Sunday, March 04, 2018

Biking CBSF–Heifer Mound

I took a short ride through Charles Bronson State Forest to capture some aerial video around Heifer Mound and Saddle Mound.  These are two of the largest native American shell middens in the immediate area of the state forest (that I’ve seen), and this spot offers some great views of the St. Johns River

Saddle Mound

Parking for this trailhead is at the Chuluota Wilderness area about two tenths of a mile west of the entrance to the state forest.  From here it is a short ride to the windmill – overall it is almost exactly four miles out to the river.

CBSF Entrance
Park Entrance

cbsf sign
Information Kiosk

There are a a lot of these prehistoric sites throughout Florida, and many along the St. Johns River.  For the most part, they are easy to miss, but some of them really stand out.  Heifer Mound is a well known spot by boaters (especially air boats) as a spot to park and enjoy the views.  There is a flag pole on the center of the mound that sometimes has a flag, but I learned  that the flag is frequently taken by vandals.

Airboats on Heifer Mound

I learned that Heifer Mound is known locally as bullshit mound.  I don’t know if it is because people meet here to sit and talk, or (more likely) because cows from a local ranch have been known to hang out here since it offers dry  ground when the flood plane is underwater.

Charles Bronson SF
St. Johns River 
Gator-2 Alligator Sunning

There used to be a lot of cattle in this portion of the forest, but I there is no sign of them now.  I found out that the rancher no longer has a lease with the state to let his cattle graze here.  The video that I captured while I was here came out pretty good.  I managed to capture some boats out on the river and also the airboats coming out of the river up onto the mound.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Biking Charles Bronson SF–Windmill Trip

This is a short ride through Charles Bronson State Forest where I stopped to make a little video of the windmill out there.

Windmill Full.jpg
Aeromotor WIndmill – Model 702

The windmill was made sometime before 1964, when the Aeromotor company moved from Chicago to Broken Arrow, OK.  Since then there have been several hurricanes and tropical storms that have either passed through the area, or passed close enough where this old guy saw some pretty strong winds.  Yet here it is, still running and pumping water like it did more than half a century ago.

I started the trip at the parking area for Chuluota Wilderness Area, which is only about a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the state forest.  The entrance was easy with my bike, there is a simple swinging gate so I didn’t need to lift my bike over the fence.

Forest Road
Windmill Top
Windmill Top

The ride out here is pretty easy; the roads are mostly hard packed or grassy, but I don’t think a hybrid bike would do very well because there are some spots with sugar sand.  My mountain bike handled these spots with no problems, but thinner tires would definitely not ride as well.

One of many gates
 CBSF Sign

I was surprised that I didn’t see any cattle on this trip, and also that much of the farming equipment that I saw on my last trip was also gone.  I don’t know if the forest service has stopped allowing cattle to graze here, or if the ranchers have simply brought the herds somewhere else.  I’ll probably know more in another week or two; I’m planning to come out again soon to visit some of the shell middens.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Biking Buck Lake Conservation Area

Creek crossing trail south
Creek Crossing the Road

I’ve been hiking in this area before, but the roads and trails cover so much area that I wanted to bring a bicycle to try to cover more ground.  The area is right on the edge of the St. Johns River floodplain, so with the water levels still high, there are some wet spots that slowed me down a little bit.

Handpump at campsite
Water pump at campsite
Old Bike
Old bicycle near trailhead
Wild flowers

This trip heads up to the campsite and back, but not too much further.  The loop road is crossed with a stream on the northern and southern sides, and I was pretty sure I would only make it about half way across before getting stuck.  I’ll have to come back out when the water levels are a little lower, but for now I did put together a brief video tour.

Biking through Buck Lake Conservation Area

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Biking Orlando Wetlands Park

Gator and Egret

I wanted to see some alligators this weekend, and Orlando Wetlands Park (OWP) has always been a perfect spot for this.  I got some good video and a learned a little bit more about my video toolset.

OWP is more than just a park; it is the first large scale man-made wetlands designed to treat reclaimed water and provide a wildlife habitat.  The park began receiving water from the Iron Bridge Regional Water Reclamation Facility in July 1987.  The water influent can be seen in the south western corner of the park – it is very clear, and it looks like spring water bubbling up from the ground.

Up to 35 million gallons of reclaimed water come into the park each day where aquatic plants further remove nutrients as the water makes it’s 40 day journey through 18 wetlands cells before exiting the park on the northern side.  After leaving the park, the water has a short journey to the St. Johns River.

So, from a technological and an ecological perspective, this is a pretty amazing spot.  But what really makes it a great place to visit is the flora and fauna that calls the park home.  We always come away with some amazing photographs when we visit.

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Dreher Island State Park - Prosperity, SC

We spent a week “cabin camping” here, with the main purpose being the opportunity to view a full solar eclipse.  There is a lot to do in the area; we had a great time.

Cabin rear
View of cabin from Lake Murray

This is our first time “cabin camping”, and we really didn’t know what to expect.  The description on the website sure sounded nice, but there was also a part of me that was thinking about the condition of some of the basic hunting cabins that I’ve seen.  As it turns out, my worries were completely unfounded.  This cabin was as nice (or nicer) than any 5-star hotel I’ve stayed in.

