The Florida Keys are made up of some 1,700 islands. From Miami to Key West, this archipelago stretches over 150 miles alone. It’s here where I found some unique saltwater kayaking opportunities stretching from the Cow Key to Key Largo.
Kayaking through the Cow Key Channel
The two hour, 1.5 mile roundtrip through the Cow Key Channel beginning at US Highway MM (mile marker) 4.1(just outside of Key West) with Lazy Dog Kayak Guides involved a steady current that’s heavily influenced by the two high and low tides coming from both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean each day. The firm breeze helped to counter the muggy conditions. Bethany and her four-legged companion Tucker (a.k.a. “Mr. T”) served as our guides.
Through her guidance as we kayaked through open waters 2-10 foot deep, a natural mangrove creek and one “hurricane hole” (a pond surrounded by mangroves that offer more protection from hurricanes), I got an up close and personal view of primary Red Mangrove trees, whose prop roots filter out about 95 per cent of the saltwater while the trees leaves sacrifice themselves to filter out the rest of the salt so the trees can have “potable” water. Their death means decomposition in the channel, which creates the soil ingredients to build up the small islands.
In my 12 foot Perception model, I heard the soundtrack of osprey, Great Blue and White Heron as I paddled through the waters, ranging in depth of two to ten feet. Bethany often stopped alongside the mangrove growth to educate our group about the plant and animal life thriving here, letting us hold them. Creatures like the prickly-feeling Florida Spiny Sea Star, and the Sea Cucumber, which has the feel of its vegetable counterpart. She was excited when she came across a government-protected Queen Conch, a large creepy-looking snail that would make the subject of a good horror film.
Venturing to the Key with “No Name”
Just four miles off of US 1 at MM 30, I found a more isolated, off the beaten path world, where I kayaked roundtrip over a couple of hours in waters 1-18 feet in depth from Big Pine Key to the No Name Key (where the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was staged). The winds whistled through the palms on a mostly cloudy morning and afternoon, helping to keep the heat and mugginess in check. Our guide from Big Pine Kayak Adventures, was Bill Keogh. He’s kayaked some 800 Florida Keys.
Like Bethany at Cow Key, Keogh’s four-footed friend joined, a friendly mixed breed named Scupper, who quickly won my fondness. As we set off from Big Pine Key, the scent of sulfur permeated my nostrils because of the decomposing seagrass which this Key catches from Florida Bay. Getting to the Key with “No Name” meant crossing the Bogie Channel’s choppy waters (about a 1/3 mile long) in a 12 foot Vapor that weighed 50 pounds.
When I looked down into the more shallow waters, I caught the sight of flat Turtle Grass, round Manatee Grass, and soft-looking Shoal Grass waving back and forth. Being out in this wide channel heightened my sense of isolation from the hustle and bustle only a few miles away. My eyes took in the sight of a kettle of Turkey Vultures heading south for winter. Arriving at the No Name Key, we paddled into a deep mangrove forest via a very narrow creek, so narrow that I dismantled my paddle into halves, using one along with low-hanging branches to navigate hundreds of feet. But awaiting my camera was a camouflaged Yellow-Crowned Night Heron bouncing around from tree to tree as well as a variety of crabs climbing the densely-packed branches. Read More→