Cape Sable – Night Two/Day Three, Feb 2016

25°07’06.31″N 81°04’48.28″W elev 1 ft
East Cape, Everglades National Park
Launch site: Flamingo Visitor Center,
40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
(239) 695-2945

Wilderness Trip Planner: A guide to camping in the coastal portions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness

We didn’t quite make it to East Clubhouse Beach. Come 4:30 pm we were pretty tired, so we stopped about a mile shy of East Clubhouse Beach at Clubhouse Beach. Although we were paddling with the tide, the gusts were killing me. I was happy to claim this secluded little stretch of beach as our own for the night.




As Gauthier made dinner, I watched the tide come in… with some trepidation. “I wonder if we should move our tent a little higher up the beach”; the thought kept running through my mind.


So we moved it.


And I relaxed as the sun relaxed its grip on the day.


Two happy campers.


That tiny silhouette of a tree in the middle of the below photo, that’s the tree on the tip of Cape Sable that we used to gauge how far we’d traveled. Four hours and some sore shoulders is about how far away it is in this picture.


Unfortunately, we didn’t capture any photos of the final leg of the journey. We didn’t calculate the tide well, so we ended up fighting it as well as 25 mph winds on the way back. Kayaking along the coast of Florida Bay at low tide is stressful not only because the current is against you, but also because the shallowness of the bay makes it necessary to paddle far away from the coast and keep a wide berth of islands in order to avoid getting banked, and this can add miles to your journey.

I really regret not taking one photo in particular. A perfect, single layer of altocumulus clouds filled the sky for almost the entire journey home. It was spectacular. Almost as spectacular as Gauthier’s strength, patience and compassion when my arms gave out about a mile from our destination. With soothing words and a powerful stroke, he weathered a temper tantrum fed by fatigue and frustration and delivered us safe and sound to the Flamingo Visitor Center marina… about a mile east of where we had launched. Dang that low tide.

Cape Sable – Night One/Day Two, Feb 2016

25°07’06.31″N 81°04’48.28″W elev 1 ft
East Cape, Everglades National Park
Launch site: Flamingo Visitor Center,
40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
(239) 695-2945

Wilderness Trip Planner: A guide to camping in the coastal portions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness

And on the 900th stroke, we arrived at East Cape. We were greeted by a family of campers in a motor boat that gave us first pick of a camp site out of deference to our muscle-powered wake, and a flock of Sanderlings.



By 4:45, we had set up our tent. As the day faded into night, we passed the time cooking, arranging seashells in the sand, chatting, sipping bourbon, and star-gazing. As the night wore on, the stars grew brighter and brighter, the rising and receding tide lapped against the shore twenty feet away, and giant wading birds stopped to sample insects outside our tent.


Gauthier woke up early to watch the sun rise.


Our friends the Sanderlings were up early as well, as were a flock of Terns. During low tide, the shallow bay reveals muddy tongues protruding from the shoreline that are completely hidden during high tide, like the one these Terns are on.



One characteristic that all of the beaches we stopped at had was washed up sea sponges. There are over two hundred sponge species in South Florida. The sponges in the photo below are vase sponges.


Sea sponges are a foundation species and a sign of a healthy ecosystem. In the photo below, a Sanderling inspects a Haliclona rubens.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a hard time making a case for the designation of the Everglades as a National Park. Folk saw holes in trees like the one below, assumed they were created by insects with really big teeth, and wanted nothing to do with it. Honestly, we wondered whether that hole, with its serrated edges, wasn’t created by giant, razor-sharp mandibles.


Holes in shells like those in the shells in the photo below provide clues as to how the shells died. Those tiny perforations were caused by sponges called Boring sponges. Boring sponges attach to shells for shelter, often smothering the host. The little holes are caused by the chemicals they use to attach themselves. Polychaete worms are the villains that cut grooves in oyster shells. And the little holes that are useful for turning shells into necklaces, those are caused by predatory sea snails and slugs.


Gauthier paddled to the southernmost beach on East Cape. The wind had picked up and was blowing from the east at a worrisome clip, so I chose not to accompany him and preserve my energy.


There he saw Gumbo limbos…


this sprawling Prickly pear cactus…


and this giant Horseshoe crab. This lovely lady was around two feet long from head to tail! She should scare me because horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders than they are to crabs, but seen from above she’s not very scary-looking. You have to respect a species that’s been around for more than 300 million years!


As we headed eastward towards East Clubhouse Beach where we were to spend night two, we paddled against the tide and a wind of around 18-20 mph (8-10 m/s). We used the tree below, which marks the southernmost tip of Florida, to gauge how far we’d traveled. It grew smaller very slowly.


