2015, Trip 1, March 11-12, Florida in Winter

Ruskin FL Thursday March 12

One of the alligators along Hillsborough River canoe trip

One of the alligators along Hillsborough River canoe trip

Back to Nature and the “Real Florida” as the Florida state parks like to advertise themselves. Today was a four mile, two-hour canoe trip down the Hillsborough River. Canoe Escape was our outfitter. They are located just outside of the Hillsborough River State Park which also rents canoes. Canoe Escape provides shuttle service from the end of the run; the state park only rents canoes and you paddle down stream and back upstream. The two-hour paddle down stream today was tiring enough, I am not sure we would have made a return paddle upriver.

Setting off on the canoe trip

Setting off on the canoe trip

Anhinga drying wings

Anhinga drying wings

The Hillsborough River runs from northeast of Tampa into downtown Tampa. We paddled a portion that is outside of the city and is preserved for 20 miles and 16,000 acres. The river provides 75% of the drinking water for Tampa. It is brownish in color due to the presence of tannic acid from trees in the swamps and flatwoods. We have observed this in several other rivers in parts of several states in the U.S., West Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, etc. This outfitter had also been recommended by Adventures Unlimited that we used in Milton FL at the beginning of our trip.

Paddling along the Hillsborough River

Paddling along the Hillsborough River

Today’s weather forecast had changed several times in the last 36 hours. Always warm but possibly cloudy, rainy, foggy, etc. We took our chances and drove to the location. The day ended up being a combination of cloudy and sunny although the river is under a canopy of trees for most of the length we traveled. Rain has pushed water over the banks into marshlands so it was periodically challenging to stay within the river itself.

Hillsborough River

Hillsborough River

I had checked out the river and the outfitter on Tuesday after one of the airport runs. Chris, however, was still nervous due to the uncertain weather forecast, the presence of alligators, and the overflowing stream banks. Once it was completed she acknowledged that it was a good adventure and worth the trip.

And yes, we saw alligators, probably 8-10. Chris’ motto is no eye contact and keep paddling so we only have one picture of an alligator. They ranged in size from about three foot to about eight foot-we did not stop and measure them. The most frequent bird was the anhinga. We saw several, usually perched on a log of a tree with wings outstretched. They dive under the water for fish and periodically have to dry out their wings.

Wednesday we hiked at Little Manatee River State Park, just about 30 minutes away. The day was also hot and we experienced our first major bout with insects. Insect repellant was partially effective; we used an “environmentally sensitive” product. I always have my doubts whether the environmentally sensitive products are as effective as the heavy chemical ones.

Little Manatee River State Park

Little Manatee River State Park

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This hike was the least enjoyable of our hikes. The heat and bugs detracted from the hike, the scenery has now become old hat of the “Real Florida”; stream and/or marsh, bald cypress, pines, saw palmetto, grass lands, sabal palm, hardwood forests. In my opinion, there were no “Oh, Wow” vistas. This park does offer numerous equestrian trails and an equestrian campground.

To reward ourselves after the hike, we stopped at an ice cream parlor and had Working Cow ice cream, home-made in St. Petersburg and tasting delicious. Thursday’s reward for the canoe ride was more mundane but just as refreshing, jumping in the pool here at the resort. The pool we used faces one of the channels, not the bay itself. We have seen dolphins back there as well as pelicans, terns, etc.

Ed and Chris 3/12/15 9:30 P.M.

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