Harriman State Park? Anytime!

naturist 0028 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

I’ve written about Harriman State Park near New York City on multiple occasions, but I guess you won’t be surprised that I’m at it again, given that it is the most accessible location for me where I can enjoy and explore nature “as nature intended”. So as Sandy Hook has become my default beach and the latest post about it proved it’s good anytime of the day, Harriman is my default outdoors location, which I find to be great anytime of the day – and I’d like to say anytime of the year, but I’ll have to limit this statement to spring, summer and autumn, as I haven’t been there in winter.

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Last October wasn’t so warm, but we did snatch a nice hike with some skinny dipping. I have some pictures of autumnal skinny dipping in another post, but here are just great views all the way up to Manhattan (Didn’t I say it was close? The photo is pretty zoomed in though.)

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It was nice to see all those bright colors, though frankly I prefer summer green (compare to this photo of Pine Meadow Lake view from a previous post). (Not to mention that I like swimming in those lakes when it’s warm, but we’ll get there.)

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Still, the autumn colors were spectacular, especially in contrast to the dark sky on that day.

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But it’s not like summer doesn’t offer more colors than “50 shades” of green. Here is the photo of the same islet on the Pine Meadow Lake with mountain laurels’ white-pink bloom a week ago.

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And here is a close-up of one of those:

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these bushes provide a fabulous backdrop for naked hiking 🙂 (And again, you can see more of such photos in an earlier blogpost.)

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Pink and purple tones seem to be particularly fashionable in Harriman:

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I’ll be happy if my more botany-inclined readers will identify these plants for me,

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but anyone can surely appreciate their beauty.

These wild roses also smelled sweet,

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and probably to preserve that smell they close for the night, when insects wouldn’t visit them anyways.

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And even young oak leaves in the beginning of May were of purple tones too.

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But some berberis shrubs bring the intensity of the color to the next level!

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And you can see an occasional red-leaved branch in the end of the summer, standing out among the greenery of the rest of the forest.

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The leaves of the plant below are usual green, but the shape is quite interesting, as if the tips were cut by someone.

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And some more flowers from this spring-beginning of summer:

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viola,

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berberis (green this time),

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and multiple white-blooming trees;

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blueberry bushes also bloomed intensely this year, so we can expect a nice blueberry season later in summer.

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Plants aren’t the only ones to please your eyes with bright colors in Harriman State Park:

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orange juvenile newts (efts) are a common sight in the beginning of summer,

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and we also saw an orange frog!

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This frog from last summer was not conspicuous at all though,

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but I wanted to take a picture of it, as it still had not finished its metamorphosis and featured a long tail.

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But then there was also a lizard with an orange head, a broad-headed skink:

I waited quite a bit for it to come out from the whole between the rocks,

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and it was worth it.

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And again, for contrast, here is a less conspicuous reptile, but at the same time a lot larger and dangerous.

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Can you see it? If you don’t, check out another blogpost of mine, where I have much better pictures of it.

Usually insects are a part of my nature report, but this time they’ll be represented only by this vaguely seen dragonfly which photobombed a photo of a turkey vulture taken at the Turkey Pond.

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Here is a better picture of a gliding turkey vulture. I’ve also seen wild turkeys there but have never been fast enough to snap a photo of them.

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A lot more exciting though was a sighting of a bald eagle! It was soaring higher than turkey vultures, but its profile was unmistakable. It is even more exciting that I’ve seen this iconic American animal so close to New York City (so as a black bear 3 years ago).

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Even if you don’t see a bald eagle in the sky, the sky itself may present quite a spectacle.

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We witnessed a very colorful sunset last September at Pine Meadow Lake. Just scroll down,

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and see

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how

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colors change

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and eventually

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disappear!

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The sunrise (on another occasion, in July) wasn’t as nearly as colorful,

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but the fog made it mystical.

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Well, and I’m not even nearly done with nature photos for this blogpost! Besides purely esthetically pleasing sightings, Harriman State Park provides a few possibilities for encounters that may be pleasing for the stomach too 😉

I’ve already mentioned blueberries (and have some yummy photos of those in another post),

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but you can also find raspberries and blackberries of different varieties – look for those in the openings in the woods.

