Exploring West Palm Beach By Water

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If you happen to find yourself on the coast while in Florida, arguably one of the best ways to get around and see the area is by water. Whether by boat, jetski, kayak, or paddleboard, the many inlets and the intercoastal waterways make exploring the coastal areas ideal! One of my favorite things to do is hit the water and explore via kayak – it’s fun, easy, offers amazing views and experiences, and is a great workout, too!

On my most recent excursion to West Palm Beach, I visited John D. MacArthur State Park, located right on Singer Island off route 1. I love this park because the employees are always amazing and friendly, there is a wonderful beach, elevated bridge walks, lots of waterfowl and marine life to see, an education center, and kayaks to rent! The park offers single and double kayaks by the hour, half day, or full day. The key is get there as early as possible – I’ve gone in the afternoon and have found myself waiting upwards of two hours for a kayak. If you really want to do some exploring, give yourself as much time as possible. There’s lots to see!

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Kayaking out of the park from the rental launch point (if you bring your own kayak you can launch from different places throughout the area) requires following a foot-and-tram bridge and then eventually paddling beneath route A1A on Singer Island. From there, you can enter the intercoastal, though it’s always a good idea to be cautious of larger crafts and to stay clear of any high-trafficked lanes. I prefer to stick to the mangroves, as these areas are always full of gorgeous waterfowl and lots of marine life tend to stay near the calm and shallow waters.

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While paddling, I was able to catch a glimpse of fish jumping out of the water on multiple occasions – whole schools of them! It really was incredible! I was hoping to spy some spotted eagle rays as they’re normally in the area, but none surfaced as far as I could see. There were a surprising number of jelly fish in the water, though, and much larger than I normally see there. I’m always fascinated by the different things I get to see each time I paddle out!

The waters were rough on this trip, so it really took a lot to stay ahead of the tide, current, and winds. After awhile, you almost forget you’re kayaking and it feels more like just gliding across the water. It’s a fantastic feeling!

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I dragged my kayak up onto one of my favorite beach spots to go and do some exploring on foot. I’ve never in my life before seen a live horseshoe crab, but the little islands around MacArthur State Park always tend to be full of dead ones – at least, I always manage to see at least one dead one on every excursion I take there. And this time was no different. That’s why I keep my flip flops on when I walk in the shallow water around there, since I never know what might be right beneath the sand!

For the first time ever, I found sea urchins washed up on the beach. I made sure they were dead before picking them up and was amazed at how cool they looked! I decided to carefully put them into my bag and bring them back with me to be washed out (it’s absolutely incredible how they turn out once you wash them off!). I also found quite a number of hermit crabs, which I of course let be, and lots of nice, big, shells which I did take back with me. I really love searching the beaches along the little intercoastal islands for goodies like these since they tend to be much different than the things you find along a regular ocean-facing beach.

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Sometimes I bring my hammock to pitch up in the trees on the island but I didn’t on this trip. I simply enjoyed walking the beach and gliding through the waters. The water was just as rough when I finally decided to head back, but the paddling was so worth it! It was a great way to see some wildlife, explore some beaches and islands, and get a little workout done, too!

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The Pocono Mountains: Boulder Field

Welcome to the next installation of my summertime Pocono Mountains series! Today I’ll be exploring Boulder Field, a well-known local spot that’s both unique and rather iconic!

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Boulder Field is located in Hickory Run State Park off route 534, which can be accessed from I-80 or the nearby turnpike (I-476) if you’re coming from out of town, or from local back roads around Jim Thorpe and the Split Rock/Big Boulder area. If you explore around this area in general, you’ll find many smaller boulder fields (which I’ve traversed previously), but the main one is of course the most well known. What exactly is Boulder Field, you ask? Well, it’s a giant field. Of boulders. No kidding!

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Finding rocks out in nature is no big deal, but a large field of boulders like this is highly unusual. Boulder Field was made roughly 20,000 years ago during the last glacial period in North America. The simplest way perhaps of explaining the formation of the field (as best as scientists can determine – much of their information is still theory) is that, during the last ice age, the glacier never actually covered Boulder Field, but made it cold enough to freeze the ground, expose bedrock (the Pocono rock), and create permafrost. With fluctuating temperatures between the day and night though, freeze-thaw and frost-heave created cracks in the bedrock. Because Boulder Field actually lies on a slope, gravity naturally played into the formation of the boulders once the bedrock cracked. The rocks moved due to a process called gelifluction, or the downward movement of sand, water, rock, and ice particularly in geographical areas like the Poconos. Similar to the process of how potholes are created in wintertime, the bedrock of Boulder Field cracked and eventually broke into the large boulders as it sloped downward and was “moved” by the flow of water, ice, mud, and sand. Today, water still runs beneath Boulder Field. Geography is awesome!!

