Everglades Diary

5 Day Solo Trip - Chatham River Loop

Sunset over the Ten Thousand Islands

My second trip was planned as a 5-day solo trip, and I would spend four nights at three different locations, starting Wednesday January 24 with a two night layover at Pavilion Key. From here I would paddle down the Gulf coast and up the Chatham River and camp for the night at the old Watson homestead. My last night in the backcountry would be at Sunday Bay. The trip as a whole was designed with relaxation in mind, with only one 10-mile day, and the rest a series of 8 mile paddles.
Here is how the trip was planned:
  • Days 1 and 2 - Chokoloskee to Pavilion Key: 10 miles - This is pretty much the standard first day trip when taking the Gulf coast route south of Chokoloskee. I gave myself 2 days on Pavilion Key for some fishing and general R&R.
  • Day 3 - Pavilion Key to the Watson Place: 8 miles - A short trip down the coast to the Chatham River entrance, then up the River for a night at the storied Watson Place.
  • Day 4 - The Watson Place to Sunday Bay: 8 miles - Another short trip made in dead calm weather, accompanied part of the way by a friendly bottlenose dolphin.
  • Day 5 - Sunday Bay to Chokoloskee: 8 miles - The final leg of the trip would take me back down the Lopez River, and across busy Chokoloskee Bay to my starting point at the Outdoor Resort.

