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Monday, March 26, 2012

Swamp Tour - Tuesday 3-20-2012 - Indian Mounds and Dead Lake

We were on the way toward Mound Island by 8:20 this morning, after spending some time washing sand off of Daisy’s paws and belly. All of my crew members seemed to be moving slowly this morning. The weather was great again – sunny and 66 degrees!

There are some 3-demensional bears in the Delta, but these 2-demensional ones were the only ones we saw.

The Tensaw Hunting Club, established 1949.

Abby and Glenda enjoyed the view from the bow.

Bottle Creek, just looking downstream from the Indian mound trailhead.

At 10:45 we turned onto Bottle Creek for the ½ mile trip to the trail which leads from the creek to the Indian mound. The map, gps, and the directions I got from the 5 Rivers tour boat captain all made it easy to find the worn sand bank that marked the beginning of the trail. There are no signs or other markings to indicate the trail. I nosed the bow of the Knot-So-Fast up against the bank, and Glenda jumped off into the sandy …..err…..I mean muddy…… bank. She tied a line to a tree to hold the boat in the fairly strong current, and Abby, Daisy and I made the leap from boat to bank, mostly avoiding the mud. 

Abby, Daisy and Glenda on top of the Indian mound.

The walk to the mound gave us a picture of the environment of the Indians and other early swamp dwellers.  The terrain was thick with palmetto plants and bugs. For much of the hike the trail was well worn, but marked only by two signs over the roughly ½ mile to the mound. We were at the very foot of the mound before we saw it, due to the thick forest growth. My guess is that it is 50’ tall or more, and the top is flat – about 100’ long and 50’ wide. On top there were two depressions, each about 8’ by 12’, and maybe 3 or 4’ deep. I assume that these were archaeological digs, but I don’t know for sure.  Past the mound, we saw another smaller mound, that was only about 5, or 6’ high, and we learned later that there are, in fact, more than a dozen mounds on the island!

I was glad to see the Knot-So-Fast still holding tightly when we returned. I am always nervous about leaving it tied up and getting out of sight from it. The boarding ladder made getting back onboard easier, although by then we all had to leave our shoes on the bow to avoid getting mud all over the rest of the boat. We made a mental note to bring rubber boots next time we visit the mound.
The "PMS Motel" on the Tensaw River.

My original plan was to continue South on Bottle Creek from the mound to Middle River, but the Guide at 5 Rivers had warned that it was very narrow and often blocked with downed trees.  So we backtracked up Bottle Creek to the Tensaw and tuned again upstream for about a mile, and entered Middle River at its Northern end. Five or six miles downstream, we turned to starboard onto Little Lizard Creek, within sight of the I-65 bridge over Middle River.

Little Lizard creek is a narrow but deep waterway that runs between the Mobile River and Middle River. It was one of the most picturesque of all the Delta sections we saw. About a half mile after entering the creek, we saw an alligator enter the water from the bank. This was not a large alligator, but it was a genuine, real-life, Mobile/Tensaw Delta gator!  The ride down the creek to the Mobile River went by way too fast, and we soon found ourselves back on the very wide (relatively) Mobile River. Downstream from there about 3 or 4 miles, a small pass leads Westward to Dead Lake and to Big Bayou Canot. (I have no idea how to pronounce “Canot”. If you do, leave me a comment and let me know.)

Dead Lake’s name fits its appearance perfectly, not in a negative way, but in the sense that the lake has a quiet, peaceful appearance. The old growth, half dead/ half alive cypress trees and spanish moss give it a sort of “Lost in Time” feeling.  A large cypress tree on the starboard side held seven gorgeous white birds that finally took flight as we approached too close for their comfort. Since we didn’t have our “bird book”, we don’t know what kind they were, but we did get a couple of good pictures of them in flight. Their bright white feathers were a stark contrast to other colors on the lake, and they stood out like elegant ladies in snow white dresses in a bad neighborhood! (Yes, I made that up.)

There were seven of these together in a tree on Dead Lake. They were quite a sight as they flew away.

Arriving at the Marina around 4:00 pm was not the perfect ending to our day. Without going into a lot of detail, the situation there was not as described on the county’s website, and not what I was promised over the phone. There has apparently been a decision made at some time not to allow transient boaters to stay overnight. The employee’s there did allow us access to the showers and laundry though, and those were the two most important needs we had.

