Saturday, June 11, 2011

Last summer I started looking down into the tidal portion of the Schuylkill from the Grays Ferry bridge and decided I needed a boat. So, I got a boat.

In particular I got an inflatable Sea Eagle 'kayak.' I put that in quotation marks because it is an open vessel that you sit down in, halfway between a kayak and a canoe, but the key is that it weighs about thirty pounds and is quick to inflate and throw in the water. I have named it the Raftemys.

I took the Raftemys out on the Schuylkill a couple weekends ago, putting in around Bartram's Garden, paddling up to Walnut Street, and then back down. I had initially meant to put in right before high tide, the goal being to paddle with the tide up and then with it back out, but I ended up putting in a little late and fighting the outgoing tide for a while before I finally got to turn around and take the easy way back out.

Dig the route [it is SO nice to go somewhere and be open about the location]:

Turtles were anywhere there was vegetation along the banks and logs to haul out on.

The most common that I could tell (did I bring binoculars? Nope) were red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta):
Here's a basking party with a red-belly turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris) in the middle; the redbelly actually stayed put a few beats after the rest of his buddies had bailed.

I was happy to see some map turtles (Graptemys geographica). Don't ask me why I'm happier to see invasive map turtles than I am to see invasive sliders. I get the impression the maps aren't pushing anything else out, and I think they're more elegant turtles, whatever the slider's subspecific name (elegans).

I enjoyed the scenery from the river. The tidal Schuylkill features a lot of old docks dating back to when this was a more industrially-active river. Here's an old railroad swing bridge:

Here are some shots of Center City from the river. I had the river mostly to myself; I saw about four other boats (all with motors) and three jet skiers:

Swallows zipped above me as I paddled, and they were thick as I came up along I-76 (in the left of the last shot above). Here are a couple swallow nests underneath the expressway.

Last, here's a shot of Mill Creek.
Mill Creek once ran in a ravine through West Philly, and you can trace its path in names like the Mill Creek Farm at 49th and Brown to the Mill Creek Tavern around 42nd and Chester. Clark Park sits above the Creek, as do the perennial sink holes on Pine around 43rd. Along with the asphalt, plenty of buildings along the Creek's path have suffered damage, some torn down due to subsidence above huge culvert that now carries Mill Creek, essentially a huge storm sewer with fill still settling above it, well over a century after its entombment. Philly H2O has some great information on Philadelphia's underground waterways for those who would like to learn more.

Wouldn't it be cool to go up inside Mill Creek? I have certainly thought so, but I might be changing my mind. I saw the stream of mist issuing from the tunnel before I could see its mouth, the cool underground air condensing the heavy, humid, 90 degree air of the day.

Then I smelled and felt the air. These sensations conflicted, the cool breeze quite nice on my sweating, sun-roasting skin but the fetid stink of the storm sewer driving me past it. I can't say I won't ever hold my nose and head up the tunnel, but not on this trip.

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