In April of 2012 I attempted to reach a somewhat inaccessible lake buried deep in a mangrove swamp. My motivation for going was simply that it was there, It was remote and I knew of no one having been there before.


" Where are you headed ?" Said the large authoritative park ranger as I pulled up to the dock. He was obviously the law around here and not the kind of man to suffer bullshit to long. Accompanying him were two pale khakied office types, apparently officials of some bureaucracy somewhere.
 "I'm gonna try and get into ____________" I said
  " You know it can be inaccessible" he asked as he eyed my gear and me, taking stock of who he was dealing with.
 "Yes sir, I'm gonna try and get as close as I can.

 Being  decisive, he quickly concluded that I wasn't a smuggler, poacher or drunken tourist and said  " Well. you look like a rugged individual. good luck."
  I gave the other two men a look that said "who's he callin rugged ?" and we all shared a laugh.

  The floating dock was part of a plug, a small dam built to block the canal. Many canals were dredged in the early part of the past century in a misguided effort to drain the Everglades. These canals, along with other mitigating factors, allowed for salt water to intrude inland and changed the landscape. In an effort to correct this most canals have subsequently been "plugged". Sadly most plugs fail during high water times as the water finds away around them through the low mangrove swamp. 

 We chatted briefly as I unloaded my gear and walked it to the other end of the plug. The officer and his charges were soon off about their business and I was alone. It would be two days before I got back to this spot and I wouldn't see another person until then.

The plug serves as a line of demarcation separating the coast from an inland marsh. The coast is isolated but there is some boat traffic. Here in the back country you don't see so many people. Motors are not allowed and they wouldn't do you much good anyway in the often shallow muck of the marsh. I was heading to the far north end of one long arm of this nameless shallow area and from there hoped to work my way through the mangrove and ponds and finally into _________________.  Before any of that could happen though I had to face the gauntlet I call CROCODILE CANAL.

  Many of you who have visited Florida are perhaps familiar with Alligator Alley, a part of Interstate 75 that crosses the state. This isn't that.

  This side of the plug and for perhaps 3/4 of a mile beyond was absolutely thick with crocodiles.  Crocodiles like salty to brackish  water and you don't have to go to far inland before you get away from the heaviest concentrations. The once endangered American Crocodile has found a nice habitat in some of the man man canal systems of South Florida, including those at Turkey Point Power Plant and here at the Southern tip of the state. 

 I'm not the kinda person who's gonna wrestle large animals. Leaping onto the back of a giant reptile and duct taping its mouth shut is not on my list of things to do. I've gained some experience over the years but I'm still a stranger in this land, just a visitor passing through taking a few pictures. I have a healthy respect for both the Alligators and Crocodiles.

 I have become a bit more comfortable with the Alligators.  They are less apt to be startled and seem a bit more predictable. They make wonderful subjects for the camera, making eye contact with the lens and often drifting in closer for a better look (.... or to hunt me?) Crocodiles, different story. They almost always seem quick to bolt for the water. It can be something of a surprise when 14 feet and a 1000 lb of muscle and teeth comes crashing through the brush and leaps for open water with a giant SPLASH.

 I first stumbled upon this crocodile village a few years ago and always see some crocs but I've  noticed that during late dry season ( breeding and nesting season) they are especially numerous. 

  I eased the canoe into the water, loaded my gear and headed off down the long perfectly straight channel. Most of the towns inhabitants were already in the water and as I made my way through I could always spy a half dozen or so crocodile heads in front of me. As I approached each one they would boldly hold there ground until finally relenting and making way for the big red canoe. Some sank quietly below the surface, others turned with a splash and disappeared into deeper water. It's always something of a gut check  to pass through here and I find it's best to proceed full speed ahead and don't stop. The only truly disconcerting thing is the big ones when they leave shore and jump for the water.

     The  end of the canal is marked by two small tree islands. When coming from the other direction they hide the canal entrance. As I slid the boat between the two a vast open bay came into view. This area doesn't seem to have a name. I'm not sure why. It presents itself as a large sprawling lake dotted with innumerable tree island. Weaving your way through narrow channels you can stumble upon many large open bays. The shore line is ill defined often fading into grassy marsh or dense mangrove forest. The tea brown water is shallow averaging only a few feet with six feet being deep. Drift wood  is scattered through out the area and bright green Salt wart adds a unique dramatic look to the area. The mangrove islands are often draped in Spanish moss. High dry land is difficult to find.

Navigation can be tricky. You have to rely on subtle landmarks  like a certain dead tree or piece of driftwood, A slightly larger Mangrove tree or oddly straight shoreline. As I have become more familiar with the area things are getting easier but twice now I've become mildly lost and turned around in this back country. 

I took a compass bearing and struck out towards the Northwest. I was heading for the, as yet unseen, channel opening that leads to another large bay. Thirty minutes paddling into a gentle headwind and I was gliding through a twisting and picturesque channel and then back into the wide open.  I took a moment to find my place on the map. Using several large tree island as landmarks. An hour or so later I was traveling up a long northern arm of the lake and it wasn't long before I came to its end.

