The Making of the Dead Lakes Landscape Photograph
I had done photo shoots in the past in Wewahitchka, Florida, such as of a beekeeper at an apiary that produces tupelo honey – famous honey from the Apalachicola River basin. However, I had never been out on the nearby Dead Lakes, so one day I hitched up the ole boat and headed to Wewa. I drove from Tallahassee through the pre-dawn darkness and was on the water at sunrise.
I explored a section of Wewahitchka’s mysterious Dead Lakes for a couple hours until I came across this scene. I photographed from the boat, drifting with the slow current. Occasionally I would have to reposition the boat to recompose the scene and continue creating images while drifting.
When I captured this image, the sun was still fairly low in the sky over my shoulder, casting nice light and long shadows on the unique cypress tree trunks and stumps. The water was calm and created a beautiful reflection of the trees and the stumps.
I have cropped this image to a 2:1 ratio to remove extraneous sky from the frame. The panoramic crop adds more emphasis to the unusual stumps rising from the water’s surface.
Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane, hit the area less than two weeks after I made this image, making landfall at nearby Mexico Beach before moving inland.
Dead Lakes is a 6,700-acre lake near Wewahitchka, Florida. The lake is part of the Chipola River, the largest tributary of the nearby Apalachicola River.
There seems to be some dispute as to how Dead Lakes was formed, whether it was by the Apalachicola River’s power naturally creating sand bars long ago that blocked the flow of the Chipola River where they meet, or whether it was due to a dam that existed at the lower end of the Dead Lakes section of the Chipola River from 1960-1987. The rising water from the blocking of the river apparently killed many of the trees in the floodplain that became the lake, leaving their dead stumps throughout, and inspiring the lake’s name.
Regardless of how it formed, Dead Lakes exists today as a mixture of lake, river, and swamp, filled with both live cypress and white tupelo trees, and dead tree stumps. It is known for having good fishing, specifically for bluegill, shellcracker, and largemouth bass. A public boat ramp on the West Arm of the lake is a popular access point for boaters. Care must be taken while boating on the lake due to the stumps and snags.
Wewahitchka, or Wewa, as we call it, is a small town of about 2,100 people in northeastern Gulf County, Florida, located at the intersection of Florida State Roads 71 and 22. Just one mile to the north of Wewahitchka lies Dead Lakes.
Wewahitchka is a native American word that means “water eyes,” as it was named after two small lakes in town that look like a pair of eyes.
Wewahitchka is known for its beekeeping operation – one of the biggest in the state of Florida. Wewahitchka apiaries produce the famous tupelo honey, and claim it to be the only pure tupelo honey in the world, thanks to the white tupelo gum trees (Nyssa ogeche) in the Apalachicola River basin, including the Chipola River and Dead Lakes.
Pure tupelo honey is raw and unfiltered. While light gold in color, it has a slight green cast. It has a light floral taste with no bitterness. Tupelo honey is high in fructose and low in sucrose and it will not granulate.
Wewahitchka has an annual tupelo honey festival, held on the third Saturday in May.
The 1997 film, Ulee’s Gold, directed by Victor Nuñez and starring Peter Fonda, was set in (and partially filmed in) Wewahitchka, Florida. Fonda plays a Wewahitchka beekeeper in the film, with the film’s title referring to his character’s tupelo honey.