Resources Consulted
Horseshoe Crab History
Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Writer & Conservationist
Restoring Florida Bay: Sponges the foundation for thriving ecosystem
Shell Wars (Shell Bioerosion)
South Florida Sponges: A Guide to Identification

Cape Sable – Day One, Feb 2016

25°07’06.31″N 81°04’48.28″W elev 1 ft
East Cape, Everglades National Park
Launch site: Flamingo Visitor Center,
40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
(239) 695-2945

Wilderness Trip Planner: A guide to camping in the coastal portions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness

Cape Sable, the southernmost point of Florida, had been on our “To Kayak” list for about three years. The promise of Roseate spoonbills, American crocodiles, Florida gopher tortoise and Smalltooth sawfish, combined with the challenge of a 23 mile round trip ocean paddle, and the lure of secluded shell beaches made this an adventure worth working towards. This year we were ready.


Gauthier had assembled a not unpraiseworthy collection of lightweight camping gear and we had improved our paddling skills and built up enough muscle and endurance to meet Florida Bay’s challenges. Currents, tides, winds, sun, and mosquitoes, we were prepared for them all. Ollie, unfortunately, had demonstrated that ocean kayaking was not his thing, so he stayed behind with his duncles and daunties (dogspeak for doggie uncles and aunties).


Our plan: Saturday, February 13, we would paddle 11 miles from Flamingo Visitor Center to Cape Sable. Sunday, we would paddle about half way back to East Clubhouse Beach. And Monday we would paddle the remaining five or six miles back to Flamingo Visitor Center.

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We arrived at Flamingo Visitor Center just as it opened at 8 AM to pick up our back country pass. During the ranger’s protocols speech,  we were surprised to learn that we would face gusts of up to 25 mph on our return trip, something the forecasts of the previous day, which specified maximum gusts of up to 15 mph, had not mentioned. Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice said, “Should we postpone?” but my unhesitating response to the ranger was “I guess I’ll be getting more excercise than I bargained for!”


The mosquito condition was described as “moderate,” which is not bad by Florida standards so long as you use repellent (and not the Whole Foods brands, the real stuff) and have your tent set up before dusk, which is when they come out in force. We planned our paddle out to coincide with high tide. As the Bay drained, it carried us out towards the Gulf. We paddled against a north wind of around 10 mph, but it was easy going overall.


We had lunch at Clubhouse Beach, named for a clubhouse Flagler or another developer had wanted to build there many years ago, despite the freshwater marshes, marl prairie, saltwater lagoons and mangrove swamps.


If you liked making mud pies or walking barefoot in the rain as a little girl or boy, you may appreciate Florida Bay mud. The sensation of Florida Bay mud squishing between my toes is something I am unlikely to forget. The shallow Bay and receding tide meant anchoring our kayak in the mud and walking to shore.


Dimples in the mud near the shore were filled with shells. Angel Wings, Angulate Wentletraps, Antillean Nerites, Atlantic Distorsios, Atlantic Slipper Shells, Calico Scallops, Cancellate Cantharus, Common Bubbles, Common Nutmegs, False Drills, Fan Scallops, Flame Augers, Florida Cones, Florida Fighting Conch, Florida Rock Shells, Fly-specked Ceriths, Golden Banded Cones, Lion’s Paws, Muddy Ceriths, Periwinckles, Rose Petal Tellins, Sanibel Drills, Top Shells, Turkey Wings, we saw them all! After three or four hour’s paddling, there’s nothing more relaxing than arranging shells in the sand.


Shells of the Florida Gulf Coast illustrations by Jackie Leatherbury Douglass, copyright 2004 Steven Lewers & Associates

Shells of the Florida Gulf Coast illustrations by Jackie Leatherbury Douglass, copyright 2004 Steven Lewers & Associates


Sea pork: there is such a thing and if you venture out to Clubhouse Beach you just might see it. Sea pork is a small glob of cellulose that once housed zooids. Zooids are “a colonial animal that can survive only when connected with other zooids. Each has its individual personality, but collectively they exist as a single being with a shared goal of survival” according to an article in The Guardian (


The Red mangrove below lent us its shade. I can never get my mangrove types straight, but here is a slice of mangrove wisdom from Florida International University: “Mangroves must survive the stresses of flooding and salt in the estuary. Red mangroves have prop roots that increase oxygen uptake and line the banks of keys and rivers in the Everglades. Black mangroves exude salt from their leaves and both red and black mangroves are well adapted to salinity changes” (



Florida Tree Snails

Florida Tree Snails

Florida Tree Snail

Florida Tree Snail

After an expertly crafted meal (Gauthier does love camp cooking), we paddled onwards to East Cape, the easternmost and closest of Cape Sable’s beaches. At MicMac Canal (below) we counted 900 strokes to East Cape.

