Everglades Diary

7 Day Solo Trip - Lostman's River Loop

Along the shortcut to Rabbit Key Pass

This was the final trip of the season and would be a 6 night, 7 day excursion, heading down the Gulf coast to Lostman's River. From here I would turn back east up Lostman's and join the Wilderness Waterway south of Onion Key, and follow the trail back up the "inside" to Chokoloskee. Two days of the trek would consist of short runs between Lostman's Five, Darwin's Place and the Watson Place. This would allow me to spend some time exploring Lostman's Five Creek, Gopher Key, and Sweetwater Creek east of the chickee.
Here is how the trip was planned:
  • Day 1 - Chokoloskee to Pavilion Key: 10 miles - This was a rerun of my first trip south along the Gulf Coast, this time only staying for one night at Pavilion Key.
  • Day 2 - Pavilion Key to Hog Key: 18 miles - The nominal distance between these two points is about 13 miles. I opted for a bit of sight-seeing along the way which added another 5 miles to the trip.
  • Day 3 - Hog Key to Lostman's Five Bay: 11 miles - Some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip was viewed on this leg of the journey. Unfortunately, the day ended rather unpleasantly as I was doomed to spend the night at Lostman's Five with the Campers From Hell.
  • Day 4 - Lostman's Five Bay to Darwin's Place: 6.5 miles - The shortest leg of the trip. I intended to take a long side-trip down to Gopher Key and back on my way to Darwin's, but the wind had other plans.
  • Day 5 - Darwin's Place to the Watson Place: 15 - A sight-seeing detour along Sweetwater Creek made this the second longest leg of the trip.
  • Day 6 - The Watson Place to Sunday Bay: 10 miles - I made this run to Sunday Bay via House Hammock Bay, rather than following the marked trail along Huston and Oyster Bays.
  • Day 7 - Sunday Bay to Chokoloskee: 7 miles - A short run along Hurddles Creek and down the Turner River, ending at Chokoloskee with a "storybook" finish.

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    The western point of Coral Key

    Day 1 - Chokoloskee to Pavilion Key
    Sunday, 03-25-01 - Once again, I choose to arrive a day early and spend the night at the Barron River Resort in Everglades City. This also allowed me to pull my permit the day before and increase the likelihood of getting the campsites that I had planned on, and to arrange for parking in advance as well. At about 7:30 AM on Sunday morning I put in at the canoe landing near the Outdoor Resort at Chokoloskee and headed south toward my first night's destination, Pavilion Key. I took the same route to Rabbit Key Pass that I travelled in January, but today was Sunday, and the boat traffic was much heavier compared to my last trip, which started on a Wednesday. By the time I emerged into Rabbit Key Pass, a number of motorboats had already passed me by in the narrow channel, and I was glad to put some open water between me and the cavalcade of noisy, smelly outboards.
    I continued to follow the same course to Pavilion, passing to the east of Lumber Key, but this time stopping at the "shell mound" that I had passed in January, when my plans to explore the key were thwarted by strong winds. As it turned out, the high ground on the small key was not a shell mound after all, but was instead an outcropping of ancient coral rock, piled high on the western side by innumerable storms. The little island was not named on my charts, so I dubbed it Coral Key. I rested here for a bit, then continued on my way. The wind was light but steady out of the west, and I beached the canoe at the northern tip of Pavilion Key at noon.
    The weather was much warmer than it was in January, and I chose to camp in an open spot on the northwest end of the Key away from the trees, where the westerly breeze would help to keep the mosquitos down. This would also put me much closer to the water at low tide and avoid the grueling 200-yard portage across the flats that I had to endure in January. After setting up camp I strolled for awhile along the western beach, reaquainting myself with the island, then returned to my campsite to eat dinner as the sun dropped into a hazy western sky. After eating, I grabbed my camera in anticipation of another gorgeous Pavilion Key Sunset and headed down the beach. This evening was no different, as sun and sky and water combined to create yet another spectacular display of changing light, and I shot the remainder of the roll in my camera before returning to my tent for the night.

