Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fakahatchee Strand

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I had the good fortune to spend two whole weeks adventuring with my friend, John Moran in mid-November -- destination: South Florida..  One of the highlights was the Fakahatchee Strand in the western Everglades.  Through a contact of John's, photographers Mac Stone, Paul Marcellini, John and I were able to stay in a rustic cabin on an in-holding in the Strand... so we could intimately experience the nightsounds - bellowing gators, hooting owls, and snoring roomates -- firsthand.

You might imagine a nocturnal encounter with a Florida Panther - this is, afterall, their home.  Or having a giant python fall onto you from a branch while slogging deep in the swamp.  Or maybe stepping on a big alligator while wading through a mangrove tunnel on the East River.  We did see a panther, but it was miles away at Gatorama near Palmdale.  Here he is as he might have been in the Strand, just as you imagined: in the fading lightbeam of your flashlight at 3 AM on your way to the outhouse.

And while John and I were wading around in the mangrove tunnels of the nearby Turner River late into the night -- two different nights no less -- we fortunately returned with all appendages intact and tripped over nary a gator.    We had with us a granddaddy gator skull that we used as a charm to ward off One-eyed Willie and the rest of his ilk that we had been warned about and also hoped to use it in a photo.  (More on this photo in a future post.)

There were plenty of pairs of glowing eyes watching us all along the way as we paddled back to the put-in at 11:30 PM.  Despite those shining red eyes, we couldn't help but stop to photograph the spectacular water lilies that had opened fully in the moonlight.  They were huge -- far more open and spectacular than by daylight.  We propped ol' Granddaddy up on the end of canoe (Beware, Willie!) and climbed back into the black water.  Here's why it was worth it.

As for the python, it never occurred to me that we might see one, but several family members commented on our foolhardiness given what we were doing. We never saw a python, but I did see a Florida Water Snake (pictured) on the East River (in the Strand) that somehow found itself in the prop roots of the red mangroves, more typically the habitat for Mangrove Salt Marsh Snakes.  No worries.  Neither poisonous.

Our forays into these west Everglades sloughs and creeks entailed a lot of slogging.  Even from our kayaks, we had to plough through dense grass, overhanging branches, and thick waterplants.  But mostly we paddled on beautiful winding trails along the East and Turner Rivers.  There were open lakes as well as completely canopied mangrove tunnels that could run for more than half a mile.  The graceful stilt roots reflected beautifully in the smooth dark water.

While incredibly beautiful to see, it was often difficult to create compositions from the tangle of busy trees and roots -- all at close range -- and come up with a photo that pleased the eye.  Here are some attempts from the mangroves creeks.

As we paddled back, hoping to find our way before darkness,  the sun fell into the horizon.  Mac and I pulled into a break in the sawgrass to see what we could in the western sky.  Mac scrambled up a tree at the edge of the grass for a better view.

The other slogging we did was on foot.  Paul had hiked into "The Cathedral" once before so he was annointed THE GUIDE.  (Plus he had an iPhone with Google Earth and his previous route marked on it -- so we figured we couldn't get too lost.)  Paul had warned us that the water could get chest-deep, so we struggled with what gear to bring and how to keep it dry.  Fortunately, the water was only sometimes waist-deep, and there were fallen trees and stumps that made small perches for setting packs and gear.  We had no camera-casualties during this trip. While we never made it to the heart of the Cathedral, we found some spectacular sloughs filled with Guzmania bromeliads and rare orchids. Once again, simplifying a composition in the thick of the swamp was challenging.  Paul had inspired us with samples of his dreamy steamy swampscapes (on his iPhone), so we knew there were photos to be found here.  Here are my attempts.

We started out before dawn to take advantage of the early light and avoid the added clutter of dappled shadows, but soon enough the sun was too high.  Not ready to leave the swamp, we resorted to macrophotography.  Mac found a baby treesnail that I spent far too long trying to photograph.

 On the last afternoon, with only John and I remaining, an old gator posed on a classic gator log near the end of the dock. What was meant to be naptime turned into a great shooting op.  The alligator mostly ignored us, so I had ample opportunity to experiment with all kinds of angles and lenses. The light was harsh and contrasty.  After awhile, we traded aiming a big reflector at the gator's face to get some front lighting - which helped in making the close up portrait.

We each turned into our bunkbeds that night, as exhausted as usual, satisfied with the day.  We were up at 4 AM (also as usual) to pack up, clean up the dear cabin, and leave the Fakahatchee.  This sunrise greeted us as we pulled out of the park entrance.  We headed east across the Glades.

12 comments: said...

prize for first comment? great pics, jealous amateur here; how about more info re: your gear, how you set up shots, etc.--is this place open to the public?

Susan Cerulean said...

Fabulous, David, your photos "attempts" are amazing as always...I'm so glad you were able to take this time and document so stunningly our gorgeous, Sue

jack said...

I'm a self-identified city-boy from New Yawwwwk, but I've got to admit that these scenic wonders of water, wildlife and Florida wilderness give me a thrill that exceeds any urban scapes. How beautiful and bountiful. And what a powerful reminder that all of us, and each one of us, should be passionate preservationists....for our selves, our children and grandchildren. Thank you, David, John, and all talented nature image-makers for giving us the generous gift of the future....

Jack Levine
4Generations Institute

Anonymous said...

Thank you David for sharing the beauty and the adventure of the wild Florida natural world. I am thankful to be able to, at least, appreciate it vicariously through you. Thank you !
Susan L. Smith

Bob Walker said...

David, these are outstanding nostalgic shots. I grew up in south Florida in the 60's and spent many, many days and nights in the Fakahatchee and often at that cabin. It is so refreshing to see the variegated Guzmanias, Ghost orchids and the cabin again. I hope the old water pump was still there with tasty iron water coming out of it. Thanks for the beauty.

Rachel said...

What a great trip! Love the subtle beauty of the glades. Hope to see you soon.
Rachel Depart

Lola said...

I've been to F a couple times, the first with birds scattering like confetti all around me, and once spent a day cross-country there but it's always been a dream of mine to sleep in that shack. You've made it real enough that I almost feel I have. Thank you!

David Moynahan said...

Thanks, All!

Eric Zamora said...

Love the photos, and especially the panther shot david.

Susan in FL said...

I love the baby tree snail!

Anonymous said...

These are amazing shots! Thanks for sharing your trip. There is something that haunts me about the swamp. I love it and would love to someday stay in Fakahatchee like you did to see some of that unique beauty. For now, I certainly cannot go (too busy raising kids), so thanks for allowing me a virtual trip through the lens of your camera. You have a beautiful sense of composition! - Wendy

David Moynahan said...

Thank you Wendy. Glad you found my story. d