Florida Frontier: The Aucilla, Pinhook and Wacissa Rivers
We drove south out of Monticello at dawn. At Mandalay we slid an open boat into the Aucilla. Our guide Charlie Ward sat in the back at the tiller with Jack Carswell beside him. I sat amidships to take pictures.
A smoky look hung over the Aucilla. After only a few hundred yards the sun came out to throw sparkles over the rippling water. Charlie picked out his route along the curved riverbanks.
“There are sharp rocks hidden under the surface of this water. One of those things can rip the boat to pieces.”
We entered a maze of channels between curving stretches of marsh grasses dotted with palms, twisted cedars and willows. At Apalachee Bay Charlie pointed out Saint Marks Lighthouse and the almost hidden mouth of the Pinhook.
Charlie said the whole Pinhook area is mostly limestone under the reeds and grass. Trees rooted directly into slabs of moss-covered limestone hung over the water, closing out the sun. The river narrowed and banks came closer until our boat stopped, the keel caught on a tree stretched across the water.
Grabbing a nearby limb in one hand, Charlie yanked on the side of the boat and gunned the motor, sliding us across the log. The water became shallower and the river narrower.
We turned to head back through the tunnel of trees. When we came out in the open again the sky was dark. As soon as we ran clear of the narrow part of the river we sped up, ignoring the danger of hidden rocks. We were unsure whether to head back to the Aucilla or make for Saint Marks by open water where we would be safe.
The sky turned purple and black, and a strong wind picked up. Jack and I argued we wouldn’t melt in rain and a case protected my camera. After a few miles of wind blowing in our faces the clouds moved over us and on to our west. The sun came back out.
As we turned north back into the Aucilla, we saw a gathering of Wood Storks resting on the limbs of a dead tree. One stork turned his back and spread his wings, appearing to pose for me.
As we headed up the river reflections of overhanging tree limbs cast patterns on the water. We turned left at Ward Island where Charlie stopped at a floating dock. Pointing to a path up a hill, he said, “Climb up there and you’ll see a real family fishing cabin. Those folks hauled every stick of lumber in here on a boat.”
Gray and weathered, the large structure looked shabby but sturdy. A covered porch ran across one side with a line of chairs backed up to the wall. I could picture a family enjoying the solitude--adults resting on the porch and children yelling and playing in the woods nearby.
Leaving the river, we followed the same route back to Monticello until Charlie turned onto a narrow lane to show us the headwaters of the Wacissa River.
The river is pristine—as clear as the springs that feed it. Narrow and twisted, it is land-bound and finally disappears into the earth. Its waters connect with the Aucilla through a “Slave Canal,” cut by hand in antebellum times.
A large part of Jefferson County is like these rivers, still unchanged in hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Much of the route we covered on this trip is a land and waterscape untouched and undamaged, rare and beautiful.