Friday, August 19, 2016

Hiking De Leon Springs–Wild Persimmon Trail

Most people don’t think of hiking when they think of this state park, but there is a nice paved nature trail that is about a half mile loop, and off of that trail are two short trails into the woods, and one longer one.  The longer trail is balloon trail (about 4 miles long) called the Wild Persimmon Trail.

Sugarmill grill house-1
Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House – A replica of an 1830’s Sugar Mill

Starting at the spring, we took a quick look around – this visit was on a Thursday, and there were a lot more people swimming than I expected. 

Old MethusulaBoardwalk to Old MethuselahThe trail starts on the east side of the park, just off the parking area.  Following the trail for about a tenth of a mile brought us to the first spur trail – a long boardwalk that leads to “Old Methuselah”.  This spur is only about 200 feet long, and it’s worth going out to see the tree at the end.  While not the biggest cypress in Florida, it’s pretty large.  At more than 500 years old, it is something to think about; it’s been here longer than our country.  It’s pretty amazing that this tree survived the logging industry that was a huge industry in this part of Florida.

After a couple of quick photos, we returned to the main trail for about another 800 feet where we arrive at the “Monkey Island” trail.  This is spur trail is about 1/4 of a mile long, and passes by an area that used to house several monkeys before this was a state park.  We pass this trail by for now, so we can get to the main trail that we came for.

Trail viewThe Wild Persimmon Trail is only about 75 feet further along, and this one starts off on a north / northwest heading.  The trail is very well marked with blue blazes along the full path.  The walking area is also well worn, so it is very easy to stay on the path.  Since I’m talking about the path, I should note that this is a natural trail area, so there are roots and such.  There was more than one stubbed toe along the way.Orange mushrooms-1

The trail heads to the north / northwest for about 500 feet before turning to the west for another 1,000 feet.  This portion of the trail is within a well-shaded hydric hammock which is a mixed blessing when the weather is warm.  The shade is nice, but very little breeze penetrates the surrounding foliage. 

Tree barnaclesOn today’s trip, there were flashes of color all along the trail from different fungi.  Purple mushrooms growing in the soil and Jack O’ Lanterns growing on tree roots, white “clam” mushrooms, and “tree barnacles” growing on tree trunks were a few of the ones that we saw along the way.

As the trail turns toward the north, it parallels the shore line of Spring Garden Lake, which is about a quarter of a mile to the south through some very wet swamp land, for about 3/4 of a mile before coming to the branch in the trail.Resurrection ferns

The branch in the trail is the beginning of the balloon loop.  Here, the foliage opens up a bit, letting the breeze come through.   Here, the resurrection ferns are in full bloom from the recent rains.

The balloon loop is about 1.5 miles long, and reaches just shy of the road to the north.  This portion of the park is also crossed by several forest road type paths, so one could easily spend more time exploring the area up here.

Monkey Island-4At the end of the loop, we returned along the same path that we took coming out and then went to look at the Monkey Island trail.  We know that, back when this was a tourist attraction, monkeys used to live on this island.  It seems odd that such a small island with almost no barrier to the main land was adequate for keeping monkeys. 

Most people don’t come to the De Leon Springs for hiking, but they’re missing out if they don’t spend a few hours exploring these trails.  There is also a boat launch that is a perfect spot to drop in for a kayak trip down to Lake Woodruff, but that will have to be another day.

Photo Gallery
(More photos available on my Panoramio Page)

DeLeon Spring-1
Shaded Area by the Spring
DeLeon Spring-4
Swimming at De Leon Springs
DeLeon Spring-5
Showers &  Restrooms by the Spring
Cypress Swamp
Cypress Swamp
Purple mushrooms
Purple Mushrooms
Clam mushroom
Clam Mushroom

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hiking Charles Bronson SF from OWP

Getting an early start for today’s hike, I decided to explore the eastern portion of Charles Bronson State Forest, just north of Orlando Wetlands park (OWP).  Using OWP as a starting point gave me a little bit of flexibility on my trip, which was good since I didn’t pre-map my trail – I simply targeted the general area that I wanted to visit.

Trail view-1
White blazes lead the way out of Orlando Wetlands Park

Soft shell turtleStarting from the parking area, I headed due north through the park.  This early in the morning, the gators could be seen everywhere in the water.  None of them were up on shore though – they seemed to be more comfortable staying cool in the water today.  Other than a lot of water fowl, the only creature that I saw on dry ground was an immature soft-shell turtle.  This little guy wasn’t more than five inches long, but he didn’t seem at all bothered by me looking at him.Crossing stile-1

The first stile crossing leads out of OWP into the state forest about one mile north of the parking area.  From here, the white blazes guide the way… kinda.  Either there are not very many white blazes, or they are disguised since they blend in with lichens on the trees.  Whichever was the case, it wasn’t too long before I lost them.