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    Pavilion Key Sunset

    Day 1 - Pavilion Key
    Wednesday, 01/24/01 - Rather than get up at 4 AM on Wednesday morning to make the drive from St. Pete, I had instead decided to drive south the night before and get a room at the Barron River Resort in Everglades City. After a good night's sleep and a hot breakfast, I arrived at the Ranger Station just as they were opening for the day at 7:30 AM. While applying for my backcountry permit I was informed that strong winds and low tides had pretty much blown all of the water out of Sunday Bay, and the chickee was closed through Friday. I wasn't scheduled to arrive at Sunday Bay until the following Saturday afternoon, and it was agreed that I could continue on to the Lopez River campsite should Sunday Bay Chickee still be closed on that day. I was finally able to negotiate an itinerary that matched my planned schedule exactly, and soon headed down the causeway to the Outdoor Resort in Chokoloskee where I made parking arrangements for the duration of the trip. I unloaded the canoe and my gear at the canoe landing, parked and locked the truck, and pushed off from the Chokoloskee mud by 8:30 AM under a clear, blue sky. The temperature had dropped to nearly 40° the night before, but the day was warming quickly under the bright January sun. Despite the forecast of windy weather, the morning was quite calm with a strong outgoing tide and I made good time as I rounded the eastern side of the island and headed into the maze of mud flats and oyster bars at the south end of the bay.
    Care is needed when rounding the southern tip of Chokoloskee island, especially on a falling tide. The outgoing tidal currents can be treacherous, and large clumps of oyster shells lay just below the surface in the shallows. After clearing the southern tip of the island, I followed a narrow, winding channel marked with PVC pipe that took me past the oyster bars until it made a sharp turn around the tip of a mangrove key. The channel grew deeper here and opened up, wending generally southwestward through the mangroves until it finally turned south for a short distance. Soon, the blue waters of the Gulf opened up on my right as I rounded the turn that took me into the western end of Rabbit Key Pass. Crossing the Pass and cutting through a shallow lagoon, I passed Turtle Key on my right, and then headed south for a short distance before dropping my anchor near the southeast point of Lumber Key at 11:30 AM to rest and eat a quick lunch. The morning was still calm with no sign yet of the predicted strong winds, and the gray-green smudge of Pavilion Key was clearly visible on the horizon to the south.
    After eating I started the 3.5 mile open water crossing to Pavilion Key. The white sands of Rabbit Key appeared in the distance over my right shoulder as I cleared the southern tip of Lumber Key and paddled south against the rising tide, the light breeze offering little resistance. At about the halfway point I took a short detour to the east to investigate a small island whose western tip rose a good 10 feet above sea level - a rare sight in the Ten Thousand Islands, and possible evidence of the original Calusa inhabitants of the area. I made a mental note to come back tomorrow on my "play day" to explore this ancient shell mound, and resumed my journey across the open water.
    The wind began to strengthen as I made my way south. By the time I passed the tiny cluster of mangroves that is Little Pavilion Key, the freshening west wind was kicking up whitecaps. At about 1:30 PM, I finally rounded the sandy spit of land at the north end of Pavilion Key and paddled into the sheltered cove on the northeastern shore of the big island. Scouting the eastern shoreline for a campsite, I settled on a secluded spot at the extreme southern end of the eastern beach, tight against the sheltering mangroves.
    I beached the canoe and pulled it high above the tide line, and after setting up camp, I set out to explore what was to be my home for the next two days. Above the sandy beach there was a line of trees that bordered the campsite on the west. A break in the trees led to a shallow depression carpeted with sea purslane and patches of long-spined opuntias, and a narrow winding path led through the depression and over a dune past a large stand of Spanish bayonet, and brought me to the western beach. The wind was blowing strong and steady out of the west by now, and fluffs of sea foam blew across the sand and into the tangle of dry grass and scrub that lined the beach. I walked south along the beach for some distance, stopping to rest at a point where the coastline made a sharp turn to the southeast. The sun was lowering into the west when I finally turned and walked back to camp.
    Back at the tent I made some dinner and sat back and watched the tide go out, which it did with a vengeance, exposing acres of mud and oysters that stretched for more than 100 yards to the east. After eating, I walked over to the windy western beach to enjoy a marvelous sunset, then returned to the campsite in the thickening dusk where I built a small fire in the sand below the high tide line. The stars were beginning to glow in a clear, moonless sky, and I set up my small camp chair next to the warmth of the fire and kicked back to relax, listening to the wind in the trees and the sizzle of embers on the damp sand, and drowsing as the fire crackled.
    A sudden clatter of aluminum pans roused me and I ran to the tent in time to surprise a large raccoon that had unzipped the tent door and was gorging itself on the remains of my spaghetti dinner. The animal panicked at my approach and was unable to find the way out of the tent, so it began to climb the tent walls. I unzipped the door and beat on the back wall of the tent until the critter finally escaped and headed for the trees. I followed him with my flashlight and caught him looking back at me with strands of spaghetti still dangling from his jaws. It didn't take him long to get over his panic, and he sauntered into the trees where he turned to sit and stare at me as he licked sauce from his little black paws.
    After cleaning up the mess and securing my food and water, I returned to sit by the dying embers of the fire. The stars were blazing in a cold black sky, with no moonlight to diminish their magnificence, and I stargazed for a while longer before finally making my way back to the tent and the warmth of my sleeping bag. The raccoons soon returned and I could hear them crawling and bumping around inside the canoe, chattering and snarling at each other as they searched vainly for something edible. Lulled by the wind in the trees and the distant sound of surf, I finally drifted off to sleep.

