Monday we launched from the beach in front of our condo building and paddled the mile across to Atsena Otie Key, which was the original home of the town of Cedar Key until a hurricane demolished it in 1896. The residents then rebuilt on the next key towards the mainland, the present home of Cedar Key. A light wind created some 6 inch waves but we made it over easily and took a group photo on the pier...
This island, along with 12 neighboring keys, is now a wildlife refuge under the management of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Atsena Otie Key (then the town of Cedar Key) was the terminus for the famous “1000 mile walk to the gulf” by naturalist John Muir in 1867. We hiked the trail inland to the cemetery populated with gravestones dated prior to 1896. A sign honored a Timucuan Indian buried there, and carbon dating had determined his remains to be 4000 years old -- a true Native American!
After lunch on the beach, we paddled the 2 miles to the neighboring Seahorse Key, battling a 12 mph wind and 1 foot-plus high waves -- a tough paddle -- and after a 30 minute rest, we headed the 3 miles back to our start, now encountering 15 mph winds and 2 foot-plus waves -- strenuous and a bit scary for those of us who have never been in such conditions that far off shore. Our leader, Greg, of Adventures in Florida, tried to make us feel better by saying we could now claim we were “open-ocean intermediate kayakers.”
Day 2 found us on the road at 5:30 am to swim with the manatees in Dunnellon, Florida.
This was a highlight of the trip, and more details and photos can be found on my post here.
After a lunch along the river, we paddled yet another beautiful river, the Rainbow River, formed by the fourth largest spring in Florida, that runs nearly 6 miles from the Rainbow River State Park to the South Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon.
Wednesday we walked to the Cedar Key Cemetery and explored the gravestone dates and inscriptions. The earliest I found died in 1818. The sad part was all the children who died young. One stone ended with the words "Architect, Mentor, Jester." What nice words to summarize a man's life. After lunch we drove to Indian Shell Mound and launched into the estuaries of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and paddled 2.5 hours, to and around Deer Island, and back. Most was in backwaters, but a bit was in open ocean which was far more hospitable today than Monday with only mild rolling waves.
Then we hiked the Shell Mound which is the largest in Central Florida at 5 acres and is 28 feet above sea level -- composed of oyster shells, whelks, fish, turtle, deer bones, and household refuse -- and is over 6000 years in age and took 3500 years to accumulate to that size. It was used to escape storm surges and as a high point to catch Gulf breezes in hot weather.
We then waited on the fishing pier to observe another spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
Thursday's padle was 11 miles down the Suwannee River from Fanning Springs State Park to Manatee Springs State Park -- a lovely river, especially when you leave the riverside homes of the towns behind -- and after the paddle we enjoyed walking the grounds of Manatee SP. On the drive back, we stopped at the Southern Cross Sea Farms for fresh clams and crab for supper.
Friday began with a visit to the Cedar Key Museum State Park and the restored 1920's era Saint Clair Whitman house. Cedar Key, on Florida's Gulf Coast, was a thriving port city and railroad connection during the 19th century. The museum contains exhibits that depict its colorful history and includes sea shells and Indian artifacts collected by Saint Clair Whitman, the founder of the first museum in Cedar Key. Our leader, Greg, also took the opportunity to pay homage to one of his naturalist heroes, the famous founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, who here ended his 1867 "1000 Mile Walk to the Gulf" from Indiana...
We then paddled the backwater bayous of Cedar Key, navigating side channels and avoiding oyster bars and sand bars. Large flocks of Skimmers and Oyster Catchers entertained us on the paddle.
After a dinner of asada pork chops and stone crabs (Greg's version of "surf and turf") we drove back to the State Museum for an indoor presentation on telescopes and astronomy followed by a viewing through 6 scopes set up on the lawn. This remote area's clear skies, free from light pollution, makes it a favorite locale for astronomy buffs, and the generally cloudless sky cooperated making for astounding astronomical acuity.
To participate in a trip like this, visit Greg's website Adventures in Florida or check out his dozen or so annual Sierra Club Outings . Just search for Florida under kayak trips to see what's available.