Beach Dunes and Jellyfish in January

My last post was about the beginning of my January walk at Smyrna Dunes Park when I took some photos from the two-story pavilion along the ocean side of the walkway.

Two story pavilion
View from the 2-story pavilion

You may wonder why I don’t just drive onto the beach (because New Smyrna has miles of drive on beach accesses) and walk along the beach. Honestly, you must time it right. If the tide is too high the beach may be closed to traffic, or there will be very little beach to drive on.

Not long ago I drove to the beach one morning and could see from the entry booth, where I have to stop and pay or be scanned for access, that the tide was quite high. Once I got down to the driving area I saw that there wouldn’t be much time left before the water was up to the parking places. So I drove to the next access ramp and left the beach.

In short, access to the Smyrna Dunes Park and walkway is not affected by the tide. I can visit at any time of day, high tide or low, because I will park in a paved lot and not on the sand. It’s a little further for me to travel, but worth the trip.

View from boardwalk to Ponce Inlet from Smyrna Dunes Park.

The Park offers more to see, in my opinion. In truth, I am not really an ocean lover. I think the ocean can get quite boring when enjoying it from shore. Don’t get me wrong, the beach is beautiful, and I never get tired of hearing the waves crash. In hotter months, the warm Florida ocean water is wonderful for floating and swimming. But the crowds can be smothering in summer when I really want to enjoy the water.

The ocean holds dangers as well. Rip currents are common in this area. Sharks have been known to bite the occasional surfer and New Smyrna Beach is actually called the “shark attack capital of the world“. However, unless you are surfing near the jetty, you are probably pretty safe.

Cannonball jellyfish on Florida beach
Cannonball Jellyfish

Something else to look out for at the beach is jellyfish. At times many will litter the beach, and most are harmless, but some are not. I have been stung by a jellyfish, or the tentacles, while swimming. I never saw it, but one of my legs had squiggly welts all up and down the back which did sting like crazy. After a storm I found man-of-war jelly fish on New Smyrna Beach.

The Cannonball jellyfish, shown in my pictures here, are relatively harmless. In fact, someone saw a man on the beach collecting them and putting them in his car. The Asian population in particular enjoy jellyfish as food. This type of jellyfish was all up and down the beach, and when we went boating a few weeks later, we saw many in the water as well.

Plover checking out the jellyfish near Ponce Inlet.
Plover and Jellyfish

This cute little shorebird, a Plover of some kind, inspects one of the jellies washed up by the tide.

January doesn’t seem to be an excellent time of year to find seashells. I collected this little bundle, but found nothing really interesting. Beginning with the long white shell and moving clockwise I have: A jackknife clam (that’s the long one), a yellow jingle shell, one of two Channeled duckclams, a chunk of striped acorn barnacles, duck clam #2.

Seashells and barnacles collected from Ponce Inlet beach.
Florida seashells and barnacles

As I rounded the bend in the beach that takes me to the River side of the water, I got this pretty photo of the sun setting behind the clouds. If I’d been able to stay a bit longer I may have seen the beautiful pinks Florida is known for when the sun goes down. It was just beginning along the horizon.

Almost sunset on the ICW side of the Inlet
Beach along the river side of Smyrna Dunes Park

Walking the boardwalk, and beholding the amazing swirls of the dunes is more interesting than walking along the beach. Occasionally the gopher tortoise will be out eating or roaming it’s protected area. While walking the sandy paths, it’s possible to see some pretty wildflowers or interesting plants and tall grasses that can grow in these salty conditions. The setting is ideal for any photographer, amateur or professional.

Read about Florida’s Gopher tortoise.

Sand dunes Ponce Inlet, Florida's east coast
View of Ponce Inlet

I visited on a rather cool day and there were no crowds. I met a couple visiting from out of state (as thousands are this time of year) and we chatted for a while as we strolled the shoreline.

View From the Two-Story Pavilion at Smyrna Dunes Park

Two story pavilion

This time, on my visit to Smyrna Dunes Park, I walked up to the second story of the tall pavilion located along the boardwalk on the ocean side. It seems there are always people up there, but I went up anyway and got some photos once they left.

It was a coolish day in January, and I had to renew my yearly pass ($20 for county residents). I began walking counter-clockwise on the walkway. Once I got up top, I saw a row of cars which seemed to have supplied the beach with wetsuit-wearing surfers (ocean water is in the 60’s this time of year). They were catching some nice waves.