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    Pavilion Key dawn

    Day 2 - A Day on Pavilion Key
    Thursday, 01-25-01 - I woke just before dawn and poked my head out into the chilly morning darkness, where a few stars were still glimmering in the gray dawn. I pulled on some warm clothes and boiled a pot of water for coffee and waited for daylight. As the morning grew brighter, I stepped out and took in the sight of exposed mud flats stretching far to the east. The sun was a smoldering orange ball pushing it's way above the distant mangrove coast. Cup of coffee in hand, I made my way to the western beach and saw nothing but hard bottom extending for at least 200 yards out to the distant water line. The wind was still steady and strong out of the west. I strolled across the damp sand in the growing light as I drank my coffee, dodging the sharp edges of protruding pen shells, and disturbing a pair of raccoons that were digging in the mud far out on the flats. They scattered at my approach, but returned to their digging after I had passed. I reached the point where I had stopped at day before, where the exposed bottom now revealed the broken remains of thousands of conch and whelk shells. The large holes in the wide upper part of the shell identified them as relics of the original Calusa inhabitants of the island, who made the holes in order to extract the meat from the shells.
    I returned to the tent for some breakfast, after which I secured the tent and gear and walked off to explore the beach to the north. A young couple had arrived in their motorboat the day before and were camped in the trees about 50 yards north of my site, their boat now sitting high and dry in the mud a dozen yards out. I greeted them as I passed their tent, and they asked me if I'd had any trouble from the raccoons the night before. I related my adventure with the spaghetti thief, and they told of having the back window of their tent ripped out by raccoons who were after a loaf of bread that had been left sitting out in the tent. They had been able to repair the rip with fishing line. We commiserated for a while, and then I resumed my walk. The wind began to pick up as I rounded the sandy point at the north end of the Key, where I turned and headed back south along the western beach. It was about 9 AM and the tide was at dead low, the water a blue-green smudge in the far distance. I had planned on spending the day in the canoe, fishing and exploring the neighboring keys and coves, but the strong wind and low tide were going to make that difficult, if not impossible. I chose instead to spend the rest of the morning beachcombing the western shores of the Key.
    I found a long straight piece of dead mangrove to use as a walking stick and started south along the beach. The southwestern shore of the island was wild and the tangled vegetation often grew down to the waterline, forcing me to climb over the gnarled mangroves that jutted out over the water. Even so, the evidence of humanity was ever present in the flotsam that the western wind deposited in the mangrove roots - beer cans, styrofoam, and other trash. But the most curious signs of civilization were the sandcastles. I counted 5 of these during my walk. All were in varying stages of decomposition caused by rain and wind, but not one showed any disturbance by human hands. Where a sandcastle on a tourist beach wouldn't last an hour before being obliterated by spiteful feet after the builder had gone, some of these sandcastles had survived for many days before the elements began rubbing them back into the sand. There were other, more purposeful signposts left by passing trekkers. I passed names and dates scratched in huge letters in the sand, and once saw the word "SOLO" spelled out with shells, the letters alternating between clams and conchs.
    Pavilion Key has a long history of human habitation, going back to the ancient Calusa, whose legacy can still be seen in the scattered remains of the millions of shells that they used for their food and tools, and in many cases, the very foundations of their villages. The legends say that Pavilion Key got it's name from a Spanish buccaneer, who had captured the daughter of a nobleman and brought her to the island, where he ravished her before poisoning her to death. In the end the pirate took pity on her and built a thatched shelter to shade her from the tropical sun as she lay dying on the beach, hence the "pavilion" of Pavilion Key. More recently, the island was a base for Capt. Bill Collier's clam dredge which supplied the canneries to the north at Marco Island up until the late 1930s when the clam beds were devastated by disease, ending the clamming operations. The island has been mostly deserted since then, and now serves as the largest wilderness campsite in the Everglades National Park.
    The sparse beach eventually ran out against the impenetrable mangroves near the south end of the key, and I turned back to camp. The tide was now on the rise, and by the time I made it back to the tent it was nearly 1 PM and the tide was high enough to launch the canoe. The wind had increased to a steady 15 knots, but the eastern shore was sheltered enough to consider a run to the southeastern end of the island. I ate a quick lunch, packed my fishing gear and set out. Staying close to the mangroves and out of the wind, I paddled south and managed to catch and release a couple of smallish redfish before reaching the southern end of the Key. Unfortunately, in my desire to see as much of the island as possible, I had allowed myself to stray out near the windy open waters where the key made a sharp turn to the east, and I had to struggle against the wind on the return trip. After fighting my way back for nearly half an hour, I finally reached the lee of the mangrove shoreline and stopped to rest my aching arms. Despite the chill wind, I had worked up a sweat and was grateful for the chance to rest as I paddled back to the campsite.
    I spent the remainder of the day relaxing and soaking up the sun, sheltered by the trees from the western wind. Later, I made some dinner and ate as the sun dropped behind the line of trees to the west. This was my last night at Pavilion so I packed in preparation for departure, pondering the problem of getting my canoe and gear across the flats in the morning. It was clear that I would have to portage to the water line, given the extreme low tides caused by the new moon, and I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of carrying the canoe and all of my gear across 200 yards of mud and sand. I could always leave a few hours before dawn to avoid the low tide, but I wasn't keen on navigating the shallows between Pavilion Key and the mainland on a windy moonless night, so a portage seemed to be my only safe option. After securing my food and water, I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sound of the west wind blowing through the trees.