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    Looking south from New Turkey Key

    Day 2 - Pavilion Key to Hog Key
    Monday, 01-26-01 - I awoke just before dawn to the sound of raccoons rummaging through the canoe, looking for food. I had learned my lesson on the last trip to Pavilion, and my food and water were secure from the greedy little critters. After eating and cleaning up, I struck the tent and packed my gear, and dragged the canoe down to the water's edge. I had a long way to travel today and wanted to get an early start, so I pushed off from the Pavilion shore at about 7:30 AM and headed east toward Duck Rock Cove, still following the course taken on the January trip.
    I soon passed Duck Rock, once a thriving seabird rookery that was destroyed in 1960 by Hurricane Donna, but was now just a sandbar with a few scrubby mangroves populated by a motley assortment of cormorants and pelicans. I passed the massive oyster bar at the south end of Duck Rock cove and followed the shoreline southeast, cutting across the Huston Coves from point to point until I reached Gun Rock, where I turned to the north at the Huston River entrance. I wanted to sightsee for a while, and decided to follow the Huston River for about a mile to where a narrow pass connected the Huston with the Chatham River. Fighting a stiff outgoing tidal current, I headed up the Huston, passing Storter Bay on the right. I worked my way up the Huston past a small group of mangrove islets until I found a large, sheltered lagoon that led to the pass which connected the Huston and Chatham Rivers. I stopped to rest and fish for a while, then continued on until I entered the Chatham north of the river delta, about three-quarters-of-a-mile from the river entrance.
    It was late morning as I left the Chatham River and continued toward Mormon Key, where I turned and paddled along the south side of the key to avoid the freshening westerly breeze. Continuing on to the south, I passed Crab Key Bight, winding my way south between New Turkey and Snake keys, finally approaching the sandy tip of North Plover Key where I stopped to take a quick dip in the cool water and eat a small lunch in the warm sun. The west wind was brisk and steady over my right shoulder when I resumed my journey, and in the deeper water the swells were approaching 3 feet in height as I worked my way south.
    By early afternoon I passed Alligator Point and headed into the shelter of Tom's Bight, just north of Wood Key. I wended my way between the group of small islands that occupied the Bight, stopping to rest for a few moments before crossing the open waters of Wood Cove, and landed at Hog Key at about 3:30 PM The narrow beach here slopes steeply up for several feet, until it levels off into a long grassy shelf where I pitched the tent under a giant tamarind tree. After setting up camp, I took off down the beach to explore my home for the night, and could see clear signs of the key's namesakes. Long, shallow troughs had been rooted and gouged in the sand, and the bracken was trampled and torn in several spots by the feral hogs that inhabited this lonely point of land. Before the Park was established, a hog farmer had raised his stock here, and their wild descendants still roamed the area. As I reached the south end of the beach the sky began to cloud over and the wind picked up, threatening rain, so I made my way back to the tent and ate dinner as the sun lowered behind the clouds into the west. The setting sun finally managed to break through a few holes in the cloud cover, sending bright shafts of red-golden light to shine on the wall of trees behind me before finally sinking below the distant horizon. It was too windy to build a fire, and I sat for a long while in the moonless dark, listening to the soft crash of the surf and watching the distant lights of a boat as it moved slowly north on the horizon.

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    Lostman's River entrance, at First Bay

