Tuesday, October 23, 2012

46th State: Alabama - Justin's Bay (Oct. 23, 2012)

Justin's Bay, AL


I visited in Florida with my sister, and a vandweller (Terry and Cathy Fuqua) and also high school classmate Bill Lechien. Then back on the road again, I stopped here on the way to Alabama... still in FL here, across the river from Alabama. 

I haven’t had very many regrets in life, but one has to do with Alabama.  I had a very dear friend I wanted to visit when I came to AL.  He worked for the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). He told me to call when I finished kayaking Georgia – in May 2010.  Well, I was sick and hospitalized in Georgia in 2010… and I passed up kayaking the south-central states due to all the storms.  He said, you better not wait too long to visit.

As I approached Alabama, I emailed him my schedule.  I didn’t hear anything back.  So I called his number, and got “This voice mailbox has not been set up yet.”  Next I did a search online for him and found his obit.  Well, WTF?  I was so mad at myself.  Really mad.  RIP Don Burchfield.  He died May 23, 2011, just one year after I had planned to visit him and did not.


I learned something new in Alabama.  It's a walnut grove and across the road are cotton fields.  I saw a lot of both.  So many walnut groves.  This Hoosier-raised girl hadn’t realized that walnut trees were planted in groves until I saw these with all the trees evenly spaced and in neat rows.  Interesting.


There are lots of bayous in the area and I wanted Alligator habitat.  I finally decided on Justin's Bay… and planned a much longer paddle than I ended up doing.  I launched at Meaher State Park, paddled through Ducker Bay and up one of the five rivers, into Sardine Pass which led to Justin's Bay.  This is just north of I-10.

Definition of Bayous – from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-bayou.htm#lbss

Bayous are either stagnant or slow-moving bodies of water which fill abandoned waterways. The term by itself usually refers to a very slow stream, while the term bayou lake is often used to describe lakes or ponds in similar conditions. A bayou is normally found in very flat regions, as the lack of a slope reduces the speed at which the water flows. It is usually the outflow from a nearby major waterway, such as the Mississippi river, and as such may be affected by flooding in the main waterway.

The word is used primarily in the southern United States. The term "slough" is also used to describe essentially the same geographical feature, although it tends to have a more widespread usage. The bayou is particularly associated with the Cajun culture of Louisiana, and parts of Texas and Alabama. They are also found throughout Arkansas, although most in that state use an alternate spelling of buyou.

Justin's Bay is a lake located just 1.6 miles from Spanish Fort, in Baldwin County, in the state of Alabama, United States. Fishermen will find a variety of fish including largemouth bass, bluegill and yellow perch here.
Read more: http://www.hookandbullet.com/fishing-justins-bay-spanish-fort-al/#ixzz2Bjy8PNlo


Meaher State Park is very nice, but surrounded by a 12 foot high chain link fence.  It looks more like a prison than an RV campground.  I wondered why the fence?  After my paddle, I realized the reason for the fence was not to keep the RVers in, but to keep the gators out of the campground.  A 6’ chain link fence would do nothing to stop a full grown adult gator.  He would just crash his body against it… and walla… be into your garbage, pets, etc.  But the campground looked very nice and was pretty full… if you like that sort of camping.

The gatekeeper collected my $1 fee and told me the two places I could launch from.  I told her where I was going and asked if there were alligators there.  She said, “Yes, and also at the boat launch.”  OK, heart skips a beat.

From their website:

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and is a day-use picnicking and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups and bathhouse facilities for overnight visitors. A boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman.


A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with a up close view of the Mobile Delta.

Meaher Park’s Renovation Construction is now complete.

New features in the Park include:

  • The campground has 56 new campsites with 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical connections with water and sewer. The campground also features a new bathhouse with laundry facilities for overnight campers.


  • The Day Use Area's renovated Picnic Area is now open. This renovation included the addition of a comfort station for the day use area visitors.


I had to paddle out and around the 5 Rivers – Alabama’s Delta Resource Center, but did not stop.  I should have.  They have all sorts of interesting events there… like Becoming an Outdoors-Woman(BOW).  Very interesting place which I would recommend others take the time to visit.  Regret that I did not.  There is sure a lot more to see in Alabama than I realized and I probably didn’t pick the best location to kayak.

This is where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers flow into Mobile Bay and where they built an incredible new facility for outdoor recreation, conservation and land stewardship in Alabama: 5 Rivers. It's the ultimate place to begin your adventure into over 250,000 acres of scenic waterways, woods and wetlands. Or, simply soak up the natural beauty and incredible history of the region with plenty to do and see at the facility itself.




The first alligator I saw... and he let me follow him a long way before he dove out of sight.  Exciting.  A first for me.  Yes, scary.


You can see how close I am... the yellow in the lower left corner is my kayak.


My plan was to paddle on through Justin's Bay… and down the other fork of the river and into Chacaloochee Bay…but couldn’t make it that far – there was no way through and it was too far to backtrack and go around to get there.


Now, this is the biggest Alligator I saw on this paddle, or the states that followed AL.  He didn’t move a muscle.  I was quietly approaching from his tail… and got a lot of photos taken before he noticed me.  I passed on by, and was looking ahead when I passed his line of sight… and then I hear him crashing into the water, and the wake he made really rocked my kayak.  That was one big gator, I imagine as long as my 12’ kayak.  Yes, it was frightening.  But he was gone in a blink and wanted to get away from me even more than I wanted to get away from him.


The bank in the center of the photo was where he was laying… the ripples coming toward me, are from him jumping into the water. 


Is that cool or what... a Cormorant I think???


It was a fairly long paddle to reach the Bay itself, but I was alone when I got there.  No other boaters.  I really liked that.  It is too shallow for anything but a kayak, canoe or shallow flat bottom boat.  This is actually a bog or swamp.


The water in most of this photo is only 2' deep, or less.  After awhile this began to feel pretty creepy to me… as I felt I was in an alligator cesspool. I heard them all over the place… but was never able to get any good photos.  It felt like they were just laying on the bottom only inches away from me… and I finally decided to work my way back out of the area.

There is a reason for the creepy feeling… because these areas are often maze-like in character, have eternal dampness, and sometimes haunting vegetation, the bayou is often the location in fiction of frightening stories. Tales of voodoo often take place there, and a number of horror stories are set in the deep bayou, far from civilization. Alligators inhabit much of the bayou  adding to the mystique of fear that surrounds the region.  Paraphrased from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-bayou.htm.


I thought I could make a loop and go out the other end of the bay, but there was no outlet, so I had to back track the way I came… and had to concentrate on the beauty and not the creepiness – as I felt on the verge of a panic attack.  I did see an occasional turtle, but could never get a photo.



There is a butterfly on the lower center flower... but it is hard to spot... orange and black (maybe a Monarch).


You bet it feels good to be kayaking my 46th state.  Just LA and TX left.  But I might kayak MS again tomorrow as I pass through.



You know, it is one of the very best feelings of happiness for me when I come to the end of the paddle and spot my rig on shore.  Also, I’m not as afraid of gators as I was when I launched from here.  It is always good to get past a fear.

Westward HO!

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Who is Swankie?

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Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.