Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hiking Little Big Econ WMA

Little Big Econ WMAWe headed out today with a goal of reaching the Culpepper Shelter, but it has eluded us yet again.  The last time we tried was back in June, but we were a little off the trail towards the end of the trip, and it started getting too hot to continue. We’ll try again in a few months, but today we simply enjoyed one of the nicest areas along the river to hike. 
The trail starts out at the end of Brumley Rd. and shortly after passing the trailhead sign there is a nice surprise on the north side of the trail – it’s an orange tree that is full of fruit.  I was leery of trying them, but Tina wanted to give ‘em a taste.  These were juicy and sweet, which was a pleasant surprise since the tree that doesn’t seem to be tended. 
Treetop fell downWe didn’t see the horses that were here last time, but we did see some cattle near one of the gates.  As we headed along to just before the turn north into the woods, we met a couple of hunters that seemed to be wrapping up for the day.  They didn’t seem to have any game, but there are deer, boar, and just about anything else you can think of back here.
Along the river, we came across an unusual looking fallen tree.  As we looked closer it appeared to be upside down.  Sure enough, way up in the treetops we could see where it came from.  This piece of the tree was probably a little over 10 feet tall, and it was a relatively small piece of the tree that it came from.
The forest around this part of the river is different than most of the other areas around Central Florida.  There is almost no undergrowth, other than grass, making it look almost as open as a park.
Forest Panorama
The river water levels are down quite a bit from their seasonal highs, and we could see where the river re-flooded the swamps and ponds nearby.
Swamp Panorama
But right now the water levels are lower, and the river is calm, and other than two boaters that passed by, we had it all to ourselves this afternoon.
River Panorama
The last yellow blazeWith such beautiful scenery on such a pretty day, we were anxious to make it to the Culpepper Shelter, which was only about a mile away from where we came up on the last yellow blaze.  From here we looked everywhere we could for the next blaze; we even backtracked to see if we could see a second one from a different perspective. 
Muck walkin 2Well, we had no luck with that, so we continued a little further along and found that the trail got very boggy.  I decided to forge ahead to see if I could find the next blaze in the flooded plain, so Tina stayed behind on dry land while I put on my Overshoes and went muck walkin’.  I wet out to the palm trees out in the distance, and I could see a trail that looked like it continued on along the direction we wanted to go, but I couldn’t see any blazes.  When I got back, we decided to call this the end of the trail for this trip.  Tina wasn’t interested in trading the overshoes back and forth between wet spots, and I wasn’t sure how far we’d be able to get and if we would be forced to back anyway.
Lunchtime viewSo instead of making it all the way to the shelter, we found a spot along the river to have lunch.  Our plan is to come back in January or February when the water levels are a little lower yet.  Cul Pepper Shelter has become a quest, and we’ll get there sooner or later.
On the way back, we took a few more photos.  A couple of them were a case of an idea not translating well to a picture.  I found a stick on the ground with a pretty big air plant growing on it.  It looked like a green torch.  I showed it to Tina and she had me pose with it as if I was searching for something.  The first picture came out looking like I was saluting it, and the second one looked like I was trying to feed a dinosaur.  They both gave us a good chuckle, so I had to include them here.
As always – if you would like to see the technical details of the trip, click on the “Trip Details” link below the map.
Swamp by the trail
Muck walkin
Oak & Palm over river
Oak Bark
Air plants
Salute the green fire
Feeding a dinosaur
Old oak over river

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Hiking the Econ from Lockwood