After we showered, washed clothes, and watched a 6’ alligator in the campground pond, we left the marina and headed across the narrow lake to anchor out for the night. After three attempts to get the fortress anchor to hold, I tied the bow to a small cypress tree that was growing about 10 feet into the water from the bank, and put out a heavy river anchor from the stern.

The weather was comfortable, and surprisingly, there were no bugs or mosquitoes!  

We travelled 32 miles today, for a total so far this trip of 106. I topped off the fuel tank with the five gallons of fuel I’d brought in a gas can, just to be sure we could make it back across the Bay at the end of the week.

Glenda Says:

We had a couple more visitors this morning before we left.  The people here are very nice.  I just wish there was a bath house.  But this is really just a neighborhood of nice people.  They do have a boat launch and camper sites but they are not really set up for travelers.  But they were very hospitable.   We watched for alligators all morning.  I’ve got to do a better job of food planning.  I’m beginning to get tired of sandwichesL  I love the solitude of this trip but I miss having places to get a variety of meals.   We arrived at Bottle Creek Indian mound and began our excursion.  Tom nosed up to the bank.  I looked for solid ground and hopped out.  I was wrong, I slid right down ankle deep in mud.  Unfortunately Tom’s idea of encouragement always sounds like he’s irritated with me.  I’m sure he was just fearful for his lovely bride`s life.  I managed to scramble up the bank and tie off the boat.  We all got ashore and I was the only one covered in mud.  Go figure!  The trail to the mound was rather rough.  Several times we had to detour through the bush to go around what appeared to be a small pond right in the middle of the trail.  It was a great adventure.  We could hear small creatures scurrying through the bushes as we walked along.  Daisy was ecstatic!  We climbed to the top of the mound in success.  Getting back down was another matter.  This time Tom slipped.  I had to laugh but I’m always aware of what a mess we would be in if he was injured and I had to be in charge.   We rode on the bow of the boat until we got back onto a larger river.   Little Lizard creek was beautiful.  It was there that I saw the alligator slide off the bank and into the water.  Tom and I both saw it but it was too quick for Abby she missed it.  We headed on to Mobile River Delta Marina.  It was nice to get a shower and be able to wash clothes.  Apparently, though county politics has messed up a good thing.  They have built a beautiful facility with tax payers money and made it difficult to use.  They will not let anyone sleep on their boats.  They have a marina there that you can’t even stay overnight on your boat.  The employees were nice enough to let us park long enough to shower and wash clothes but then we had to go anchor out.  See what happens when you have too much government!  They no longer rent canoes “cause somebody might get hurt”.  We were disappointed but the trip has been way too fun to worry about all that.  More sandwiches for supper made me a little grouchy but we managed J  We watched a couple of episodes of Andy Griffin and went to bed for the night.

Abby Says:

Today I will just tell you about my favorite part of the day. My favorite part was when we went to Mound Island. When we pulled up there, Papa ran the boat up into the mud. Then GG walked out and stepped into what she thought was solid ground, but she was wrong. What she stepped in was a shore full of mud J The mud was up to her ankles! The whole time GG was stuck, I was laughing!  GG got out of the mud and tied the boat to a tree.  Then I got out on the bow of the boat and Papa handed me Daisy through the window.  Then I handed Daisy to GG. Daisy didn`t have a problem getting out. She didn`t have to take a single step. Next it was my turn to get off the boat. I stepped, out and grabbed the rope I almost slipped, but I hurried and stepped on to solid ground. Then it was Papa`s turn to get off the boat. He put the ladder out for himself and climbed out. GG still had mud covered shoes. Then we started our adventure. We started walking and soon we ran into a pond.  On the left side of the pond there were sticks covering it like a bridge.  Papa tried to walk on it but it was unstable, so I said, “There is another one over there Papa”.  On the other side of the pond there was another stick and log crossing along the pond with small trees beside it.  So Papa said, “Hand me Daisy,” then he walked out across the logs.  Next I went across, I held onto the trees and jumped onto the first pile of sticks and then I walked carefully across the logs.  G.G. was next (she had the camera) She stepped into the pile of sticks and then across the logs.  We all got across DRY! 
The trail to the Indian mound was tricky in a few places. Next time we'll bring rubber boots!

