Monday, March 27, 2006

Jonathon Dickinson, Hobe Sound FL

We were forewarned, but it still didn't fully prepare us for the sight. Jonathon Dickinson State Park has been transformed from two years ago. Then, Pine Grove Campground was so thick with trees you could barely see the other sites. The towering Australian Pines provided lots of shade. Now, it is like a barren waste ground. Only a handful of trees remain unscathed. And a handful of new trees, palm trees, have been planted.

First there were the hurricanes of the last two years. The sand pines on Hobe Mountain, a towering 86' above sea level, received so much abuse in the winds that they have slowly died from the stress. The 50-year old Australian Pines in the campground were nearing the end of their life-cycle, and just toppled over taking other trees down and uprooting the underground electric lines. What few Australian Pines were left standing were chopped down by man during the Non-Native Vegetation Removal Program (which is occuring all over the state). Then there was the fire of Jan '06. A prescribed burn that went out of control, burning lampposts, amphitheater benches, and it even jumped the 4-lane road (A1A) to continue burning in the Hobe Sound NWR. The fire line shows charcoal black just feet from the homes that border both parks. The first plant to regrow in the last two months are the saw palmettos, offsetting the blackness with lime-colored leaves. They'll grow so thick, so fast that some trees won't be able to compete.

We had to walk and drive through the park to find anything that was recognizable to us. Thankfully, less damage was evident as we went closer to the Loxahatchee River. The fire was not as intense on the other side of the railroad tracks that bisect the park. But we also weren't prepared for the winds and the temperatures rising to 88 degrees one day. With no trees to shade or protect us. One tenter packed it up after one night and having her tent flattened.

Most of the mountain bike trails have been reopened, but they were mostly sand since it's been so dry. Attempts have been made to help buoy riders with plastic netting, mulch, palmetto fronds and other objects, but unfortunately riding in sand is just not much fun. Hard pedaling and minimum forward movement. So we played around on the obstacle course for awhile. There are ramps, narrow bridges, steep hills, jumps, logs, etc. to practice on. Quite fun.

An incoming tide, just before high tide, is the best time to visit Blowing Rocks Preserve (Nature Conservancy). And since our bike ride was cut short we realized it was the perfect time to run over to Jupiter Island to re-visit this park. It's been years since we've been here. First we walked the two trails provided on the Intercoastal Waterway, then we walked across the street to the rocky beach. The waves on an incoming tide crash against these rock outcroppings, or if you're real lucky, will explode through one of the blow holes. It all depends on the surf. No matter what, the beaches here are completely different than those at home. But beware, this old worm reef is very jagged and sharp and the sand was very hot being of darker grains. We struggled walking the beach without shoes. Andy was lucky he could take the "low road", but he had to dodge the waves. Being that I had the camera, I suffered with burnt feet.

Since the biking was a bust on this trip, we decided to take our kayaks out onto the Loxahatchee River. Normally we do this river further south, off of Indiantown Road, and paddle north towards J.D.. This part of the river is wider. It's still very natural with both edges thick with mangroves, but only an occassional cypress tree or palm tree. So, after looking at a map, we figured we'd check out Kitching Creek and see where that would take us. Sometimes these creeks are too narrow, or too shallow to allow for much exploring. But Kitching Creek is gorgeous. Narrow in spots, but enough room to paddle easily. Thick with bald cypress trees sprouting their spring growth. There were mangroves and lillies and birds, including a yellow-crowned night heron. Then Andy arrived at an area that was going to require a portage to bypass some downed trees. There was an opening on the bank that he was about to take when he saw "the biggest alligator I've ever seen" (quote, unquote) stand up on his legs and confidently walk into the water. Now, I need to mention a couple of things here. One, alligators don't often stand up and walk slowly, they generally scurry with bellies low to the ground and splash into the water. This guy appeared confident...he was about to eat Andy for lunch. Second, I did say the creek was narrow in spots, right? Well try turning your 13'6" kayak around quickly in a narrow space. So I wasn't too surprised to hear this story after I saw a white-faced Andy coming out of the trees. By the way, THAT was where we turned around and headed back. Oh, another wonderful sighting we had during our paddle was several Osprey nests, and we even spotted a baby in one of them.

We toured the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. We like being able to go inside lighthouses. 108 curling steps took us to the top for some wonderful views of the area. The tour guide provided lots of interesting information on current matters and historical. One of the things mentioned was regarding the Pennock Family who had been in the area since the early 1900's and made a big business growing ferns locally and shipping them up north. Here's the catch: Andy worked at Pennock's in Philadelphia in the late 1980's. Same family! Small world.

We did go across the street to visit the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. But because it was so hot that day, and the area was scorched black, we didn't do the hiking trails, except the path to the white sand beach on the Intercoastal. But they did have some interesting reptiles in their trailer (their building was destroyed in the hurricanes from 2004). This guy, the veiled chameleon, has to be one of my favorite 'lizards' - isn't he cute?

Andy and I also relaxed on the beach. Key word here is relaxed. It's so rare for Andy to lay down or look at sea shells with me. This one goes into my personal record book. I love hunting for sea shells. Jupiter Island was thick with them. So, I've added a few more to my collection.

It was a great trip. And we even got some cleaning and maintenance done on the RV. Unfortunately, we didn't find a place to wash and wax the RV or a place to change the oil, so I guess we'll just have to take her out again soon....:)

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