This kind of blackberry is my favorite. They usually ripen in August, after blueberries.

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Didn’t I say pink and purple were trendy in Harriman?

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Here is a pink raspberry with purple flowers!

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And even young grape leaves (early May) have a purple rim!

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You can see flower buds on this photo too, so hopefully they will develop into grapes by September, like last year. They aren’t as sweet as cultivated grapes, but you can’t be too picky while hiking in the woods – it’s great to have a snack courtesy of wild nature!

grape vine 0001 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

These bright mushrooms below should probably have stayed in the esthetically pleasing category,

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as I am not sure if they are edible, but I want to think they are… I’d like to join the local mycological society to learn about mushrooms in the area on their foraging outings.

mushrooms Harriman State Park

The idea of foraging while backpacking is very appealing on many levels, but one has to be careful, especially with mushrooms.

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But I guess you can’t go wrong with the fish here! Although my father and grandfather are avid amateur fishermen, I haven’t learned much about it.

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Luckily, my new naturist fisher friends were willing to share their catch! I’m yet to buy fishing gear, but meanwhile I’ll enjoy fish as a naturalist.

Most of the fish that you see in the video are sunfish species, and what I like about them is that they are quite tame and even curios about people – they often come close and stare at you, and sometimes nibble (not painfully, don’t worry). Snorkeling at the Pine Meadow Lake may not be as colorful and diverse as at the coral reefs of the Red Sea or in Hawaii, but those friendly sunfish spawning among water lilies make it really interesting.

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I certainly like swimming in the lakes of Harriman park a lot more than in swimming pools, which are easily accessible in New York (including my workplace). Besides having more space, beautiful surrounding and fish to observe, possibility to swim naked is of course another strong factor 😉

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If dogs can do it, why can’t we?

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These lakes are good size if you want to exercise swimming by crossing them forth and back,

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and some of them, e.g. Turkey Pond, have small islands

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providing nice resting spots…

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or nude posing opportunities 🙂

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If you will to carry a kayak with you,

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paddling around is another fun way to explore and experience these lakes,

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and a great exercise for the upper body too.

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And if you want some extreme (well, admittedly, just a hint thereof), there are cliffs at Pine Meadow Lake from which you can dive in the lake.

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Nudity will make it a little more extreme and fun 😉

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But besides exercising and observing nature, such naked outings by the lake provide nice opportunities for social bonding, and we kicked off this season with a good group of 8 butt-naked people.

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We had nice summer weather already in the beginning of May, and the water was warm enough for swimming.

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We were lucky to have one of the nicest spots at Pine Meadow Lake all to ourselves, with perfect flat rocks to sit on just above the water and in the water.

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Splashing

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and talking proved to be a great mix 🙂

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And if you can’t find such nice flat rocks for your rest spot, perhaps a tree will do 😉

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This one turned out to be good as a lounge chair and an observation deck alike!

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And if all those lakes are great destination points, journey to those (hiking) is just as good in its own merit. There are lots of well-maintained and marked trails in Harriman State Park, but bushwalking is fun too.

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Most of the time though we take known trails and consult with the map.

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The terrain and surroundings are quite diverse,

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from soft soil of the woods to rocks and cliffs.

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It’s hard to predict how many people you’ll encounter on the trails,

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but once we were lucky to have even this well-known rock formation all to ourselves.

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And just as a reminder of the “other world” (and proximity to it), once in a while you may get to a viewpoint where you can see Manhattan skyline.

view 0003 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

Such points are great for taking pictures (such as the first one in this post) and rest/stretching alike.

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The greenery of the forest provided a nice background, and while it appeared massive,

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we were quickly reminded about fragility of the ecosystem,

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as we saw traces of the recent wildfire.

burnt view 0001 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

Luckily, it wasn’t that big (though it’s not the only instance, as you’ll see below), and we could continue our hike safely.

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But even the most active naturists need some rest after all this hiking and swimming 🙂

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Sometimes a cup of tea is the only thing needed,

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and sometimes nothing at all – you just feel blessed with what mother nature provided, especially when it is a thick soft layer of moss just at the time when you want to lie down…

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Though not for too long… and if we’re not moving forward in some way, we find another activity;

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trees, dead or alive, serve well as apparatuses for exercises 🙂

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When the evenings get cooler in the end of summer, it’s nice to get the last sun rays before sunset.