MicMac Canal

MicMac Canal

East Cape within view

East Cape within view

The endless blue sky and mangrove coastline allowed undulating thoughts of work and family to creep into my consciousness. Mangroves transformed into excel spreadsheets, the blue sky transformed into birthday cards, and the sunlight sparkling on the water transported me to a Brownie Guides meeting, Adelaide, Australia, circa 1990… Five girls in brown uniforms seated cross-legged on the floor around a container of silver glitter and a bottle of glue… The container of glitter falls over and ten hands quickly sweep it up before their leader, Lutana of the Moora Mooras, can find out… Five exuberant girls stand in a ray of sunlight, watching their arms and legs sparkle.


Resources Consulted
Saltwater Intrusion Threatens South Florida Parks
The Ecology of Florida Bay
Sea Pork

Fakahatchee by Bike, Jan 2015

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
137 Coast Line Drive, Copeland, FL 34137
(239) 695-4593
26°01’14.37″N 81°24’29.28″W elev 8 ft

The rumors about Fakahatchee are true: it is breathtakingly beautiful with incredible diversity. Several trails loop through the sub-tropical strand swamp. We took the shortest loop – 12 miles, four over dirt roads and eight through the wilderness – and it took us four hours.

The oranges in those wild orange trees were super sour.

Originally purchased in 1913 by the Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company, logging began as a war time measure in 1944 and continued into the ’50s. Approximately one million board feet of cypress per week were removed. This guy looks to have been a casualty.

In 1966, the Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company sold the Strand to a real estate company, who platted it and sold 1 1/4-acre residential lots. In 1972, the Florida Land Conservation Act was passed and the State started to buy back the land. Consequently, abandoned dwellings, such as this one, appear occasionally along the trail.

One of the draw-backs of biking the trail is that you miss seeing some of the smaller details of the trail, like the ghost orchids that the trail is famous for. However, there was no missing the giant leather ferns, one of 36 fern species that grow in the Strand.

This section of the trail is called Four Stake Prairie. As you can see, it got a little muddy. Although the 3.8 mile section of trail through Four Stake Prairie to Mud Tram Road was moist, we didn’t encounter mud like this again.

The pine dotted Florida prairie


This is where the trail veered away from the Four Stake Prairie and into Mud Tram Road

Biking along Mud Tram Road was a bit of a challenge. Knee high grass and vines hid cypress knees, tree roots, and holes in the oolitic limestone out of which the road was carved. But they were nothing an urban assault bicycle couldn’t handle… I wish I could say the same for the rider. We walked most of this section.


A speed limit we could handle.

The History of Fakahatchee Strand, by Franklin Adams, Friends of Fakahatchee historian
Experience the Fakahatchee East Main Trail
The Ferns of Florida: A Reference and Field Guide, by Gil Nelson

Slogging the Florida Trail, Jan 2013

Florida National Scenic Trail (Southern Terminus; Loop Road access point)
25°45’32.27″N 81°02’52.61″W elev 4 ft

The trail was 60% mud, 20% water, and 20% dry grass. I was not prepared for how exhausting walking in the mud, or "slogging," is.

The trail was 60% mud, 20% water, and 20% dry grass. I was not prepared for how exhausting walking in the mud, or “slogging,” is.

See, muddy!

See, muddy!

About a mile into the trail is a pine hammock that was just full of wintering songbirds, inlcuding the Eastern Bluebird. It was really incredible how fearless they were; they darted about us, close enough to touch, as if we weren’t even there. They were so tiny and so fast that I wasn’t able to get a good picture.

The trail runs through a forest of “old growth” Cypresses. I think these are Dwarf Cypresses. Despite how small they look, they are hundreds of years old! They look kinda spooky in the winter without their needles.

There were air plants everywhere!

Tillandsia utriculata, the “Giant Air Plant”!

This itty bitty guy was about the size of a quarter.

The eerie Tillandsia paucifolia, small and silvery from being out in the sun. The Institute for Systematic Botany has digitized some images of Tillandsia paucifolia here

Isn’t he a cutie! Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper: 2 1/2″; flightless; slow-moving. Emits foul-smelling secretion when distrubed (National Audubon Society, “Field Guide to Florida”).

A crayfish. Isn’t he funny looking?! He was about 5″ long. He remained in this position for several minutes, then submerged himself in the mud.

Bartram’s Sabatia

Blue-Eyed Grass

Blue-Eyed Grass

Old Field Toadflax

Old Field Toadflax

Ollie’s picked up a scent! The air along the trail was delicious!