After nearly soiling myself passing a very large gator at close range on the Econlockhatchee, I decided something more leisurely and sedate was in order, so I headed for Wekiwa Springs State Park to paddle the Wekiva River.
The springs and the river actually do have different names, it isn’t an alternate spelling. Wekiwa refers to the springs — water coming out of the ground; while Wekiva means water flowing over the ground.
If you want a peaceful, tranquil Florida river experience, the Wekiva is a good choice … unless it’s a Saturday during Summer. Wekiwa Springs State Park frequently closes due to capacity being reached on Summer weekends and the river teems with boaters … most of them in rented canoes with no idea what they’re doing and less interest in the serenity of nature.
Near the headwaters of the Wekiva you have a choice of putting in at either the State Park or Wekiva Marina (about a mile downstream from the springs).
I chose the State Park because the fee to put in is a couple dollars less. If you put in at the Marina and then want to paddle to the Park, there’s a small fee to enter the Park as well.
One issue with launching your own boat from the State Park is that the water is some distance from the parking. There’s also a hill involved and the trail is rather soft sand in some places. It’s not that bad getting to the water, since it’s downhill from the parking lot … the bad part comes later.
The put-in is on the Wekiwa Springs pond, just below the swimming area.
Since my little misadventure on the Econ had eaten up some of my time this morning (and thankfully that was all that was eaten), it was after 9:00 AM when I got to the springs and people were already on the water. It was still early enough, though to get a bit of mist and early morning sunshine through the trees.
About 3/4 of a mile from the springs, Rock Springs Run joins the Wekiva. This is a smaller, less-traveled tributary that I enjoy paddling and I started up it a bit before returning to the Wekiva.
A full mile from the State Park is Wekiva Marina, where you can also put in or rent a canoe.
Shortly past the marina, I came across a small alligator — a much more pleasant encounter than the one earlier in the day. In fact, on most trips down the Wekiva I’ve encountered a small gator in this area, just downstream of the marina.
It’s at this point in writing this blog entry that I come to the realization that the little Argus Bean camera I got for these trips just isn’t going to do it for me. Most of the pictures I took on this trip didn’t come out well, so I’m going to have to try something better.
After pointing out the little gator to the next group of paddlers coming down the river, I leave him behind and encounter a new form of wildlife — kayaker without PFD:
If you look closely, you can see her head behind the nice Fish and Game officer’s boat … her head’s right next to the officer’s ticket book, which she got a very good look at.
Is it really such a hardship to have a PFD in the boat?
Past the legal action, I saw bubbles start to break the surface of the water near the shore, then a stream of bubbles race across the width of the river. A line of bubbles breaking the surface usually means an otter and a bit of patience tracked him down when he surfaced near a fallen tree to munch on a fish.
I love watching otters and had the good fortune to once rent an apartment that had been built around a natural pond that acquired a family of them. For several months I was able to watch them from the comfort of my balcony:
This is the obligatory, Florida, Turtle on a Log picture. I do not plan to take or post any more pictures of Turtle on a Log, no matter what river I see them on.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like seeing Turtles on a Log — no matter how many times I see them, it’s a nice reminder that I’m on the water, away from the city. But, let’s face it, there’re a lot of Turtles on a Log. And anyone who paddles, especially in Florida, has seen more than their share already, so pictures of them aren’t really necessary.
So, from time to time, if I feel it’s useful for the ambiance of the trip report, I’ll just throw in:
You’ll know what I mean and it’ll save everyone’s time and Internet bandwidth. If you truly feel compelled to see another picture of Turtle on a Log, you can click the link and come right back here to one.
Of course, I’ll still take and post a picture if I feel it’s noteworthy, for instance if I see Unusually Large Turtle on a Log or Very Large Number of Turtles on a Log. Definitely if I see the very rare: Log With No Turtle.
I started paddling again …
(see how nicely that works?)
About 1/2 a mile downstream of the marina, the river appears to split around an island you can recognize by the lone palm tree next to a bare bank:
The left channel is the main, navigable river, but the island is a frequent stop to rest and relax. Farther along its shore are several rope swings and later in the day this spot will be packed with people picnicking and playing in the water.
The rest of my paddle down river is mostly uneventful …
… though I do get my best quality pictures of the day out of the Argus Bean when I come to an open area of the river and want to capture the beautiful sky I’m paddling under:
After a couple hours of paddling …
<Turtle on a Log> ^ 10
I do encounter some very tolerant birds that let me get quite close for a picture. These are without any zoom:
Once back between the marina and the park, I once again encounter the large crowds on the river this summer weekend. The attendant at the springs put-in told me they had eighty boats on the water — possibly an exaggeration.
One day, I’m going to come here and just paddle the mile between the park and marina, back and forth, all day, watching the people in the rented canoes. Some know what they’re doing, but for others it’s a crap-shoot whether they’ll make it off the river alive.
Best quote of the day (from a wife in the front of a canoe with a paddle across her lap):
"You’re heading right for another tree!"
The tree in question was at least fifty feet away and the look on the husband’s face was priceless.
My favorite was this lady. She has three kids with her in two canoes. She has tied the canoes together and is the only one paddling — the kids mostly just sit there with their paddles. Here she is crossing the river in front of me:
Now, here she is crossing the river back the other way:
Here the Bean failed me again, but she’s recrossing the river right in front of another canoe (keep in mind her two are tied together and the oncoming canoe has the current behind it). I’m cringing at this point, waiting for the clothesline flag to be thrown and ready to assist the soon-to-be victims.
Luckily, the oncoming paddler was able to slow down enough to avoid disaster.
Once back at the State Park put-in, the truly horrid part of the trip is facing me: getting the boat back to the car.
After trudging up the hill to retrieve the kayak cart from the car and back down to the put-in, I make sure everything’s secure on the boat and start the trek … uphill … through the soft, soft sand.
At the top of the initial hill, there’s a choice to be made. I can turn right past the concession stand and then up the narrower, steeper trail to where I parked, or I can go left through a picnic area — that way is longer, but not as steep.
I’m 41-years old, out of shape and need the exercise, I take the hill. Besides, they’re grilling in the picnic area, I can smell it. I’m hungry after the morning’s paddling and the turkey sandwiches waiting in my cooler just aren’t what I want. If I have to drag this damn boat past burgers and barbeque, there’s going to be an Incident.
So up the hill. But not all at once. The goal is to get the heart pumping, not exploding.
First, the short pull across level ground to the restrooms, which is an excellent excuse to stop for a moment. Then start up the hill to the gate and pause again, looking longingly back at the hot dog cart outside the park’s concession. If they were grilled, I’d be all over it, but they’re boiled and even the turkey in the cooler’s more appetizing than that.
Now up the hill to the halfway point, where I wheeze for a little while, muttering about how if I’d taken the other path I’d be eating a burger right now while fending off its owner with a BBQ fork.
And one final pull to the parking lot where I load up the car and settle in to the air conditioning to eat my turkey sandwich. Yum.