Saturday, September 17, 2016

Payne’s Prairie State Park–Micanopy, FL

Our trip to Payne’s Prairie SP was almost cancelled because of hurricane Hermine, but luckily it only caused a power outage that delayed our trip by a day. 

Doe near the campsite

Our campsiteOur campsite was back in the woods, and our nearest neighbors were a few campsites away, so we had a nice quiet spot.  The only concern from by the hurricane was the campground was on a “boil water” notice, but we brought our own water, so that wasn’t a problem.  Overlook

There are several hiking trails in the park; some long and some short.  One spot that is a must see is the overlook tower next to the visitor’s center.  The tower is three levels high, and offers an amazing view over the prairie.  The visitor’s center is staffed, and I recommend stopping by just to learn a little about the park.

Lakeside amphitheaterIn addition to hiking some of the trails, we took a walk from the campground out to Lake Wauburg.  There were a few picnic areas (complete with barbeque grills) along the way, and also a small amphitheater overlooking the lake.

There is a small footbridge that crosses a swamp on the edge of the lake that gives a nice view across the water.

Panorama from footbridge
Panorama from Footbridge

This is a great area for wildlife spotting – the park has wild bison, wild horses, deer, alligators, and just about everything else that is native to Florida.  We didn’t spot the bison on this trip, but I’m sure we’ll have better luck on our next visit.

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Another picnic area
Picnic Area
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Deer watching
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Old tank in the woods
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Walk to Lake Wauburg

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hiking Cone’s Dike Trail and Visitor’s Center Overlook- Payne’s Prairie Preserve

During the afternoon, we hiked part of Cone’s Dike Trail, and spent some time at the overlook at the Visitor’s Center.  I really like this picture that Tina took from the top of the overlook; it shows the layer the layers of colors across the whole prairie.

Pairie Layers
Payne’s Prairie Color Pallet

Start Cone's Dike TrailThe Cone’s Dike trail starts just off the sidewalk that goes from the parking area to the visitor’s center, right next to a public restroom.  The first portion of the trail leads to the east through the forest before coming to a branch – the northern fork goes to Cone’s Dike, with the trail to Jackson’s Gap heading south.  Trail view-1

We were hoping to spot the bison this afternoon, so we took the northern path that leads down to the prairie.  As we headed down the hill to the stile that enters the prairie, we heard what sounded like a huge animal crashing through the forest, just out of sight.  It was probably a deer, but I’ve also heard armadillos make quiet a ruckus going through dead leaves, so who knows.

Trail view-2As the trail enters the prairie, the overlook tower by the visitors center can be seen off to the west.  The trail turns to the east pretty quickly, and continues on for about half a mile before turning to the north.  This portion of the trail was well shaded by the trees to the south, but the northern leg wasn’t nearly as well shaded.Trail view-3

We only followed this portion of the trail for about a half mile before turning back.  Since it was later in the day, the temperature was getting up there.  Our goal of seeing the prairie and ground level didn’t really work out since the plants growing along the path were higher than head-level.  We could have been ten feet from the bison and still wouldn’t have been able to see them.

Instead of continuing on, we decided instead to head up to the overlook and look around from there.  From the overlook we could see more horses on the prairie, but we didn’t spot any of the bison.  Still, it was worth the trip – this overlook tower is three levels high, and offers an amazing view.

Prairie Pano
Prairie Panorama

Photo Gallery
(More photos are available on our Panoramio page)

Overlook from trail
Overlook viewed from the trail
Wild horses-3
Wild Horses on the Prairie
Inside VC Bald Eagle-1
Bald Eagle in Visitor’s Center

Friday, September 09, 2016

Hiking Bolen’s Bluff–Payne’s Prairie Preserve

Bolen’s Bluff is about 3.5 miles northwest of the main entrance to Payne’s Prairie Preserve on Rt. 441.  The trail map says that this is a 2.5 mile round trip, but I measured it closer to 3.5 miles.

Shaded bench
Rest area just before trail to overlook

TrailheadAt the trailhead, there are two kiosks – one with a map of the prairie, and a historical map describing the DeSoto Trail where Hernando de Soto traveled through this area back in 1539; it’s an interesting history

Trail view-2The Bolen’s Bluff trail starts by leading into the woods for about 800 feet before splitting at the start of a balloon loop.  We took the left fork by continuing to travel to the northeast.  About 500 feet after the fork, the trail turns to the east and eventually comes upon a small branch that leads downhill to the north.  This branch must be an older trail; it dead-ends at the edge of the prairie with a wall of plants.  We did see a few deer down in this portion, which was nice.

