boating on the St. John's River

Boating on the St. Johns River, Taking a Break From Saltwater

A few days ago we decided to go boating on the St. John’s River. We always put in near our house and travel the ICW and backwater area to do some fishing. Saltwater is more fun, in my opinion, but fresh water boating gave us a nice break.
We put the boat in at the Ed Stone Park and Boat Ramp in Deland, and it was a really nice ramp. I didn’t take any photos of it – wish I had, but I was busy holding the boat.
There are five or six ramps with nice docks and plenty of parking for the trailers. This makes getting in and out of the water easy enough, and it’s free!
We went out on a Friday, and the weekends are no doubt much busier.
We headed south with no particular destination in mind.
boating on the St. John's River
We’d been boating on the river many years ago when we owned a pontoon boat. I’d caught a big black crappie back then which everyone told me (from looking at the picture) that it was record size. I knew nothing about fish or fishing at the time.

We noticed right away the high water line on the trees along the river. After Hurricane Irma (September 2017) we had heard stories about flooding along the St. John’s River. This river runs North, and that means when there is an abundance of rain in the south, it fills the river and brings all that water to the north.  So besides all the rain we got from the hurricane here, this part of the state also got runoff from the water dumped on south Florida.

The river had been closed to boaters for a long time because water was up in yards and flooding houses and businesses. We could see the water line among the trees and it was high! I would say 3 to 4 feet higher than what we were on. It was obvious to us that lots of places were not situated high enough above that line.

brown water
Brown water of the river

The river is not the place to swim as it is loaded with alligators. People do go in the water anyway and we saw a family fishing from the shore while their little girl splashed around in the water. Yikes.
The water is brown. It’s not dirty, but turns brown from something in the cypress trees that line the water. However this means you can’t see a thing beneath the surface. And there is creepy stuff in this water.

We saw quite a few alligators like the one slowly swimming in front of our boat while we were fishing.

Alligator swimming along the river

We traveled, very slowly due to all the “slow speed” signs, down toward Hontoon Island. The pontoon shuttle was going back and forth from the mainland to the island, which isn’t far at all.

pontoon boat at Hontoon Island
Hontoon Island (on the left) and the pontoon shuttle which goes back and forth to the mainland.

Further down the river we began to see lots of kayaks and activity. We were at Blue Springs state park. Boaters can pick a spot (if there is one) and tie up their boats to trees. It’s free to enter the park from a personal boat, but cars have to pay a fee.

They’ve made some nice upgrades to the Spring over the years, like this wooden boardwalk. I can’t remember exactly how it looked back in the 1980’s but I know it wasn’t this fancy.

Boardwalk at Blue Springs
Boardwalk at Blue Springs

We did some fishing and caught nothing, but we are not experts at fresh water fishing. Actually, we are not experts at all. Our trip was mainly for sight-seeing.  The trees along the banks looked ragged and many were torn up by the roots.

rivers edge
Shaggy trees at the edge of the river

Fish were jumping and birds lined the banks and sat in trees. Tour boats came by every now and then and loads of rented pontoon boats were out on the water. It’s easy to spot a rented boat when it says in big letters “Rent Me” on the side!

We saw a couple other fishing boats, but pontoons are the choice of travel here it seems. And it’s no wonder. Most of the river was marked with “Slow Speed” signs which meant it took us hours to travel down and back the short distance we went. This is because of the local manatee population.

If we go back to this boat ramp we will try going north instead of south. There were no slow speed signs up that way that we could see.

boardwalk at Blue Springs

Blue Springs Crystal Clear Water and Manatee Refuge

Blue Springs is one of Florida’s many state parks. It is known for it’s crystal clear swimming water, in season. It’s also a place where manatees take refuge during winter months (November to March). When the manatees call it home, there is no swimming.

Located in Orange City, I’ve been to this Spring quite a few times, but that was years ago. Now I don’t live so close, but we traveled there recently by boat, down the St. John’s River.