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Note the “obelisk”, an erect dry tree trunk in the background… This picture was taken mid-September last year, and this is what it looked like this May:

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Unfortunately, that little peninsula that we liked so much has burned out quite badly, though large trees have survived.

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We discovered traces of exploded camper stove, burnt batteries and parts of a tent, so we speculated that could be how the fire started, though we of course couldn’t tell if all this wasn’t actually the result of wildfire, simply having caught the flame. However, most likely it was a man-made disaster-ish. Regardless, hopefully nobody suffered seriously.

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Not all human activity is devastating of course, and here is an example of some rock painting art.

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Doubtfully it’s older than a century though; I couldn’t find any information online about it, so maybe for a moment we can think we uncovered art from the neolithic era… or maybe someone craftily imitated it last year 🙂

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Well, the ruins of what apparently used to be a pump house by the Pine Meadow Lake are certainly not that ancient, but I couldn’t find much information on that either.

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Regardless, the ruin inspired us for more exercising and posing 🙂

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I think there hardly can be any better combination for photography than decaying constructions being slowly overtaken by nature and nudes!

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I am happy to have captured all this and share it with you, and surely there’ll be more material from this summer!

kayaking the Sacandaga River and Good Luck Lake in South Adirondacks

view 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Besides hiking, Adirondack Park offers great kayaking too. Teddy, like many locals, has his own kayaks so we went to explore the West Branch of Sacandaga River and Good Luck Lake – with that name, you needn’t think twice about checking it out, and it turned out beautiful too! The banks of the canal that lead to Good Luck lake were full of blooming aquatic plants.

water plants 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

The views from the Good Luck lake made us feel lucky!

Lucky Lake 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

And we were indeed lucky to see a family of elusive loons. Their calls echoed because of the hills surrounding the lake, it sounded quite spooky.

loon 0000 Good Luck Lake, Adirondack Park, New York, USA

We stayed at the lake till sunset, and next day returned to explore the Sacandaga River more.

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That part of Sacandaga River is just perfect for laid-back kayaking: the current is not too strong, and the width allows easy maneuvering and yet being close enough to the banks not to miss any wildlife, that you’re likely to see there.

However, there are some places that hard to go through because of fallen trees.

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Still, we managed to get through without too much hassle.

kayaking 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

The bottom was mostly sandy, but in some places there were algae that looked like smooth golden-green hair.

water plants 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Going further up from Good Luck lake, we had more and more places that were too shallow to paddle easily,

view 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

so the best way to continue was lifting up and crawling with the arms while still seated in kayak.

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But after the bridge, it became too rocky and shallow to continue in kayaks. We walked for a bit, but there was no sign it was going to improve any time soon.

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I think I forgot to mention, that ironically, Teddy’s dog was the only one clothed 😀 Teddy just didn’t want him to get lost.

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It was nice to make a pause from rowing and get some blackberries. After that, we headed back downstream, and stopped at a little sandy beach. There was a fellow kayaker passing by, he seemed cool with us being naked but wondered why we didn’t have any ladies with us. We suggested him to work on that next time 😀

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Down another bridge, the flow was even calmer. We tried to go through a small channel, but it was blocked by a beaver dam.

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Well, it turned out that main branch was dammed by beavers too, just a few feet up!

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But it wasn’t too difficult to get over it and was actually fun!

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We heard some big animals running through the bushes – could be deer or bears – but the only wildlife we were lucky to see that time was a blue heron.

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It seemed to be pretty busy fishing and didn’t pay much attention to us.

