Photo documentary,
Suwannee River,

From Fargo, Georgia to Live Oak, FL.
May 9th to May 15th,   - Approximately 75 miles

Water level on the 9th was 62.27
on pull-out on the 15th - was 58.68
This was excellent paddling and the weather was perfect, though very hot.

By Bill Logan

The Suwannee is one beautiful river.       Click to enlarge all photos

   My paddling partner Larry Reese of Orlando and I (and my canoeing navigator, Rusty)  had been planning this trip for several weeks but for one reason or another, either weather or water,  we had kept sliding the trip back until all was right.  On the week of the May 9th to 15th it was perfect though this was the latest either of us had paddled this river due to heat.  But we both were aching to get our paddles wet so we went for it.  I have other trip feedbacks of this section of the river on my site so I'm not doing a trip story,  just a photo album of the scenery on this beautiful river. And if I may point out, this is a documentary of the river, not boasting of our trip.  Though I took over 200 photos, (I retired as a commercial photographer in California)   obviously I have edited them considerably.  The point of the documentary is for those who have never seen this beautiful river, to give them full exposure to it's beauty at all points of the river. Most paddlers consider themselves doing well to take a half dozen photos.  That certainly does not show enough of the river for a total stranger to understand the whole upper river is outstandingly beautiful.
I hope you enjoy this page and I welcome your comments.

Like most websites, clicking on the photo will enlarge it, clicking on 'back' will return you to the page.

Before beginning, let me say that on this trip we found that due to three floods in a row, they  had destroyed some of our favorite campsites. I will be adding more exact distances between points when my friend Larry sends me the GPS numbers and trip distances so you might want to check back later if you would like that more detailed info.

For those interested,  . . . I am posting photos of my new Cedar Strip Canoe at the end of this documentary. This was it's maiden voyage, shakedown cruise.

 

  The Suwannee is one of the most beautiful paddling and camping rivers in the US, and certainly THE most beautiful in the southeastern US.  It is a paddlers dream. Mostly placid waters. However, at Big Shoals, 5 miles upriver from White Springs, for about 1000 feet, it is the only white water in Florida.

   On gator watch.

                     

    Larry prepares his supper at second night campsite. What's left of a superb white sugar sand campsite we had used since 1996.  A beautiful site and now almost gone, the only thing left usable is a flat sandy area up top.

    This is the Big Shoals pull-out at the portage. This huge white spot can be seen for over a half mile before reaching the pull out.  Easy to recognize.  One of the improvements I made here a couple years ago to make sure no one missed the pull-out.

  Just pulled in at the portage. 

 Larry makes ready to pull out at the portage.  Here loaded canoes must be portaged around these Class II and sometimes Class III rapids.  Don't try showing your macho here.  Better you portage and show intelligence.

  When at 55 to 60' on White Springs water level gauge, this is a Class II to Class III white water.  It is the only white water in Florida. Fun for the kayakers and those canoes that are empty with experienced paddlers.  They look easy but this is one case where looks are very deceiving.  DO NOT be fool hardy and try to run these rapids in a loaded canoe.  There have been many that were sorry. On one trip we found a guys sleeping bag and pack floating downstream.  They looked  like they had been in the water about a week. Ruined obviously. On our first trip we saw a destroyed canoe on the far side beach.

The portage trail is wide and clean all the way up to the campsites at the Shoals.  The main site (below) is an excellent camp-over spot.  I love camping there because the roar of the Shoals will sing you to sleep when you turn in. Outstanding camping.  I highly recommend to everyone to stop here for a rest and get a fresh start in the morning. If you don't own a dolly, you'll need the R&R

  The campsite here has room for about 4 tents and that can be extended by using the road area, there are also three more nice sites just beyond this main site in case it's occupied.  These campfire benches I also installed a couple years ago.  (at the same time as the post and white spot.)  Though they were installed deep with sack Crete, I'm surprised they have survived all the high rushing flood waters.

  I have no idea where this horrible monstrosity came from . . . whoever,  state or? that made this atrocious resemblance of a fire ring apparently never saw one.  It is more than twice (about 8")  too tall and not nearly wide enough. And I'm sure being 1/2 thick steel, it weighs a ton.  Therefore, it is almost impossible to (a) build a fire in it and put the wood on correctly, (b) impossible to clean out the excess ashes and trash without a large shovel.  One camper joked that "you'd almost need a posthole digger to clean it."  - Not necessarily true but close. (c)  being too full of trash and charcoal, the lower air vents are blocked so the fire starves for air.  It sorely needs to be replaced with a proper fire ring.  That would be roughly 6" deep, and minimum of  36" wide with a hinged fold over grate covering only 1/4 of the opening. It only need be a 1/4" or 5/16 thick steel. These are standard in most major parks all over the US.