Trail view-2No worries though – I was more interested in exploring, so I tried to keep my direction generally headed north.  The undergrowth in this part of the forest is relatively sparse as palm trees tend to keep most of the ground in the shade.  Occasionally I would come across an old forest road or a game trail to follow.Web across trail-2

It wasn’t too long before I came across the familiar orange blazes of the Florida Trail.  Here the trail leads to the east and west.  When I hiked the Lake Cone area of Seminole Ranch, I noted that the Florida Trail headed north along the eastern edge of OWP, so I knew where I would end up if I followed the orange blazes to the east.  There were a lot of Golden Orb Weaver webs along the way – I knocked a bunch down, and walked through a bunch more.  Some of them were big enough to see to walk around though. 

I think they mean itAlong the way, trail runs alongside an area that is still private property (it’s about 1/2 mile square).  If the signage is any indication, they seem to be pretty serious about letting people know that they aren’t wanted in that area.

Crossing stile-2Eventually the trail brought me to the first of three more stiles that cross fences along the trail.  At the first one, I expected the trail to make a hard turn to the south, but instead it took more of a southeastern route for about the next mile before coming to the stream that is the outlet for OWP into the St. Johns River.

Clean water flowingIt’s interesting to notice just how clean the water is at this spot – it has been filtered throughout the entire wetlands and it leaves the park looking as clear as water from a spring.

Bridge to OWPI followed the trail along the stream to the west from here for about a third of a mile, where the trail brought me to a bridge that crosses back into the wetlands park. 

The trip back through the park was pretty uneventful.  All of the alligators were out of sight (likely trying to stay cool under the water – the temperature on land was already in the mid 90’s).  I did hear a few alligators making that deep rumbling sound that they use to attract a mate, but I was unable to actually see them doing it. 

Photo Dump
More photos available in the Gallery

Flock on the road
OWP Road North
Trail view-3
Old Grassy Trail
Low bridge
Low Bridge on Florida Trail
Web across trail-1
Web Across Trail
Trail view-4
Trail along Creek
Shells by the creek
Shells by the Creek

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weekend Geocaching

I’m pretty sure that I’ve been to just about every trailhead within a 1 hour drive, and with the temperatures as high as they’ve been lately, an early start is needed for hiking.  With that in mind, the options are either get up really early do an hour long drive to a trailhead, or find something different.  This weekend we decided to try something a little different:  Geocaching. 

Cute little snake
We didn’t find our first cache, but this little guy watched us search.

The first couple of caches that we searched for were in the woods about a mile or so from our house.  The first one is called “Is Woody Home”.  The description of this cache had us thinking that it would be an easy find, but we were wrong.  We looked everywhere for this one, but had no luck at all.  We did provide some entertainment for a little rat snake that was watching us from a hole in a tree though.

Deer Crossing geocache

The next cache that we searched for is called “Deer Crossing”.  I thought this was going to be the harder one to find, but it wasn’t too bad.  We had to bushwhack our way through a bunch of palms, vines, thorns and pines but once we got to the area our GPS told us to look, we only searched for a short time before Tina found it.  Mosquitoes were pretty thick back here, so it was nice to get back out of the swamp.

Magnetix geocacheThe next part of our geocache adventure took us to the Lockwood trailhead that goes into the LBE state forest.  The cache is called “Magnetix”, and can be found on the west side of the street.  This one was pretty easy to find, so we’re making some good progress at this point.  The cache itself is small, and is held closed by some electrical tape.   The tape isn’t doing it’s job anymore, but the log is in there and is still readable. 

Wiley Walkway geocacheOur next cache is “Wiley’s Walkway”.  Wiley’s Walkway was placed by one of the guys who helped to build the new footbridge that leads into the forest.  The old footbridge was due for replacement, and the Florida Trail Association (FTA) did a fantastic job.  Not only did they make the new bridge a little wider, they also extended the boardwalks to make it easier to cross some of the muddier spots.  Lockwood Knockwood geocache

After finding this cache, we made our way to “Lockwood Knockwood”.  This one is a standard ammo-can type cache that is hidden pretty well.  We used the encrypted hint to find that it is near a campsite… the hint wasn’t much help, since there is no campsite nearby. 

Who flower collageThe last cache that we searched for is called “King Kong’s Ball and Chain”.  This is supposed to be a large cache that is easy to find, but we had no luck with this one at all.  Someone else found it a couple of months ago, so I’m sure it’s still there.  After feeding a ton of mosquitoes back here though, we gave up. 

On our way back though we saw some Who flowers growing alongside Wiliey’s Walkway bridge.  If you listen real hard to these, you can hear the little Whos of Whosville singing their Who Songs!

Next weekend, we’ll probably go out looking for caches from the Barr Street trailhead into the same forest.  Should be fun!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Paddling Rock Springs Run

I spent Friday paddling down Rock Springs Run – what a beautiful spot!  We dropped a car off down at Wekiva Island and drove another car about 15 minutes to King’s Landing to launch.  The 8.5 mile trip only took about 4 hours, and we were going with the current the whole way so it was an easy trip.

Very shallow water
Very Shallow Water

At the first part of the trip, the water wasn’t more than a few inches deep – we actually had to scoot over the sand in a couple places at first, but the really shallow water was only at the beginning of the trip.


