval mornings when you half expect an ancient mastodon to appear in the mist. It was a day filled with anticipation reaching fruition.

Our innocence was shattered when I reached for my wallet to pay for our breakfast in Gainesville. It wasn’t there. I looked on the seat. I looked under the table. I looked on the floor of the restaurant. My panic rising, I told my husband what was wrong and hurried to the car to search while he paid the bill.

It wasn’t in the car. Either I’d dropped it (or it was stolen) at a rest stop or I’d left it at home. As we hurriedly back-tracked to the last rest stop (over an hour south), I frantically called our youngest son, who called back to affirm that the wallet was indeed in my everyday purse and the money and cards were safe. We didn’t have the debit card, but we did have a couple of credit cards in my husband’s wallet, so we decided we had enough to push on. We wouldn’t be spending anything while we were on island anyway, so there wasn’t any need for a cash advance from the bank before we boarded the ferry.

We found the ferry on Marine Street in Carrabelle without incident. Parking is free and your car will be safe. Our water taxi captain, Russell (Rusty) Cahoon 850-697-8909, ferried us over. His fee fluctuates with the cost of fuel, but he divides the cost, depending on how many are riding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The six mile ride across the bay was rough, but Rusty’s boat was good-sized and sturdy and he is supremely confident in his boating skills, informing me that he is the last one to evacuate people out when a hurricane threatens. It was as exciting as an air boat ride.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were staying at the Pelican Inn (we reserved through owner Jane: 1-800-451-5294) and were met by manager Terry Cannon (850-697-4710), who took us to the Inn. Rates were not cheap ($150 per night, slightly less for longer stays) but not outrageous and after all, guests do have an entire island to enjoy!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For now, I leave you on the docks. Next week, we’ll explore the Dog Island beach!

How a Dolphin Sinks a Boat in Sarasota

Dolphin Sinks Boat in Sarasota Bay

Houseboats and live-aboard yachts used to dot Sarasota’s bay front, an interesting mix of the very wealthy and the working poor, sometimes alcoholic-independent-usually-hippie who lived cheaply in a leaky tub that barely floats. The yachts came and went. The houseboats stayed. The worst of the wrecks have been removed from the bay front since Sarasota started enforcing regulations.

One of the older fishermen (dubbed the “Old Salt”), unlike the other owners of broken down barges, owned a fancy dinghy that he used to row to the pier’s bar at 8 am each morning. But on one particular morning, his routine was suddenly interrupted.

It was a beautiful morning. The dolphin were chasing bait fish through the bay, changing direction the instant they did, and leaping in graceful arches through the air in an effort to close the gap between them.

One of the dolphin leaped high in the air, still chasing the bait fish, and landed, with a loud smack, in the Old Salt’s dinghy. While the folks on the yachts watched, Old Salt tried to roll/pull/push the fish out.

Unfortunately, dolphin are very large and, while not particularly slippery, they’re smooth and bulky and hey, when you have a dolphin in your boat, you know you have a challenge on your hands. One of the men on one of the yachts finally rowed over in his matching rowboat to see what he if he could help.

The fish, of course, didn’t budge, so it was decided that Old Salt would have to sink his dinghy. He transferred his gear to the rowboat, pulled the plug on his dinghy, and climbed into his neighbor’s rowboat.

As the boat quickly took on water, the dolphin swam off without a backward glance, seemingly unaware of the precarious position it had just escaped. Droplets glistened and shone like diamonds as the fish swam away.

Beach Days #4

The two men in the rowboat watched the dinghy, now well underwater, slowly sink out of sight.

The yacht owner started to row toward Old Salt’s tug, but he shook his head and pointed to the pier, in the direction of his favorite bar. The yacht owner shrugged, pulled the rowboat around, and headed for the dock.

I guess the moral of the story is that dolphin and yacht owners don’t give a boatload of water about an Old Salt’s assets.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to invite all your friends to subscribe to my blog. A strong readership impresses potential agents!

 

Lake Okeechobee: a Hidden Treasure

You Can’t See Lake Okeechobee From the Road

Lake Okeechobee would have probably been a lot more fun had we not visited during the last slap of Tropical Storm Andrea’s outermost feeder bands. Our stay at the Hampton Inn Okeechobee was reasonably priced, but I found the hard bed uncomfortable. The air conditioning unit kicked on and off, rather than the usual racket all night long and the bathroom had a great shower.

We enjoyed our fried catfish lunch at the Lodge at the River, which offers “Sharpies” (the entire fish, heads, bones, and all) or just the catfish filets. We chose the latter and enjoyed it very much.

Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake (730 square miles) that is entirely within the United States. Mostly what you see from the road is the Hoover Dike, a twenty-foot high berm, or levee, on one side and sugar cane on the other side of the road (sometimes corn…how can they grow corn in FL when I can’t?). This is the legacy of the Army Corps of Engineers, who, back when ideas like land stewardship and environmental responsibility were unheard of, “improved” the land for farmers and ranchers by draining the wetlands and straightening the surrounding rivers from their usual meandering course into straight line canals, forever affecting the natural ebb and flow of the Everglades.

We finally figured out the “Scenic Trail” signs indicated lake access to the other side of the levee. The top of the 140 mile long levee that protects the surrounding communities allows bikers and hikers a great view of the lake. Driving up the berm and making blind turns (and I DO mean your car is tilted skyward and you cannot see over your hood) reminded me, once again, of why I am not a mountain girl.

However, once you get over the levee, you aren’t quite there, yet, since the only way to access the lake is by canal…in other words, you take a waterway to get to the water! If you look at these pictures, you can see how the two are separated:

Lake Okeechobee #1

The water hyacinth, an invasive species, chokes the shallow lake of nutrients and oxygen and is an on-going problem for the area. The alligators, however, love them because they provide cover for the hunting reptiles.

Lake Okeechobee #2

Lake Okeechobee #3

Boating, fishing, and hunting in season are popular here.

Lake Okeechobee #4

Alligators, bears, and otters are a common sight, as are osprey and eagles’ nests, high atop light poles and trees. Some sights were amusing. At one point, a baby alligator escaped the lake and a big, burly man stopped his car in the middle of the road, got out and grabbed the reptile by the middle, right behind its head, and carried it to a ditch, while it wiggled and fought him the whole way. He was laughing his head off, looking as if he was having the time of his life. The man, not the gator. The gator was furious. His wife walked back to the car, shaking her head. We were going in the other direction and didn’t get stopped in time to take a picture. Apparently, this is not a terribly unusual occurrence down by the levee, as they seemed to take it in stride.

Lake Okeechobee #10

 

 

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

Twenty-five miles south of Tallahassee, St. Marks is a small fishing community located in Florida’s Big Bend where the St. Marks River and the Wakulla River converge. The Gulf port on the Apalachee Bay was first developed by Spanish explorers in the 17th century who built a fort that played an important role during the Civil War.

The fort’s foundation is located within the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. Bicyclists and horseback riders enjoy the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail State Park, a sixteen mile long trail that finishes on the St. Marks waterfront. Some believe the fort’s tower once held torches to guide boats safely, which would make it the site of the first lighthouse in the country.

The current lighthouse, St. Marks Light, was built in 1828. It is interesting to note that construction costs for the lighthouse exceeded the allocated $6,000 budget by more than $5,000. Even worse, the first one was rejected because it had hollow walls (you’d think someone would have caught that), so the lighthouse was rebuilt and it was put into use by 1830. Hmmm…a project that costs twice as much as predicted, poorly planned, and poorly executed? Yep. It was a government job! Time and erosion took its inevitable toll and a new lighthouse was built further inland in 1842.

St. Mark’s NWR and Wakulla Springs State Park draw visitors from all states and is popular with birders. The area’s ecosystem ranges from saltwater estuaries and bracken marshes to swamps and forest.

Boating and fishing are big here, of course, so arranging a fishing charter or contacting an outfitter is easy.  Lodging accommodations range from trailer parks to inns (there are various motels and hotels in nearby towns, as well). The Shell Island Fish Camp, located directly on the Wakulla River, offers accommodations that range from motel, cabins (2 bedrooms, kitchen and bath), tents, campers, and a limited number of RV campsites with water, electric, and dump station. A full service marina provides boat rentals and boat repairs.

The Sweet Magnolia Inn Bed and Breakfast offers a slightly different ambience. Its history as a general store, boarding house, brothel, church, city hall, possible bootleg warehouse, hotel, and hurricane shelter offer up many a story on a warm summer night. In its current dress, the B&B stays true to its roots, right down to a fishpond built in the shape of Florida, including the keys.

A vintage shot of my mother, in her first year of college, 1948. She’s the one closest to the shrimping boat:

Mom #9

And St. Marks today:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We enjoyed our visit and would go again for a more in depth exploration of the area.

A quick note for those who are leaving me notes regarding the website hosting. My tech guru is currently out of the country. When he gets back, I’ll show him your notes and get feedback. In the meantime, thanks for your interest and positive comments (they are very much appreciated!) and please be patient. I will respond to them when I can.

 

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

The Florida panhandle has seen its share of storm damage. Tropical storms aren’t usually too much trouble for a Floridian, but hurricanes can be relentlessly unforgiving. As one man said, “You hunker down and ride out the wind, hoping you don’t lose everything, grateful for what’s left.” As hard hit as it seems to get year after year, I simply cannot resist going back time and again to drink in the Florida of my youth, when people stopped to do a favor and roadside stands promised just one delectable temptation at a time.