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    The long haul out of Pavilion Key

    Day 3 - The Watson Place
    Friday, 01-26-01 - I woke on Friday morning to the now-familiar view of exposed bottom on both sides of the island. The wind had died to a light, northerly breeze. After eating, I cleaned up, struck the tent, and packed the rest of my gear. I was hoping to leave directly from the eastern side of the island where I was camped, so I used my walking stick as a probe and began stepping gingerly across the mud, testing the bottom in front of me with the stick. I didn't get very far before I began to sink past my ankles, and finally had to give it up. The mud was too soft to bear my unencumbered weight, let alone the gear I would have to carry. I knew from my walk yesterday morning that the western flats were hard bottom, so I turned the canoe on it's side and slid it through the gap in the trees, then lifted it overhead and carried it nearly 200 yards down to the distant waterline, and after several trips I finally had the canoe packed and ready to go. I had hoped to leave the island by 9:00 AM, but the portage had cost me over an hour and it was nearly 10:30 before I was able to launch the canoe. The wind had picked up and was now blowing from the northeast, but was not yet strong enough to become a problem.
    After pushing off, I rounded the north end of the island and set a course between the northernmost pair of four smaller islands that sit just to the east of Pavilion Key. The tide was still very low and I had to navigate carefully, standing in the canoe in order to see and avoid the mud and oyster bars in the narrow channel between the two keys. By the time I reached Duck Rock Cove the wind had increased to over 10 knots and shifted to the east. Between Duck Rock Cove and the Huston River entrance lay the Huston Coves, a pair of small bays separated by points of land that jutted out into the Gulf. My passage between these points was across open water and the wind became a trial at these times, and I had to dig in hard with the paddle to maintain a steady course and keep from being blown out into the Gulf.
    I was so intent on reaching the Chatham River and escape the wind that I neglected to follow ny progress on my chart, and wound up paddling a bit farther than I should have. I passed what I thought was Gun Rock Point at about 1 PM, and began to look for the Chatham River entrance. When I entered what I believed was the river entrance, it resembled nothing on my chart, and I began to worry. Paddling further, I soon realized that what I mistook for the Chatham River entrance was actually the pass between Mormon Key and the peninsula south of the river delta. I had overshot the Chatham River by nearly a mile and was in the pass east of Mormon Key. Having regained my bearings I turned and headed back north, now sheltered by the mangroves on the east and able to relax a bit.
    As I rounded the peninsula opposite Mormon key and paddled toward the river entrance, it was easy to see why I had missed it the first time. The narrow mouth of the Chatham River was invisible in the confusion of small, green islands that formed the river delta, but I was able to follow the progress of a passing motor boat and mark the point where it entered the river. I aimed for that point, and a strong tidal current soon drew me into the narrow mouth of the river, and I had no more trouble finding my way as the river widened and the current swept me along, the wind falling to a fitful breeze. The sun was high overhead in a deep blue sky. A pod of several dolphins passed by on my left on their way upstream and blew as they surfaced, the sudden puff of their exhalations loud in the still of the afternoon. A flock of ibis passed low overhead, the rush of their wings a momentary susurrus in the quiet air. It was good to finally relax and enjoy the quiet serenity as I paddled upriver, drawn along by the strong rising tide.
    It was nearly 3 PM when I rounded the bend in the river that finally brought the Watson Place campsite into view. There was a small motorboat tied up to the dock, but the owners were just leaving, and I sat offshore for a moment to allow them to pull away from the dock and head upriver. Fighting the strong current, I angled into the small opening at the open end of the dock and beached the canoe on the shell bank.