The Park was a busy place with kayak rentals and people lined up to take a river cruise. We came in by boat, which is free.  Just find a spot (the area is not all that big), tie off to a tree and head into the park.

boats docked at blue springs state park
Parked on the water at Blue Springs

After winding our way through tourists and finding the bathroom, we headed up the boardwalk to see if there were manatees around. I was half hoping to be able to swim, but didn’t think it was allowed because of the manatees. I was right. The place was closed to swimmers.
And we didn’t see any manatees. Which was fine. We see them all the time out on the Indian River which is where we usually go boating.

boardwalk at Blue Springs
Viewing area, which is also the swimming area in season.

The Thursby House is still standing. I never know what to expect when I visit places because they change so much. It seems that everywhere has to continually expand and grow in this state to accommodate the influx of people.

Thursby House
Thursby House at Blue Springs State Park

Now I guess you can take a self-guided tour of this historic home, whereas no one got to go inside before. We could look through the windows only.

Blue Springs
Blue Springs clear green water

The water is a beautiful green color and crystal clear. We saw lots of big fish. The water temperature out in the river was around 72 the day we visited, which is about the same as the temperature of the Spring. It’s probably why there were no manatees in the Spring. They were probably on the river.  We didn’t see any on the river, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t around.  The St. John’s River water is dark brown and you can’t see a thing beneath the surface.

I did get some video of manatees in the wild at a boat ramp we visited near the Haulover Canal.

Boardwalk at Blue Springs
Boardwalk at Blue Springs

There is a nice wooden boardwalk all along the water that leads up to the actual Spring where Scuba Diving is allowed for those who are certified.

On the Park grounds you will find rest rooms, picnic areas, places to buy food and souvenirs, and lookout areas to view the water.  Camping spaces and cabins are available.

It’s a busy place in summer for swimming, and winter draws the tourists who want to see manatees. In fact, there is probably no time of year when this park is not full of people.

Check out the Blue Springs website to learn more.


Seashell collection

Gathering Photos to Compare Seashells That Look Similar

It’s tough to write a seashell blog without photos of seashells.  The best way to have those photos is to take them myself.  This was impossible for me to do when I lived in New Hampshire, where I lived when I began this blog.  Well, not totally impossible.  I had a seashell collection from my 27 years of living in Florida, and I would photograph those shells for this blog.

I could not go out and collect or photograph new finds. I never went to the beach in the eleven years I lived in the North. In summer, beaches in the north are crowded and the water is cold. Parking is a pain, and there are really not many cool shells to find anyway.

When I first began really looking at shells and paying attention to the way they were made, I sometimes had a difficult time telling certain types apart. I had a tiny Lightning Whelk for a long time before I knew what it was. When identifying seashells, we need some good photos to go by. That is one thing I try to provide here on my blog, but I still get confused, or forget the names of shells.

I rely on my seashell books a lot.

Now I can go out and collect and photograph shells. The beaches are close by and we go out fishing and boating and find shells in the backwaters as well.

Seashells That Look Similar Can Have Different Names

Often a shell is easy to identify right away. The Arks are so common around here that I see them everywhere.  You can find these along the beach, in the backwater, at the Inlet, and jetty.  They are heavy-duty shells, which manage to survive rough wave action.

Ark shells

When I collect ark shells I may think they are all the same, but in reality arks come with a variety of names, and only tiny differences separate them.   I need to try and figure out which ones I have.  They also look like cockle shells.

This is true for other shells as well. The scallops, tulips, slipper snails and certain clams come to mind. Each variety has a sub-variety, so I need to be able to tell them apart. In some cases, certain shells may be more rare than others.

You can be general and say, “I found a scallop shell.”, or be specific and say, “I found a Lion’s paw!”

Some Shells Are Easy to Identify

And then there are some shells that are not confusing at all. They have their own specific shape and / or coloring and I will know right away what it is.

The Jacknkife clam comes to mind and the Stout tagelus. Both are long shells. The Jackknife is long, like a big fingernail. That’s what my kids and I used to call them. The Tagelus is also long, but wider.

On the West coast of Florida, the spotted Junonia certainly stands out.

I found this Turkey Wing shell on the west coast. With it’s brown stripes and odd shape, is another type of shell that is easy to identify.

