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Subversive Outlaw Gorilla Canoeing

January 2, 2011
                                                

Google Earth is a wonderful thing. I would never go where I go without the satellite images they provide. You can't find these places on a map. Even USGS maps don't show enough detail. Hell the satellite images don't show "enough" detail but you can at least get a clue.
 New Years Eve had kinda been a bust. I just wasn't feelin it this year and went to bed shortly after midnight. My plan had been to wake up early with the kids and spend the day canoeing but by 10am I realized that wasn't going to happen. My son was feeling under the weather and my daughter had stayed up late on the internet. So...with the canoe already loaded, peanut butter sandwiches already made and feeling energetic I decided to go by myself. This was good. There were some places I wanted to explore and getting there would be easier alone.
  I reached the place ( that shall remain nameless) around 1 pm. It's a public area and people were milling about. Some fishing others just taking in the scenery. As I untied the canoe,and loaded up my stuff I talked with a few people. I asked a young couple if they wanted to go. They said they would love to but were short on time. An older lady seemed determined to tell me how unafraid of alligators she was. Really, I think a healthy respect for things that can potentially  devour you is good.
  With no takers on my offers I set out alone. I first wanted to paddle the 300 yards over to a sign I had been wanting to read. It said what I thought it would. ACCESS PROHIBITED, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.  Normally this would not have stopped me but this was suppose to be a clandestine operation and I was in full public view. Besides, I had a plan.

 I swung the boat around, headed back to the public use area and  entered the" AUTHORIZED" canoe trail. I had learned from past experience that in these shallow protected waters It's more enjoyable to stand up. You can see over the tall sawgrass and get a much better view plus you see any alligators before your right up on them. You sacrifice speed a bit but i wasn't in any hurry anyway.
 300 yards into it and I came across my first alligator. It was a good size female with several babies on her back and I thought O..how cute. A few yards later I came across what I suspect was Dad and I thought to myself....man that thing is huge! I've seen some alligators, maybe a few bigger ones but never one so big and so up close.

 
 The picture doesn't do it justice.
 I would see many gators today. A few would take to the water as I approached but most would remain motionless as I slid by 
 As I continued on  I came across the only other canoeists I would meet today. The two rented canoes carried several very attractive women and i thought to myself "...man I want to go canoeing with you guys". They were duly impressed with my stand up canoeing technique. We chatted briefly, I mentioned that they would soon come upon a monstrous beast, wished them a nice day and moved on.
This is where Google Earth comes in. I hadn't been able to print any satellite images. WHY, because my printer was out of ink. I was familiar enough with the images though to know that at one point the Authorized channel approached the Unauthorized channel to within a few hundred yards. the trick was to find the right spot in the maze of sawgrass and open marsh that often looks confusingly alike.
  I reached the point in the trail where i thought I could make my move. As i scanned the distance I could tell that there was slightly more water across a certain section of marsh and I suspected that the distant tree islands were near the Unauthorized channel. I had seen a small alligator channel a few yards back and turned around. It allowed me access past some tall sawgrass and into the open marsh. At first the going was easy. There was just enough water to allow me to push the canoe through the short marsh grass. I stayed with the alligator path because it was easier going and i suspect I'm not the first person to come through here looking for the other channel.
 A glance behind me  warned me I better keep my wits about me. The grass closes up behind you and if you don't pay attention to some very subtle landmarks you can easily lose track of where you are.
The marsh started to thicken up and the going got a little harder but i soon saw a faded old sign on a post in the distance and I new I was getting somewhere.The last fifty feet was impossible to paddle through. I was forced to step out (squish) and slide the canoe by hand  into the FORBIDDEN ZONE
 !


Why is it Forbidden. Good question! The fact that I can't easly find an answer to this question is worrisome also. My biggest fear is that there is some environmental toxin associated with phosphorous or other agricultural runoff. If thats the case though then the other PUBLIC areas couldn't avoid the same fate. In reality I think it has more to due with the inaccessibility of the place . This unauthorized channel I was in  was picturesque and unspoiled but it had also filled in with muck and was difficult to traverse in spots 

 So...here I was in no mans land. The Google images show that this winding channel extends several miles into this large track of land and approaches many substantial tree islands. My eventual goal is to use this channel to gain access to the islands further out. Today was just an exploratory foray to see if it was even doable. Already past 3 o'clock I didn't want to spend much time here but I couldn't resist the temptation to paddle some distance down the winding channel. As mentioned the the canal was  often filled in with muck. There were stretches were it was very nice and easily passable  in other spots though the muck was thick and the going difficult. I saw several small alligators and eventually came upon a big one lying in the grass at a very narrow section  of the channel. Rather than get stuck in the muck 3 feet from junior I decide to back off and go around through the marsh. A bit further on I came upon yet another AREA CLOSED sign less faded than the rest. I snapped a picture.
  I heard the loud splashing of water. WHAT WAS THAT? It sounded like a group of people splashing through the water. How could that be? Was I really going to have to explain what I was doing out here? Behind a distant tree island several deer appeared and scampered across the marsh disappearing   behind another island. That was special.
  It was time to head back. I worked my way back up the muck canal searching for my path and salvation across the marsh. Man......where is that thing?  Nope wrong stand of sawgrass. Wasn't that faded sign on the other side. Finally I found the spot I was looking for and retraced my path back across the marsh to the authorized area. Mission complete.
  The sun of late afternoon turns the marsh to gold and is a great time to take pictures. Massive Blue Herons would rise from behind small tree islands as I approached. A turkey vulture swooped low  to check me out.
 When I  got to the platform I was happy to stretch my legs. I had a long over due lunch and just relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine.
  Some time passed before I finally continued on and I soon realized I'd miss judged how much daylight I had left. The sun was already dipping low. I knew that the park rangers would start a search and rescue operation if I didn't return before dark and I didn't want that. I put everything I had into it and paddled hard. I was tired but it felt good. I kept it going smooth and straight, navigating the twist and turns for the last mile and a half. The Everglades seemed to be coming alive The bird activity was crazy and the alligators seemed to be more active. Finally I came sliding out into the boat landing area and back to civilization. 
 I came to realize a few things on this trip. Beyond finding my way in and out of the restricted area i learned the importance of being quiet and listening to the glades. There is a lot more going on out there then may first be apparent. I've also become convinced that the potential for great photo's is here. I've missed some great shots because I'm limited by my $40 cell phone camera. This trip has also peeked my interest in the almost impenetrable (literally) world of the tree islands.
Next time. 
                                                         
                                                                                                                                                       







 

 
 

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Apparently I had arrived here at the same time as a winter cold front and the wind was very blustery. Early morning is usually a calm  time and the strong wind seemed out of place.
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