    The Watson Place campsite consists of an open field walled in by heavy brush. There are several picnic tables on the site, as well as an old concrete cistern and the remains of rusting farm machinery and a syrup kettle, left behind after the violent demise of the site's most notorious tenant and namesake, Edgar J. Watson. Much has been written and said concerning the enigmatic pioneer and plantation owner, some of it factual, but much of it rumor and speculation. It's believed by many that, before he came to the Ten Thousand Islands in the late 19th century, Watson had been charged with the murder of Belle Starr, the "Outlaw Queen", but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. After his arrival in Chokoloskee, he bought the claim to the old Calusa mound on the Chatham River from the widow of the previous owner, a fugitive from a murder charge who had been ambushed and killed by lawmen from Key West. Watson built a sturdy two-story house on the claim and proceeded to convert his 40 acres into a productive vegetable farm and sugar cane plantation. It's said that some of the cane now grown on the giant sugar plantations south of Okeechobee originally came from the stock grown by Watson. He became a successful farmer and entrepreneur, and he earned the nickname "Emperor" Watson because of his grand schemes to develop the southwest Florida coast between Everglade and Cape Sable. He also earned the reputation of dealing harshly, some say violently, with anyone he perceived as standing in his way. Many believed that he was responsible for the murder of two squatters who refused to vacate Lostman's Key, which Watson claimed as his own. Other rumors began to circulate, stories of "Watson's payday", in which his hapless farmhands mysteriously disappeared when they came to collect their meager pay at the end of the harvest season. Things came to a head with the deaths of three of his farmhands, whose weighted and gutted bodies were found nearby in the Chatham River shortly after the great hurricane of 1910. Although the murders were believed to have been committed by his foreman, Leslie Cox, Watson was held responsible for the deaths. In a bid for clemency, he promised the angry and frightened Chokoloskee townsfolk that he would deliver the murderer's head or die in the attempt. He instead returned with nothing to show but Cox's hat with a bullet hole in it, claiming to have shot and killed the murderer. This paltry bit of evidence was not accepted by the Chokoloskee townsfolk, and the resulting confrontation ended in Watson's shooting death at the hands of a vigilante group on the beach near Smallwood's Store on October 24, 1910. No one was ever charged in the Watson shooting. More than 90 years later, the legend of "Bloody" Ed Watson still looms large over the Ten Thousand Islands.
    Today, the clearing was empty, the old house long gone, destroyed by the Park Service after it was damaged by Hurricane Donna in 1960, and the once-productive fields are now overgrown with Brazilian pepper and other scrub. A small family of raccoons were drinking from the small cistern, which was apparently the only nearby source of fresh water, and therefore very popular with the local wildlife. After setting up and securing the tent, I investigated the cistern more closely and was surprised to see a small alligator, alive and apparently healthy as he lay partly sumberged in the dark, green water.
    After eating some dinner, I tried exploring one of the narrow trails that led from the clearing, hoping to find more evidence of the Watson homestead, but the mosquitos were thick in the dense brush and I was forced to retreat. The breeze was still cool out on the river, so I grabbed my fishing poles and sat on the dock to fish and watch the river roll by. After a while it became clear that there was nothing biting except the mosquitos, so I reeled in my line and sat back to watch the sun sink toward the western shoreline. Except for the occasional squawk of a heron, the late afternoon was absolutely quiet, and I was startled out of my reverie as a pod of bottlenose dolphins broke the surface just offshore. I sat and watched for nearly an hour in the growing dusk as several groups of dolphins traveled upriver against the falling tide, some coming to within a few feet of the dock. The sound of their blowing was clearly audible in the silence long after they had passed around the bend to the east. By now the sun had set, and it was nearly dark as I walked back to the tent with the swamp angels singing around my ears. After swatting the few that followed me inside, I lay back and read for a while by flashlight, listening to the rustle of raccoons and possums in the brush. I fell asleep wondering if Ed Watson had buried any of his supposed victims on the property. If so, I sincerely hoped that they were resting well.

