This warm sunny excursion took place the weekend of January 8th & 9th of this year. While the better part of the country has been stuck in their homes due to the winter siege and suffering from the symptoms of cabin fever, I had the good fortune of basking in the type of weather, tropical dreams are made of. Temperatures during the day in the low 80's, humidity non-existent by South Florida standards of 90-100 percent, a light sprinkle during the night the only precipitation, with a slight breeze from the East on both days making this an excellent Winter getaway.
The Nest Keys, North and South are located approximately 7.5 miles West-Northwest of Key Largo, Florida the northern most Key in the chain of islands linking South Florida with Key West. The Nest Keys positioned within Florida Bay and amidst the boundary of Everglades National Park. If you decide to overnight a Permit is required for camping on NORTH NEST KEY and can be obtained from the National Park Service via telephone the day of your departure. The Park Service is the provider of the minimal luxuries on this primitive island. Minimal, consisting of nothing more than his and her matching pair of out house's positioned at the end of a dock that juts out from the Northwest side of the island.
What you won't find is the basic necessities of survival and comfort, such as food, drink, shelter, bedding, warmth or medical assistance.
What you will find is a pleasant, pristine paddling experience across the warm, shallow crystal clear waters of Florida Bay where wildlife abounds in the cooler months. The winter migration of birds is a big attraction to this area as well as the river of grass to the North and other South Florida wetlands. I can virtually guaranty the presence of Pelicans white and brown, Herons, Egrets, Ospreys, Roseate Spoonbills and maybe a Bald Eagle. If your really lucky you may get to see a stray Pink Flamingo foraging for a meal and I'm not referring to the tacky plastic lawn ornaments so commonly seen throughout suburbia, but managed an escape from one of the touristy theme parks to the north. The opportunity to see stingrays and small sharks as they feed on crabs and fish in the shallow grass flats exist. A fisherman's paradise awaits you, Permit, Redfish, Snook, Seatrout and Tarpon are the sought after game in these waters. Barracuda will keep a watchful eye while you silently skim by. South Florida is the Winter home of the endangered West Indian Manatee (Sea cow) that congregate here from the cooler waters of the North and will likely meet your acquaintance. You will witness first hand spectacular Sunrises with all its fiery beauty and on the clearest of days the ever popular "Florida Keys Meltdown Sunset", wherein the Suns appears to melt into the horizon.
You won't want to forget your camera on this trip as the wildlife and scenery beckons for your photographic attention.
IF YOU GO
Getting to the starting point you are heading for Key Largo, Florida and the Florida Bay Outfitters approximately 85 miles South of Miami. US1 South out of Miami or the Florida Turnpike South to Florida City connecting to US1 South to Key Largo. If you are in the more adventurous mood, try taking CARD SOUND TOLL ROAD out of Florida City to Key Largo, along this route you may feel inclined to stop at ALABAMA JACKS a patio bar and seafood restaurant overlooking Florida Bay. Alabama Jacks land marking the small fishing and squatters village known too many as downtown card sound. I have made it a habit over the years to use this opportunity to get out of the car and stretch and peek into the clear waters for lurking fish and lobster. A short time later via either route you will arrive Key Largo and your starting point.
If you didn't bring your own Kayak, Canoe or Camping Gear with you for the trip, The Staff at Florida Bay Outfitters specialize in the necessary rental equipment and instruction. I have found the Staff to be very helpful with any questions or concerns. Courtesy overnight parking and boat launch is available to paddlers starting from this point, I recommend checking in with the Staff prior departing the ramp.
Don't forget a waterproof chart, compass and good accurate directions before you head out, because you won't find any signs or arrows guiding you in the right direction.
The paddling adventure begins heading southwest across Blackwater sound to Dusenbury Creek, although a beautiful, crystal clear mangrove lined channel, it is also a freeway for motor boat traffic avoiding the shallow surrounding area. Along Dusenbury Creek are numerous smaller creeks, mangrove tunnels you can venture into for further exploration or shelter from the Sun. Upon exiting Dusenbury Creek you will paddle west across Tarpon Basin and enter Grouper Creek, again very similar to Dusenbury Creek in beauty and characteristics. Exiting west from Grouper Creek you resume paddling west through shallow flats and numerous smaller islands into open water northwest to Porjoe Key. Once you arrive Porjoe Key you may want to take a breather on the leeward side of the island enjoying the dead calm serenity while taking in a little bird watching, fishing or a snack break. This next leg of the trip will take you West to the southern corner of South Nest Key. If you arrive during low tide you will be greeted by a slough of every kind of bird imaginable resting on a long thin sand bar. A little further and you will see an Osprey Nest only a few feet above the water marking the southern edge of South Nest Key. Paddling around to the backside of the island you will soon see the dock and Outhouse's I mentioned earlier laying claim to North Nest Key. You then feel the certainty knowing you have arrived at the pair of islands you steadily labored toward for past four hours and the needed rest is near.
On your approach to North Nest Key your scanning the shore line for the ultimate campsite, taking into consideration the direction of the breeze, your looking for shade and the whitest section of sand. The Sunrise and Sunset is another consideration when establishing the ultimate campsite no matter where the trip, maybe you will want a buffer or distance between you and neighboring campers. You locate that special spot and paddle ashore, you dismount the boat that seems to have grown to be a part of you, stretching, bending, your bones creaking and cracking. A deep breath and your ready to commence the ritual of setting up camp. Perhaps, a beverage of choice before you begin plucking your gear so thoughtfully stowed from within your boats holds. The tent, sleeping bag, lantern, etc., the so familiar routine to any camping trip. Maybe a short break from time to time remembering this is meant to be a relaxing outing away from the daily grind.
Its time to kick back and enjoy the fact your not in Buffalo or Green Bay or some other god forsaken Winter land. Maybe you will want to take a stroll or a paddle around the island to visit your neighboring campers and feathered friends. Relax and enjoy a sunset dinner, early a sleep, early to rise. Maybe you will want to stay up and terrorize the small fish and larger prey that have gathered in the shallow flats just off the beach by shining your flashlight at them causing mass panic amongst their ranks. Study the stars or just keep an eye open for shooting stars, making wish after wish.
Breakfast and an early return grants you once again another "Solar extravaganza", waters even calmer than yesterday, the birds and fish responding to first light, many heading to their favorite feeding grounds, others already at the buffet table nature provided. Choosing to retrace your route affords you the same serenity and protection of the many islands that helped you get out here in the first place. Another route being through the islands known as the Bogies, named after Actor, Humphrey Bogart who filmed the movie AFRICAN QUEEN at this location. Now for the final leg of your adventure a straight southeastern shot across Blackwater Sound to the Florida Bay Outfitters boat launch to conclude and add this pilgrimage to your portfolio of stories and adventures. The later return route through the Bogies is more of an open water paddle and should only be taken under ideal conditions as the weather and seas are sometimes unpredictable and unforgiving to the small boater.
Primative Camping, no freshwater, portable outhouses.
14.5 Necky Dolphin Sit on Top Kayak.
$ 10.00 fee payable to the National Park Service
US1 south to Key Largo, Florida Keys.
Books available and nautical chart recommended.