I slept in this morning after a late New Year’s Eve night – my last night before a year of more outdoor exercise and generally healthier habits. It took a little bit of convincing, but my brain got my body up and moving for my first Florida State Park adventure of 2019. I took the easy option today by bicycling to Jonathan Dickinson State Park (JDSP) which is relatively close to home. This is a very nice park with a lot to do like hiking, bicycling (including a challenging off-road course), boating, picnicking, horseback riding, guided natural history tours, camping, and probably much more that I haven’t found yet. I love that I can access the park after hours (thank you, Florida State Parks pass!) and have very early morning rides before work or a dark place to watch meteor showers at night.
Learn a little bit about the park’s history here, including a shipwreck, gator-wrestling, and a top-secret military training camp.
Orchids – A wild treasure turning hobbyists to the dark side
When I pulled up to the gate, the attendant let me know that I was already her second passport holder of the morning and it was only 8:30! When asked what the best kept secret of JDSP is, she told me with a big smile, “Well, that must be the Dancing Lady Orchids!” When I asked where I can find them, she coyly reminded me that it is a secret. So now I have a new quest! Where the heck are these orchids?
I did some Googling and discovered that the Dancing Lady orchid is a rare, protected species that only grows in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This orchid, located in gator-infested areas, helped to bring down a contemporary orchid thief in 2005 who was selling harvested plants on E-Bay (not a smart move when selling rare stolen goods!)
I have visited this park several times because of how close it is to home, but I realized after reading more about the park system that there is still a lot that I have not explored, even in the parks that I thought I knew well. After a failed effort to Google the secret orchid location, I set out toward the river. Maybe there will be orchids near the water?
18 miles of exploring
Ultimately after bicycling through much of the paved and semi-paved park, walking the Kitching Creek Trail, and exploring through the low lying wetland areas, I am still orchid-less. I did find a new place for shady, quiet snack breaks (at the Kitching Creek Overlook), and I also discovered where the park meets the golf course and railroad tracks at the end of the semi-paved road to the south. All I found was a pile of sand and prickle burrs too offensive to my feet to drag my bike through. This is NOT a secret short cut back to the house, but in fact a way to make my ride longer and much sandier. Today was a relatively small dent in the available space to explore, so I will be back!
While I was orchidless and also didn’t see any alligators, I did see birds of all kinds, a few gopher tortoises, a turtle, and a looooooooong (like 5-6 feet) snake! The snake moved too fast for me to get a good picture, but I think it might have been an Eastern Coachwhip?? Remind me to tell you one day about the big 8-10 footer that sent me cart-wheeling over my handlebars a few months ago….
A Secret Park
Once the weather started heating up to “sweat your butt off” temperature, I headed back south on US 1 and stopped at the smallest local park I have ever seen. The park is so small that it is not on Google Maps and appears to have no official name, but still has 3-4 parking spaces, two picnic tables, and a rules and regulations sign.
This little park opens down to cool, calm, perfect Indian River Intracoastal water tucked among some of the weathiest homes in the USA (a stone’s throw from one of Burt Reynolds’ former homes). The last time I visited this little park, my dad swears he saw a whale tail that looked to be 5-6 feet across flip through the water. Another mystery! Although we have seen dolphins, manatees, sharks, and many other smaller animals, I have not found anyone to have seen a whale in this water. I guess it can be possible from the species that have been spotted within 2 miles off-shore from the inlets. My eyes will now always be peeled for another whale tale I can tell.
The water was cool and refreshing, but no whales today (and no sharks or gators, so that’s good!)
I hopped back on the bike for the last stretch to home with a brief stop at the small local Tequesta Park. This park has basketball and tennis courts, baseball fields, a dog park, picnic area, and some short walks. While the park isn’t big enough for a long trail run, there are abundant geocaches for some local adventuring
On the way there I passed a sign for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Tequesta Field office – I had no idea it was there!
All together today, I rode and walked a total of about 21miles. I visited one state park and two small city parks. My fitness app thinks I burned about 1300 calories!Tags: Dancing Lady Orchid, Florida State Parks, Indian River, Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Jupiter, Loxahatchee River, Tequesta Park