FL - Everglades - 2003/02/02 - 13 miles



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Turner River is one of many rivers that transition the slow moving, shallow river of grass in the Everglades to the mangrove islands lying along the southwest coast of southern Florida Gulf of Mexico. This narrow twisting stream of clear water moves beneath the wiry entwined limbs of low overhead red mangroves forming a tunnel of green waxy leaves arching completely across the waterway. Between the intermittent tunnels, the sawgrass of the fresh water grass prairie that stretches southward from the shore of Lake Okeechobee slowly loses its battle to the salt tolerant mangroves. Myriads of large birds hunt along the shores in the tall sawgrass and fly overhead in large flocks. This river makes a wonderful day trip and an great introduction to the ecology of the Everglades itself.




It was a active Sunday morning as I left the action of the Everglades Fish Festival for the nearly deserted highway headed north out of Everglades City to U.S. 41 and turned east onto the two lane. About 5 miles from the intersection, I pulled over onto a wide shoulder just past a bridge over the Turner river. The site was obvious thanks to the two cars with boat racks on them. However, had they not been there, it would have been easy to miss the unassuming pull over and small bridge spanning the 30 foot wide river.

The local guides at Ivey House recommends parking at the picnic area approximately 1/4 mile farther east and hiking back to the launch site. However, on both days I passed by this launch site, there were cars parked there. I do not imagine that leaving the cars there overnight would be a good idea. But since I had a driver to take my car back to the other end, it was not an issue for me.


Map of Turner River Canoe Trail


The day started out cool with the temperature at about 60 degrees F at 8:30 AM. There were no clouds and the wind was 5 to 10 knots from the southeast. I launched from the dirt and stone slope at the side of the bridge. As I adjusted my spray skirt, a 5 foot alligator slid from the opposite bank and wave his tail as he slipped under the aquatic grasses on the bottom of the river.




The river entered its first mangrove tunnel within a half mile of the start if the trip. The red mangrove branches formed a tight arch over the river. The support roots of the mangroves reached into the 3 foot deep water, providing insufficient room for my paddle to clear either side or overhead. I quickly decided to break my two piece paddle down and use only 1 of the blades. The other I stored under the bungies on my front deck.




Epiphytes and orchids were heavily festooned on all the branches. The shadows were very heavy, making the title of tunnel more than appropriate. Large birds, egrets, wood ibis and buzzards, sat on the limbs over top the tunnel and squawked in frightened retreat as I glided underneath them.




As the mangrove tunnel twisted and turned and I floated along in the moderate current, I invented new strokes with names to describe the unusual paddling required in the close quarters in the tunnel. My favorite was the "half paddle hanging pry with forward in-water recovery". It was a challenge to maneuver the kayak without touching the mangrove roots covered with small oysters waiting to sign the smooth sides of my fiberglass kayak with their sharp edges and leave an indelible memory of this place on the smooth sides of my boat.




There are several mangrove tunnels along the Turner River. In between are many small ponds in the sawgrass which were filled with flight after flight of the large wading birds including ibis, egrets, great blue herons and also pelicans. I saw more total numbers of birds and bigger flocks of them on this trip than at any other place or time on my Florida trip. In among the sawgrass were beautiful and impossibly large white orchids. It was difficult to get close enough to them in the kayak to get a really good picture.

The river was filled with dead or dying brim or bluegill. I never found out why they were dying. Perhaps it was because of the cold snap of the prior week. In any case there were hundreds and hundreds of them both on the bottom of the river and floating on the surface as the decayed. They were beginning to stink a little, although they had not really begun to smell yet. The vultures and buzzards were doing the best they could to clean up the mess. In the ponds, all the dead fish had been eaten except those too deep for the buzzards to reach. In the tunnels there were many fish caught in eddies and between the roots of the mangroves. The large buzzards had difficulty getting down in between the tightly packed mangrove limbs to get at the corpses. However, they did try and when I came upon one unexpectedly, there was much crashing and thrashing as it flapped and beat its heavy wings in a frenetic desperation to gain the safety of the open sky.

As I progress through the sawgrass and ponds interspersed with red mangrove tunnels, the river gradually became wider and shallower. I saw three manatees slowly working their way along the river bottom. One raised its huge broad blunt tail flipper as it slid under the water. Their grey bulk quickly disappeared in the turbid water, completely hiding their massive bodies with only a few inches of water. Their movements could be tracked by the surface disturbances as they slowly and placidly groomed the bottom of the muddy river for the veggie meals.


Black mangrove pneumataphores in tunnel
Black mangrove pneumataphores


As I turned into Left Hand Turner Creek, the water became so shallow in Turner Lake that I ran aground and had to backtrack several 100 yards in order to reach enough water to continue. At the end of this shallow pond, I entered another mangrove tunnel, only this time the tunnel was made up of large black mangroves. These trees were 50 feet high and the tunnel ceiling was some 15 feet overhead. The banks were covered by the pneumataphores of these larger trees spanning the 10 to 15 foot wide river channel. I stopped long enough to take a picture, whereupon the cloud of mosquitos that must have been following me caught up to me and hurried the composition of my photograph. I quickly put the camera away and resumed paddling in order to leave the pesky insects behind.

I continued down the river with growing signs of civilization until I was in a canal with houses lining the western bank. I paddled out into the area behind the Chokoloskee causeway. There are two ways back to the Everglades launch ramp from this point. Either you can turn east and round Chokoloskee Island or go directly through the bridge and under the causeway. At low tide the passage around the island is impassable because there is not even enough water to float a kayak. The current through the bridge can be formidable at times other than slack. With the tide having been flooding for about 4 hours there was enough water to go around the island, but i decided to paddle through the bridge against the 4 knot current. Fortunately the distance is not very great and I was soon through the worst of it. i continued on to the Everglades National Park Visitor Center ramp, ending a nice 6 hour 13 mile trip at 2:30 PM. I was an hour early for my pickup, so I relaxed on the grass and awaited my pickup.

USGS Water Gauge

More on Everglades Ecosystems...

About Mangroves......

More about the Everglades......


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