Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hiking Charles Bronson State Forest–Exploring Abandoned Structures

Joshua Creek in the woodsChristmas break is ending and it’s time to go back to work.  Before jumping back into the grind, I decided to go back out to the Joshua Creek Trailhead and look a little more closely at some of the abandoned cabins out there.  I parked next to the picnic tables in the parking area and started out today’s hike by heading west towards Joshua Creek.  I saw a couple of spots on Google Earth that looked interesting about a mile from the trailhead, so I wanted to check those out before heading back to the forest.

The trail in that direction looks like an old forest road; a couple of gopher tortoises were enjoying a mid-day snack along the way, but other than that it was pretty uneventful until I made it to Joshua Creek.   The water level of the creek is still pretty high, and I couldn’t find an easy spot to cross it, so I decided to save that part of the hike for another day.

Trail through jungleHeading back to the trailhead, I took the blue blaze trail to the north to where it intersects with the orange blazed trail which heads south.  This portion of the trail meanders through trees that are pretty widely spaced, until it crosses south of Philips Rd.  At this point the habitat changes to more of a jungle.  There are a lot of palmettos, palms, oaks, ferns, and vines.  Tarzan would be right at home around here.

Boardwalk through South SloughIt’s in this area where the trail leads up to a boardwalk that crosses the South Slough.  The pictures make it look a lot moister than it really is.  The trail is still easy to follow, and I didn’t get my shoes wet at all in this spot.  The trip through the slough eventually comes back into the sunshine as the trail skirts the edge of a field of palmettos.  This is about the last dry spot on the trail for quite awhile… after the field of palmettos, the fun really began.

Beginning of swampI usually avoid wet hikes when I can, but today was different.  I would start out by finding an orange blaze ahead of me, then searching the ground for an easy way to get there without getting wet.  In some spots I would have to gather sticks to pile in a wet spot that was too big to jump, and in others I found myself walking across fallen logs or hopping between root clusters.  Each time I made it to another blaze I would look again for the next blaze and figure out how to get there all over again.  Slowly but surely I was making progress, and I think I was about a half hour into it before I realized how much fun I was having.

Eventually I came to a spot where the water was too wide and too deep to pass the way I had been going, so it was time to End of swampbreakout my overshoes and go muck walking.  I spent about twenty minutes wading through water that was probably ten or twelve inches deep at the deepest spots.   I have to admit that I’m glad I added these to my backpack; if I didn’t have ‘em, I would have had to head back (re-navigating my footsteps on the way out), or just resign myself to spending the rest of the hike with wet shoes.

Flowers by the trailAfter making it out of the swamp, I was greeted with yellow flowers on the edge of another field of palmettos and then on to an old cow pasture back on Phillips Rd. and then the trail started to head more southeast and east again.  In this area of the forest, I saw two spots that had what looked like demolished cinder block walls.  One was just before where the road goes over Christmas Creek, and the other was right at Christmas Creek.  Neither spot had enough material to have been much of a structure; I really couldn’t figure out what they might have been before they were torn down. 
After passing Christmas Creek, I passed a small pond that I had been looking for as a landmark to tell me that I was getting close to the first of two abandoned cabins that I was planning to look at.  From the outside, the cabin doesn’t look like it has much holding it together (especially from the back), but the front porch was pretty solid with a metal deck.  The front door was open, so I decided to have a peek inside and I was surprised to see some old furniture in there.  There was a couch, chair, kitchen set, and even a dresser.  Testing the floor for strength, I gingerly went in to look around.  The kitchen table had what looked like a place setting for one… complete with a plate, cup, and an ashtray.  In the back, there was a bed that had some of the stuffing chewed out.  Likely a nice cozy place to sleep for for rats or raccoons.
Abandonded cabin - frontView from doorPlace setting for one
There was still a few items in the cabinets in the kitchen – cups, plates, stove matches and toothpicks.  I guess maintaining this cabin just got to be too expensive at some point, so it was left as it was after the last person used it.
Footbridge over Christmas CreekI continued along the trail and passed by a lonely dead tree on the edge of the forest, and then arrived at a footbridge that goes over Christmas Creek.  Just to the left of the bridge, there is a wooden bench.  This would have been a good spot to put the overshoes back on, but I waited until I needed them which was only about ten feet beyond the bridge.  Yep!  More swamp to cross.  No worries though, I was prepared and there wasn’t nearly as much water as there was a little further to the west.
After clearing the swamp and then another small field of palmettos, I was back on Phillips Rd.  I took this part of the trail up to the next cabin that I wanted to take a closer look at.  This cabin is the same one that I looked at during my last hike in this forest, and it looks like nothing has been touched since the last time I was here.
On the front porch of this cabin there is an old map of the forest (a similar map was in the other cabin too), but the stuff inside the cabin made it a little easier to date the last time it had been used.  The things that I saw inside this cabin were strangely out  of place.  There were a couple of vacuum cleaners, but what was really unusual was a stack of elevation drawings (dated 2004) for what appears to be a shopping center.  There was a newspaper in the front room from the end of 2005, and an old prescription medicine bottle (I don’t recall the type of pills the label said it was) dated from 2002.
Food shelfElevation drawingNewspaper

It looks like this cabin has been unused for at least a decade… and before that it seems to have picked up a few things that people just forgot about.  Interesting… strange, but interesting.

Cattle watchingAnd with that done, it was time to head back.  I continued my return path along Phillips Rd, and at the very end (near the ranch) there were several cattle in the middle of the road.  We gave each other plenty of room – me staying on one side of the road and them on the other.  We watched each other closely as I passed by… I don’t know if the cattle from this ranch is known for chasing people, but with the size of their horns, I didn’t want to find out the hard way!

So it was a fun way to wrap up the Christmas break – plenty of sunshine and cool breezes!  Tomorrow it’s back to the grind, but if the weather is good I’ll be out on the trails again next weekend.  If you would like to see where each of the photos was taken, click on the “Trip Details” link below the map.
Picnic tables at trailhead
Trail to Joshua Creek
Blue Blazed Trail
Blue Blazed Trail
Heading South
Mossy trunk
South Slough
Field of palmettos
Middle of swamp
Old cow pasture
Maybe an old wall
Road over Christmas Creek
Small pond
Abandonded cabin back
Lonely tree
Abandonded cabin
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