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Finding Trapper Nelson's Cabin on a Palm Beach County Eco-Tour

A pleasant surprise for both my husband and me was how enjoyable and out of this world a day in the northern area of Palm Beach County could be. We encountered friendly people and a beautiful respite that we would return to again and again. It was during a day drive on our way south on I-95. As it was starting to get dark we passed the “Entering Palm Beach County” sign and decided we might as well find a place to eat and stay the night in Jupiter, the first exit available.

It was a turn off that required a bit of thought. One exit says Indiantown, which means you will be heading west to the town of Indiantown. The other exit is for Jupiter, the town, which takes you to the road for Indiantown. This we found out by taking the first exit and finding ourselves at the intersection for the turnpike and Indiantown Road, at which point we easily did a u-turn and headed into town.

Several hotels were on the south side of Indiantown Road as we drove east. Noting the large Wal-Mart, we drove further down until a restaurant, the  Quarterdeck, seemed appealing. We ordered the dauphin sandwiches at the suggestion of a friendly waiter. When we asked him what there would be to do if we stayed a day in Palm Beach County, his first answer was "Go to the beach!" When we said we want a relaxing experience but, since we're Floridians, something more than just vegetating in the sand, his enthusiasm didn’t falter. "There's a very cool tour to take if you like nature and you really want to relax. I'd start by hitting the beach at Carlin Park in the morning, grab some breakfast at the café, then head to the park to take the tour to Trapper Nelson's." He returned to our table with a green, rectangular booklet called Traveler which he said has great coupons for hotels in the area, along on the Intra-Coastal. We ended up choosing one of these and the front desk clerk gave us the rest of our driving directions for the itinerary the waiter had laid out for us.

At eight the next morning, we checked out and headed due east on Indiantown Road, over the bridge, passing US Highway 1 about a quarter of a mile to the dead end road at A1A, the beach road. We turned right at the light for A1A, then left a short ways ahead to take the suggestion for breakfast and a look at the great Atlantic Ocean from the beach walk at Carlin Park. The café had a breakfast and lunch menu that's first rate. We decided to just have some fruit, muffins, and coffee to go. There would have been a ten minute wait for a table and we didn’t want to miss the tour at the park.

The board listed the water conditions and temperature, calm and good for our boat ride. Our waiter warned us about the tides ruling the times that any boat could get out to Trapper Nelson's Cabin, which was in the Loxahatchee River. The tour we would take was at the concession area of the very large Jonathan Dickinson State Park. At the intersection of Indiantown Road and A1A, we turned right, heading north and drove about five miles to the entrance of Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

At the entrance of the park we were given a pamphlet with a map of the park and information about the nature and the animals inhabiting the park. We found ourselves surrounded by the native Florida forest of this preserved park land, thick with shade and sun filtered photo opportunities. Once at the concession stand, we had no trouble buying our tickets for the pontoon boat ride to the historic Trapper Nelson's Cabin. Luckily, the tides were just right for the morning boat ride. We had some time before the boat was leaving, so we busied ourselves looking at the items in the store. While I loaded my arms with sodas and a few snacks, my husband flashed his favorite titles off the racks of books that they had available to purchase. Most of them were by locals. One in particular that had us laughing was Gourmet Gator, with what must have been every conceivable recipe for cooking alligator. We bought a couple of magnets, supporting local artists whose work was a quaint tribute to the wildlife in the park, such as turtles, birds, deer, and the image of canoes paddling the ancient waters surrounding the area.

Seated comfortably in the pontoon boat, we cruised the mangrove infused water while a bright sun danced sparkles on the water's surface. This gave a silver lining to the waxy leaves of the mangroves anchored into the edge of the waterway by their curved and intricate root systems. The Captain of the boat narrated as we passed peacefully along the winding path of the river. He explained that not long ago, the only way that people traveled the region at all was by the water. Children, in the early 1900's, traveled by boat to go to school in West Palm Beach. We saw alligators, otters, and kept our eyes peeled for manatees. 

Trapper Nelson's Cabin is a time capsule to a lifestyle that is all but extinct. He was a man of nature, and lived solely off the land. Trapping animals for his food and to keep and sell, he also fished the river and the ocean. The Cabin and the property are left just as it was the day he died, in 1968. On the way back in the pontoon boat, the sight I'd waited for was finally there. All cameras were clicking as a mother and baby manatee were serenely munching on mangrove and grasses at the shore of the murky waters. That made my trip complete.

Our time on the eco tour was such an amazing day, we will return and refer all our friends. Tourism in Florida isn’t just about sand and beaches but the entire history and ecology of Florida.

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