Turkey wing shells
Turkey Wing, my photo

But more on that later. For now I want to get started writing pages to help identify shells that look the same but are really not. I’m doing this to help myself as much as anyone.

I’ve been collecting lots of my own photos to do this, so lets get started! 


Red boat Haulover Canal

Photos From Haulover Canal And Mosquito Lagoon Area

Recently our travels took us over to Mosquito Lagoon to watch the Falcon Heavy rocket launch. Because liftoff was delayed over and over, until the window for launch was almost up (at 4:00PM), we had some time to waste.

We ended up on the dirt road that winds along the Haulover Canal and I took these photos of big boats passing through.  The canal is the only way to get from east to west and is part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).  It’s the waterway that connects Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River.  Any boats traveling the ICW along the eastern side of Florida will have to pass through this canal – if they are going this far.

Red boat Haulover Canal
A little dirt road will take you down along the canal embankment, on the opposite side of the boat ramp. All along the roadway are notches in the tree line where people sit and fish.  This is where we parked and watched these big boats go by.   I really liked the looks of this red one, and then a few tall sail boats went by.  They had to open the bridge for that really tall one to pass under.
Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 8.10.47 AM
Fishing here was difficult because there were rocks everywhere. They must have been coquina like that big white one in my photo, because there really are no rocks in Florida. I got my line caught immediately, which was enough to make me quit! I sat and enjoyed the view instead.
Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 8.10.55 AM

Before the Haulover Canal bridge, heading south toward Cape Canaveral, there is a Manatee Observation area. This is part of the Merritt Island Preserve. On the opposite side of the road, on the East side of the canal, is the boat launch area. For some reason the long dock at the boat launch is still taped off and can’t be used. It’s been that way for a while now. I think the damage was from Hurricane Irma, back in September.

The spot we decided to pick as a viewing site also had a boat ramp. It seemed like a nice one, and we plan to try in out some weekday when there should be no traffic.
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My photo of the white pelican below is not very good, but he (or she) stood out in the water with other brown pelicans. The other white birds are seagulls.  I happened to spot it as we were leaving after the rocket launch.  Apparently they visit Florida for a short time in the winter months.  Read more about white pelicans at the Authentic Florida site.
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rocket launch

Spent the Day Waiting For the Falcon Heavy Rocket to Launch

Yesterday I mentioned the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket (well, 3 rockets together) going up from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  We live fairly close and could have seen it from our house, but we wanted to find a spot on the water (Mosquito Lagoon) where we could also see the space center launch pad.   That is part of the fun… seeing the plume of smoke when liftoff occurs.

We found a great spot, but then heard that the launch was being delayed until 2:15.  We had no cell service so had a hard time getting information.

Because we ended up having a longer wait, we decided to go for a ride and the radio station in the truck gave updates on the launch.  While we waited we headed over to the Haulover Canal area and sat in the shade watching the boats go by.

Eventually we heard that 3:45 was the time for launch. Four o’clock was the latest it would go so we had our doubts, but the radio announcers said there was a 90% chance it WOULD lift off.
Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 8.09.16 AM

We headed back to our original spot, where the dirt road was lined with vehicles.  Further down is dirt road that curves out along the water where we had clear view of the Space Center and launch pad. Binoculars helped, since we were about ten miles away on the coastline of the Mosquito Lagoon.
Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 8.13.17 AM
The launch was easy to see from our vantage point, but when the two rockets came back to land they were behind the trees (to the right in my photo). In fact I lost track of them and didn’t see them at all. A loud rumble told us they had landed.

liftoff of rocket
Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida
contrail from rocket
Trail of clouds after liftoff

My photos are not that great. They were taken with my iPhone. I used my binoculars most of the time to see what was happening up close. That was a good view! We did see a few people with big cameras set up on tripods ready to capture some great photos.

You will find many better photos out there, but I wanted to share my experience.
It was fun, and a beautiful site to see. Glad it went off without a hitch. Now there is a car in space.  Don’t know what I am talking about?  Go watch this video.

Red Tesla
Saw this red Tesla parked along the road as we were leaving!