Saturday, March 17, 2012

Camping in Canaveral

Florida 2012 continued

I have say how difficult it is today to put a thought together.  The weather at home right now is stunning.  While we are still officially in winter, it is 74 degrees.  The clouds that popped up earlier have dissipated and the sky is a perfect blue.  The evening sun still holds its winter hue of silvered gold, and a light breeze is blowing.  It's the kind of day that makes you just stare off into space, until you feel like taking a nap.

I have never known weather like this in Michigan in March, and while I am enjoying it immensely, it scares the hell out of me at the same time.  I was relaxing on our front porch reading Joe Hutto's Illuminations in the Flatwoods when our neighbor across the road started up some loud machine--at 7 pm--and I gave up on the evening and came in to try to write.

On to Canaveral....

Looking back I wish we had stayed two nights on the island rather than one.  I was feeling funny about not spending enough time with my grandma and we were already going to be gone most of two days, so we opted for an overnight trip.  If we do this again we'd definitely do two nights.

I had wanted to arrive at the park shortly after they opened at 9am but we didn't make it till nearly 9:45.  We got our permit at the visitor's center and drove down to launch site #7, which is really just a parking lot with a spot on the shore of the lagoon cleared of plants.  It took us a while to get all of our gear unpacked from the van and trailer, get the boats to the water, and load them up.

We had two big concerns--the wind, and not knowing where we were going.  We had a pretty decent map, but the problem is this is not a hiking trail, and there were no signs telling you what is what.  We guessed at which island we were headed for but had to make a rather round-about go at, to stay out of the wind as much as possible.  I had most of the gear with me in the canoe, and while this helped keep me paddling straighter it was still tough going in the wind. I didn't take any pics on the way over, having already resigned myself to the need to paddle and pay attention to what I was doing rather than taking pictures.

Lori and me (right), Mosquito Lagoon.  Photo by Lisa.

Coming around the lee side of one of the many small islands put us on a direct course for our campground, as I had hoped.  It also put us paddling directly into the wind, which while it's hard work is also safer than trying to paddle sideways to it.  Lori found the site first, and I lumbered along in the rear.  We landed around 1 pm.

Lori in front of campsite H1.  Photo by Lisa

We explored a bit then set up camp, eager to try out our new back country gear.  I don't recall now when I realized I'd left my sleeping pad back in the van, but I know I wasn't happy about it!

Campsite at H1.  We were please to see a fire pit and picnic table.
View from H1

Live oak
We explored our surroundings some more and discovered some very odd plants, including this one called coontie, or Florida Arrowroot, of the Sago-palm family, according to the Audubon Field Guide to Florida we'd picked up at the visitor's center (hard to believe it took me nearly 30 years to do that!).

It is a fascinating plant, and we found some that had gone to seed--hard to miss them!  I so wanted to chew on one--they look like corn but were maybe three times the size, and fairly soft.  But being at least 45 minutes by canoe from the mainland I decided that wasn't such a good idea.

Coontie seeds, I assume.
The sky began to cloud over and we checked the radar on our phones (pretty good service there).  There were some storms over the Gulf but we decided we had time to head out for a paddle.  Lisa sat in the front of the canoe and Lori went in her kayak.  This allowed me to take some pictures.

Orange Island

We stayed to the lee side of the island as there was still a pretty stiff breeze blowing.  Right off the bat we found a colony of fiddler crabs busying themselves with whatever crabs do.  This absurd-looking male, with one enlarged claw, was apparently guarding this hole.

Male fiddler crab

The female has equally sized claws.  Some crabs were perhaps 1 1/2 inches, most were less than an inch.  They scurried about, wadding up balls of sand from which they extracted the detritus that they eat, then spit them back out.

Female fiddler crab

Fiddler crab tracks and balls of sand

As we were paddling, Lisa spotted this huge lightning whelk laying on the bottom.  We turned around and she managed to hook it with the handle of her paddle.  The thing smelled awful, it's resident deceased and moldering inside.  A big glop of it oozed out when she picked it up.  The book says they grow to 10 inches but this one was 12.

Lightning whelk

We saw very little wildlife while we were there, but this male Belted Kingfisher posed for a portrait.

By the time we got back to the campsite, around 4:30 or so, the storms had advanced quite close, and were now accompanied by some warnings.  We didn't get a chance to cook any dinner (we'd brought home-made beef stew that we'd frozen so it would keep longer).  We grabbed some snacks and climbed into the tents as the rain began to fall, around 5:00.  It rained, and rained and rained, and the wind blew, and it rained.  We got a break around 7:00 and we all climbed out and used the latrine.  I wandered and stretched my legs, but by 7:30 round two had arrived and I was back in the tent.

As I mentioned I'd left my sleeping pad in the van, so I did the best I could with my camp chair laid flat and a beach towel.  I don't think I've ever been more uncomfortable in my life.  Our pads are Big Agnes, an inflatable pad that is 2 1/2 inches thick but very light weight--luxury in the back country, if you remember to pack it.  It rained a good part of the night--I know, since I was awake for most of it.  At the first sign of daylight I was up and out of that tent.

We decided not to bother with the stove so had a cold breakfast of granola and fruit.  We decided to just pack up camp and start heading back as the wind seemed to be increasing.  We hugged the north side of Orange Island but eventually had to paddle through open water.  I was not concerned with tipping, but after a while, as the wind continued to pick up, I was concerned about water splashing into the boats--especially the kayaks, which sit so much lower in the water.  We had to zig-zag a bit to keep ourselves perpendicular to the waves, which reached at least a foot and a half and were starting to make white caps by the time we made landfall.

Tired and hungry, we loaded up our gear and the boats, then settled in on the edge of the parking lot for a hot lunch of beef stew and whole grain baguette.

Me dishing up lunch.  Photo by Lisa

Next: Wonders abound at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge!


  1. Loved your photos. I was thinking of doing a solo trip out there soon. Did you feel quite safe in the backcountry campsite?

    1. There's really nothing out there that can do you harm, besides perhaps a few venomous snakes. I don't think there are any bear on the islands, but I would still pack food in critter-safe containers. We saw very few people, though there were several large motor boats in the waterway that were going faster than I would have liked to see, so be aware.