    I mentioned above that there are other sites here at the Shoals. I have on my last few trips preferred the privacy and the space of using the last one. However, now, it also has almost been destroyed. Not the site, but access to it. Four wheel drive heavy trucks have destroyed the 12"drain pipe that allowed the water coming out of the swamp to drain without damaging the road. With the pipe destroyed, the water could not get through and ended up so badly eroding the road it left a small pond at that point.  It was a good thing that we had a dolly for each canoe.  Larry had gone first.  Him pulling and me pushing trying to get over the damaged pipe. Be advised that these dollies may look sturdy and strong, but they snap like twigs under a sudden load. We got the canoe up on top of the damaged pipe and when it came down hard on the other side both upright supports broke off. Larry was not a happy camper. After this disaster, we finally got mine through, unloaded it in camp and came back for Larry's canoe and gear.

   CAUSE . . .  . Destroyed 12" drainage duct . More than likely caused by heavy four wheel drive trucks plus the pipe was  probably weakened by age.
                   

    RESULT:  What was a good road over this large drain pipe, is now a washed out muddy puddle since the water could not get through the pipe, it completely washed out the road. 


    After a long paddling day, then portaging the extra distance to the last site, and his small disaster, Larry had his usual "nectar of the Gods" and relaxes before a nice fire.

    These two shots are the last shoals campsite which we prefer,  but now extremely difficult to get to. With or without a dolly.

    The shoals cause an unbelievable amount of foam generated by the natural phosphates in the water.  It takes at least two miles downstream before one gets out of it. This is about two miles below the shoals.

    Every trip I have taken since 1996 I have always stopped at this campsite, which is on the right, about 8 miles below the Hwy 41 bridge in White Springs.  Once again old man river screwed this site up also. From where I'm standing (in mud) straight across to the white sand, used to be one large sugar sand beach. Now, it is less than half the camping area it used to be.
At this point, Larry and I had the site all to ourselves. We had just set up our gear and sat down to relax with a little "nectar of the Gods" when across the river came a thundering herd of kayaks.  It was the Sierra Club group - 16 strong.

    It really galls me when I come across some people's disregard for the environment. This mess was left behind on this campsite. As I always do, I cleaned up after them.  I would sure like to give them a good chewing and wake up call.

     The little sand strip on the other side of the river was not capable of handling a group of this size.  We watched for a few minutes and decided we should invite them to share our campsite.  Though it was muddy and not large enough at water's edge, they accepted and were able to spread out through the woods with their tents.  

    A couple of the college girls  (in their early twenties and who were from San Francisco) had trouble setting up their tents so Larry lent a hand and had them set up in a couple of minutes. We laughed at the cute young gals camping close to our tents.  I told Larry they felt safe there because we both were old codgers.  We both had  a chuckle out of that.

    The next five shots are of  The Sierra Club Suwannee camping at this site.

Lila and Susie were only a couple of the mixture of paddlers who ranged  from early 20's to one fellow from Michigan who was 71..  Lila from Alabama and Susie from Oakland, CA,

    These three are the group leaders of the Sierra Club kayak group.  I forgot to mention that they  Patrick and I think Doug , and wife Alice, (If I'm wrong on those last two names, I'm sure they'll let me know) expressed their thanks for us letting them join us on this site and not only donated a couple cold Heineken beers (which we were delighted to get) but invited us to join them for supper.  It didn't take much persuasion for us to say "yes."   The food was outstanding.  Well marinated  boneless chicken breasts and pork cutlets -- both which were cooked to excellence.  Flavor and tenderness were perfect, and served with white wine.  Larry and I both pigged out.  And my camping buddy, Rusty, did even better,  He feasted on at least 4 chicken breasts and a couple pork cutlets that were leftovers, plus he got scraps from several of the paddlers as well as myself. Of me, Larry and him, he got the most attention.

     When I took this group photo, they said "wait we have to have Rusty in the picture."  (Big ham,  he sure upstaged Larry and I.   ( grin ) Not to mention that he ate three times what we did.  {:o))

    Louisa Spring, is on right less than a half mile above the Hwy 75 bridge.

    All told, on our trip we must have seen at least 20 or 30 'gators. None were very large.  Most were in the range of 3 to 7 feet and 99% hit the water with a big splash the instant they they saw us. This youngman appears to be roughly 6 feet and stayed put but ready to plunge if we got too close.  This was more gators than I have ever seen on the Suwannee at any time.  I attribute that to the fact that the Okefenokee Federal Wildlife Service breeched the swamp sill a few years back and with all the extremely high water this year and last, more of the small gators left the swamp and came into the Suwannee or were swept into it. To those who are unfamiliar with alligators, they are not a threat.  99.8%  will stay clear of you if they can.  However, a 10 or 12 footer is another matter.  If you know one this size is in the vicinity of your camp, use common sense and caution. Especially where small children or dogs are concerned.

     The next day I ran into the Sierra Club again at their lunch and stretch break.  I didn't stop and continued on to my preferred campsite.

