Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kayaking Oleta River State Park - North Miami

I have been waiting a while to get a little experience with my inflatable Sea Eagle 370 Kayak before attempting Oleta River State Park. This was going to be the most challenging kayak adventure yet and I wanted to be sure I knew what to expect. Oleta has two distinct personalities. The mangrove and lazy river side and then the relatively open water of the Inter-coastal Waterway. Add a bit of a breeze, changing tide, and about a thousand boats to chop up the water, you have yourself a pretty exciting day.

I arrived early and parked near the launch site. This area is usually loaded with mountain bikers. I had quite a few curious onlookers  and some questions as I was inflating the kayak. Oleta has an onsite rental store for kayaks and canoes and as always, they were doing a booming business.

The adventure started off in the mangroves. I have mountain biked at Oleta recently. A sport that requires total concentration. I never noticed how close the bike trail was to the water  . Every few minutes I would hear a little rustling of leaves or a twig pop and a biker would slip by in the forest like a ghost. Not enough sound to bother the wading birds only a few feet away on the shore.

There is an open area where the sail boats anchor and another little river to explore. When I turned to head back to the open water, I ran right into a strong current heading the wrong way it seamed. The tide was coming in and it was in a hurry. Not only that but it brought the wind with it. Up until now it was smooth sailing in a lush tropical setting. A change in direction and the whole scene was different. The North Miami skyline was looming in the distance and FIU college was right beside me.

Right across from Oleta is the Haulover Inlet. One of the few cuts in South Florida leading from the Inter-Coastal to the open ocean. Since The Port of Miami and Port Everglades are fairly active with commercial traffic, pleasure boaters come from miles in both directions. Even more boaters never head out to open sea and cruise up and down the channel. It makes for a bumpy ride in a kayak, that's for sure.

My plan was to kayak over to a large island in the middle of all this activity but as I got nearer, the sounds of blasting music from the many boaters anchored on the beach somewhat discouraged me. Just a little farther South was a tiny island with one lone kayak beached on it. With a little course change, some hard paddling, and a bit of powerboat dodging, I arrived.

As I sat enjoying my lunch on my nearly private island, I took stock of the contrasting beauty all around me. I tried to imagine what this area looked like not even 100 years ago before the huge buildings and string of little islands that sprang up from dredging the channels. On the way back, I thought I would really challenge myself and head back along East side of the islands right along the channel.

Even though this is a no wake zone, any large boat will throw out a pretty good sized wave which bounces off the coral rock island and back at the kayak. I think I spent more time going up and down and side to side than forward. There was little opportunity to head into the wake as I would have headed right into the channel. Being tossed ashore would certainly be a problem as sharp coral rock and inflatable kayaks should not mix.

I left the rough seas of the bay and turned into the remaining portion of the kayak trails through the mangroves. A very peaceful end to the day. Even though the rental folks had launched half their flotilla, I only saw the occasional fellow kayaker during the day. Quite a few were bunched up on tours. Oleta is not the tranquil experience I usually prefer for my kayak adventures but at least I can say I did it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Henry Flagler Museum - Palm Beach

I have always been fascinated with the history of Henry Flagler and the Florida East Coast Railway. There are many places you can see Flagler's legacy  in Florida but for the ultimate experience I recommend the Henry Flagler Museum in Palm Beach. At a time when nearly all of Florida was wilderness, Flagler had a vision, a blank canvas, and the money to do what he pleased with it. There are very few moments in history where one person had so much power for change and used it so wisely. I remember years ago being introduced to the Henry Flagler story at the Flagler Station Musemm in Key West and later I saw a television special on the building of the Overseas Railroad. Several of the old train bridges can still be seen today on the ride down to Key West.

