I think that this again reinforces the just down right friendliness of the people I met on my hike.
Just imagine…. this fisherman did not know me from the next guy coming down the road. Of course I looked the part of a hiker with all of the equipment. It may have helped. Nevertheless sometimes I just had to delay my trip for a great experience. It was good that I was not really in a hurry!
I got over the canal and off the bridge, then took a rest and had something to eat. I thought I must be near a Navy bombing target because silver stub nose Navy planes were streaking in overhead heading south. They would dive, pull up and circle around to do it over and over. They came in groups of two’s and three’s. They had red and green lights on their swept-back wings. What a great show!
I continued south on Highway 19. I figured that I must be getting close to the Oklawaha River. I heard an alligator bellowing, and it echoed against the trees. I crossed a river bridge and saw a sign to Johnson Field boat ramp and campsite. I was sure glad to arrive even though it was dark. I had hiked approximately 25 miles! …..
It was morning and the sunlight was filtering through the trees. A hoot owl sounded off in the distance. I got up and checked out the boat ramp….
There were a couple of house boats along the shore, one on the opposite bank and the other sunk on my side. This was a perfect opportunity to do some sketching. Later on I saw a guy working on his boat. I got to talking to him about the river and fishing. He said that he was going out later in the afternoon and invited me to go for a boat ride and fishing with him and his friends. I accepted….A couple of the fisherman’s friends, a girl and boy stopped by to talk.
Just a little past lunch, the fisherman came by and we went over to the boat ramp where he had his boat docked. His two friends were already on the boat. We launched the boat and headed up-river. From what little I know about boats, the boat was 12 foot long, looking like a flat-bottom boat with twin hulls. It went like a flash, a real thrill ride. My fisherman friend knew the river. There were many side channels. You could get lost if you didn’t know the river, partly because of its sharp bends. It was beautiful scenery, a stark contrast to the canal I had just crossed yesterday. We stopped and dropped anchor in a back channel. There the cypress and water oaks formed a towering roof 40 feet above us.
The Oklawaha River,* is a Creek Indian name for “muddy.” It is a little bit unusual because it flows north from Leesburg and then east where it dumps into the north-flowing St. Johns River…..
In the 19th and 20th centuries the river was used for steamboat transportation* from the St. Johns River mostly to the famous Silver Springs located center west of the now Ocala National Forest. In fact many famous figures traveled this way from Palatka to the springs: Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe to name a few. These steam boats were very narrow. Many were only 18 feet wide at the waterline and 30 feet high above the water. They had to be small and have good turning capability to navigate the winding twisting river. The river is navigable for most of its length.
Many parts of the Oklawaha River’s natural beauty are as they were when the Seminoles roamed and hunted years ago. One will see semi-tropical forest along the sides of the river. The forests are filled with maples, bald cypress, palmettos and pines of all types. In fact, it is so wild that one may see many animals such as bobcats, deer, otters, wild boar, black bear and turkeys. There are also plenty of fish, small mammals and birds.
However we did not catch any of those plentiful fish….