Not only is the Loxahatchee Florida's only designated Wild and Scenic River, it's actually two rivers rolled into one. Or at least two distinctly different paddling experiences. After debarking from Riverbend Park (canoe rentals and packages including return transportation are available from nearby Canoe Outfitters, 561-746-7053) for the nearly eight-mile trip to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, canoeists first encounter a series of horseshoe curves, which can be challenging depending on the current and which meander through narrow passages beneath overhanging trees and their drooping beards of Spanish moss. Alligators patrol the banks, tortoises sun themselves on logs in the river, and the occasional river otter or armadillo makes itself seen, along with at least ten different species of birds, including osprey and turkey vulture. The jumping mullet has even been known to hop aboard a canoe. Halfway through the trip, Trapper Nelson's comes into view. The former home of a guy by that name who lived there up until the 1960s, the picturesque exploring area has restrooms and a covered pavilion with picnic tables. After lunch the rest of the route is mostly a straight line through open water, with occasional turns, some mangrove growth, and a view of the woods from a distance. The trip takes between five and six hours and can vary in difficulty depending on wind and water level. If it hasn't rained in a while, paddlers are sometimes forced to hop out of their boats to push them through very shallow water or over fallen logs -- all in plain sight of those gators on the banks.

Best Place To Drink, Smoke, And Bet On A Sport That Anybody Can Understand

Hollywood Greyhound Track

Simplicity. This is the beauty of the dog track. Six to eight dogs run in each race. They chase a white mechanical bunny around a track. They almost never pass each other. They almost never bump into one another or fall down or throw their jockeys. (Of course there are none to throw.) Basically whichever dog jumps out in front seems to win the race. The entire spectacle takes well under a minute. Then you buy another beer, smoke another cigarette (everybody at the dog track smokes), toss down another $2 bet on some randomly picked streamlined beauty, and watch what looks like the same exact race transpire again. Occasionally you bet on the right dog, and they give you some money back.

Best Place To Drink, Smoke, And Bet On A Sport That Few People Understand

Dania Jai-Alai

It's Tuesday night at the fronton. The elaborately costumed players -- with names like Andonegui, Lertxundi, and, our favorite, Homero -- parade out to center stage and wave their cestas to the crowd, signaling the commencement of the evening's matches. We're parked in the front row with a cigarette and a $2.95, 16-plus-ounce Budweiser wondering how we ended up at a place called a "fronton" watching a game involving "cestas." Even more so, we're contemplating how this strange Basque game was transformed into a staple of South Florida culture. But in this Huizenga-owned sports era of $6 stadium drafts, gestapo-enforced nonsmoking areas, and arenas designed primarily as playgrounds for corporate executives, we appreciate the casual scruffiness of Dania Jai-Alai. Even if we do have to watch a game that -- as best we can figure -- is just a souped-up version of racquetball. Perhaps we're missing something. We'll try to figure out the betting next.

Wake up at first light, close camp and load the canoe, and take off down the Lopez River at dawn. Put the paddle in the heavy, calm water, and start your way upriver, toward Sunday Bay. Don't look up. Look into the water. The Lopez River, in the early morning, provides a stunning reflection of the banks and the trees and the birds and the ascending sky. Look ahead and you see two identical horizons, one real, the other in the river. It takes a lot of preparation and time to experience the Lopez River properly -- it's across the state on the western edge of the Everglades, south of Chokoloskee, and it takes hours to reach by canoe. But few things truly worthwhile come easy. The Lopez provides a channel from the bays of the 'Glades to the Gulf of Mexico and the Ten Thousand Islands -- a handful of which also make for wonderful campsites. It's a short river, taking only a couple of hours to paddle. Dawn is the time to do it. Take your rod and reel and waterproof matches, too. It's packed with big redfish that make for a great meal in the wilderness.

For all its stifling summer heat and lack of any real winter, South Florida isn't a difficult place at all for those seeking a spot of ice. There are ice-skating rinks in Pembroke Pines, Sunrise, Pompano Beach, and Palm Beach Gardens, to name several. But one clearly freezes out all the others in terms of quality: Incredible Ice, the two-year-old, $7 million, 75,000-square-foot facility just east of the Sawgrass Expressway off Sample Road. Owned by the Panthers, the topnotch arena has two skating rinks, and if you're lucky you'll see Pavel Bure practicing there. On Sunday nights families flock to the center, rent top-quality skates, and glide around for an icy evening. Even the tiny ones -- some as young as two or three years old -- can skate there with the help of steel "gliders" that keep the toddlers up on their skates and give them a chilly thrill. On Friday and Saturday nights, the ice is warmed up with dates and couples; as the lights go down, the laser lights come out and a disc jockey pumps up the jam. It's even cool for those who don't like to skate -- they can sit at the bar and down some beer that's almost as icy as the rink itself.

