An Everglades Escape

Day Three: Turning Inland

Next morning Regi and I once again pressed hard early, to beat the winds. Ahead lay Ponce de Leon Bay, more wide open water. The Shark River flowed into the bay in numerous channels, creating its own mini maze of islands.

We headed north, stroking hard, even though our arms were tired from the day before. We didn't want to get caught out in the open water. Unfortunately for us, the tides were outgoing as we neared Graveyard Creek. We could see the land of this ground campsite, but in front of us was a shell, mud and sand flat which had been covered by water just hours before. So we spent that afternoon just a couple hundred yards from our destination, watching the tides slowly, ever so slowly, return to flood the flat.

This campsite is sometimes occupied by motorboaters because they can safely dock in their boats back in the creek, and out of the way of big winds and changing tides which had left us high and dry. Motorboaters are a part of the Everglades experience — they can go most places canoes can and are generally courteous.

Stars filled the sky overhead: We were far from the lights of Miami. The calm ocean gently lapped against the shoreline, sending us to a dead sleep of the tired paddler. Our next day was short. However, we departed early in the morning, because there was more Gulf paddling to do before returning inland on the Harney River. Regi and I made the last couple of ocean miles before the island fronted mouth of the Harney River appeared. The slack tide made the entrance through these narrow islands easy.

The tides now turned in our favor. Regi lay prone with her feet over the bow of the Old Town canoe, while I lazily kept a paddle in the water to keep us on course. Alligators sunned themselves on the mud flats along the river. Alligators pose no real threat to Everglades paddlers, though some have become food habituated and hang around backcountry campsites waiting for a meal of scraps. Never feed an alligator.

Ahead, beside an island in the middle of the river, was the Harney River chickee. These chickees are the third of the three different backcountry campsites in the park. Chickees are wooden structures built for camping where no dry ground is available. The other types of Everglades campsites are beaches, such as those at Cape Sable, and ground sites, which are mounds of oyster shells built up over centuries by Calusa Indians, who discarded theses shells after that eating the morsels inside.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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