Of course, once we round the bend, our mouths start watering for oysters, so we spend a lovely morning of shopping in Apalachicola, stop for an oyster po’boy lunch and then we head west again to visit the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but then again, this park is an eyeful.

The park is on the very end of a finger of land that protects the mainland. The waters are clear, blue and not prone to riptides because of the peninsula’s protection. Nine and a half miles of snow-white sand welcomes the beach crowd on the Gulf side and bayside accommodates the boaters with some interesting accesses into the grass flats and coves that carve out the landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a tiny “museum” of fossilized specimens of days gone by; some, sadly, has been taken, since there is seldom an attendant on duty. There is a concession stand, but I’ve never bought anything there, since I was far too busy discovering wildlife along the 6 mile access-by-permission-only wilderness trail (there are two other, shorter, hiking trails with public access).

Here you will find the usual oceanfront recreations: a wide variety of boating and camping choices, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming, along with fishing, biking, and hiking. Or you can choose your spot on the ten miles of white sand beach, in 2002 named as the best beach in the nation by none other than Gainesville’s Dr. Beach (Dr. Steven Leatherman), who issues a new list each year. There are public restrooms and cold-water shower facilities for day guests, hot water facilities in the campgrounds for overnight guests (although day guests can sometimes receive special permission to use the camp showers).

We want to return to the St. Joseph State Park and rent one of their “cabins”: small, tidy, furnished stand-alone cottages that sit right on the water’s edge. The units have kitchens equipped with basic cooking and dining utensils, seasonal gas fireplaces, heat & A/C, and, of course, bathrooms. There is no TV, internet service, or telephone ,and cell phone reception is poor. The price sure was reasonable: $100 per night, $650 for the week. Each cabin sleeps up to six people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ll return again one day, to build castles on the beach and watch them wash away with an incoming tide and a setting sun.

A Visit to Cocoa Beach on the Florida Space Coast, Part Two

A Visit to Cocoa Beach on the Florida Space Coast, Part Two

Since the previous night’s entertainment had not kept me up too late, I arose early and enjoyed my cup of tea while sitting on the balcony watching the morning surfing dudes trying to catch very small waves and a grandmother supervising three youngsters, one digging a hole to China, the other two kicking the sand back in. An hour later, we went and had our free continental breakfast, otherwise known as the feeding frenzy.

Free food seems to turn people into territorial animals. One family unit commandeered one of the two available toasters, so the rest of the crowd had to wait politely while Dad cooked up each child’s bagel (or toast), then did the same for his brother’s family. One of his kids later complained about the slim pickings (3 kinds of cereal, hard boiled eggs, the usual pastries…not the fanciest, not the sparsest I’ve seen) and Dad responded (in a loud voice) that if another Democrat got the Presidency, she’d better get used to it. Lovely. Threaten your kid over breakfast.

We did not go to the usual Cocoa Beach sites, such as the Kennedy Space Center, opting instead for beach time and just one or two stops, but there are plenty of attractions on the Florida Space Coast to appeal to all tastes, from the Ron Jon Surf School to the Cocoa Beach Spa to children’s attractions, such as The Dinosaur Store Adventure Zone.

There are numerous nearby parks, including the don’t-miss Thousand Islands Conservation Area in the Indian River Lagoon. Ninety percent of the conservation space is accessible only by boat, and kayaking and canoeing are popular here. I believe the Earth Day Festival is this weekend, April 20th, from 10 AM to 3 PM, in nearby Titusville. Whether your interest lies in learning more about the Indian Mound Station Sanctuary, Buck Lake Conservation Area or the Grant Flatwoods Sanctuary, the Florida Space Coast is steeped in Florida nature and historical preservation. And, really, who wouldn’t want to check out the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary?

Even though we did not visit Cape Canaveral, I thought I’d share some images of previous space shuttle launches. Usually all I get to see are the contrails:

Shuttle's Contrail

The February 2010 launch:

Space Shuttle February  8 2010 #2

Space Shuttle February  8 2010 #4

Space Shuttle February  8 2010

We zig zagged our way home using the smaller back roads. 441 is an interesting road, lots of back country, few lights, no cars. Some orange groves, but mostly dairy land…one VERY fancy ranch (on a different state road…can’t remember which one) with giant golden statues of stallions, some reared up on back legs, front legs pawing the air, on either side of the double wrought iron gates. It was a sod ranch, so it was hard to tie horses and sod together until I settled on fertilizer.

Too soon, we were home again, dreaming of our next Florida escape!