    Day 3 - Hog Key to Lostman's Five Bay
    Tuesday, 03-27-01 - It was still very early when I was awakened by snuffling and grunting in the dark outside. Still groggy with sleep, I groped for the flashlight and shone the light out across the dark beach, where I could see a large hog rooting in the sand just a few feet from the tent. I watched as it moved slowly down the beach until it was beyond the range of my flashlight. I checked my watch - it was about 5:30 AM - and I decided to stay up and get an early start. The tide was expected to hit the low point around 9:30 AM, and I wanted to be headed up into Lostman's River by then.
    The tide was falling fast, so after eating breakfast I quickly finished packing my gear into the canoe. I had to drag the canoe a short distance over the mud to reach the water, and then had to pull it even farther through the shallows to get to water deep enough to paddle without scraping bottom. Heading south ahead of a steady breeze, I soon reached the southern point of Lostman's Key where I stopped for a short break. Sitting in the shade, I remembered that this was the spot where E.J. Watson was alleged to have murdered the Tuckers over a land dispute back in 1900, but today the warm breeze and bright morning sun belied the dark history of this quiet little island, and I soon pushed off and entered the channel leading to First Bay. The outgoing tide was strong and it was with some effort that I negotiated the patchwork of submerged oyster bars that lay just below the surface, and I had to paddle with care to avoid scraping the canoe bottom across the clusters of sharp shells. After about ½ mile of cautious navigation, I finally made it past the oysters and soon reached the entrance to Lostman's River.
    In another hour I reached Second Bay, and stopped for lunch in a sheltered cove at the mouth of Tom's Creek, where a family of bottlenose dolphins were feeding in the shallows, the two juveniles making small, playful leaps around the parent dolphins. I watched for a while, and then continued up the river toward my destination. The tide had finally turned and the current was with me as I passed Onion Key and entered the creek that led to Two Islands Bay. It was about 2:00 PM when I rounded the point into Lostman's Five Bay and spotted the dock at the campsite. When I pulled up to the dock I could see that others had arrived before me. There was a large cabin tent at the site nearest the dock, and both picnic tables were strewn with what appeared to be the entire inventory of a K-Mart outdoors department, but the owners and their boat were nowhere to be seen. I pulled into an opening in the mangroves just to the right of the dock and unloaded my canoe. Lostman's Five is a small site, surrounded and overhung with trees, and I would have been delighted had I not been confronted with the prospect of spending the night here with the "Campers from Hell". I found a small nook in the south corner of the camping area and set up the tent, as far from the other tent as I could manage.
    One of my plans for this trip included exploring some of the creeks and bays along the way, and Lostman's Five Creek was first on my list. After setting up the tent I headed back out to explore. I paddled into the creek entrance and followed it for over an hour until I began to see sawgrass interspersed with the mangroves. Gator holes were evident along the north bank, and I spotted a few alligators sunning themselves on the muddy banks, but they all slipped into the water at my approach. The signs of the freshwater Glades were becoming more evident the farther I travelled up the Creek but it was growing late, and I reluctantly turned around and made my way down the creek to the campsite.
    I was busy preparing dinner when the other campers, three men and two small boys, arrived in a pair of skiffs. Things pretty much went downhill from there, and it was a noisy and annoying several hours as they fired up their gas grill, blasted the clearing with the hideous light of a Coleman lantern, and polluted it with a gas-powered insect fogger (against Park regulations). There wasn't anything I could do but force a smile and retreat to my tent where I had a portable CD player, earphones, and a good book, and I thought back wistfully to the solitude of the previous night on Hog Key as I read myself to sleep.

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    Plate Creek

    Day 4 - Lostman's Five Bay to Darwin's Place
    Wednesday, 03-28-01 - I woke before dawn and pushed off from the Lostman's Five dock just as the sun was rising in the east. I quickly paddled the short distance to the narrow channel that led to Plate Creek Bay, and Lostman's Five was soon left behind. I crossed Plate Creek Bay, making a short detour to check out the chickee there. It lay tight against the mangroves next to a small key and appeared to have been recently refurbished - the rotten posts that supported the platform were now braced with new pilings, and new planking surfaced the walkway to the toilet. I pulled along side of the chickee and found that even at high tide it was uncomfortably high and difficult to access from a canoe, yet, had I known what was in store for me at the Lostman's Five campsite, I would have gladly spent the night here instead. I continued across Plate Creek Bay, and entered the narrow channel of Plate Creek itself, a long, winding corridor barely wide enough for a two small boats to pass, and twice had to duck into the mangroves lining the shore to make way for motor boats coming from behind.
    After leaving Plate Creek I crossed Dad's Bay and soon reached the pass that led to the wide and breezy waters of Alligator Bay. The wind had picked up out of the east and was raising whitecaps as I paddled toward the narrow entrance to Alligator Creek, which is longer but just as narrow as Plate Creek. When I emerged into Cannon Bay, the wind had increased significantly and was blowing hard out of the southeast. I abandoned my plan of exploring Gopher Key and concentrated on making it to the Darwin's Place campsite, hoping to try again for Gopher Creek after I had set up camp.
    Darwin's Place is situated on a shell mound on Possum Key along a sheltered channel, and has a long history of human habitation. First settled by the Calusas, it was home to a number of white settlers, among them plume hunter Jean Chevalier, and the family of Loren "Totch" Brown. Banana planter and hermit Arthur Darwin was the last private resident of the Everglades National Park, and the ruined foundations of his homestead still remain on the site.
    After setting up camp I headed the canoe back out into Cannon Bay in an attempt to make the trip to Gopher Creek, but was immediately blown back into the Possum Key channel by the strong, gusty winds. Resigned, I spent part of the afternoon fishing in the sheltered channel but caught nothing. I finally gave up and headed back to camp and ate dinner, after which I spread a towel out on the small shell beach and relaxed, watching for a while as flocks of white ibis returned to their roosts in the dimming evening light.

