Some of the islands along the west coast of Florida are owned by the state and operated as State Parks. Among the high rise condos and overdeveloped land, there remains quiet, peaceful, natural, native Florida.
Caladesi State Park
Caladesi Island is located immediately north of Clearwater Beach. The entire island is a Florida State Park. It has a number of facilities, including a 108 slip marina. The marina is mainly for small boats, having only 4 or 5 slips for boats the size of Last Dance. After crossing a shallow bay and navigating among some mangrove islands, a very protected cove is reached on the east side of the island. The full-moon tides dropped the water levels in the marina to just under 4 feet, putting Last Dance on the bottom. The challenges of navigating into this marina is well rewarded with a beautiful beach - claimed to be one of the most beautiful in the U.S.
|Caladesi Beach, looking north. Island in background is Honeymoon Island, another State Park.|
This must be a popular park in densely populated Pinellas County, but in January we had the beach much to ourselves. Again, an opportunity to enjoy a bit of real Florida as a private enclave. Timing is treating the crew of Last Dance well.
Oyster Catchers worked the surf line in search of shellfish. There were a large number of these shore birds present, the first observed on a Florida beach.
Blue skies and glorious sunsets amid warm weather in January. Can it get any better? To borrow from our friends Brian and Jackie Smilie:
You Gotta Smile!
Stump Pass State Park
It is easy to understand how Stump Pass and the state park just to the north got their names. Ever see a beach filled with tree stumps? The above photo is the south shore of Stump Pass State Park, looking west into the Gulf of Mexico with Stump Pass leading to the bay on the left.
Stump Pass State Park is accessible by car, so the crew had to share the beach. But, even though the beach was not private, it was nature at its best. The anchorage, not far away, did provide a peaceful spot with mangrove islands.
Don Pedro State Park
Don Pedro, located on the island so named, provided another great anchorage for Last Dance. But, it was not the most impressive park, evidenced by the fact that the crew captured no photographs. A worthwhile stop along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, an anchorage mostly surrounded by nature, and Bonnie enjoyed the opportunity for a walk in the park. Google will help with a satellite photo of the park.
Click here for a Google Map of Don Pedro State Park
Cayo Costa State Park
Cayo Costa State Park is a barrier island located at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, north of Ft. Myers. It is reachable only by boat, has a free dock for small boats, and a large anchorage.
The trail across the island is a mile-long path. It makes a nice walk, or you can wait for one of the park volunteers to drive the shuttle, which is a trailer pulled behind the park service pickup.
The bay side of the island is covered with a dense forest, including live oaks with resurrection fern.
The park rangers discourage visitors from swimming in the lagoon.
Punta Blanca is an island lying parallel and to the east of Cayo Costa, forming Pelican Bay between the islands. Pelican Bay is a great anchorage providing a short dinghy ride to the park dock. A great anchorage unless the winds really pick up, which was predicted. For a more protected anchorage, Last Dance moved to a small cove at the south end of Punta Blanca.
Click for Google Map of Punta Blanca Southern Cove
The move to Punta Blanca not only provided a better anchorage, it was an entirely different experience of flora and fauna. The two neighboring islands are quite different. Up the path from the little beach where the dinghy landed was a sign:
These holes are our homes. Please do not put your trash in them.
The Gopher Tortoise Community
And, there were many gopher holes on Punta Blanca.
The unusually warm weather had the tortoises out sunning themselves..
Being fans of South Florida writers (Randy Wayne White, James W. Hall, Les Standiford), who often describe the settings in their stories with trees, the Gumbo Limbo tree common. It is not cold hardy enough to live even in north Florida, so most readers do not have a visual image in their minds when the tree is mentioned. Punta Blanca had Gumbo Limbo trees. The unique copper-colored bark peeling away to revel the newer dark green bark now has a visual image stored in the brain.
Punta Blanca also had examples of how humans have brought destructive forces to Florida through the introduction of non-native plants. At left is an Australian Pine with a Brazilian Pepper growing under it and to the left. The Australian Pine was introduced to prevent beach erosion and to quickly grow wind breaks for farmers. They adapted well to Florida, pushed out native plants, and created an environment where few animals can survive. The Brazilian Pepper was brought to Florida as an ornamental because of its dark green leaves and bright red berries. It, too, pushes out native plants, even more aggressively, often completely covering an area. Brazilian Pepper is in the same family as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
Real Florida, the natural and native, can be experienced along the water in west Florida, thanks to the Florida State Parks.
Moon rise over mangrove islands at Caladesi State Park.