I have had such a reaction to my blog post on Cayo Costa that I have decided to share more of my photos. Ed and my recent visit along this very special place will never be forgotten. A place I did not even know about, until I went; I still am having trouble with its tongue- twister name! Thank you to those who helped protect this barrier island from development. It is a tremendous gift today, and for future generations. Enjoy.
I was still stewing over thinking that Charlotte Harbor was the Gulf of Mexico when the trawler docked at Useppa.
The sunlight reflected off impressive white structures lining the island. An American flag flew prominently atop what Captain Glenn said was once a Calusa Indian midden ~the tribe whose arrow maimed, later killing, Ponce de Leon.
There was certainly an air about the place, that for eternity, it had been a center of power and influence.
As I walked with Captain Glen and Ed beyond the docks, the front office gave hints to the days of Baron Colliers’ famed Izaak Walton Club, clearing, dredging, filling and building, to make available Florida’s most famous of Tarpon filled waters.
Looking around, I saw messages and awards written on Tarpon scales, enshrined in glass casings of an era long gone by. It made my heart ache for a time of healthier Florida waters, times when nutrient pollution, toxic-algae, and over-drainage were not killing our state. I decided be thankful for this looking-glass of history and enjoy a walk.
The island remained absolutely beautiful…and such strange and wonderful treasures! As we walked up the mound, I gasped at the wonder all around me.
I saw night-blooming cactus vines like hundreds of green ropes covering the huge ancient oaks trees; Spanish-moss swaying in a light breeze: an empty beach catching the colors of coming sunset; orchids and bromeliads blooming everywhere high and low; a gigantic banyan tree, a gift from Thomas Edison, standing like an aging hurricane-weathered sentinel – old limbs broken and reformed, arching over houses and sidewalks alike!
There were animals too. We met a friendly, stowaway orange cat that had arrived on a supply vessel and now was the mayor of the town. And also an old gopher turtle happily clipping grass with an awesome multi-entrance and exit gopher tunnel.
At the end of the sidewalk tour, the famed Collier Inn stood atop the ancient Indian mound looking out over the waters. It was beautiful yes, but I knew, in spite of the awe around me, with no tarpon jumping, those were very different waters, indeed.
Recently, Ed and I took a trawler ride along the Caloosahatchee River and beyond with Captain Glenn. I learned so much, and got to see up close the condition of their waters.
The first thing that hit me was just the sheer size. The St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon, in comparison, seemed like the tip of a pen.
Flying in, one sees sprawling Cape Coral, once scrub and swamp, now carved with canals and spotted with endless houses. Like Port St Lucie on steroids. On the ground, four lane highways run through neighborhoods walled with strip malls. But old Florida houses are here and there, and one can tell this place was once a quaint hometown tropical paradise.
Remnants of Old Florida remain, a double-headed cabbage palm greeted us along Silver King Boulevard and the adventure began: P102, Inland Powerboat Cruising at the Florida Sailing and Cruising School.
As the old Grand Banks rounded the ben, the conversation went to Punta Rassa. It took me awhile to remember the areas historic importance in Florida and Cuban trade as the destination of the Florida cattle drive, as prominently featured in Patrick Smith’s famous novel, A Land Remembered.
So a trawler goes slow, and the dolphins liked playing in the wake of our bow. I was happy to see them after reading about the many killed due to red-tide and blue-green algae outbreaks this past summer. There were dolphins everywhere! Calves and mothers too.
When we finally turned north into Pine Island Sound, again, the scale of the waterways and surrounding lands was amazing. I cannot imagine what a fishing haven this place was in its day! There could not be a more perfect combination of rivers, sounds, bays, and barrier islands.
Eventually, we made it north beyond Useppa, the once fishing camp of famed Florida developer Barron Collier, and up to Cayo Costa, a seven mile long state park. We anchored in Pelican Bay and then Ed and I made to the park’s dock. Looking down into shallow salty waters I saw what Captain Glenn said was turtle grass, along with drift algae. There were minnows and a few bigger fish. A good sign, but not particularly healthy looking.
Ironically, our pilot friend, Dave Stone, had sent us an aerial of Cayo Costa showing visible red-tide a couple of days before, so I was curious what Ed and I would see on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island. Thankfully, it was beautiful. I collected shells, admired the bird life, saw a manatee, and got lost in the simple beauty of the place praising those who must have worked miracles to keep it from turning into condominiums and green lawns belching nutrient pollution into the waters.
As much fun as that day was, I was getting sick at the beginning of the trip and now I was coughing out of control. I went to bed early and when I awoke the boat was moving; the sound of the engines humming along.
I peaked my head out seeing a huge expanse of water thinking we were going through the pass between Cayo Costa and Boca Grande.
“Is that the Gulf of Mexico?” I yelled from the cabin excitedly.
“No, it’s Charlotte Harbor,” Ed yelled back. “We’re turning around to visit Useppa.”
The wind blew and the sun shone…
“God, I’m an idiot,” I thought to myself. I just thought Charlotte Harbor was the Gulf of Mexico.”
Things are bigger on the west coast and there’s a lot to learn around here!