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    Dolphins On Chatham River

    Day 4 - Sunday Bay
    Saturday morning, 01-27-01 - The morning dawned clear and cool, and the grass was wet with dew as I stepped out into the bright morning light. I made coffee and cooked a hot breakfast as the sun edged above the treeline to the east. While eating, I watched a red tailed hawk launch itself from a tree branch at the edge of the clearing, where it swooped low and landed on the concrete rim of the cistern, scattering a family of raccoons that had come for their morning drink. After eating I took my bucket down to the water's edge to collect dishwater, and was startled by a dolphin that broke the surface just a few feet out from where I was crouching. He blew as he rose, and I could feel the cool mist of the exhalation settle on my face and arms. He continued downriver with the falling tide, and I returned to the tent to finish cleaning up from breakfast. I finished packing my gear into the canoe and pushed off from the river bank at about 10 AM. The breeze had died completely, and it was turning into a warm, still morning as I made my way upstream against the falling tide.
    I soon reached the fork in the river just upstream from the Watson Place and met a lone bottlenose dolphin that was swimming down from the eastern channel. I stopped to allow him to cross to the north fork ahead of me, where I turned to follow, and I was able to use him as a guide in finding the deeper channels and avoid running aground on the many sandbars at the fork of the river. The dolphin was staying close to the shoreline on the western bank, hunting his morning meal, when the stillness was suddenly broken as he rose and slammed the surface with his tail, sending a geyser of brackish water high into the air. For a few moments the water thrashed and churned as he hunted down his breakfast, and then all was quiet again. He crossed the river ahead of the canoe to the eastern shore, where he found another school of fish, and the explosions of water began anew. This scene was repeated several times as we followed the river upstream, the dolphin keeping just ahead of me on either side while he located schools of fish. When he found one, he would stop to hunt, and then catch up again after he was done, crossing to the opposite bank ahead of the canoe each time.
    I was glad for the company, believing that the two of us just happened to pick the same route at the same time, and that there was no deliberate purpose on the dolphin's part in staying with the canoe. However, as we reached the river mouth at Huston Bay, something happened that convinced me otherwise. As the river opened into the bay, the dolphin finished a hunt near the left bank and began to swim across the river. But instead of passing far ahead as he always done, he drew level with me and passed just behind the boat, coming around close to the starboard side. He slowed and turned on his side, regarding me with a sparkling eye as he passed within a paddle's length, and I was transfixed by that deep black orb as it gazed at me in explicit recognition. He then righted himself and pulled away from the canoe, the wake made by the sleek gray body gently rocking the canoe as he passed and headed southeast into Huston bay. I'm no stranger to dolphins, and encounter them frequently on my trips around Tampa Bay and other areas along the Gulf coast, but they're usually shy and stay far from the boat. This was my first experience with a friendly dolphin, one who actually initiated the contact instead of avoiding it, and I briefly regretted not getting a photo. But that would have broken the eye contact, and I wouldn't trade the memory of that experience for a thousand photos.
    It was dead calm as I left the river and entered Huston Bay, a welcome contrast to the windy conditions of the past three days. The sun was high and warm in a cloudless sky, and the canoe glided effortlessly across the glassy water at the north end of Huston Bay and into the pass that leads to Oyster Bay. I stopped here for a short lunch break. A few skiffs could be seen fishing the margins of Oyster Bay, the first boats I had seen since I'd entered the Chatham River the day before, and a reminder that it was the weekend. As I approached the pass leading to Sunday Bay I encountered several canoes, all in the same party and all heading south on a 9-day run to Flamingo.
    I soon reached the sheltered cove of Sunday Bay Chickee early in the afternoon to find that another camping party had arrived before me. It was close to high tide and I had no trouble crossing the shallow mud flat that can make the Chickee nearly inaccessible at low tide. I had learned (the hard way) from the December trip that the only way to approach Sunday Bay Chickee during low tide is roundabout from the east, where a shallow channel runs in front of the eastern platform, but today on the rising tide I was able to cut straight across the cove.
    I slid the canoe in alongside the unoccupied platform and tied it to the supports. After tossing the tent and other gear onto the platform, I climbed up and greeted the other campers. They were an older man and three boys in their teens who, I found later, were on the last leg of an 8-day trip that took them down to Rogers River and back. They had originally planned a trip straight down to Flamingo, but the campsites south of Rogers River were booked solid, and they ended up having to stop at Rogers River Chickee and then loop back north.
    It was still early, and after setting up the tent I decided to head out and do a little fishing. I steered the canoe west until I reached the mouth of Crooked Creek. From there I paddled back east, hugging the mangroves, exploring the small creeks and coves along the northern shore, and I managed to hook a few jack crevalle and a pair of sizable redfish, one just over the size limit of 27 inches. I had been hoping for a fresh fish dinner at some point in the trip, but there wasn't anyplace to land the boat and I wasn't up to dealing with the mess of cleaning the keeper fish in the canoe. Cleaning it back on the chickee wasn't any more appealing, so the lucky red was spared.
    The sun was beginning to drop behind the mangroves by the time I returned to the chickee, and I cooked some dinner while enjoying the light breeze that had sprung up late in the afternoon. The weather was warm enough to bring out the mosquitos, but the breeze helped to keep them at bay, and it was nice to sit and relax and chat with the neighbors while the sky darkened and the stars grew thick in the clear evening sky. Tonight was my last night out and I wanted to get an early start in the morning, so I retired early to the tent and read for while before drifting off to sleep.

