Inside-Outside: Willy Willy to Highland Beach

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Day 4: I didn’t sleep well last night.  I woke up around 3:00 am with a pain in my right hip.  My new air mattress had deflated and my hip was pressed into the hard sand below.  I must not have sealed the valve completely, I thought.  So I re-inflated the mattress and went back to sleep, thinking no more about it.  But I knew when I got up it would be another two cup morning.  

Joel didn’t try to make coffee in a big pot for all of us at once.  Instead he used a type of Folgers, finely ground coffee in a teabag.  The bag was put in a cup and boiling water was poured over it, one bag for regular, two bags for strong coffee.  I was a two bag guy.  

Day 4

Today we would start our trip inside on the watertrail, and end it outside on the Gulf.  We would cross Rock Creek from our camp at  Willy Willy, and head south southeast to find a shortcut through an unnamed stream, picking up the watertrail again at Rogers River Bay. Heading southwest down the wild and beautiful Rogers River, we would paddle its length until we reached the point where it joined the Broad River and exited into the Gulf of Mexico.  Once in the Gulf we were to turn north, paddling along the coast to reach our campsite at Highland Beach, having covered about 16 miles.

This was arguably the prettiest paddle of the trip.  The day was beautiful, warm with a bright blue sky, and a light breeze.  The Rogers River is narrow and winding over much of its length. This allowed us to paddle close to shore, observing the way the dense, low growing trees crowded and overhung its banks.  We kept our eyes open, looking for birds and animals as we paddled along,  but we really didn’t see many.  

There were lots of birds.   Back from the river were tall trees covered with white pelicans. We watched as clouds of white rose from the treetops.  Hundreds of white pelicans with their broad wings extended and motionless, wheeled and soared on rising thermals, creating a vast, slow motion ballet in the sky.  We watched for some time until the tableau disappeared from sight.  Further on we were entertained by flocks of White Ibis playing follow the leader as they circled back and forth between the treed banks of the stream. 

Bruce, Rebecca and some others observed Sundogs, also known as Parhelion, which are seen as  a bright spot in the sky appearing on either side of the sun, formed by the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals high in the earth's atmosphere.  But I didn’t see it.

Yesterday, when we paddled through Alligator Bay, we expected , of course, to see alligators, but we didn’t see any.  In fact only a single alligator, a small one, was seen on this trip.  However, as we approached the Roger’s junction with the Broad River and Gulf of Mexico, Joel and I spotted a large American Crocodile sunning on a muddy bank.  I had only heard that American Crocodiles were living in South Florida, but had never seen one.  This guy was unmistakable.  He was big, with a  triangular head ending in a narrow pointed jaw showing many  teeth, so different from the American Alligator’s broad rectangular head.  He lingered for only a few seconds, but long enough for Joel and I to agree on what we had seen.  We saw one more smaller crocodile on this leg of the trip.    

There were other birds seen on the Rogers, several species of Heron, Osprey, Kingfishers, Cormorants, and Anhingas, but none in the dramatic assembladge of the White Pelicans and White Ibis.  

As we left the river and turned right, heading along the coast toward our next camp at Highland Beach, I was struck by the enormous difference between the closeness of the river and the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico.  Each one is beautiful in its own way, but I think I prefer the cozy feeling of the river.

Highland Beach, designated a wilderness campsite by Everglades National Park, is a long stretch of sand about twenty feet wide, blending into calf high grasses and low brush that marched back for about one hundred yards, ending at a thick row of trees.  We pitched our tents in a line along the sand at the back of the beach, while staying out of the grass. Bruce, Rebecca and the Doucettes were grouped together at the north end of our encampment.  I, being somewhat anti-social, set up about one hundred yards south of this group.  Joe joined me, while Phil went even further south, voluntarily banishing himself so that he would not disturb anyone’s sleep with his impressive snoring.  

After setting up my tent I got out the Jetboil stove and my chair to make a cup of coffee.  As I sat there staring contentedly at the water, I was jolted by the sight of a shark’s fin passing parallel to shore only about twenty-five feet off the beach, and he wasn’t alone.  I watched as several sharks patrolled the area.  Out in deeper water, I saw dolphins chasing their dinner, circling and splashing as they tried to catch their prey.  

Joe was hot to have a campfire.  He had been frustrated because we couldn’t have open fires inside the park, but it was okay on the beach as long as the fire was placed below the highest high tide mark.  Soon he was recruiting us to walk along the beach with him and gather driftwood for a fire.  We all contributed something to the wood pile, but Joe did the most of the work. 

Joel had camped north of the Doucettes.  He set up our kitchen in the space between them.  Soon  folks were grabbing their chairs and wine bladders and gathering around our propane campfire.  As folks again struggled with the difficult decision, white or red, Joel was producing another great one pot meal.  Outstretched arms, each holding a bowl, waited to be served. When everyone had eaten, Joel asked who would finish the leftovers so that he wouldn’t have to put them in the garbage bag and pack it out.  Phil, who could eat more than any of us, stepped forward to volunteer.  Sitting quietly, enjoying full bellies from our warm meal, we watched a glorious sunset light the vastness of the western sky as day slipped quietly into night.  


As darkness fell, Joe got to work building his campfire.  He soon had a small blaze going.  He kept tending it, adding more driftwood until he had a small bonfire going.  We all pulled our chairs around and stared into it, becoming lost in our own thoughts.  Here and there quiet conversation would briefly break the spell until the fire pulled us back in.  When it subsided, one by one we each made our way to our tents and sleep.

Video summary of Day 4

Next Page: Along the Everglades Coast

 © Don Yackel 2020