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    The dock at the Watson Place campsite

    Day 5 - Darwin's Place to the Watson Place
    Thursday, 03-29-01 - I woke early to a wet dawn. It had rained hard during the night and the canoe held a couple inches of rainwater, which had to be dumped before packing the canoe and setting out for the trip to the Watson Place. The wind was still blowing a steady 15 knots out of the southeast, but now it was at my back, and I was swiftly propelled across Chevalier Bay, surfing the canoe ahead of the 3-foot following swells. In very little time I had entered the upper reaches of the Chatham River and followed the sheltered channel east toward Sweetwater Creek.
    I spent a while exploring the far reaches of Sweetwater Creek past the small bay where the chickee sits. The creek here was often just wide enough to allow the canoe to pass, and I startled several alligators as I threaded my way up the narrow channel. The trees were festooned with bromeliads, and otters ducked into the mangroves at my approach. I finally hit a dead end and turned back, stopping at Sweetwater chickee for a short break.
    I had to fight the wind again as I made my way down the Chatham River, and fianlly brought the canoe up to the Watson Place dock at 2:30 PM. While setting up camp in the large clearing, a small motorboat containing two young boys and their father stopped at the dock to eat lunch. It was a warm day and none of them were wearing shirts. One of the boys found a trail leading into the brush where the old homestead used to stand, and they all trooped shirtless into the trees to explore. About 10 seconds later the trio came crashing back out of the trees, yelling and swatting wildly at the dense cloud of hungry mosquitos that followed them. They spent several minutes doing the mosquito dance until they had chased most of them away, and I would have laughed had not the mosquitos homed in on me instead. I brought out the can of repellant for the first time this trip and sprayed myself down, then offered the can to the father who accepted it gratefully. Eventually the mosquitos dispersed, as did my unfortunate visitors.
    I was alone again, always an eerie feeling at the Watson homestead. I spent some time fishing from the dock and caught several small redfish, which I released, and a trout, which I kept and cleaned for dinner. While eating, I heard behind me what sounded like the barking of an asthmatic dog, and turned to see a very large black vulture sitting nearby on the concrete pier of the the old cane press - an ominous sight given the history of the old homestead. We reagrded each other for a while, until the big bird finally spread his wings and slowly made his way aloft and crossed the river. As I finished my meal, the the sky began to cloud over again with the threat of rain, and I moved the tent to a high spot in the middle of the clearing before retiring to the tent at dusk. The furtive movements of raccoons and possums as they came and went through the surrounding brush added fuel to the fire of my overactive imagination, and I finally drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