Cars on the beach in January at New Smyrna Beach, Florida
A good day for surfing
Surfers at New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Wetsuits were needed on this January day

The tall pavilion is the only one with a second story along the boardwalk. I think Pavilion #1 allows barbecuing (this is not #1), and the others have picnic tables and trash cans. There is a tower along the other side of the boardwalk, which is also tall, but no tables (I think). I have not visited it since the boardwalk was re-done.

View of the beach from the second story of the pavilion in New Smyrna Beach.

Top: looking out to the sea, and Below: looking south to the condos along the beach. I would continue walking north, until the access to the Ponce Inlet beach area.

View south from the pavilion toward the condos.

The grass is brown this time of year and the temperatures are cool for walking. Once I came down from the pavilion, I saw a yacht coming out of the inlet into the ocean. It’s probably the largest yacht I’ve seen in the area. It came out of Ponce Inlet and turned south traveling along the shoreline.

Yacht traveling along the coastline
Big yacht which came out of the inlet into the sea

I continued to walk to the Inlet access and made my way onto the beach where I found jellyfish, out-of-town visitors, and very few seashells (bummer). I ended up walking further than I had planned, but got some good exercise and fresh air. More on that part of the walk to come.

First Trek Around New Boardwalk at Smyrna Dunes Park

I’ve written about my visits to Smyrna Dunes Park before and usually I head to the beach area at the Inlet to search for shells. This time my visit was to check out the newly finished boardwalk which makes a circle around the peninsula.

The Boardwalk is Finished!

Because I hadn’t visited this area for a few months, I asked the woman taking the money at the entrance how it was coming. The finished date was in mid-summer I believe, but said they got finished ahead of schedule.

This was exciting. I’d already seen part of the pathway and had been looking forward to walking all the way around the loop, which goes out by the ocean. It was Memorial Day, so I hoped people would be home having backyard cookouts.  But many people were at the Park!  I was lucky to find a parking space, but was pleasantly surprised that either they were walking a dog, or heading to the beach to swim.  The boardwalk loop was mostly empty of people.

new boardwalk at Smyrna Dunes Park
New boardwalk at Smyrna Dunes Park

The boardwalk and pavilions along the walk are nicely done. Here’s hoping the damage will be minimal whenever another hurricane sweeps through – because it will. I’m betting that was at least part of the reason for the improvements.  If you search online for Smyrna Dunes Park, you can see older images of the wooden walkways. This new design is very nice.

The walkways wide, and are wheelchair accessible, with ramps at the entrance to the walkways.  You won’t be able to get down onto the beaches, except on the “river” side where there are ramps down off the boardwalk… but you will then be in sand.  Some of the pathways on that side may be re-done, but I’m not sure.  I didn’t pay much attention to that area.  Next time I will get photos of the new offshoots leading to the fishing pier, Intlet and river access.

Smyrna dunes park pavilion #2
Second pavilion on boardwalk, with picnic table

I entered the boardwalk next to the main entrance (which is to the left of the yellow building in my last photo on this page) and walked clockwise all the way around. The other end comes out near the condos and according to the website it’s 1.5 miles in length.    It’s an easy walk in cool weather.  The only shade is under one of these pavilions, and today is was hot.  Because the area is surrounded by water, there is often some type of breeze, but it’s not a cooling breeze at this time of year!

It was a cloudy day, but the humidity was horrendous (not surprising) and I won’t be going back for a walk until October.  I’ll drive onto the beach where I can cool off quickly without the long walk.  I dislike Florida summers and don’t understand how anyone can enjoy doing anything strenuous in this heat.

Picnic table at pavilion #2
Pavilion #2 has a picnic table.

Usually I head out to the Ponce Inlet and Jetty area so I can walk along the beach. Today my main goal was to walk the loop, so I didn’t check out the beach. If the weather had been cooler I would have.

Walkway to jetty and inlet
Take a left from the main walkway to get to the inlet beach and jetty

The Ponce Lighthouse is located on the other side of the Inlet, so it is not accessible from this park. I could see waves in the inlet, so the sea was rough. Probably would have been a good time to do some beach-combing, but my son needed the car to get to work, so time was short. I trekked on toward the parking lot.  I don’t call a walk like this “hiking”.  Hiking is something I do in the mountains of New Hampshire.  In Florida there is no such thing.

walkway to jetty and beach
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is not accessible from this side of the Inlet, but makes a nice backdrop for photos.

