Kayaking In The Mangroves

You might be asking yourself, “What are the great adventurers Spanky and Rein up to?” “Have not heard from them. Hope they have not fallen prey to some malcontents trying to sabotage their efforts. What if they are stuck in some cave, in a blinding snowstorm, running out of food and water and suffering hypothermia?” Don’t you worry, Spanky and Rein fans, we are hangin at home in sunny Florida, safe and sound.

Yes we have plenty of mundane real life, home owner, try to make a couple of bucks, etc. things to do. That said….we still feel the need to go out and “Do some fun/adventurous outdoor type stuff.” OK, so what can we do here at home, have fun doing it, and share with you guys – and………..hopefully you’ll find it interesting, thrilling, and of course educational.

The answer sprang at us like a thunderbolt from the skies (a little too dramatic – wouldn’t you say). Kayaking! Kayaking in Florida? Yep, it’s actually pretty popular down here. Not the white water rapid kinda stuff. As far as I know, there really is no white water in Florida – you can, however, encounter some pretty rough stuff in the Gulf of Mexico and even in the inland waterways depending on the weather conditions. For the most part, Florida kayaking is a get out and enjoy nature kind of thing. And, believe it or not, fishing from kayaks has also taken hold as a common way to enjoy these nimble little vessels.

Throwing in a pic here to keep your interest. I figured out if I spread pics throughout the article maybe some of you will actually read my literary dribble.

Spanky Plotting a Course to Shell Key

Me and Spanks don’t own a kayak so we gotta rent one. The answer to that dilemma, here in the St Petersburg, FL area is Canoe Country Outfitters What a cool store! They pretty much (I probably over use the term pretty much – forgive me) have every configuration of kayak and canoe known to mankind. And………..they have a huge assortment of rental craft to choose from. They’ve got some really neat vintage “Old Town Canoes” on display. Did you ever notice the older you get, the more you like looking at old stuff – I do anyway. Apparently one of the vintage “Old Towns” was once owned by Eddie Bauer! If you like good old fashioned hand craftsmanship, you’ll enjoy looking at these works of art.

In any case, I walk into Canoe Country Outfitters to look for a suitable craft for me and the Spankster. I was barely through the door and this dude says “Telluride huh?” I was wearing a ski Telluride t-shirt. Long story short, this guy named Barry (he works there) used to live in and ski Telluride – so did I for most of the winter of 92 - 93. Folks, I could talk about Telluride forever – another time perhaps. Suffice it to say, it is probably the most scenic place I have ever seen in the lower 48! Simply a wonderful place located in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. And……..I blame Telluride, at least as a major contributing force, for my traveling problem.

When two guys start talking about a ski town like Telluride – well it could go on for days. See, I’ve done it again – off on a tangent. Barry hooks us up with a 14’, single seat Mad River kayak (technically Mad River calls this thing a one man canoe but it sure as hell looks like a kayak to me – I’ll call it a hybrid, but what the hell do I know). It has just enough room for me and Spanks and a little bit of gear (backpack with some chow, a small cooler for water, etc).

Spanky and I live in Pinellas County Florida. It happens to be the most densely populated county in Florida. So….where the hell do we go to “get away from it all?” Believe it or not there are some things that the government gets right once in a while. Just to the north of Fort DeSoto Park (some of the nicest beaches you’ll find anywhere) is an area known as “Shell Key Preserve.”

The preserve encompasses a total of 1,755 acres of and is comprised of a barrier island, numerous mangrove islands, mud flats, and sea grass beds. It has been set aside as a protected, undeveloped, and limited use wildlife and nature preserve. Boy I’ll bet that there are a lot of pissed off developers out there. This stuff would be a gold mine if you could put condos on it – thank god it got saved from the condo clowns! The place is gorgeous! It’s real nature at its finest and it’s less than 10 miles from the Casa de Spanky and Rein.

One of real keys to keeping Shell Key somewhat natural is that you can only get there by water. And…………most of the area is restricted to only human powered vessels (canoe, kayak) so you gotta sweat a little to go out there. That means that rich, overweight, drunk, silicone enhanced girlfriend, speedboat guys are not welcome! Even so, on a nice warm weekend day there are a couple of spots on the Key itself that turn into a little bit of circus but I guess it’s there for all to enjoy.

Spanky and I launched our craft from Tierra Verde at about 9:30 am on Wednesday, March 21, 2007. Since it’s a weekday, and it’s in the 60’s (cold by Fl standards) there is no one out there – that’s the way we like it. Our fist destination is Shell Key – the barrier island. Spanky is so cool (as you can see in the pics)! He just settles down in the bow of the boat and chills. Taking in the scenery, checking out the birds – he usually goes nuts over birds, guess he must realize that he’s stuck in a boat so why get the blood pressure up. Maybe he knows it’s a wildlife preserve and is just being respectful of the local denizens?