The Flagler Museum is actually Henry Flagler's Florida home. Walking up to the front door, you get a true impression of it's actual size. The cost to get in is $18.00 and that includes a self guided or guided tour. I opted for the self guided tour and that comes with a handheld audio player to explain the 40 or so stops along the way. As soon as you enter, you know instantly you are in an American Castle. The ceilings alone are phenomenal works of art all throughout the house. Not to mention the grand staircase, courtyard, chandeliers, rare books, and the actual art work. I have put quite a few links in this posting if you are interested, as I was, to research before you visit. You can also check out the photos I attempted to take in my Photo Album. No flash allowed so not my best work.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Clematis Street - Downtown West Palm Beach

Yesterday I visited Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. It's the first time I've felt like a kid at Christmas in a long time. This was my first visit and I was really just looking for a place to eat lunch.  I arrived around 2:00 pm so parking was no problem and better yet, Free on Sunday. I had a pretty good idea of the selection by checking my iPhone just before I arrived. As if the drive over was not beautiful enough, there is a fountain to greet you and a small amphitheater overlooking the bay. I parked near the fountain and as I turned and started to walk to where I thought I wanted to eat, I saw it. World of Beer. Ok, maybe I was being just a little to quick to decide. This place needed a little more of an investigation. I popped in to the World of Beer just to see then headed up the street in search of lunch. There was one fabulous eatery after another. I was trying to look at both sides of the street at once and read menus as I went. I don't travel to West Palm Beach very often and  I was amazed at the selection. How about a burger joint called GREASE. Click the link. Great website too.

 Oh I was so tempted but there were even more places just a little farther down the block. Sure it was hot and yes I was starving but I wanted to make the perfect choice. When I reached Don Ramon's I was ready to commit. The restaurant was very inviting as was the staff and the menu made picking the restaurant seem easy. There were several things I was not too sure about so with a few questions to the waiter, I ordered them. On the way back to the car I stopped into This N That, an antique shop that had some amazing things and even more amazingly affordable prices. It was sort of funny seeing items I remembered growing up in the shop on sale. I found a small table I really wanted and at a great price. I wish I had picked it up. Oh Well. Even more reason to go back again. Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for a visit as I'm told this place is hopping at night. I only scratched the surface as there are several more streets in the area I left unexplored. If you like the bar thing and live music, they seem to have plenty of that too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Greetings International Viewers of the South Florida Guy

I put a flag counter on my blog some time ago (Over there ==> Top, Right). I thought it would be interesting to see if anyone other than my friends and family ever viewed my blog. There is a lot of inexpensive fun to be had in South Florida and I like to get out and do as much as possible. I created this blog primarily as a way for my friends and family to keep up with me. I love to try new things or go places I've never been. Sometimes it doesn't work out but for the most part I always have a great time. I find most people like to do new things after they hear about it first from someone who has blazed the trail.

In the last few months my blog has started getting an international viewing. In response I've started following some interesting blogs in the area and around the world. My overall favorite is Red Nomad OZ. A very well written and popular blog from Australia.  We are not likely to set foot in each others world any time soon but I feel if I ever get the chance, I have an insiders viewpoint to plan my trip.

Now I'm curious as to which country will be the first to view my blog 100 times. That means 100 people from 100 different computers will have to take a peek. So far France is well out in front with 42 viewers. I have no idea why. Come on all you other countries out there. Send my blog to all your friends and take the lead. If you know of any blogs from around the world you find interesting, by all means post them to my comments. I would love to check them out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens - Delray

Living in South Florida can be taxing indeed. Generally speaking, it's one continuous city from West Palm Beach to South Miami. One notable exception is Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. The Morikami is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the concrete world we have created here. I've visited on several occasions and the moment I enter the gardens, I feel transported. They are completely unlike anything else in the area. They have the appearance of a Japanese traditional garden laid across a Florida landscape and blended perfectly together. I have gone in the past with the only purpose - to sit, relax, and just be for a while. They also have on the property a museum with changing exhibits and permanent displays as well as a restaurant with the best Bento Box in South Florida. If you check the link above, you will see the Morikami has several festivals during the year. My personal favorite is the Bon Festival. At sunset, they set free paper lanterns on the lake making for an incredible display. This year the festival is on August 13th and I highly recommend it. I went a year or two ago and ran into a little rain situation. The friends I went with voted to leave early so I missed the launching of the lanterns. I plan on going this year and taking my own car if need be. Fushu Daiko will be giving a Taiko Drum performance throughout the day as well. I have seen them at several venues including the Florida Renaissance Festival and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. If you plan to go, you may want to buy your tickets online ahead of time. Besides the discount, you will avoid the long lines at entrance. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Snorkeling in Jupiter

That would be Jupiter Florida actually. I've never been a big fan of snorkeling in the past. For some reason I can never figure out how to keep the water out of the pipe and not drown. The few times I gave it a try before, I saw a lot of water and not much else. Hardly worth all the choking and gagging. 