As I got closer to the ocean side of the peninsula the beach and waves came into view. All along the ocean side are separate walkways that lead down to the beach. This means that anyone driving onto the beach could park in this area and come up and use the pavilions. I’m wondering if they can be rented for special occasions, as they are each numbered. Or are they first come, first serve?  I couldn’t find an answer online, so I’ll keep an eye out.

ocean view from boardwalk
Ocean view from boardwalk

Now this was cool… the pavilion in the photo below was raised up, and quite large. A family was up there as I walked by, so I didn’t want to bother them, but it would give a good view of the ocean and dunes area.  (Read my post about the Two-Story Pavilion here.)  I was so hot at this point I just wanted to get back to my car and turn on the AC!  Onward toward the condos.

Raised, large pavilion by the beach
Raised, large pavilion by the beach

One of the last pavilions on my trek around the peninsula contained seating only – no tables. All areas to rest are covered, which is nice, but cover doesn’t really help with this heat.   I suppose if the sun was out, it would be a nice place to rest, but more importantly, if a rainstorm hit there would be a place to shelter.  Today I was hoping for rain to cool me off!  There are many new, blue trash cans too, so hopefully people will be respectful and use them.

When I stopped at the entrance to the park, the woman who scanned my pass told me to be sure and lock my car.  I’m assuming there have been break ins.  I always lock my car in Florida, so I didn’t need the reminder, but when living in New Hampshire people left their cars open and unlocked.  Sometimes keys were also in the ignition!  Visitors who come to Florida from such places may not realize it’s not all Disney World here.  I certainly know enough to lock up, but the state is full of vacationers.  Kudos to the woman at the entrance for the safety reminder.

sit and rest with an ocean view
Benches and trash can only in this covered rest area with an ocean view.

pavilion with double picnic tables
Two sets of picnic tables and benches with boardwalk access to the beach beyond.

I found this map of the peninsula, which shows picnic areas and walking trails. The restroom sign is where parking is located. At busy times, the lot fills up with additional parking along the road.  Many visitors are locals who come here to walk their dogs.  I’m not sure of the rules for that, except to pick up the poop, and keep them on a leash.  The dog-walkers are allowed on the boardwalk early in the morning I believe, but after that they must stay in the sandy walkway.  Dogs are not allowed on the ocean beach, but they can access the river beach and inlet (I think).  I don’t have a dog.

Looking back at raised pavilion with lighthouse in the distance

Looking back where I just walked along the ocean side of the boardwalk with covered pavilions along the shore.

wildflowers in the dune sand
Blanket Flower ? Growing wild in the dunes.  I took this photo over the side of the railing.

Smyrna Dunes park
Getting closer to the condos means getting closer to the parking area where AC awaits!

gopher tortoise
Gopher tortoise in protected area of dunes near high-rise condos

The Gopher Tortoise is an amazing creature, and the center of this entire peninsula / boardwalk area is home to them. It’s an extensive area, but the gopher tortoise requires a lot of space to house it’s family. My daughter once did some volunteering at the Central Florida Zoo. One thing she learned about was the tortoise, and I was surprised at how it lives. At Wikipedia it says this: “Each gopher tortoise needs about 4 acres to live“.

This creature is now a threatened species and is protected. Can you guess why? Because development in Florida has been ongoing rapidly for many years and do you think anyone really cared if the hundreds of acres of land they developed meant destroying turtle houses underground? NO. Don’t get me started. I’m happy that this Park is a safe place for this wild animal, but so many others have been killed because of development.   See the Minorca Condominiums in the background of my picture as well as the other condos around it?  How many tortoises lost their homes to build those do you think?  Not to mention other wildlife, trees, shrubs and more.  Where are these animals supposed to go?  There is no place safe.  Certainly not on prime oceanside land!

The law now requires that the tortoise is moved to a new location before building ensues.  So what happens then?  Does someone dig up 4 acres per tortoise?  Just where can they go that is not land which will eventually be built on?  And how does the tortoise adjust to a new piece of land where he must start all over again to build his community?
Florida’s wildlife has been pushed aside as greed and tourism has taken over.  Thankfully there are some people, and places, that look after wildlife.  Honestly, I think it’s a losing battle in this state.  I’m done ranting for now.

parking lot at Smyrna Dunes Park
Back at the parking lot, in need of a cool down!

At last my car was in sight and that meant air-conditioning! I was glad I was able to walk the loop and see all the new pavilions and walkways. The Smyrna Dunes Park is a great place to visit if you love being outdoors and getting close to the best part of Florida – nature (what’s left of it). I suggest you visit between October and May.  And one day it may be one of the only spots left to view the gopher tortoise in the wild.  I’m serious.

It’s Memorial Day.  Today and every day I say “thank-you” to all military members and families who serve, have served, or plan to serve. Thank you for all you sacrifice to give me this freedom.

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