We kept walking, Daisy with her nose glued to the ground the whole time.  Soon we ran into two logs across the trail.   One was short, we went around it, the other was long and covered the whole trail.  We all hopped over it, but Daisy had a harder time.  We kept walking and another pond popped out of nowhere.  This pond had no way to cross it, except for getting wet L so we had go around it.  There was a lot of trees and bushes that got in our way.  But we had to keep the trail in sight.   Next we came to a forked path, it split off to the left and to the right.  We went left.  No one was left behind or went the opposite way.  The trails ended up leading to the same place anyway.  Then there it was, THE MOUND!  G.G. started up it right away, Daisy and I followed.  It was really steep!  But we got through it.  Papa was taking pictures of us going up.  When we got to the top, Papa hurried up.  At the top it was kind of flat except for one little ditch.  We couldn’t figure out what the ditch was from, but it was still fun being up there.  There was a large log sitting up there with lizards hiding under it.  Daisy started sniffing around the log then she jumped for some reason.  The lizard had scared her!  We walked around the mound deciding which path to take down.  One of the other sides was even steeper.  G.G. said if she went down that side she would fall.  So we went down the side we came up on.  We went down and I made it down first.  Papa was behind me and slipped and fell.  At least there were trees there for him to pull himself back up! GG and I wanted to walk further but Papa was tired.  On our way back to the boat I saw a ribbon snake about 12 inches long, it was black with two yellow stripes down his back.  He went away before G.G. and Papa saw him.  It was time to cross the forked path again but we weren’t sure which way to go, so I said “ Oh I remember this part, we go right”.   We went around one of the ponds again, then it was time to cross the other pond .  G.G. hopped across so she could take pictures of me, Papa and Daisy crossing.  This time I took Daisy across. I made it without falling even though I only had one hand to grab trees with.  Then Papa crossed after me.  We made it back to the boat.  Papa climbed on the boat first. I noticed Daisy kept sneezing over and over again so I looked at her nose. It had sand all over it and I’m sure in it too.  Then G.G. lifted Daisy up on to the boat next she lifted me up.  G.G. eventually got on J  That was my favorite of the day. 

Daisy Says:   Wow today at Mound Island was an adventure for me.  The sounds and the smells drove me crazy.  Lizards, smells, sounds, oh my!  I had blast! Woof.

Swamp Tour - Monday 3-19-2012 - Up the Tensaw River

Today was a fantastic day on the water. We left 5 Rivers this morning at about 8:00 am, and headed up the Tensaw River. It was 65 degrees with a light fog, and the water was as smooth as glass. There were no sounds except for the water lapping against the bow of the boat and the birds singing from both banks. When we passed by the Osprey nest that we spotted yesterday, one was on the nest and the other was standing watch a few limbs over. 

This is a view of the osprey nest at the Blakeley and Apalache River. Quite a structure!

We made it under the Tensaw CSX Railroad bridge without the operator having to open it. We did wait until this train was passed, though, before going under it.

Our next stop was at Cliff’s Landing, about 15 miles upriver. Cliff’s Landing is a public landing next to some assorted fishing camp type structures and the River Pub, a classic riverside beer joint. Luckily they had a few bags of ice, and we replenished our ice chests before heading up river again.
The Pub is just what the name implies. We couldn't find anything inside for lunch, but we did get some ice.
The weather was great, and as we passed Blakeley State Park, we were disappointed to find that there was no access by boat. The only boat dock was an extremely small structure, and the park’s tour boat was parked there, leaving no room for another boat.

I was on the phone talking with a friend a few hundred yards upstream of the tour boat when a bald eagle flew out of a tree and soared upstream about  100 yards and lit in another tree. I had to apologize later to my friend for yelling so loud into the phone! This eagle allowed us to get closer than any other one I’ve seen, and I was able to get some good photos. We also saw two hawks, that I believe were the red-tailed variety (look at the photos here, and if I’m wrong, someone let me know).
According to the locals, this is one of a nesting pair of eagles at Blakeley State Park. We did not spot the mate or the nest.

This is (I believe) a Red-Tailed Hawk. Leave me a comment if you know for sure.

We had planned on staying at Hubbard’s landing, but when I was unable to get them on the phone, we changed plans and docked at Lower Bryant Landing. It’s a trailer park/campground/boat ramp facility, and is not really designed for transient boat guests, but we worked it out. The drawback was there were no showers. They grumbled a little, but Abby and Glenda donned their bathing suits and made do with 5 gallons of lukewarm water from the solar shower.
I lost count of how many people stopped by to say Hi, and ask if there was anything we needed. It was without a doubt one of the friendliest places we’ve visited. Abby even sold a copy of her book to a gentleman who was riding his 16 month old grandson on his golf cart. Abby autographed the book to little “Preston”. I hope his Pop enjoys reading it to him, and I got the idea that Preston and his Pop will spend a lot of time on their own boat as Preston grows up.

