Monday, March 27, 2006

Savannas, Ft Pierce FL

Our "Maintenance Trip". That's what we like to call it. With a name like that we don't feel so guilty about taking a little vacation after our guests left. Sounds lame, huh?

For years we had wanted to go to Savannas. We tried 2 1/2 years ago at the beginning of our "trek across America", but they were full. This time they did have an opening, albeit in the overflow area. No big deal, though. That just meant we were across the driveway from the marsh instead of right on the water. Interesting enough, the full hook-up section is on the opposite side of the park away from the water. We figured we'd be ok for 3 1/2 days with just water/electric hook-ups. But when we arrived, we learned that the previous camper had taken out the water post due to misjudging his "swing" (referring to how far your back end swings out when making a turn). So we didn't have water. And what little water we had left sitting in the tank for the last 3 months was questionable to drink. So we had to buy jug water to get us through the first day or so. This just gave us the opportunity to perform some maintenance on the RV by emptying our water tank, right?

Most people think of Savannas State Preserve when you say you're going to "Savannas", but there is no camping at the State Preserve. We camped at the county-run Savannas Recreation Area which is just above the northern boundary of the state park. Savannas is just 2 hours north of Ft Lauderdale. If you're into kayaking/canoeing, fishing, or birding this is a great place to relax. My first impression upon stepping out of the RV when we arrived was of tranquility. There were a variety of sounds from birds, crickets, pig frogs, and gators. The marsh was feet away and I could see grackles, red-winged blackbirds, herons, and a young gator lazily swimming past. The Recreation Area offers walking trails over pedestrian bridges or berms to maneuver around all the ponds and access different "islands". From these trails we spotted several baby gators, which are more colorful than the adults.

Our first breakfast was interrupted by the loud "ga-roo" of six Sandhill Cranes. What a sight with their red heads, long legs, and feathery bustles.

Our first kayak was just within the man-made canal bordering the true marsh. It was still a great paddle alongside cattails and lillypads. The non-native vegetation removal program was underway. Evident in the dead melaleucas and australian pines. It's a shame melaleucas are so invasive, because they are so pretty with their white peeling bark. But I learned that each melaleuca tree contains millions of seeds and any affront will cause the seeds to release, i.e. burning, cutting, etc. So for now, they try several methods, including pulling up saplings. On the way back, we pulled up on the steep embankment to go to the top of the observation tower. We wanted to try and find a cut-through to the other areas of the marsh. When we got back into our kayaks, I'm not exactly sure what Andy was trying to do. His kayak was still completely on dry land and perpendicular to the water when he sat down in it. Once his weight was in the kayak, it shot straight down the bank, backwards. Andy was still white-knuckling the sides of his kayak when he splashed in. Surprisingly he didn't flip. It looked like some new crazy Olympic sport - the Backward Lugge. The expression on his face = Priceless.

We did find a cut-through to the rest of the marsh. So one day we paddled in the maze of reeds and grasses and small tree islands in the Rec Area and on a different day we drove to Savannas State Preserve and paddled there as well. Both areas are similar in appearance and plant life, but we did feel there were more birds in the Rec Area. This could've just been because of the time of day we visited the State Preserve. We never did quite isolate the sounds we heard. One deep-throated ribbit, or quick-growl, we had always thought was the pig frog, but some people said that sound was a male gator. Last year's hurricanes threw off the whole mating cycle. So this year the females are still with babies, and the males are all ready for mating again. But the moms won't leave their babies, which is causing the guys to be overly frustrated and agitated. We were warned not to get too close to them because of their current temperment. Sounds a little familiar, girls, doesn't it? Now some of these sounds clearly had almost an "oink-oink" to it, which had to be the pig frog (I would assume). But to play it safe, we tried not to veer too close to any tramped-down grass islands. Spring was in the air with all of the animals - grackles were collecting nesting materials, herons were grouping in large bunches, and ospreys were tumbling in mid-air. At Savannas State, we were told there was a baby Sandhill Crane out with it's parents, but we didn't get a glimpse even after walking one of the trails.

After leaving Savannas State Preserve, we stopped at Oxbox Eco-Center on the way home. This nature center not only offers hiking trails, but is a green building. We're just fascinated by these green buildings. Here they even use a rain-catcher to collect water for their toilets. We started out on the trails thinking they were just going to be your normal Florida hiking trail: flat, wide (think fire road), sandy, and the scenery would be scrub, pine trees, and scrub. We love Florida, but hiking in Florida is not the best (in our minds) because it is all the same. But that doesn't mean we don't think this land should be preserved and protected. It should, absolutely. For the animals, the air we breathe, our water, etc. So, needless to say, we didn't think twice about wearing our beach sandals. That was until we hit the Otter Trail, which runs along the St Lucie River, and has to be, by far, one of the most beautiful hiking trails we've ever been on in Florida. Narrow, winding, hilly, and dense with a variety of trees, air plants, and ferns. Think: tropical, prehistoric. What a treat - we didn't want it to end. But even on the way back it changed our outlook, because as we walked further inland we could physically see the transition zones back into the scrub.
Later Sunday night, we went for a run through the Rec Area and received a wonderful reward - we almost ran into the pair of Sandhill Cranes with their baby! Right in our campground. The little guy had reddish-yellow and white fluffy feathers and big eyes outlined in white and long legs. He was just over knee-high. We were heading the same direction, and tried hard not to scare the family too much. But we were sharing a 15-ft wide berm. Surprisingly they remained rather calm. If they had let out when of their bellowing calls (which can be heard one mile away!), I probably would've had a heart attack. The next morning, I saw them again from my kayak and was able to snap a long-distance picture.

We packed up and left around noon and headed 30 minutes south to Jonathon Dickinson State Park for the rest of our trip.


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