Lockwood TrailheadToday I hiked along the Econ River starting at the trailhead on Lockwood Blvd.  Even though this trailhead is only three or four miles from my house, I had never noticed it before.  It really doesn’t stand out from the road; approaching from the south (it’s about a quarter of a mile north of 419) the sign is easy to miss since it is next to a very big power pole.  There is plenty of room to park on the side of the road, and about twenty or thirty feet in from the entrance there is an information kiosk.  The kiosk was empty today, but I expect the Florida Trail Association will have a map or other information posted their soon.
Long narrow bridgeThe first part of this trail heads due east and goes over a couple of small boardwalks before coming to a long narrow footbridge.  The footbridge goes over a wetlands area; the water looked like it was only a couple of feet deep today. 
Small creekAs the trail is flanked on both sides by a fence as it continues east past the bridge, but the fences are no longer seen once the trail starts heading to the northeast.  The Flagler Trail portion of this hike starts in this area, and it’s not yet been cleaned up like the Florida Trail portion has been.  It’s not difficult, or even uncomfortable, to hike through, but the grass is about waist high in a couple of spots.  Continuing along the trail from this point, I came upon a little creek.  I think this is “Boonie Falls” based on the photos that I saw at the Florida Hikes website, but it wasn’t marked with anything so I’m really not sure.
Gate crossingShortly after crossing this creek, the trail took me to a locked gate that seems really out of place.  Next to the gate there are two fence posts with the top two strands of barbed wire removed between them.  I stepped over the bottom two strands of the barbed wire fencing and continued along my way.
DeadfallHere, the Florida Trail continues to the northeast, but I decided to head to the east along a more grassy trail.  Sometimes it’s more interesting to take the less traveled path… after all, I could always turn back if I needed to.  As it turned out, I didn’t need to turn back.  This old trail was just a small loop that hooked back up with the main trail a little further along.  There was a very small deadfall of that had to be crossed to get back on the main trail.
UpstreamA little further along the trail I noticed an area off to the right where the woods seemed to be a little less dense, and curiosity got the better of me so I had to go take a look.  Back in this area was a creek that was running (mostly) parallel to the trail I was on.
Hog trapIt was just a little further off the trail from here where I found a hog trap.  It looked pretty simple and effective… it was basically a circle of fence material with a simple boar-sized door.  The hog goes in to get the corn scattered on the ground and the door drops closed behind him. 
Back on the trail from here, it wasn’t too much further along that I came upon a wild orange tree.  If anyone sees a wild orange tree and has never tasted one, I strongly recommend that they give one a taste.  I they have tasted one, they’ll appreciate why I’m not having any myself.  Wild oranges are almost as sweet as lemons – almost, but not quite.  I don’t know if farmers have bred them to be sweet or if it simply the way the are grown in orchards, but domestic oranges are very different from wild ones. 
Fishermen at pondA little past the orange tree, I came upon another rarely used trail that went to the south.  I went to have a look to see where it went, and it took me to a little pond where there were several bat houses mounted.  There were a few folks fishing down here, and when I saw them on the way back they said that they caught about 15 fish.  They were either very small fish or they through ‘em back because only one had a bucket big enough to carry anything and it was not a large bucket.
Cookie salesman on the riverA little further along, I took a small side trail down to the river.  As I approached the river, there was a guy who had just pulled his kayak up to the river bank and was getting ready to do a little fishing himself.  We had a nice little chat and I learned that he sold cookies at the farmer’s market in celebration, and he wasn’t looking forward to being out in the rain tomorrow as the cold front moves through the area.  I didn’t catch his name, so I’ll just think of him as the cookie salesman in case I meet him again.
Hobbit HouseAfter I said my “goodbyes” and “good lucks” I continued on my way and saw what looked like a hobbit house.  All this needed was a round door on the front and it would have fit perfectly into a Tolkien novel.
Oak over riverFrom here the trail hit a junction point with three directions to choose from (four if I count the trail I arrived on).  I decided to stay close to the river to see what I might find there.  The trail took me to a spot along the river with a giant oak tree reaching over the shore to the river.  This would have been a good place to stop for lunch, but I wanted to get a little further along the river before I took a break. 
Stump by the riverThe spot I found for lunch was perfect.  It was the stump of a tree overlooking the river with a view of a perfectly shaded campsite on the other side.  As I sat there quietly eating lunch, I could hear all sorts of wildlife in the woods on the other side of the river.  I didn’t see much more than bushes and palm leaves moving around, so I can’t be sure what animals were roaming around.  It could have been deer or hogs, but whatever it was stayed out of site.
Andy by big cypressAfter lunch it was time to move on to a spot I was looking forward to seeing again.  This is probably the biggest cypress tree in the forest with a trunk that is more than eight feet across at the base.
Big cypress treeTina took a picture of me standing next to it back in March, but today the tree is completely surrounded by water.  Off to the right of the tree I could see one of the knees that was easily five feet above the water line; it’s amazing to me that the root structure of this tree has knees that are bigger around than a lot of mature full size trees. 
I am going to have to learn how people estimate the age of trees like this based on their size.  I have no doubt that this one is older than the United States, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was much older than that.  If you decide to look for the tree, there is a major landmark on the trail that one can’t miss.  It is the northern most bridge on this trail.  This tree is just a little south of that.
From here I headed on a little bit further.  My destination was the boy scout benches at the edge of the river, and I was almost there.  While I was walking towards those benches I met a really nice couple who were taking their kids to their favorite picnic spot along the river.  We had a nice little chat, and I told them about my blog.  So if you’re reading this and it was you that I was talking to, I hope you’ll drop a note to say “hi”!
As always, you can see where each of the photos were taken by clicking on the “Trip Details” link at the bottom of the map below.
First boardwalk
Second boardwalk
Flagler Trail view
Grassy trail
Blurry trail view
Blurry downstream
Orange blazes
Blurry orange tree
Trail to pond
Down river view
Trail junction
Shaded campsite
Bridge near cypress tree
Little Purple flowers