I really enjoyed talking with the gentleman who had just launched his modified old Navy whaleboat. He had recently purchased it and installed a new diesel, and he was trying to get the prop shaft aligned properly.

Total mileage for today was only 27.2.

Glenda Says:
We got up with the sun this morning but that was later than usual since the sun is not coming up until about 6:30.  After a quick cup of instant coffee and hot chocolate we got on our way.  You can tell a difference in the river as you go further north.  The cypress trees are beautiful .  We saw a pair of nesting ospreys early this morning.  Just a couple of hours later we watched a bald eagle soar through the sky and land in a tree near the bank.  It is always awesome to see them.   We waited a few minutes at the CSX railroad bridge uncertain if they needed to open it or if we had enough head room.  The keeper came down and by radio said he believed we could make it.  He wanted to get a good look at the boat.  He grinned and asked several questions about the boat as we went under.   
Cypress trees are everywhere in the Delta!

Passing under I-65 on the Tensaw.

 Abby and I are keeping our eyes on the banks hoping to catch sight of an alligator.  Since we were puttering along so slowing Tom let us climb up to the front of the boat and ride.  Daisy was crying inside she did not like being left behind.  We decided to stay at a place called Lower Bryant`s Landing so our day of travel ended rather early.  We explored the neighborhood.  It seems to be a mix of permanent residents, weekenders and campers.  I was disappointed there was no shower house.  Abby and I ended up using the solar shower in our bathing suits (which is never very satisfying).  Several nice people ask about the boat and Abby even sold another of her books.  I’m sat on the bank watching the sun set and fought mosquitoes.  But after the sun went down they disappeared and the stars were amazing.  “The heavens declare His glory”!  If only human beings had the sense enough to declare it.  Ahhh, this is the lifeJ

Abby Says:
Today started when Daisy was the first one up. She was sitting on the floor, while we were still asleep. Then she started whining. She woke me up. After a few seconds I picked her up and laid her right beside me. We laid and I petted her and in within fifteen seconds it was time to get up! For breakfast I had hot chocolate and a granola bar. Later we saw a Bald Eagle!!! Later we saw a Red tailed hawk. We thought that we`d stay at a place called Hubbard`s Landing, but Papa had been trying to call them for three days and they still didn`t answer. We had no idea what it was like there. On our way to Hubbard`s Landing we came across one of the boat ramps, docks, and small houses. This place is called Lower Bryant`s Landing. Here I even sold another of my books to a man who bought it for is grandson! A lady who lives here said that if we needed anything to walk over to her house then she pointed to her house. Sometimes a boat would pull up and the person would ask about the our boat. Tonight for supper we had dumplings.     

Daisy the dog says: Today started when I was the first one up. I was sitting on the floor, while everyone else was asleep. Then I started whining. I woke everyone up. After a few seconds Abby picked me up. Within fifteen seconds it was time to get up! For breakfast I had to eat dog food. Later everyone was up and looking out the window with these little things that click. Of course I didn`t know what was going on because everybody was too excited to pick me up. Later GG and Abby climbed on top of the boat and I cried because I missed them. My day went on like this until we stopped at a place and I got to use the bathroom. We sat outside until it got dark then I climbed in to bed!

The countless "shanty houses" on the Tensaw. There are all shapes and sizes.
An old 26' Navy "Whale Boat" is given a new life.

Abby and Daisy take a break on the floating pavillion at Lower Bryant Landing.

Abby doesn't pass up a chance to get in the water - even when it's a little too cold to swim.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Swamp Tour – Sunday 3-18-2012 - North Across Mobile Bay

From Tom:
By 6:30 this morning we were trailering the Knot-So-Fast from Ft. Morgan to the ramp under the Hwy 59 Bridge in Gulf Shores. The 10 minute drive had us hopeful that fog wouldn’t be a problem, but as we got about 3 blocks from the ramp, we hit a wall of fog that covered the ICW, reducing visibility to a couple hundred feet at most.
Fog on the IntraCoastal Waterway, Gulf Shores

We launched the  Knot-So-Fast and motored East very slowly along the bank for about 200 yards to the “Tacky Jacks” restaurant pier and tied up. Glenda and Abby went inside for breakfast and I walked back to the boat ramp, got the truck and drove it back to the house to wash the saltwater off the trailer.  

