Paddle Report on Johnsons Beach September 20, 2002
by Bruce Zimmerman
How to get there: From Alabama take U.S. 98 east into Florida and turn south (right) on 293. Take 292 (Sorrento Road) right and cross the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. Look for Johnsons Beach Road on the left just before 292 makes a sweeping turn to the right . Follow Johnsons Beach Road into the park.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Ann and Larry McDuff took the lead on this trip to Johnsons Beach, a part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. They planned to camp there the night before and paddle the bayside the next day.
The weather had been quite humid, but on the night of the 19th the wind was kicking 15 to 20 mph which made a delightful cooling effect on the beach. Surf on the Gulfside was breaking about 3 feet high making a pretty good roar. On the bayside the water was just about dead calm, not mirror smooth, but calm with some ripples for texture. An almost full moon rose above the horizon after 6 p.m. The fresh sea air drove away biting insects and city smells.
The park rules specify parking half a mile west of the end of the road and primitive camping begins half a mile east of the end of the road past a PVC pipe marker labeled F. We dropped our packs at the end of the road and went back to park the car in the legal zone. The walk back to our gear was easy on flat pavement. We were walking along with a view of sunset colors on remnants of cumulus clouds and the moon peeking out brightly between them. We picked up our packs and took the last of the many wooden crossover walkways to the Gulfside beach and hiked east in the twilight. The moonlight enabled us to read the PVC markers easily and once we found the F marker ( F had a companion marker, a larger striped pole) we hiked a little farther to a high open area without vegetation (another park rule is don't camp on vegetation) to set up camp.
Ann and Larry had arrived earlier and paddled with their gear to find a campsite. I think that is a spendid alternative to hiking because they had their boats with them and had the option of a twilight paddle on the bay. Ann and Larry really know how to have the most fun. The night was great for sleeping, even out in the open.
Just after dawn, a civilian helicopter treated us to an overflight at 20 feet altitude.
We hiked back to the car and drove to the park pavilion for rest rooms and a picnic table breakfast. The road had several joggers out and about. A family from Lillian arrived at the pavilion after us and split up to go exploring the facility in different directions.
We returned to the crossover where Larry's car was parked, the last crossover on the bayside. The crossover made the portage down to the water easy. We could see a kayaker coming from the east as we set down the first boat on the sand. By the time we brought down the second boat, Larry was beaching his Shenai next to the first boat we set down. Good timing, Larry.
We paddled east along the bayshore to meet up with Ann who had stayed at the campsite. The bayside water was clear, easily 6 foot visibility near the shoreline and better visibility off the beach. The bottom varied between light colored sand and dark colored eel grass. The cleanliness of the water, I thought, was comparable to Joseph Bay. From our vantage point on the water, the reason for the rule to camp half a mile from the end of the road was more apparent. Hurricane damage to the dune system was still evident in that first half mile stretch of beach. In several places, wash through left a gaping hole in the dune line. Further eastward, the dune size was higher, and the dune vegetation was more mature.
The four of us paddled on to the east towards Langley Point and two coves. Rounding Langley point, we noticed four white cylindrical buoys across the mouth of the cove prohibiting combustion engines inside the cove. We paddled in and Larry who was in the lead called out Look at the rays! A pair of brown colored rays with about a three foot wingspan and long slender black tails came flying underwater towards us. The water was shallow and clear giving this cove an aquarium look. This cove also held a sailboat wreck five feet above the tideline. We stopped to take a look at it close up.
We departed, finishing paddling the inside of this cove and returned to the bay and our eastward track. We could see on the north shore pretty houses which at this distance look like colorful boxes in the trees. Some big boats cruised the channel on the north side leaving the southside for us and small fishing boats trolling with electric motors. We took our lunch and a swim at Redfish Point. The day was sunny and warm so the swim refreshed us. Further to the east, a high island of white sand rose out of the bay, a spoil bank, somewhat like that at Gravine Island. It was tempting to go look, but we decided to save that for next time. We had had enough sun and fun for the day. We paddled back eager for a freshwater shower at the park pavillion.