Monday, March 2, 2015

Two Nights in the Everglades: Tiger Key

My first night on Picnic Key began with a brilliant sunset. It had been a day of varying cloud and fog conditions that ended brightly before night set in. After a restful sleep, I woke to hear the low rumble of the crab boats heading out the channels, indicating the pre-dawn hours had begun. It was almost like music to my ear as I lie awake in my cozy tent. I began to gather up my gear and eat breakfast as sunrise approached. This was a lazy morning as I did not need to be on the water at any particular time having only a mile or two to paddle to Tiger Key. I would take my time and paddle around the large Picnic Key, attempt to set up camp early on Tiger and then spend the remainder of the day scoping the beach for dusk photography.

As the sun rose behind the beach, a haze of clouds formed on the western horizon. With the calm incoming tide, it looked mesmerizing to me, so I captured a few images, such as this one.

I walked the beach a couple times, looking at animal tracks. A couple of them seemed odd and I finally concluded that they were dog tracks, unwelcome animals in the park. But, people bring them anyway. By 9 am, I had dismantled the tent amidst the no-see-ums, packed the boat and headed out slowly around Picnic Key. By that time, the sky was mostly cloudless. I followed a couple dolphin for the longest time and while they are frequent companions out here in the gulf, I rarely get a shot of them, or at least one that I care to brag about. They were mostly in good light and after awhile, I caught on to their routine. This allowed me to get rather close to them as they worked the shoreline. At one point, I was close enough to catch the violent wake from their feeding freezy. Here are a couple images, best I could do that day.

I headed over to the western shoreline of Tiger. No one was on the island. I set up camp, and around noon, I sat under the shade of my tarp eating lunch and enjoying the view. Two kayakers had left Camp Lulu Key and were paddling toward the southwestern tip of Tiger. Soon they were out of sight. A nice southwesterly breeze was coming up on shore, which is exactly what I wanted.

But then, something strange began to happen. A band of dark fog formed along the length of the southwestern horizon while a veil of clouds began to appear to the northeast. The winds increased and the sky became misty. A red kayak came out of the south end of the island and passed by as the fog gradually thickened. The wind came directly at the shoreline and brought with it a wall of mist. If I had not been on a subtropical island, the appearance of that mist would have sent shivers up my spine. It looked cold! I grabbed the camera and began to photograph the beach. Here are a couple images taken around 1-1:30 pm.

From Tiger Key's beach, one can easily see Camp Lulu. But within 15 minutes, it was completely gone, as was the kayaker that was paddling in the fog towards it. For the next couple hours, I walked up and down the beach and photographed. The scene was eerie and my visibility was not much longer than arm's length. Alone on the island, I felt a bit uneasy, but quite happy to be there. Everything looked dark and some things appeared black and white to me. Here is an image that I visualized in black and white.

As the air thickened with fog, the temperature dropped and the winds increased. If it were only fog, I would not have felt the slightest uneasiness. But the winds hitting the beach directly with an incoming tide caused a violent surf. It was not only the sight of the crashing waves, but the sound that continued into the night that made me nervous. These are not the type of waves I wanted to launch my canoe into. The sun, which was directly in front of the beach was not in sight for the remainder of the day. The day turned into night without a blink.

That evening, I sat in my tent listening to the forecast. Heavy fog was expected until about 9 am, but thankfully, it would be relatively calm with winds shifting to the south. If I waited until after 9 to get on the water, I would have to fight the outgoing tide through the channel leading back to Everglades City. If I left at 7 am as planned, I may be paddling through large waters in zero visibility, not exactly a comfortable situation. I prepared to paddle in the fog. I had my GPS with spare batteries in my pelican case. I had a headlamp, flashlight and a solar light. I had a map and compass if it came to that. And I would attach my VHF and waterproof-cased cell phone to my PFD.

I awoke before daylight and started packing and eating breakfast. By 6:30, the visibility appeared high enough that I could distinguish the sky from the water. Soon, I could see Camp Lulu, 1/2 mile away. All was well as I got onto the calm waters and began my paddle back to Everglades City. After 30 minutes of paddling, another dose of fog began to form over the eastern sky. I was in the middle of Gaskin Bay, paddling quickly to get into the creek before losing visibility.

But, the fog was gentle and passed by without a bother. Soon, I was heading across Chokoloskee Bay under clear skies and a gentle slack tide. And yet another memorable trip into the glades, and far from being the last.

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