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Given that Adirondack Park is ‘the largest state-level protected area in the contiguous United States’, there is obviously more to explore. Looking forward to the next trip to Adirondacks!

kayaking in mangroves in Yucatan

Traveling with some new friends in Yucatan, I wanted to arrange another sailing trip at Progreso, a port town near Merida. Luckily the owner of the boat, Samuel, had free time when we were there and the forecast was pretty good… until the last moment. When the wind started getting stronger and the waves, higher. When we left the haven, it looked too dangerous to go in the open sea and we retreated…

Thanks to having a local with us, we quickly figured out an alternative to naked sailing in the open sea – kayaking in mangroves! Luckily, La Ria, eco-touristic centre in Progreso, was right nearby, and and there was also a bus line that could easily bring us back to Merida. We rented single kayaks, as those were easier to manoeuvre judging by my previous experiences in Long Island Sound, which was even more important for passing through channels in mangroves.

naturist 0003 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

Those narrow ‘trails’ were actually quite tricky to paddle through, as the oars were just too long to move between the mangrove trees. We discovered that the best way to move forward was to simply push branches above us with hands; that is probably the closest we can to the state of a monkey leaping from one tree to another.

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It was nice that the first part of the trail went in the middle of dense mangroves, so that we stayed in their shade while the sun was high. There were different species of mangrove trees that had various adaptations for living in saline tidal waters. Red mangroves (on the left of the photo below) use stilt roots to keep the rest of the plant above the high tide margin, while black mangroves (on the right) us pneumatophores (specialised root-like structures which stick up out of the soil like straws) to deliver oxygen to the root system.

naturist 0011 red and white mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

 

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Many trees were full of fruit and blossom, though the latter is not very noticeable.

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It is actually quite amazing that the seeds of many mangrove species germinate while still being on the parent tree – it is probably the best plant equivalent of pregnancy!

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When the seedling is mature enough to travel, it falls into water and floats until it finds suitable conditions to lodge in the mud and root.

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After ‘crawling’ through the mangroves, it was relieving to emerge into open water!

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Our next goal was to find an islet with shorebird colony. The guide from La Ria told us about it, but unfortunately they didn’t provide any maps to take with us, because “they would get wet”. After a bit of wandering, we finally saw it!

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It looked like any other island around but was chosen by dozens and dozens of various shorebirds for nesting.

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We saw herons, cormorants,

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frigatebirds

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and pelicans, of course.

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After that, we checked out a couple of other channels in mangroves.

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One of the trails seemed particularly promising but it didn’t lead anywhere.

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When we came back to the opening, we saw a boat leaving from La Ria, but it went back immediately. We figured that they were probably worried about us already and were relieved to see us. I doubt they could see that we were naked though, but would that matter to them? This is how we do 🙂

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Upon return to ecolodge, we chilled in the shade and had a delicious seafood lunch. So the day didn’t go quite like we had planned, but obviously we had no regrets! Kayaking in mangroves is so much fun!

kayaking in Cold Spring Harbor

As Juan wrote in his first blogpost, kayaking, although often overlooked, is probably the easiest outdoor activity to practice in the buff without anyone noticing. It’s hard to tell whether one wears shorts, speedos or… nothing 😉

Last sumer, I had a couple of fun kayak trips with a few buddies in and around Cold Spring Harbor in Long Island.

Cold Spring Harbor hosts the world-famous laboratory that contributed to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Most of the land along Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay is privately owned, but you can definitely explore the area by the sea.

Once you reach the edge of the Oyster Bay, you could head out to the open waters of Long Island Sound

or turn Eastwards in the direction of Caumset State Park.

This is how it looks from the air (these photos were taken on another occasion, obviously).

To reach the beach of Caumset Park, you need to paddle around the sand spit that is a part of private land. You won’t see many people on the shore, perhaps a lonely fisherman.

Once you go around the tip of the sand spit, you will see a beautiful beach of Caumset State Park.

It is surrounded by lush forest which gives it almost tropical appearance.

Cormorants seemed to to be the only ones to welcome us.

The beach doesn’t see many visitors, it has a touch of the lost world…

Which also meant we could stay there as nature intended, without clothes 🙂

The sand cliffs appeared to be even prettier than from afar, revealing different shades of orange and pink.

Some shorebirds, possibly sand martins, have a colony there; my friend Martin :D, who climbed the cliffs couldn’t confirm what they were, we didn’t see any birds leaving the nests.

We enjoyed viewing the scenery for a bit and strolled along the beach.

Low tide revealed a lot seaweed, that tried to anchor at anything solid.