It’s about a 45 minute paddle out to the barrier island. Well worth the effort. Shell Key is a 180 acre island right on the Gulf of Mexico. We set shore on the inland side and yep, you guessed it, Spanks goes crazy. He just loves to run, run, and then run some more. The part of the island where we made landfall has a ton of sand dunes dotted with sea oats and other coastal foliage. Spanks throttles up the side of a dune, dodges some sea oats (or crashes though em – depending on how he feels), and launches down the other side of the dune. This process repeats itself several times. I just watch and smile.

The Dunes of Shell Key

The Boy

We head across the island to the Gulf. There is absolutely no one in sight. We have the island to ourselves! Cool! Brilliant, sparkling, white sugar sand, the deep blues and greens of the Gulf, and a picture perfect clear blue sky to top it off! Spanky decides he’s had enough of this respect the nature stuff and starts bounding up the beach after some birds. The birds, as you would guess, fly away and land a few 100 feet down the beach. Spanky runs after them again. They fly down the beach. Spanky chases them again. This dog and bird polka goes on for quite a while till the lad wears himself out a little and develops a quite a thirst.

The Gulf of Mexico

Undisturbed Shells on the Beach

We head back to the boat, guzzle down some water, choke down some sandwiches and relax for a while and then set off to explore the mangrove islands. For those of you unfamiliar with the Mangrove – a few facts. Mangroves are a species of tree that has totally adapted itself to high salinity, low oxygen, and tidal inundation. Mangroves thrive in a coastal tropical, subtropical environment. Their seeds actually germinate on the parent plant, drop into the water and float dormant (up to a year) until landing in a suitable spot to root. This is how mangrove islands start. A few mangroves root in a really shallow tidal area, over time more sediment builds up around the roots, more mangroves root, on and on until you have an island.

Mangroves Taking Root

These little islands are gorgeous! They create a perfect habitat for a plethora of our coastal feathered friends. The birds can hang out on these islands, relatively undisturbed, nest, feed on fish, and do whatever other bird stuff they do.

I See A Bird!

One of Our Feathered Friends

For the next several hours Spanky and I paddle amongst the islands. The kayak, ok – new fangled one man canoe, is the perfect conveyance for the task at hand. At times we are in only a few inches of water – there aren’t many boats other than a kayak that wouldn’t run aground. We explore little nooks and crannys in between the trees, constantly stumbling on to birds quietly sitting in the trees. Spanky is hunkered down in the bow just taking it in. I’m actually shocked at how calmly he sits in the kayak! I honestly thing the boy is a nature freak like me.

Cruising Through the Islands

Some of the islands have little waterways, natural tunnels under the thick mangrove canopy. We venture in to take a look. It’s really kind of a primordial setting. There’s just a little bit of sunlight filtering through the thick foliage, quiet except for the sound of the paddle dipping in the water and a few distant birds. I’m half expecting to have an anaconda drop out of a tree or to spy a pterodactyl clutching its prey.

A Tunnel Through The Mangroves

The Spankster and I spend a few hours on this little intra mangrove island odyssey. We thoroughly enjoyed it. By the time we made it back to shore me and Spanks were both pretty well cooked. Spanky from all the running on the island, me from hours of paddling.

So……..the next time you are in Florida, especially our neck of the woods, get a hold of a kayak or canoe, go out there and see some of the natural beauty that is available right at our fingertips. All it costs is a few bucks rental and a little bit of elbow grease.

A quick update: Spanky and I will be heading out of here on April 1st. Our initial plan of attack is Georgia, South and North Carolina (highest point east of the Mississippi) and Tennessee. From there we will head up the east coast for who knows how long. More to follow. Thanks for tuning in!
To view these and other pics of our kayaking adventure go to http://picasaweb.google.com/rkrevald/KayakingToShellIsland


Ken said...

Nice post! I really enjoyed your story and the pictures. It kind of makes me want to head back there for a visit. It's been a while since I've stepped foot on those beautiful beaches. The Spanks looked like he was right at home on the kayak.

Amy said...

Okay, I will agree with you that Arkansas is beautiful. But, the beach is looking really beautiful too. Spanky is having the time of his life. We really enjoying reading the blog, so keep up the good work.

Sarah said...

Rein and The Spankster,
I am thoroughly enjoying the adventures of my favorite DYNAMIC DUO! Great PIXS with interesting and informative blog... Safe Travels during April escapades! SAL XOXO

flamingoanne said...

Went on a kayak trip at Sanibel island this past spring....totally understand what you're talking about. Awesome nature! Saw some intersting birds....spoonbill etc.

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