Dead Lakes Florida Conservation Area

Start of My Panhandle Tour

For the Summer of 2011, I’ve been hard at work to develop my new ‘Florida 67’ series, canoeing and exploring Florida’s most unique waterways and ecosystems. At the end of June 2011, I spent 4 days in the Florida Panhandle, starting at Dead Lakes, then St. Joseph Peninsula, the Gulf Island National Seashore, and finally a quick stop at Torreya State Park on my way back to Orlando. While this started as a scouting trip for a later return, I ended up chasing thunderstorms instead to capture a more dramatic picture of Florida’s summers.

Visiting Dead Lakes

The most unique place on my 4 day tour was Dead Lakes. While there is technically a recreation area, the phone line had been disconnected, and their is only one real hotel for at least 20 miles (who rarely answer the phone to schedule a stay). While dead lakes is considered a conservation area, it is not part of the state park system. There is very little information on the area, and you must really go out of your way to explore it; within seconds of arriving, I already knew the journey was worth the time and effort.  What a wonder the lakes and rivers in the area were to behold – the stillness and power of the scene reminded me of Mono Lake in Yosemite, California.  But unlike California, there weren’t droves of tourists and photographers talking loudly; instead, only one local fisherman was casting a line nearby.


Dead lakes is believed to be formed when sand bars created by water flowing from the Apalachicola was blocked up by the Chipola River, which flooded the forests and created a lake within the trees. The high flood waters killed many of the trees, but left one of the most beautiful rivers of the Florida Panhandles, along with a thriving ecosystem for plants, trees, and wildlife.

Photographing Dead Lakes

Dead lakes finally convinced me to purchase my own canoe.  I’ve been relying on rentals for years, but two problems have persisted; either I cannot take them into a specific area, or I cannot take them out during a storm. My Florida 67 series relies heavily on complex cloud systems, but for obvious reasons, park rangers don’t want the liability of renting someone a canoe when it would put me in danger. But stupid risks is what real nature photography is all about. Next time I visit Dead Lakes, I’ll bring my own boat and venture further out.

Upon my arrival, some amazing and ominous cloud systems were forming. Rarely do I have the luck of the perfect light when showing up to a location (most of the time I have to wait for hours or days).  As it rained, Michelle held an umbrella over me. As a storm could moved from behind me, I shot off several rolls of TMAX and Infrared film, with my favorite below:

Dead Lakes 1 by Richard Auger. A storm approaches from behind. Mamiya 7II, Kodak Tmax 100, Tmax Developer.

About a minute after shooting this photo at the corner of the river, a huge downpour began, and it was getting very late in the evening; time to go!  In September or October, I’ll definitely be returning for a full kayak down the river.  Dead Lakes is one of the most impressive natural wonders I’ve seen during my adventures in Florida, including the entire Torreya wilderness and Apilachicola River Area.

4 thoughts on “Dead Lakes Florida Conservation Area”

  1. I wish you could have seen this great lake in the 1960-1990. The trees were still so magnificent that is was breath taking. As a young girl I did not appreciate the beauty, it was simply boring to me. But as an older adult I look back to my memories and reflect on the beauty I remember. There was a photographer in the 80’s who took some amazing photos for Deadlakes, but I can not find him. I ran across his display at St. James Art Festival in Louisville, Ky in early 2000’s. Can you imagine my surprise as I look at the exhibit and recognize scenes from my childhood and then realize that there were actual artist photographs? I regret not buy some prints then .

    1. Hi Diana, thanks for your comment! Many art patrons that have seen my photos of dead lakes hanging at art festivals were inspired to go kayak the area. It is still a remarkable place today, and is very much undisturbed. My parents took me to many of Florida’s hidden treasures when I was growing up in the 80s.

    2. Donald Brooks/ TLLTOutfittersLLC

      Hi Mr. Auger though this comment may be a little out dated, i just found it and thought if you are interested in a grand tour of the entire Apalachicola River Basin including Dead Lakes, I offer a two day Eco tour and a one night stay on a semi modern houseboat. Im 42yrs old and grew up on the Deadlakes from age 8 on and have roamed every square mile of the swamp lots of Beauty and Photo opps. love the photos. TLLTOutfitters!

  2. Enjoy your gallery very much…I return often to take another look. Next time you are in the Panhandle of Florida come over to Ocheesee Pond located in a little community called Shady Grove. I think you could get some great photos here. Cypress swamp, many acres and the color of the cypress needles will be changing very soon.

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