We found a flat white rock that was perfect for a lunch break,

and a golfinch was pleasing our ears while we took a nap…

On another occasion, we actually did some jumps instead of a nap 🙂

After the nap, we discover that a storm was on our way. The forecast for the day was ambiguous, but we were not anticipating to paddle in the sea during a thunderstorm!

We prepared to leave hastily, but as soon as we got on water, the sky started clearing ahead of us and we just tried to escape from the menacing clouds.

It got quiet again.

The storm seemed to get sucked into the Atlantic Ocean over Long Island.

The only place where we got a bit worried again, was around the tip of the sand spit that I mentioned above, because it gets quite strong currents and waves during tide change.

But it wasn’t a challenge after all, and we got back safely. We definitely look forward to more kayaking!

“canuding” swamps of the Mississippi delta area

I’ve mentioned already my recent visit to New Orleans with a resort-like club in the centre of the city, but my trip wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t ventured out to the outdoors. In the case of New Orleans, I am talking about swamps, of course.

There are numerous boat tours offered by tourist agencies in the city, but it was quite difficult to find a place where kayaks or canoes could be rented. My friends and I opted for canoe rental as it promised a more personal and adventurous experience at the swamps, plus it is also a good exercise. I also secretly hoped that I would get a chance to explore the swamps ‘as nature intended’, especially given that mid-October is still summerly hot in New Orleans.

One of just a couple of places that provided canoe rental in the area was Pearl River Eco-tours. They are located in a massive swamp area north-east of New Orleans, which includes various habitats such as river, marshes and flooded forest swamps.

Our adventure started as soon as we departed from the boat/canoe station. All of a sudden, a fish jumped right in our canoe!

You’d think it just happened by chance, but it happened two more times during our trip. Perhaps fish jumps out of water so often in that area, because it is chased by alligators. Oh, have I mentioned that was what we actually hoped to see there most?

Going upstream just a little away from the rental place, we noticed a narrow canal leading to marshes.

It was a vast open space covered with semi-aquatic and floating plants with some lagoons in between.

The water was very shallow, often barely enough for a canoe to go through – tourist boats definitely wouldn’t go there, so I felt confident enough to disrobe for a bit.

And here it was, our first encounter with a gator! Young and small, but looking  out of water with big appetite in the eyes :p

Soon it submerged and we headed back to the main river.

The river itself was beautiful too, surrounded by lush forest and very quiet… except for an occasional water-scooter, unfortunately. Unfortunately – because to me it seemed inappropriate to use such a noisy and not-at-all-environmentally-friendly watercraft in that wilderness.

Abundant fish attracts numerous birds to the Pearl River. You can see them resting in the woods at the riverbank or preying in shallow waters. The most common are egrets

and great blue herons.

It is even easier to spot them when they take off in the air.

A rarer encounter is an osprey, but we did see a few of them, which is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

We continued paddling upstream, and without a proper map, we did not know where we would see those typical southern swamps. We almost gave up, but just behind an old metal bridge, we found an entry to a narrow canal through the flooded forest!

Yes, that was the flooded forest of bald cypresses that we had in mind!

But what gave the forest its mysterious, almost spooky, appeal was not so much the trees themselves but a plant that grew upon all their branches, spanish moss.

Another feature that made this forest look unusual was the so-called cypress knees.

Cypress knees are special structures of swamp cypresses formed above their roots. They are thought to provide additional support and stabilisation, and possibly additional oxygenation for the roots.

It’s pretty obvious that cypress knees indeed help secure trees in the ground, as they create islets around the trees; they look as if protected by fortress walls… I found another use of them – creating a live bridge 🙂

This felt almost like flying right above the water. By the way, the black water of those marshes was in fact quite clear – we checked it by dipping our oars. On the other hand, alligators aren’t as bright as those yellow oars, so one should be careful when stepping outside the boat… And yes, there are some pretty impressive alligators in the area! We saw this beauty on the way back.

Not that gator attacks are common in Louisiana, they are most likely to retreat when they see humans, but you never know… But if you do want a gator to come closer to you, local advise to give it a marshmallow. It sounds more like a joke, but we did see them go for it!