And now, the most interesting of our Everglades explorations. Arriving at Gulf Coast Visitors’ Center in the morning, we paid 25 dollars for an overnight wilderness permit (including one night of camping), and then we rented a canoe for an overnight camping excursion – that’s right, a canoe. Because we were headed to an island for the night.
This section of the park, on the western edge of the Gulf, is called Ten Thousand Islands. We didn’t count them all, but there certainly were more than a few of them dotting the waterway where ocean blends with freshwater. There are also numerous clumps of mangroves that look like islands, but are really just trees growing in the water. So all told, there’s quite a maze for the boater to navigate through.
We could have purchased a map of the islands and the water channels for another 20 bucks or so, but with our GPS, we didn’t really need it. So with our canoe full of all the provisions we’d need – including drinking water – we set off paddling.
But even with a GPS, the route was quite confusing, and what should have been a 3-hour trip to “our” island ended up taking 6 hours instead. At one point we passed through such a shallow channel that we got our canoe caught on the bottom, and Dennis had to get out and pull it through, cutting his foot a bit on one of the many mollusk shells littering the bottom. But finally, at mid-afternoon, we docked at Picnic Key, one of the last little blobs of land before you hit open ocean. Only one other man was camped here.
We set up our tent right on the beach, and gathered some scraps of driftwood to build a fire – unlike other parks, this one doesn’t mind if you gather firewood, so long as it’s already downed and dead. Going barefoot in the sand, Kimberly flew her kite while Dennis cooked dinner on the compact little camp stove. We had a very quiet night (our neighbor was at least 100 yards away, and had nobody to converse with anyway). We heard nothing all night except the waves lapping us to sleep. And we’re happy to note that we were plagued with neither of the pests we were warned about: raccoons and mosquitoes.
The next morning, we struck camp, (none too hurriedly) and made our way back, this time taking a more direct route. But we had stronger waves to contend with, and we still took a wrong turn or two. We were glad we did, because we spotted some dolphins that we might not have seen otherwise. We disagreed about how many dolphins there were exactly – there could have been as many as 6 or 7, or as few as 2, making encore appearances. (Relative novices that we were, we’d already had a disagreement about which way the canoe should be facing, but we finally got that straightened out.) But they were amazing to watch, and on a couple of occasions came very close to us. What a sight!
As we were docking back at the Visitors’ Center, we saw a couple of gentlemen preparing to leave for FOUR nights on an island. And they were packing all their gear in/on a KAYAK. Now that’s an adventure!