On my last day on the river, I set up my tent on a high bank overlooking the river. Later in the day as I was relaxing, the Sierra Group again came by so I popped a few shots.

More beautiful shots of the river.

    High sand banks are still around though not nearly as plentiful as they were before the high waters this year.  Most are excellent for family camping.  Those shown here and below are approximately 4 to 5 miles upstream of Live Oak, FL.

    Me and my paddling buddy stop for a snack and stretch break on this beautiful sugar sand bank.

     He let me know he was ready to get back on the river.  Got in without me having to tell him.  If he could talk, I'm sure he would have said, "OK, quit fooling around, I'm ready to go, "

     More sugar sand -- sandy beaches. 

     Just before Live Oak, as you come around a hard left bend, you suddenly see what is left of SUWANNEE SPRINGS.

    This was the spring fed swimming pool that the rich and famous played in back in the late 1800's.  Now breached and contaminated with river water, as well as the spring not flowing to the high capacity it once did, it is not as enticing at it once was but still interesting. There was a very plush hotel resort built here I'm told was very expensive in those days.  The following blurb is from Suwannee River Water Management district site.  Though very brief, you get the picture.
In the 1800s, visitors from all over the world came to soak in the sulfur springs, which were thought to have healing properties, and to be pampered at some of finest hotels of the era. One such hotel (Suwannee Springs) featured a springhouse, the remnants of which still stand.

     Suwannee Springs is still very pretty and worthy of making a stop to see (and stretch) if you have never seen it, I recommend you take the time.  It's quite pretty.

    End of trip, When you see this Hwy 129 bridge at Live Oak, the pull out is about a mile beyond.  I pulled out at the Canoe Outpost which is inside the Spirit of the Suwannee Music park.  We put in at Fargo, GA. at 10:15 AM on May the 9th, Arrived at 11:00 AM Sunday, May 15th.  However, this included two extra days of relaxing on the river, not necessary for those wishing to paddle through.  One extra day at Big Shoals Campsite, and one extra day at Crooked Creek,  6 miles above pullout.

My Cedar Stripper --  This was her maiden voyage.  Work begun January of 04 and she was completed April 26th, of 05, just in time for this trip.  Tickled to death with her performance. Sits level and straight empty, paddles straight as an arrow, maneuvers better than any canoe I have ever owned and is extremely stable.  Not nearly as tipsy as some I have had.  My only complain is that I was shooting for 47 lbs. and she topped out at 55.  Oh well.    But "I ain't complaining!"

 

NOTE: Hey guys,  If I can do it with zero past woodworking experience,--- I'm sure you can build one better!
But not if you don't try! If you have questions, you may contact me by my e-mail address. Be glad to help.

  Since I was doing all the picture taking, this is the only shot I have of me on this day, taken by Sierra Club group leader (using my camera) as I was pulling out from our campsite on Thursday morning. However, as you saw, my navigator is a ham and was in most of the photos. {:o)) Not really, but because most of the shots were taken while paddling and rushed.  By the way,  I as you saw in the building section, I built him his own special carpeted deck which I added some additional soft material.  He sits up there looking like I am his chauffer. He loves to canoe and camp. (And pee on every tree in North Florida)  My next project will be to somehow build him some sort of shade cover. Though I pamper him and stop often to wet him down and let him run, sitting there in the grueling sun for most of  the day has to be hard on him.   He's was 10 years old when photo was taken, and has been canoe camping with me for 9 of those years.  He's my buddy.  I never have to worry about snakes in my campsites.  He'll kill one in a heart beat and his favorite pastime is hunting them. I have curtailed his hunting somewhat, since I worry he'll go for a rattlesnake, if he were bitten, this far from a vet, and at his age, I might lose him.

    The following 4 shots taken in front yard after cleaning out all the sand, etc. from this trip.  Tent still up drying before storage. Believe it or not, I did not get a single scratch on the exterior on the trip. Have a small amount of sand scuffing on the (couple inches) front of the keel. I did get several small ones inside where my camera ammo box slipped off the cover in the bottom.

    Both bow and stern decks are walnut burl.  (These shots are obviously when she was still in the shop.)

    Both bow and stern have close cell marine foam cut and shaped and epoxied into the ends and enclosed by removable bulkheads which are also walnut burl.  I have no doubt this fancy stuff was where I picked up my extra 7 lbs. overweight. But it was fun and I'm proud of her.

     Again, still in the shop. Displaying her lines and accent pattern.

 

Parting note:
 I have an aircraft and aerospace background.  All mechanical.  I have never done any woodworking in my life. Knew almost nothing about woodworking. So if I can do it, so can you.

I would like to offer so many thanks for the guidance from three people who were at my finger tips when I needed help.

                                                                                                   Bill Logan
                  
xxxgeezer1@cfl.rr.com  
Remove the three X's or e-mail will not work.  (To foil the harvesters of e-mail addresses.)