For the holiday weekend, my sister booked a room at the Jupiter Waterfront Inn and invited me to come up and help her get her kayaks in the water. An hours drive. A little bit of work. A day of free fun on the water. My kind of holiday adventure.

The hotel is right on the Intracoastal Waterway and had a kayak launch area in the back. After a little paddle around we beached on a sand bar far from the shore and my sister broke out the snorkels. Great. As I waded back into the deeper water and struggled with adjusting the mask, I totally forgot I was still wearing a life jacket. Oh well. I knelt down and put the mask in the water and I was surrounded by hundreds of little fish. My sister thought it was pretty funny the way I jumped out of the water. After the initial shock I dove back in and actually enjoyed it. It was hard to believe I could not see the fish around my knees when standing up but as soon as I put my head in the water, I could see they were all around me. Since I was wearing a flotation device, I never once drank any of the ocean. The fish seemed to enjoy it also as some came right up to my mask and almost close enough to catch with my bare hand.  I'm pretty impressed with my sister's underwater camera too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

I captured this eagle at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. For more pictures from my visit, click the link to the my Photo Album on Flickr

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Sea Eagle 370 Kayak takes on Key Largo

I have been very pleased with the performance of my new Sea Eagle 370. It has handled well on the local lakes and rivers. Even better, it stores well in the back of the car or the spare bedroom in my condo when not in use. It was time to put it to use as I intended so off I went to Key Largo for sea trials.

If you are following my blog, you know I was recently staying right on the Florida Bay. You also may have noted I took the opportunity to use the complimentary ocean kayak provided by the motel for a 3 hour trip around the bay. I've never before kayaked in open water and it seemed best to give it a try with the proper equipment. Also it would make a great comparison to the Sea Eagle.

The next day I was on the East side of Key Largo at John Pennekamp State Park. The weather was not ideal and the water not as friendly with a steady breeze and much more boat chop. This was going to be a great test.

I started by easing the Sea Eagle off the little sandy beach and right into the current of the flowing tide. No problem at all. I was sitting higher than the Ocean Kayak and there was not nearly as much drag. I already knew the Sea Eagle tracks well and navigating the mangroves was a piece of cake. I also noted the curved paddles gave a lot more power over the flat paddles I used the day before. The current was noticeable but no problem at all going with it, against it, or being pushed sideways by it. Actually it added to the fun to anticipate which way the water was moving and paddle the boat to compensate.

After an hour or so in the mangroves, it was time to head into open water. I'm not sure why all the rental kayaks were staying on the shoreline but I left them way behind me in moments. The water was not calm but it was nearly so for the most part and there was a lot of it as far as I could see. The wind became a factor though. For the first time I was having some trouble managing a straight track. It was not like I was going anywhere in particular in all that water but I was being pushed around pretty well. I was also very close to the channel and fairly sizable boats were making some nice bow waves to play in. I aimed for a big one and waited for the ride. Wow. Nothing. It was like I was on flat water. The Ocean Kayak was taking a hop on jet ski waves. The Sea Eagle hardly moved. Even taking them on the side was not that impressive. Taking a chance, I sped right across the channel and into the salt marshes. I was miles from my starting point and I let the wind slowly blow me farther out while I watched sea grass drift by in the two foot deep clear water. I could have easily been lulled into a nap but I would have woke up off the Georgia coast. The weather started looking a bit ominous so I high tailed it back the three miles or so to my starting point.

I spent about four hours from start to finish in the Sea Eagle and could have done another hour or two. I was only out 3 hours on the Ocean Kayak the day before in much calmer water and no wind whatsoever but the hard seat, flat paddles, increased drag, and no back support really took a toll. Lets not forget that Kayak rental at Pennekamp is $30.00 an hour. Now that my Sea Eagle is tested in all the waters I intend to go, I'll be going a lot in the coming years.