At this point my map became worthless. One small crescent shaped tree island was the last detail I could distinguish. From here forward the map showed only a field of yellow labeled " Mangrove". 
 Having expected this I had brought a few printed google images with me. They were printed on good photo paper and the ink would run off if I got them wet so I was careful. They showed a series of small ponds. Some connected some not. The space between and surrounding the ponds appeared to be thick stands of young dense Mangrove.

  I knew I was within a 1/2 mile of the lake and that if I could move in a general Northeast direction I couldn't miss. Two separate arms of Lake_______________  formed something of a catchers mitt effect and I felt confident I couldn't screw up to bad.

 Something about the small crescent shape tree island didn't sit right with me. I was not 100% comfortable with my knowledge of where I was. Still, I took  a compass heading and ran the canoe up into a shining patch of green saltwart that lead to the Northeast. The ground was soggy and I easily dragged the loaded boat up into the brush and tied it off to a tree ( gotta watch those changing tides). I took a moment to relax and gather my thoughts. I had thought the bug situation might be bad but was pleasantly surprised. I walked a short way  into the Forrest and knelt down. Taking another compass reading I scanned the woods looking for a hint of light suggesting open water. There! Perhaps 100 yards distant I could see water. I went back to the boat and grabbed my small pack. It had everything from a first aid kit and water to dry clothes and some trail mix. Most important of all it had two rolls of pink florescent tape. I would use this to mark my trail and without it would have little hope of finding my way back. In a very real sense my life depended on a $1.50 worth of plastic tape.
 I set off through the forest of Black Mangrove in the direction of the light. I marked my trail every 10 yards so. I wanted to keep at least three pink ribbons visible at all times. I was disappointed when I reached the open water. It was just a small hole perhaps 20 feet across. Crap! I skirted the edge of the water hole, almost slipping in twice and made it to the other side. Kneeling low I took another look at my compass and again scanned the forest. Ah ha! To the east northeast was good light and open sky. I slogged my way through the muck of the forest floor scrambling over or under fallen trees and trying to maintain something of a straight line. I was diligent in marking my trail. Finally I broke through and made the edge of the pond. The tea colored water of the pond was shallow, perhaps 6 to 8 inches and clear. You could easily see the bottom and the few fish that scooted about. Interestingly the pattern of cracks from dry down was still visible on the pond floor. An old piece of driftwood sat in the water seeming to mark the spot and I could tell that a channel lead off in the right direction. Good signs. I set my pack in the notch of a near by tree branch and headed back for the rest of my gear . Three trips back and forth and an hour later and I had everything back together. Portaging the canoe had been the most difficult. There was no hope of carrying it on my shoulders through the soft muck of the black mangrove forest, so i was forced to drag it through, hauling it up and over innumerable small trees. 
I took a moment to mark the spot well, using two streamers of pink tape and then pushed off into the pond. Sliding through a small channel it opened up and I weaved my way north through the shallow water rounding several small tree islands. It was peaceful locked away  in this forgotten spot  of the planet.The late afternoon sun shimmered off the water.
  At the far north end of the pond I stuck my head into the forest and had a look around. Yes, I could see what looked like the light of more open water ahead. It appeared a good distance off though and I didn't feel I had enough energy or daylight left to get myself through.
  Time for plan B. Feeling pretty much familiar with and at home in the little pond I was in I decided to camp for the night. One small issue was that there was no dry ground. No place for a tent. No good place to even get out and stretch your legs. So it look like I was spending a night in the canoe. Scooting back south a ways I found a nice open  area and tied the boat off to two opposing shores. With a hundred feet of rope I was maybe 60 feet from one shore and 30 from the other. With a little slack in the lines the boat gently moved  back and forth covering a five foot distance.
  It wasn't the Hilton but it was home for the night. I fired up the propane stove and made a quick espresso and then set about cooking a nice dinner. Hamburger helper. After that I organized my gear and put on some nice dry clothes. I cleared a long stretch of space to stretch out in and grabbed the wool blanket and bug hat expecting the mosquitoes to come out at sundown. With dappled sunlight filtering through the mangrove trees. I rolled a few cigarettes  and settled down with a cold guiness beer. It all felt a bit like heaven.
  Sleeping in the canoe turned out to be an ok experience. Certainly more comfortable then many a rocky or sea shell strewn campsite. The one problem was the main thwart across the center of the canoe. I was comfortable on my back but to roll to one side I had to adjust my hips in an awkward way and I woke several times to make the adjustment. I'm considering installing a few wing nuts so I can pop out the thwart  and eliminate the problem. A few mosquitoes came out but nothing serious. The night was cool and I didn't mind curling up under the wool blanket.
  It was fairly late when I awoke, the sun already streaming through the trees. I made an espresso and quickly organized my stuff for travel. I first headed back south to locate my exit point. I was worried I had lost track of it and just wanted to orient myself again. Having found it it I spun around and headed north again.
  I was running out of time.

                                                                 (yet to be written)