Plenty of parks in Broward and Palm Beach counties are suitable for putting a few miles on the running shoes. But if you're going to live in South Florida, you might as well take advantage of the ocean. There's no better stretch of property than the Broadwalk in Hollywood. It offers an unobstructed view of the ocean and a pleasant saltwater breeze that'll keep your legs pumping. The pathway gets crowded, but if you play your cards right, all logjams can be avoided. Start at the northern tip of Hollywood. North Beach Park at Sheridan Street is an easily accessible spot. Or if you're looking for a slightly longer jog, start farther north, perhaps Perry Street. (It's still Surf Road up there, but the car traffic is almost nonexistent.) Proceed south on the paved walkway. Admire the waves and soak up the ocean air. You can get about two miles of jogging in before things start to get ugly, crowdwise. We usually turn and head back at Michigan Street. That way we avoid the proliferation of Broadwalk eateries and inadequately clad Canadians.
Spread out beneath the two-story observation tower at Anne Kolb Nature Center is a microcosm of South Florida's pristine natural habitats: more than 1400 acres of preserved coastal wetlands, West Lake, the Intracoastal Waterway, and, off in the distance, the Atlantic Ocean. And in the park below, all but the ocean are accessible by trail or canoe. The best place to start, though, is in the interpretive center itself, where a ten-minute film introduces the center and surrounding park. Also inside are touch-tanks full of marine life and informational displays. A stuffed great blue heron and white ibis, for example, seem to give their distinctive calls when the buttons near them are pushed. A full schedule of classes, environmental boat tours, canoe excursions, and hikes along the mud trails through the mangroves are conducted by naturalists. Or visitors can rent a canoe and explore at their own pace.
The collection of dark-stained, cedar-sided buildings that houses the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center's classrooms, labs, and displays looks like ski lodges. The illusion is furthered by what appear to be several giant hot tubs spread out below the deck out back. But instead of decompressing skiers, the tanks are filled with turtles, fish, lobsters, and sharks, which staff members point out and explain to kids and families. Beyond the main complex are an outdoor amphitheater and interpretive nature trail with numbered signs marking trees and plants. The amphitheater is used for portions of some of the many classes and programs offered, but participants don't sit around for long. Hikes through the center's hardwood hammock and along the nearby beach back up the talking part of classes, and one program has nature buffs analyzing the puffer fish, baby barracuda, and blue crabs they find after dipping a seine into the lagoon. For the less adventuresome, however, just kicking back on the shaded deck of the center can be an in-depth lesson in native plants: Dozens of varieties, each with an information card hanging nearby, live in pots that line the deck railing.
Quiet Waters Park
Though there are no mountains to climb in South Florida, a few mountain biking tracks do require a substantial amount of technical expertise and endurance to conquer. Not Quiet Waters. It is neither a tire buster nor a dull flat track, and therein lies its attractiveness. The South Florida Trail Blazers volunteered to turn this lakeside trail into a legitimate track in the early '90s. Numerous large roots that beg to be jumped stand in the rider's way, and there's a modest 20-foot clay hill to climb. We are drawn to the "jungle section," where weaving in and out of bushes, trees, and shrubs is more fun than a bike jockey should be allowed to have. A more moderate novice track awaits those who are taking their first pedal down the mountain biking road. The most important advantage to this trial may lie in its all-season availability, for it is 90 percent in the shade. That relative coolness in summer turns the water-park pool you ride past into a casual thought, not a life-saving necessity.

This ride that encompasses the best of Florida's two worlds: a trek through a canopy of trees and a ride along the beach with its glitzy view of the sea. Start by taking the easy, two-mile ride through the park and roll by the Australian pines and banyan trees that make this a great little urban park, complete with sea turtles and rascally raccoons. You can loop around on the paved road as many times as you want, but be careful, the road is shared with automobile traffic. Then exit the park and prepare for phase two. Pull out the wraparound shades, put on the headphones, and strip down to bare essentials, for you are about to ride along a bustling South Florida beach. Ride south on the ocean-side sidewalk against the traffic of A1A, the better to spot beach scenes and suck in the salty air. Pedal down to the south beach area and head back. Those of you belonging to the Train and Trash Club can stop at the Elbo Room and erase any thirst built up during this less-than-grueling ride.

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