The boulders are naturally rounded rather than jagged because of having collided and “rubbed” against one another for so long. Large boulders lie on the top of the field because they have greater surface area and allowed smaller boulders to “fall” below. The indentations in the field that are seen today are evidence of this process and movement. In some places, these large indentations have generated stories about their origins, often weaving into the history of the surrounding area. A hike in Central PA a couple years ago led me to a place called “Indian Wells,” an area similar to boulder field but on the top of a ridge, where large indentations in the rocks were present (the story goes that Indians created these impressions to collect water, hence “Indian Wells”).

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The road to Boulder Field is usually closed in the winter due to snow and ice, but those willing to hike the three miles in can still access it. In summer, many snakes make their home in Boulder Field, so it is crucially important to take caution when walking across the boulders. Some of the rocks are loose, so taking your time is a smart idea. Spiders are also abundant, but they normally just scurry away into the depths of the rocks when you approach.

Unfortunately, Boulder Field has seen lots of vandalism in recent years, including the spray painting and defacing of the actual boulders. To maintain Boulder Field as it exists today, natural occurrences aside, it is important not to move the boulders or remove them. Like anything in nature, leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories!

Boulder Field is great for a day adventure. You can even picnic out on the rocks while doing some exploring! Once you get the hang of walking across them, the boulders don’t pose too much of a challenge. I’ve seen really young children and even pets traverse them with no problem. It’s certainly an incredible sight to see and absolutely worth the visit!

For more information and posts about the Poconos, click the image below!

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The Pocono Mountains: Hawk Falls Trail

Welcome to the next post in my summertime Pocono Mountains series!  Today I’m exploring trails and waterfalls in Hickory Run State Park on the Hawk Falls Trail.

Getting to Hawk Falls Trail requires using some lesser-traveled roads, but it’s relatively simple to get to.  Using Interstate 80 as a starting point, use the Blakeslee exit to get onto route 115 south toward Pocono Raceway.  (If you’re familiar with entering the Split Rock area from route 940, you can also use the Lake Harmony exit.)  A little ways down on the right will be a turn for route 903 toward Jim Thorpe.  Follow 903 beyond Big Boulder Lake and the ski resorts (Split Rock, Big Boulder) until route 534 appears on the right (toward Albrightsville).  A couple miles later a large overpass will appear (this is the turnpike) with a couple stone parking areas on either side of the road – this is what you want!  You’ll see the Hawk Falls Trail sign and entrance on the left side of the road.

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At almost 16,000 acres and with over 40 miles of trails, Hickory Run State Park covers quite a bit of ground in the Poconos.  The Hawk Falls Trail is just a small portion of the park and is great for cooling off in the summer months because of the waterfalls, waterfall pools, and streams that are accessible right from the trail.

When entering the trail from route 534, you begin to walk a downward slope toward the water through tall rhododendron.  When they’re flowering, it smells incredible and is beautiful!  I walked the trail just after it had rained, so that wet, earthy smell filled my nose (that smell actually has a word – petrichor!).  The heavy rainfall also caused a lot of mud and sediment to get swept up in the stream and falls, turning it a brownish color from its usual crystal clear appearance.

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As you reach the stream, there are some great sights of the water coming down from the mountain and heading down Mud Run, which eventually turns into the Lehigh River.  There is a wooden bridge to cross the water, although sometimes large trees fall across, too, and are much more fun to use!  After crossing the bridge, the trail continues a little ways and a path on the right will appear.  This leads right to the top of the waterfall!  It offers great views and, if you’re visiting on a hot day, a chance to splash in the running water before it reaches the falls!

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There are many large rock outcroppings and boulders to climb over in order to reach the top of the falls, so it’s extremely important when traversing them to be careful (especially if they’re wet!).  In drier times, it’s easy to walk through the water across the top of the falls and reach the opposite side.  On this particular day, the heavy rains made that a little difficult, although the higher water made for some great sights from the falls!

At the bottom of the waterfall are some flat rocks that people often use as places to access the water for swimming.  In the picture above, you can see that there are several “layers” of pools.  When the water isn’t rushing, they’re safe to swim in and use to cool off with!  On nice, hot days, you can easily find groups of families and friends right around here.  Although the Poconos is home to a number of “jumpable” waterfalls, this is NOT one of them!  No diving from the tops of the falls here!

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After spending some time exploring around the top of the waterfall, I got back onto the main trail and continued downward.  This led to the river at the very bottom.  You can see the water that was muddied by the rain and sediment runoff is already getting clearer by the time it gets down here!  This area can be swam in when the current is slower (it’s amazing how much a sudden rainfall can affect things!).

There are a number of side trails that head up the hills and embankments but I kept to the main trail and enjoyed the views of the water.  It’s a great place to bring a family for a small afternoon hike and adventure, or even to “camp out” for the day and enjoy the water.  Since it’s a little hidden and located on a back road, it’s not as crowded a location as some of the other spots in Hickory Run State Park.