Trail view-3The trail continues by winding to the east before coming upon a small clearing with a covered rest area (the picture above).  Along the way, the size of the oak trees is an feature of the preserve that continues to amaze.  Beyond the clearing, the trail turns to the north where it goes down a small hill and leads to the prairie. Vultures waiting at overlook

After leaving the trees, the trail continues on for a little more than half a mile through a “hallway” of wetlands plants, grasses and flowers before arriving at an overlook platform.  The only sound to be heard along the trail was the buzzing of honey bees and the worked from flower to flower.

Vultures waitingAs we approached the overlook, we were happy to find that the vultures that were hanging out there weren’t guarding a meal… they were just enjoying the morning like we were.Wild horses-5

From the top of the overlook, we had a great view of the prairie, and even spotted some of the wild horses that call the prairie home;  there were several more than we saw on you trip to La Chua trail yesterday.  We watched the horses for a bit, and enjoyed the cool breeze for a bit before finally heading back.

On our trip back, we took the southern portion of the balloon, and passed by one spot that had fences on both sides of the trail for about 10 or 15 feet.  There really wasn’t any indication of why those fences were there, but I suspect that there might have been something crossing the trail at that spot, and they were intended to keep people of the official path.

This is a nice short hike, and the observation platform at the end is a great spot to spend a little time enjoying the view.  Learning a little about the history of the area is an added bonus.

Photo Gallery
(More photos are available on our Panoramio page)

Desoto trail
DeSoto Trail
Wild horses-4
Wild Horses
Tina by fences
Why are these fences here?
Andy on the overlook
Andy on the overlook
Nice web
Beautiful web
Purple flowers
Flowers on the trail

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Hiking La Chua Trail–Payne’s Prairie Preserve

This is probably the most popular trail in Payne’s Prairie Preserve.  It’s only about three miles round trip, and it’s very easy to walk.  Along the way we spotted a lot of wildlife; it’s a terrific spot to visit.

VIew of boardwalk
Boardwalk to Alachua Sink

Reaching oak

The parking area for the trailhead is shaded by giant oak trees that line the first portion of the trail.  The trail starts as a sidewalk that winds through these enormous oaks and bringing us to an railroad overpass that was created to allow ranchers to move their cattle from the prairie to get them to market.  Historic barn-2

After going under the RR overpass, the trail goes through an old renovated barn with informational placards on the inside.  The placards describe, among other things, how the ranchers were able to use the natural building materials and breezes to keep the animals cool during the hottest part of the summer, including laying the blocks in such a way to allow the wind to come through the building.

Great Blue Heron-4The boardwalk to Alachua Sink begins at the end of the paved walkway.  The sink is a major water inflow to the Floridan aquifer and is a gathering spot for several types of wetland wildlife.  There were too many plants in the water this day to see any alligators at the sink, but there were several herons and other water fowl along the edges.Small Island-2

The boardwalk continues for about 1/4 mile with two shaded pavilions along the way.  Looking off the east from the second pavilion, there is a small island that appears to be a limestone outcropping with trees growing on it. 

Leaving the boardwalk behind, the trail is grass – it is still an easy walk, and this is probably one of the most interesting parts of the hike.  On the east side of the trail, the water has fewer plants, and is filled with alligators. 

Gator ruckus-1

There are enough alligators where they sometimes get a little too close to each other for their own comfort.  We saw more than one little ruckus while we watched these guys swimming about.  This seems to be a popular spot because the water from the prairie flows into this spot bringing fish (and other food) with it.Big gator-3

The one gator that held my attention was right next to the shore at the bottom of the berm; this guy was huge.  If I had to estimate his size, I would say that his head was at least fifteen inches across.  As you can see, he was well shaded by the plants floating above him, so I couldn’t guess his length. 

Wild Horses-3Beyond the alligators, the trail continues through the wetlands where it wasn’t long before we saw the wild Spanish horses that roam the prairie.  This was a small group of only three (I don’t know if that qualifies as a herd), and they were just casually looking around and posing for pictures as people passed by along the trail.Lilly-2

The trail continues through a field of lilies in full bloom that were growing along with seed pods that I’ve only seen in craft shops before this trip.  The grass portion of the trail is about a mile long where it ends at an overlook platform that has a view of the prairie. 

The top of the overlook is a great place to linger.  The views are amazing and the cool breeze blowing over the water makes it a very comfortable place to just soak in the views. 

If this is on your list for spots to visit, I would recommend bringing bringing a telephoto lens for your camera and maybe even a pair of binoculars.  The prairie is pretty big, and they came in handy for us.

Pano from overlook
Panorama from the overlook

Photo Gallery
(Many more photos available on our Panoramio Page)

Parking Area-2
Shaded Parking Area
Paved trailOak and sky
Oaks along the trail
Old RR bridge
Railroad Overpass
Gator on the shore
Heron feeding 2 of 5
Heron Hunting
Seed pods-2
Seed Pods
La Chua Overlook-2
Overlook at the end of the trail
Butterfly pollenating
Flowers by the trailFlowers by the water
Flowers by the trail