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    Liquor Still Bay

    Day 6 - The Watson Place to Sunday Bay
    Friday, 03-30-01 - It was raining lightly when I woke, and since it was a short trip to my next camp at Sunday Bay, I rolled over and went back to sleep for a while. The rain had stopped when I finally emerged from the tent, and, after some breakfast, I struck camp, packed up the tent and my gear, and set out again. I followed the same route up the east fork of the Chatham River that I had taken in January, but this time there was no friendly dolphin to escort me.
    The rain had stopped, but the sky was still overcast, and a light following wind from the south made for pleasant paddling. When I reached the entrance to Huston Bay, I followed the shoreline to the left, passing the mouth of the Huston River and entering House Hammock Bay from the south. I made a short detour to explore Liquor Still Bay, a small, hidden cove that was named for the moonshine still that was operated by Totch Brown's father back in the 1930s. The reamains of the still and cement-encased whiskey barrels were supposedly still hidden in the mangroves, but I didn't take the time to look for them. The beauty of this quiet little bay was reason enough for me to stop by to pay a visit.
    Leaving Liquor Still Bay behind, I continued across House Hammock Bay, stopping to fish for a while at a group of small keys near the south end of the bay where I landed my first and only snook of the trip. I was lacking the necessary stamp on my fishing license that would allow me to keep the fish, so I released my catch and continued onward, reaching the north end of the bay at about 2:00 PM It was a short trip through the pass to Sunday Bay, and from there to the chickee, the last campsite of the trip. The tide was high and I had no trouble crossing the shallow lagoon where the chickee stood sheltered near the mangroves. The sky had mostly cleared and a warm breeze blew across the lagoon from the south as I tied up the canoe and unloaded my gear.
    After setting up the tent, I made an early dinner and kicked back to relax for a while and watched through my binoculars as a family of three ospreys fished for their dinner in the lagoon. A young Canadian couple arrived late in the afternoon in a small, leaky canoe, and set up on the opposite platform. They were only out for one night and would be returning to Everglades City in the morning. We sat and chatted for a while in the early dusk, until the mosquitos grew too bothersome and we retired to our tents, where I fell asleep to the sound of the gentle slap of water against the hull of my canoe.

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    Hurddles Creek

    Day 7 - Sunday Bay to Chokoloskee
    Friday, 03-30-01 - I rose early and stepped out onto the wooden deck of the chickee, now slick with a heavy morning dew. It was warm and humid and the mosquitos were thick. I ate breakfast in the tent and then packed my gear, loading the canoe amid the singing of the swamp angels, and finally pushed off from the chickee at about 8 AM
    The tide was high as I crossed the mouth of the Lopez River and headed north toward Hurddles Creek. The wind had picked up and was still blowing from the south. The sky was thick with low, puffball clouds scudding swiftly across the blue sky, creating an undulating pattern of cloud shadows across the backdrop of green mangroves on the western shores of the Cross Bays. I crossed the shallow expanse of Mud Bay on the falling tide and entered the south end of Hurddles Creek at mid-morning.
    Reluctant to bring the trip to an end, I paddled slowly along the serpentine length of the creek, easily one of the prettiest stretches of water anywhere in the Ten Thousand Islands. The mangroves here are tall along both banks, and the undergrowth is sparse, allowing a view deep into the forest on either side, the slightest sound reverberating among the ranks of tall mangrove trunks. A swallow-tailed kite hovered overhead, drifting with the breeze and shadowing the canoe as I paddled along the winding trail of water. All too soon I reached the northern end of the Creek and entered the Turner River about 1½ miles north of Chokoloskee Bay.
    Hugging the south bank of the river where I was sheltered from the wind, I drifted with the falling tide as slowly as I could manage, not wanting the trip to end. Eventually I reached the small delta of mangrove keys at the mouth of the river, and could see Chokoloskee Island spread out across the bay to the west. I stopped in the lee of a mangrove key and sat for a while in the ever-changing light of late morning as the low clouds sped by overhead.
    Finally, I pushed out into the Bay and began the final crossing. The wind was still brisk, though not as strong as yesterday, and I crossed Chokoloskee Bay in about 15 minutes. As I drew near to the boat ramp by the canoe landing, I spotted a family of three bottlenose dolphins feeding in the deeper water just north of the high seawall that runs alongside the boat ramp at the Outdoor Resort. There were two adults and a juvenile, and they were directly in front of me as I approached the landing. As expected, they began to move away as I approached, but without warning the juvenile dolphin turned and headed back toward my canoe. The two adults chattered for a moment as the young dolphin approached the canoe, coming nearly a paddle's length from the boat. He rolled onto his side and checked me out as I moved very slowly toward the muddy beach, the two adults milling watchfully in the deeper water near the seawall. The dolphin escorted me until the water grew too shallow for him to swim any further, and he returned to the care of the adults as the bottom of the canoe slid onto the mud shore of the island. As I stepped out of the canoe, I turned to see the trio moving back out into the bay. I lingered on the beach for a while, wanting nothing more than to follow them back out into the windy wilds of the Everglades, but reality prevailed and I bowed to the necessity of returning to my other home. I packed my gear and loaded the canoe onto the truck and headed north, following the clouds under the blue March sky.

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