The Poconos is home to so many smaller hiking trails and spots like this one.  It’s what makes the Poconos such a great area to explore!

For more posts and information about places around the Poconos, click the image below!

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Tropical Paradise at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

The past month has been an exciting whirlwind of adventures and long car rides!  I drove all the way south to Key West and then road-tripped it up to New York City, with some amazing pit stops along the way to visit friends, family, and to do some sight-seeing!  Now it’s time to catch up with documenting and sharing it 🙂

About a year and a half ago, I made my first visit to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and loved it, so I was very excited to be visiting again!  The park is located on the very west side of Key West, next to the naval annex and coast guard station.  When people visit Key West, they often miss this hidden gem because it’s, well, hidden.  There are very few signs for the park at all and finding it can be difficult given that you have to enter onto gated property and maneuver by some coast guard ships before even locating the entrance to the park.  But it is well worth it!!  Unless you’re staying at a resort on Key West (which is quite expensive and, in my opinion, not entirely worth it because it removes you from the “real” Key West), you might find it difficult to locate a nice beach – the kind of beach one would normally picture when they actually think of a place like Key West.  This is where Fort Zachary Taylor State Park comes in – it’s not too crowded because it’s not well known and it offers the picture-perfect paradise beach everyone always thinks of.

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Fort Zachary Taylor State Park can actually be labeled as two things: a beach and a fort.  Yes, an actual fort.  In the early-to-mid 1800’s, forts were built along the southeast United States as defensive posts.  Ultimately, the fort ended up in the hands of the Union during the Civil War and then was used to defend the U.S. during the Spanish-American War.  It was neglected for quite some time afterward until it was “rediscovered” in the mid 1900’s.  The fort has been maintained now for historical purposes and visitors can tour the grounds and inside of the buildings.

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From the top of the fort, one can view out toward the ocean.  Inside, there are canons on display and information pertaining to the history of the fort as it was used during war times.  The fort also has a moat around it that was at one point filled in and then dug back out again.

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Past the fort is the entrance to the park’s beach access.  The beach stretches for quite a ways around the corner of the island and really has that perfect tropical paradise feel.  There are picnic tables tucked away from the beach toward the shade, a little cafe, restrooms and showers, beach lounge chairs, and an amazing view.  I was fortunate enough to grab a picnic table set up right against the trees a little ways off the shoreline in the shade.  I set up camp there under a palm tree and enjoyed the water, the view, and the gorgeous sun.  I brought a book with me but didn’t even open it because I was so engrossed with just enjoying the view.  It was absolutely beautiful.

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If you ever visit Key West, make sure you include a beach day at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park!  There’s lots to explore and a stunning beach to enjoy 🙂

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Central Pennsylvania: Slab Cabin Park

Down the road from one of my favorite coffee shops, Cafe Lemont, which is nestled into the foothills of Mt. Nittany in central PA, is a little park called Slab Cabin Park. It’s a small park that features a biking path and small walking trails, as well as a couple large hills that are perfect for sledding in the winter.  Slab Cabin Run, a small creek off of Spring Creek, runs through the park and parallels route 322.  The park is located on Elmwood Street, which is accessible right off route 322. It’s easy to get to and makes for a great afternoon jaunt! There’s a small parking lot at the foot of the park with some pavilions with benches and tables.  There’s a path that leads to a covered bridge where the bike path is.  I went this way and followed the bike path upward around the edge of the park. Eventually, a little sign points inward to a small path leading down toward the creek below.  It brought me through bushes and trees and eventually to a little bridge over the creek.  The water was stunningly clear! The little path meets a dead end where you can choose to go left or right at that point (coming from the direction I did). Right heads back toward the large (sledding) hills and parking lot, while left brings you to an small open area with grills right along the creek.  I went left and was able to entertain myself by climbing some felled trees and getting up close to the creek.

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I wish I had taken photos of the large hills at the park.  They’re truly perfect for sledding in the winter time and often times you can find Penn State students and “townies” alike there with their sleds. Back toward the parking lot where the creek meanders by, there are a bunch of large concrete slabs.  Perhaps this was once slab cabin?  They’re in the creek itself, but with creative climbing and jumping, can be reached.

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I would loved to have also explored more of the bike path around the park and up toward the top of the hills.  This is definitely a place I’d like to revisit in the “real” spring (when there are buds on the trees!) and summer.  It’s a perfect place for a picnic, a nice walk, or a gathering for grilling or seasonal sledding. Because it’s tucked away just beyond the reach of the Penn State campus, it’s not too popular or widely-known of a place, so it’s generally nice and quiet.  If you head there, don’t forget to stop by Cafe Lemont further up Elmwood Street toward the mountain for some incredible coffee and baked goods! 🙂

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