After policing the campsite and picking up the mess the `coons had made, we sat down to have breakfast and discussed the plan for the day. We were happy to see the sun was coming out and the wind was still as could be. It was going to be a perfect day of canoeing going back. After cleaning up the mess in my canoe, we broke camp and loaded the canoes. We left Craven’s Hammock at 9:30.
What a pleasure! The current was strong and in our favor, and there was a very slight wind. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip back to the sill. It was around 1:00 when we pulled out on the sill and had lunch and a stretch. We had stopped along the way several times to take pictures and film several large gators. Once again, we discovered we were lunching between three gators. One, about four and a half feet long, to our north about 100 feet, and two more than six feet long to our south, about 150 feet.
The wind began to come up but not nearly as strong as it had the day before when we were coming upstream.
We paddled south silently, enjoying the scenery and the sun and marveling at all the gators sunning themselves along the sill. They were everywhere. For the first time, (as mentioned earlier) I was amazed to see a huge turtle sunning himself on a log. This guy was almost a foot across. All the other turtles, (and that had been very few), had been no more than four to five inches across. One would think it would be a common sight to see lots of turtles in the swamp . . . However, there are not as many as you might think. Same for snakes. Out of the four or five times I have been into the swamp, this trip was the first time I have seen snakes.
I think this was mainly due to the highwater. I’m certain there are many, but they have just not been where they were easily seen. Turtles, snakes, bass, `coons, fox, ducks, or anything else they can catch, make up the alligator’s diet.
I think this was mainly due to the highwater. I’m certain there are many, but they have just not been where they were easily seen. Turtles, snakes, bass, `coons, fox, ducks, or anything else they can catch, make up the alligator’s diet. I’m sure the turtle is a main course since it’s so slow.
It was near 3:00 when we came to the main sill that begins the Suwannee River. Roughly 100 feet north of the sill is a sign pointing to Craven’s Hammock, one way, and " home" . . . the other way. Having found the Brown Trail to have ample markers that were highly visible, we expected to find the same on this run back to camp. We had gone almost a quarter mile without seeing a single marker. We checked, and we were going in the right direction so we continued on. About a mile later, we found ONE marker. "Finally," we said, now feeling better that we were on the right trail.
So we continued on east, all the time keeping an eye on our compass.
Shortly, we came to a blue `government weather gauge’ in the middle of a very large lily pond. There were quite a few duck feeder houses along the north side. We still thought we were on the right trail.
We went about another mile without seeing any more markers and ran into what looked like no more trails . . . just water in the trees. Now we realized we had a potentially serious problem.
It was past 4:00 P.M. and we were nowhere near our pullout. Neither of us relished the thought of spending the night in the swamp. So we tried the cell phones to call the Park Office, only to find that mine had a dead battery, and Chuck’s would not get out.
After a brief "emergency mode"discussion, we decided the only thing we could do, with the amount of daylight we had left was to backtrack to the sill, then turn South along the Sill and pull out at the ramp at Sill Road. That way we would be off the water before dark. That’s exactly what we did. It was after 6:00 P.M. by the time we pulled out on the grass of Sill Road.
The air was still, the smell of the forest was sweet and we felt much better knowing that we had gotten out of the swamp before dark. Park rules are that one has to be off of the water and checked back in by 5:00 P.M. We were worrying that they might send out a search boat if we didn’t notify them soon.
As we pulled out, the mosquitoes formed a large welcoming party. They were the giant ones and they were aggravating. We passed the repellant to Mac leaving him to watch our gear, and took off walking for the main road. OOPS! We found the entrance to Sill Road to be closed off with a large steel cable . . . and locked. It was seven miles back to camp and neither of us was in the mood to try walking it. Shortly, a pickup came along and we hitched a ride to the office.
It was closed but we noticed a state car there so we knocked on the window. Luckily, Barbara Pike, one of the gals in charge of the office was still working. We explained our problem and she called five or six people to help but there was no answer at any of them. She said she had a key to the Sill Road Gate and would let us in. Great! We though all of our troubles were solved . . . not quite!
We pulled into Sill Road and loaded the canoes and gear into my van and Chuck’s truck, closed and locked the gate, and headed for campsite # 19. Since that one was one of the few that had been dry and had enough room for all tents and vehicles, we had made reservations for that site for this night, before leaving Tuesday.
When we turned into the campground, we stared in disbelief. That side of the campground was closed and blocked off. We headed for #48 which had been our alternate site, only to find it was occupied as well as most of the other sites on that open side. Again, we were in a pickle.
We had pulled over beside the main road and were discussing our options when a big fancy 98 Ford F-350 – dually pulled up and the driver asked if we needed help. It turned out Sonny Marshall, the Park Supervisor, was the passenger. We told him about our reservation and that side of the campground was now closed, and everything else was full. He said "Heck, that’s no problem, we can take care of that, follow me." We did and he opened up the gate to the closed side and let us in. After all the formal "thank you’s" We finally pulled into a high and dry site #19.
Once again, things had worked out. We had the campground all to ourselves with the exception of one other camper at the far end who was backpacking.
By the time we pulled into our site, it was very dark. But we had very few mosquitos. We lit our lantern and set up camp quickly. We were just getting the stove in place on the picnic table when Mac said, "Well! . . . We got company again." I looked and here comes a big coon strutting into camp like he owned the place. He seemed real surprised when he found out he was unwelcome and shinnied up a tree fast.
As we ate supper, we had another show up at the edge of the campsite but he ambled off without bothering us. The first guy was still perched in the tree, when we went to bed right after we ate. We made certain we "gleaned" the camp this time so we could get a full night of sleep. By this time, each of us were ready to drop. I don’t think I even moved all night I was so tired.
Though we had a few problems here and there, overall, it was a great trip and I would love to do it again some day. In fact, since my camcorder went south on most of my film (Chuck got some good shots) we are already talking about making another run to Craven’s Hammock again this spring when the water is more normal and the weather is better, for the express purpose of filming more of the swamp and wildlife this time.
I hope you were able to glean enough good information from this gabby old man that you also can make this enjoyable trip one day. If you have kids… I’m sure they would remember a trip like this the rest of their lives. Make sure you take your camera and plenty of film.