Our neighbors Danny and Nancy Reynolds were kind enough to give me a ride back to the restaurant, where the fog situation had not changed. We visited with Danny and Nancy for about 30 minutes and when the fog began to thin we cast off the lines and headed West toward Mobile Bay. By the time we exited the ICW canal into the Bay and turned Northwest, the fog was almost gone. The water was almost flat – only a ripple or two. Combined with temperatures in the upper 60’s, the lack of fog and wind made for perfect boating weather.

At 9:30, with everything quiet and the four-stroke humming quietly, I could have almost gone to sleep. Then out of nowhere, the biggest dolphin I’ve ever seen blasted out of the water about 3 feet in front of the boat! He came completely out of the water by 5 or 6 feet, then surfaced once more about 50 feet away, and disappeared. His jump caught me and Glenda off guard, and it took us a few seconds to catch our breath.

 As we crossed the Bay, staying about a mile out from the Eastern Shore, the South wind and waves picked up a little as the day went on, but made for a comfortable and mostly uneventful ride.
Abby took a few turns at the wheel while the Bay was calm.

Approaching the Mobile Bay Causeway.
After crossing under the I-10 Bridge into the Blakeley River, we stopped to stretch our legs and give Daisy some “grass time” at the “5 Rivers” facility (a State facility that operates as a welcome and educational center for the Delta area).  Since it was still early (about 3:30 pm), we continued North around the point and then South-West down the Apalache River to Picard Pass to the Original Oyster House for a supper of alligator, shrimp, fish and chicken.
One of the few other boats we saw on the Bay. In the background you can see Middle Bay Lighthouse.

On the way back to 5 Rivers we noticed two Ospreys and a huge nest at the point between the Blakeley and Apalache Rivers. After rounding the point and taking a few pictures, a Marine Police boat pulled up beside us and wanted to make sure we knew about a large sand bar and shallow water on our starboard side.
One of two ospreys near their nest at the point where the Tensaw splits to make the Blakeley and Apalache Rivers.

We anchored out between the main pier and the canoe rental pier at 5 Rivers and watched the stars for a while before the mosquitoes drove us inside.

Total mileage for the day was 46.8, at an average speed of about 5.5 mph.

Abby Says:
Today started when GG and Papa woke me up at about 6:00.We went to put the boat in at a boat ramp under the High Way 59 canal bridge and we went to Tacky Jacks to eat while Papa went to drop the trailer back in the neighborhood. GG ordered a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. I got a pancake. When the waitress came with our food, the pancake was so big, me and GG had to share it, and we still didn`t finish it!  We told the waitress that we needed a takeout box for the biscuit. Then we shared the pancake. When we finished there was still small part of the pancake left. Then waitress said, “Do you want to take this to Hubby too?” GG and I laughed after we said no and the waitress went back into the kitchen Then we headed off! Daisy and I laid down most of the day and sometimes we went outside. Later we stopped at 5 rivers, and went to the bathroom. 5 rivers doesn`t let you stay overnight at their dock. So we anchored out in Sardine Pass. I slept good in a sleeping bag.

(The following is translated by Abby, since she is the only one who claims to understand Daisy:)
Daisy the dog says: I had fun exploring through the trees with Abby at 5 rivers! There was a college student who had a dachshund at home who was the same color as me, and the college student still she thought I was the prettiest dachshund she had ever seen! ( I mean woof.)

Glenda Says:
Ok - end of day 1 of Spring Break 2012---Abby and I were able to enjoy a nice breakfast at Tacky Jacks under the intra-coastal waterway bridge while Tom took the trailer back to the house.  You should have seen the look on Abby’s face when they brought her the GIANT pancake she ordered for breakfast.  No problem  -  I just helped her eat it and saved the biscuit I ordered for Tom.  Danny and Nancy from our neighborhood were nice enough to drive Tom back up.  We were off on our adventure by 8:15.  The journey over the bay was relatively uneventful. 
The Grand Hotel at Point Clear

We had a couple of dolphin sightings but they were quick and did not reappear.   I did see what looked like a prehistoric creature right on the surface of the water as we were passing by Point Clear.  It was long with a wide bill like thing.  I think it was some kind of gar.  Of course everybody else missed it.   
The Mobile skyline from the northern part of Mobile Bay.

I always wax reflective when I am out on the water.  God’s creation is so majestic.  I am thankful that all he wants me to do is to know him.  These trips with Tom, Abby and Daisy help me with that (on all kinds of levels.) If I can just spend my life trying to know God, he’ll take care of the rest.  You know there is a lot of relief in that.    We ate too much at the Oyster House.