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Hiking Tosohatchee Off the Beaten Path

Getting ready to head outI frequently use Google Earth with the “Photos” layer turned on to help me build a guide-trail for a hike.  Most times you can see the path that others have taken by simply looking at the aerial view of the terrain and seeing where the  photos sit.  That is what I did for today’s hike.
Parking area by the riverWe started our adventure where Powerline Rd. ends at the edge of the St. Johns River.  This seems to be a pretty popular spot for fishing, but it was a little too breezy for the fish to be interested today.  The wind wasn’t blowing hard – just enough to keep the bugs at bay.
The last time that I was out this way, I was impressed with how well graded the road was.  Since it is still early in the season, I guess they haven’t gotten around to that yet.  The road out is about six miles long, and it was washboard the whole way.  I found that wasn’t too bad if I got my speed up to about 40 mph, but that’s about twice the speed limit and there are a few spots with dips in the road that make that an unsafe speed to keep up.  In the end it was best to just hug the side of the road go slowly, and enjoy the view.
Tree snaking up a palmIt was worth the trip though.  Once we arrived at the edge of the river and headed south down the River Trail, we saw something that I had never seen before… it was a tree looked like a giant snake as it grew up the side of a palm tree.  I’m not sure what kind of tree it is, possibly a mangrove, but it sure was neat to see.
Maybe a future trailWe only stayed on the River Trail for a little bit – our target was the trail that runs between the edge of the woods and the floodplain.  We headed off into the woods along an area that had flags that looked like the ones used to mark a potential new trail.  These flags took us right to the edge of the woods where we wanted to be. 
The path along the floodplain was mostly firm mud, but it did get squishy in a couple of spots.  It was basically firm enough to walk on but soft enough to capture the footprints of every critter around.  There were lot that were easily recognizable – raccoons,  egrets, hogs, cattle, dogs, and of course people. 
Egrets on the St Johns RiverThe trail eventually opens up to the river at a spot that was a good spot for a picnic (this was for the return trip).  There were all sorts of water fowl feeding against a backdrop of a clear blue sky.
Game trailA little further south from here the trail that headed off into the woods was just a game trail, and this is where our adventure started to become, well, a little more adventurous.
We followed the game trail a little further south and then west along what appeared to be a trail back in 2010.  This trail took us through back into the woods where it opened up again.  We saw a hunter’s stand back here; the guy who built it really went off the beaten track to place it here. 
Picnic timeA little further along the game trail became pretty much impassable, so we decided to head back to the river.  On the way we saw a group of wild boar running through the woods alongside the trail, and that was about the last of the wildlife that we saw except for more waterfowl.  Once we were back overlooking the river it was time for lunch before continuing on back to our starting spot.
On the drive back, we decided to take Long Bluff Rd. back so we could see if the trail that we were looking for ever hit the road.  It turns out that the trail that looked like it was there in 2010 is no longer there, but the taking the long drive back was a great idea.  We had a lot of fun on this trip; sometimes getting off the beaten path brings new rewards.
River trail view
Along the flood plain
Giant Golden Orb Weaver
Spooky Tree
Andy on the trail
Hunter's stand