As we made it into the forest shade, the water remains crystal clear, and the reflections on the mirror-like surface almost makes the water seem to disappear.River view-2

After the first couple of miles, we started looking for a place to pull off an stretch our legs for a bit; the only easy spot to pull out is at Big Buck Camp.  This camp is about 4 miles from King’s Landing and offers a great spot to get out and stretch while having some lunch.  While we were there we met a couple from North Carolina who had stopped there as well. 

Bird flying offAlong the way we saw fewer alligators than I had expected – only two were out sunning and they were both less than 4’ long.  There are a lot of water fowl along the way though – Ibis, Heron, and Anhinga to name a few.River view-3

A little past the halfway mark, we came across a tree that had fallen across the river, blocking the way for boats.  The water was only a couple of feet deep though, and the branches were sparse enough that it was easy for us to drag our kayaks over it. 

For nearly the whole trip, we had the river to ourselves – this is one of the prettiest areas for paddling that I think I’ve seen in central Florida.  King’s Landing charges $10 to launch, and another $10 if you take advantage of their shuttle service that will pick you up at Wekiva Island.  This is a great spot to visit!

Photo Gallery
More photos available on my Panoramio page

Turtles sunning Mo on the river Andy going around tree

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hiking St. Francis Trail–Bridges and Boardwalks

There's a path under there

< There’s a Trail Under those Ferns

The St. Francis Trail is on the southern edge of Ocala National Forest, and is about 8 1/2 miles long if the Yellow Loop trail is included in the hike.  I read that the trail can be flooded in spots (it was dry this day), but with 35 bridges and board walks along the way, I suspect that it would still be easy to travel without getting too wet.

The trail gets it’s name from a small town that used to be on the St. Johns River that was a shipping port for goods and services that would go to other settlements along the river.  Railroads eventually took over the transportation industry, and the town of St. Francis was gone by about 1935.

It had rained the morning before I started my hike, so the leaves on the ground were soft.  This made it easy to hike very quietly, and I was rewarded with several wild animal sightings.  In addition to turkeys and a family of raccoons, I had my first Florida Black Bear sighting.  It was a cub that was climbing a tree with Momma standing guard at the bottom.  They saw me at the same time that I saw them, so they moved along before I was able to get a picture.  Still, it was great to finally see them in the wild.

First end of yellow loopThe trail starts at a small parking area on Forest River Rd. and heads to the west for a mile, and along the way there are nine boardwalks to cross, before coming to the first end of the Yellow Loop trail.  Something I really appreciated about the boardwalks on this trail is that they all had a metal mesh secured to them to keep them from getting too slick to walk on.

Foot travel welcomeOther end of yellow loopI stuck with the St. Francis Trail heading west from this point, and little less than a half mile, I came to the other end of the Yellow Loop where there is also a bench / mosquito feeding station.  I guess I should mention that the mosquitos were out in force today, but they only bothered me when I stopped to take a photo.  It’s worthwhile to bring some of your favorite bug repellant on this trail.

From here the trail leads to the northwest for a little over a mile; a portion of the trail that runs in a very straight line marks the location of an old railroad bed.

Open fieldAt the end of the old railroad bed, the trail turns to the northeast where it leads to an open field of pines and scrub plants.  Evidence of a prescribed burn can be seen on the blackened shrub branches and pine trunks.  The burn appears to be a couple of years old and the land is recovering nicely.  (It was in this area that I had my Black Bear sighting.)  Sign at dirt road

After winding it’s way back into the forest, the trail leads to a dirt road that goes up to the river’s edge where the town of St. Francis used to be.  Other than the sign, there is no indication that there was ever anything here besides the swamp on the north side of the road.

Trail back into forestThe return trail enters the woods close to the river’s edge and leads to the southeast for about a mile and a half.  If you keep your eyes on the north side of the trail, you will notice a tree with two bright markers on it – this marks the location of a functioning artesian well.  I don’t know if the water is potable, but I suspect that it is.  It’s cool and clear, and has no sulfur smell that I could detect. 

After about a mile from starting the return trip, there is a log bridge that crosses a creek; it’s probably one of the most recognizable landmarks along the way.Small spring

About a mile beyond the bridge, the trail joins back up with the trail that I headed out on, right next to the mosquito feeding station.  I took the yellow loop trail from this spot.  At three quarters of the way along the Yellow Loop there is a small bridge with fresh spring water under it.  It’s not much of a spring, but the water was so clear it was very noticeable.

Less than a quarter of a mile beyond the screen, the yellow loop joins back to the main trail, and from there it is only about a mile to go to get back to the trailhead.  If you would like to see the locations of the 35 bridges and boardwalks on this trail, take a look at the map below. 

More photos are available in the Photo Gallery

Trail view 2
Clear trails the whole way
Artesian well
Fresh Artesian Well
Bridges & Boardwalks-25 - log bridge
Log Bridge over Creek
Mossy stump
Mossy Stump