A tour of the cabin/villa

The cabin is right on the shore of Lake Murray, and the water was the perfect temperature for swimming.  With no alligators, sharks, or jelly fish to worry about, we went swimming just about every day.  In the morning, Tina had her solitude with a cup of coffee on a hammock to watch the sunrise, and the sunsets were nice too.

Backyard pano
Our view of Lake Murray

Sunset over Lake Murray

The cabin includes everything one could think of – all the dishes, pots pans, and utensils that we could have needed, as well as bed linens and towels.  With Wi-Fi and satellite TV, we had what we wanted for the evenings as well.  The park itself has a couple of hiking trails and good biking on the roads.  There are a couple of local places to rent kayaks, and they will actually deliver them (with the appropriate equipment) to the front door and pick them up at the end of the day Stop by the park store for more info on this – we didn’t take advantage of the service, but the folks next door did.

Andy on the hammock
Lazing on a hammock

I should also mention the RV and tent camping areas; they were very nice as well.  Each site has plenty of space, and even when the campground is full it didn’t seem to be overly crowded.  The best sites, in my opinion, were at the southern end of the park.  Cell phone access was perfect with T-Mobile, so internet access should be pretty good. 

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

South Carolina State Museum–Columbia, SC

Originally a textile mill that opened in 1894 and was finally closed in 1981.  The building was converted to a museum which opened in 1988.  The original brickwork and wooden floors can still be seen, and a section of the museum is dedicated to some of the textile operations that used to be done here.

Train-Friend of Charlotte-4
Full size replica of “The Friend of Charlotte”

There are tons of exhibits across four floors of the museum (some of the photos are below), but it is also very close to two other sites that were on our “must see” list. The first site is “Big Ed”, and the second is the worlds largest fire hydrant. 

Big Ed-2
Big Ed
World's largest fire hydrant-4
World’s Largest Fire Hydrant

Big Ed is a statue in the middle of a kid’s museum across the parking lot from the state museum.  The front desk let us come in to take a picture without charging the entrance fee, since that was the only thing we were there to see.  They were pretty cool about it.

The worlds largest fire hydrant is a little less than a mile away.  It’s in the middle of a private parking area that is clearly marked with warnings that you will be towed.  Since we were just here for a couple of photos, that wasn’t an issue though.

Tunnel Mural-3
Tunnel Mural

Also next to the fire hydrant is a mural that is kind of interesting… it’s a picture of a tunnel that is realistic enough that birds have been known to fly into it.  I don’t believe they were as successful as the Road Runner though.

Museum Photos

Two mediums
Two Mediums
Big Shark being cleaned
Cleaning a Big Shark
Unfinished dugout
Unfinished Prehistoric Dugout
Inside a kaleidoscope
Inside a Kaleidoscope
Dino turtle-9
Dino Turtle
Multi floor view
Two floor displays

Hiking Little Gap Trail–Dreher Island SP

At a little under three miles, this is a nice trail with several spots of interest.  One of the most notable spots is are the unmarked remains of an old homesite that probably dates back to before the time the land was donated to the state to make this park.

Hidden Cove near the Trail

Fallen treeWe started our hike from the front door of our cabin which is less than a quarter of a mile from where the trail first enters the woods.  From the edge of the woods, the trail leads to the east for about half a mile before coming to a small hidden cove.  The cove has a small sandbar that was just under the water’s surface, that leads to a small island. 

Boy scout markerAlong this area of the trail we saw a couple of posts mounted by the local scout troop.  There was no indication what they were for, but the looked like they might be part of an orienteering exercise.

Also along this part of the trail, I noticed another spot with a lot of shells by the water.  Like the other spot, it is difficult to discern if this marks the spot of an ancient shell midden, or if the shells simply wound up here because of the predominant currents when the lake rises and falls.rock stack

After leaving the area along the shore, the trail continues for about another half mile to the where it crosses under some power lines before coming to a fork that begins the balloon portion of the trail.  Taking the trail to the right leads quickly to the remains of an unmarked home site.

Unmarked house ruins - fireplace 1The video below shows the home site in more detail, but the predominant feature is a dual sided fireplace / hearth made with brick and local stones.  The hearth still has a bar mounted across the fireplace that would have probably been used to hold a cooking pot.  There as also a second bar that looks like it was mounted in the fireplace as well, but has since fallen out.

Next to the home site, someone has taken the time to make a small cairn… I’m not sure why, but we left it as is.  I suspect that the rangers will probably knock it down the next time they are out this way.Trail view 1

We explored the home site for a bit, and then continued along the balloon portion of the trail and returning to our starting point.  This is an easy trail to hike, and there are several elevation changes along the way (though nothing too big).  Prior to damming the river and making Lake Murray, it is easy to tell that this was once the top of a small mountain.

Overall, this is a fun hike that is very different from the types of trails we find in Florida. Probably the biggest difference between the two types of trails (besides elevation changes) is the forest itself.  In the tropical Florida environment, most forests have a lot of plant growth along the ground below the canopy, while on this trail, there was very little growth below the branches above. 

Unmarked Homesite (Description starts at about 1:40)

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