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    Chokoloskee from Rabbit Key Pass

    Day 5 - Chokoloskee
    Sunday, 01-28-01 - The dawn was just beginning to color the eastern sky when I awoke, and I stepped out into the gray morning light to see that the tide had turned and had begun to ebb. My original plan was to take the Hurddles Creek route to the Turner River, and then to Chokoloskee Bay, but I wasn't familiar with the Cross Bays and Mud Bay, and had heard that they could be difficult on a dead low tide, so I decided instead to just head straight down the Lopez River and make an early landing at Chokoloskee. It would be a long drive home and I wouldn't mind getting an early start.
    After eating a quick breakfast, I struck the tent and packed my gear and stowed it in the canoe. The sun had risen but it was still early and my chickee neighbors were just beginning to stir. The old man emerged from his tent just as I was leaving and we said our good-byes as I pulled away from the chickee, my wake leaving a slight ripple on the glassy surface as I left the cove. There was no wind as I paddled across Sunday Bay and eventually reached the serpentine channel of Crooked Creek. It was Sunday and the weekend boaters were out, so care was needed in negotiating the blind curves of the creek. A pair of motorboats sped by, seemingly oblivious of the presence of smaller craft, and I had to stop and turn my canoe into their wake to avoid being swamped. Further down the creek I passed several canoes and kayaks just out from Everglades City and Chokoloskee, some heavily loaded for an extended trip, others out for just a day trip, all of them annoyed by the carelessness of the larger boats.
    The narrow pass of Crooked Creek soon merged with the wide open channel of Lopez River and I let the current of the falling tide carry me along, using the paddle only to steer, trying to make the trip last. The green walls of the mangrove forest slid by on either side in the calm morning, and I stopped at the Lopez River campsite at about 9 AM for a short break. The site was packed to capacity with a group of kayakers out to make the run to Flamingo, and the colorful boats lining the bank were a bright contrast to the evergreen of the surrounding forest. The boat traffic continued to pick up as I paddled down the river toward Chokoloskee Bay, and I was greeted by a profusion of boats and skiffs in the small bay just south of Rabbit Key Pass at the river mouth. The tide had fallen considerably and a couple of the boats were stuck on the sandbars that guarded the entrance to the Pass, their owners pushing mightily with the skiff pole, or standing in the cold water as they tried to drag their grounded craft off the bar.
    I rounded the point at the river mouth and was cheered by the welcome sight of Chokoloskee Island spanning the horizon to the northwest. I dug in with my paddle and began the crossing of Chokoloskee Bay as a breeze began to blow from the northeast, growing stronger the closer I got to the island. An hour later, after a tussle with the wind, I rounded the seawall at the northeast point of the island and finally beached the canoe at the muddy landing where I had first put in five long days earlier. It was 11 AM. I packed my gear and loaded the canoe on top of my truck, and headed north for the long drive home.

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