Sunday, October 05, 2014

Hiking along a flooded Econlockhatchee

Trees under water Fall weather is finally here.  Today the high temperature was supposed to be around 80 degrees, and humidity is low… the only downside for any hiking plans has been the amount of rain that we’ve had over the past few weeks.  I seemed to remember the the trails along the Econ river were higher than the river and surrounding flood plains, so we decided to go take a look from the Barr St. trail head.

As expected, the river levels are up very high.  After we got home Tina looked up the historical data and confirmed our guess that the water levels are about six to eight feet higher than they have been over the past year.  It’s not the highest it has ever been, but definitely in the range of a typical high-water level.

High WaterThis made the trip interesting, but as expected, the trail itself was mostly dry as we started out.  It was pretty amazing to see just how high the water levels were from all of the recent rains.  As the trail went along the edge of the river there were several spots where we remembered climbing down to get to the waters edge, but now even some of the trees are under water.

Fallen log across trailOne of the nice things about this trail is that there are a couple of spots to sit and take a break to enjoy the view.  There has been a new addition since the last time we were there – a pretty good size tree has fallen across the path.  I suspect that it won’t be long before the Florida Trail Association (FTA) folks cut this up to clear the path, but for now, it makes a perfect stop to sit a spell.
Yellow Garden Spider - Argiope aurantia
No time to dally here though – we were planning on having lunch at the bridge that crosses the river about 2 miles down the trail, so after a quick photo we were on our way.  We usually see a lot of wildlife along the river, but today was an exception.  I suspect the current was a little too fast for the usual turtles and alligators, but we did see an interesting spider.  A Golden Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) with a zig-zag pattern in her web caught our attention, so we looked it up to see if we could find out what it was doing.  It seems though that no one really knows what the zig zag pattern is for.  Some say that it is for camouflage, others say it is to attract insects, and others say it is to warn birds away.  I guess it will just have to remain a mystery for now.  If you’re curious, I’m pretty sure this was a female because the female is about four times larger than the male.  This spider was about 2.5” from leg tip to leg tip.  I really hope there wasn’t one nearby that was 4x larger!

Damaged BridgeWell, that wraps up our lesson on arachnids – let’s get back to the trail (we’re really ready for lunch by now).  About half way towards our destination, we cam to another one of the many bridges along this trail.  This one had a warning sign mounted on each side.  The bridge feels a little spongy, but stable enough that I wasn’t worried about it falling as I crossed.  I suspect that this is on the list of planned maintenance for the trail.  I find it amazing how this work could be accomplished; it seems like everything would have to be carried in by hand (maybe by mule?) and the work itself must have it’s own challenges.

Trail FloodedJust a little bit further along the trail from this bridge we found an ideal spot for another bridge to be built!  Even with all of the bridges that span this trail, mother nature did find a spot to wash out the trail.  We were so close to the old railway bridge that we really wanted to find a way past this spot, but we didn’t have any luck.  The closes we found was a palm tree that had fallen across, but it was too small and long to use comfortably.  The water looked like it was around three or four feet deep, so falling in wasn’t an acceptable alternative.  As we looked around, we could see watercress that was about five or six feet from the water, so it looks like the water has already receded from the highest levels, but it still has a little way to go.

Instead of fording the water, we decided to turn back and find another spot along the river for our lunch.  There were several nice places in the sun, so we picked a spot not too far from the beginning of the trail.  After lunch, we finished our hike and took a drive over to the Snow Hill Road bridge to see what it looked like there, and that trail entrance was completely underwater.  The trails along the Econ River are some of my favorites, but they may need a little more time to dry out.
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