Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hiking Charles Bronson State Forest–Northern Forest Roads

Parking areaWe’ve had some rain lately and the river levels are still pretty high, so I figured that I would explore the northern areas of the state forest today.  If the woods were too swampy, then there appeared to be plenty of dry space in the fields crisscrossing the area.

I parked at the very end of Curryville Rd.  From here I entered the road which is about .4 miles from the trailhead.  At the trailhead the flyers that were posted gave the hunting season dates, and it looks like the last hunting season (small game) ended a couple of weeks ago.  That piece of information and the fact that there were no other cars around the gate entrance told me that I would probably have most of the place to myself today.

Old pumpFrom the trailhead, the road heads due-east and passes by a couple of gates on the north side, with the Chuluota Wilderness area on the other side of the canal that runs along the south side of the road.  On the north side of the road, I saw what looks like an old pump (actually it was just a shell) that would have had a pipe going to a cement holding area that looked like it was about three or four feet deep.  I’m not sure if this pump was intended to provide water to the farmland behind it, or if it was used to drain the farmland.

AermotorA little less than a half mile further down the road, I found a working windmill that Florida Trailblazer shared on one of his YouTube videos; the windmill is operating a water pump that is feeding a trough for cattle in the area.  The Aermotor company that made this has been in business since 1888 and has been moved several times, even out of the country and back. They’re currently based in Texas, and I’ve seen pictures that show different cities printed on the tail that show where it was made.  I contacted the company to ask if they could help identify it, and they told me that this looks like a 702 model Aermotor.  Because it has “Chicago” printed on the tail, the production year would have been sometime between 1933 and 1964.  In 1964, the company moved to Broken Arrow, OK and they stopped painting Chicago on the tail fin.  That’s pretty impressive – this thing is over 50 years old, has weathered hurricanes and everything else that Florida weather has to offer, and it is still working like a champ!

Cows and cloudsHeading north from the windmill, I went through a gate that had another watering trough next to it.  This road had a line of hay bales along the eastern side, and a herd of cows that watched me closely to the west.  At the end of this section of road, I was looking for a trail that went into the woods, but I didn’t see one other than a very short section that went into the trees before almost immediately coming back out again.  Instead I decided to look around the pasture a bit – there were several things out there that caught my eye.

Lick tankThe first thing that I came to was a lick tank.  From a distance, I was expecting it to be a feeding trough, but instead I found a thing full of some sort of sticky liquid with wheels in it.  I figured out that this was something for cows to lick to get the liquid, but I’ve never heard of something like this before so I had to do some Google searching to figure it out when I got home.  I found that these are used to supplement the cattle’s diet.

Old tillerThere was also a storage shelter in this area.  It mainly had farm / agricultural equipment under it… mostly mowers, but there was also a tiller and some other piece of equipment that I couldn’t figure out.  Out in the middle of the field was an old tiller that looks like it has been abandoned to the elements.  Aside from the obvious rust, the tires were pretty dry rotted, and there were some pneumatic hose connections that look like they’re pretty much unusable.

Flooded trailFrom here, my plan was to head north into the trees.  I’ve read from other hikers that there is evidence of old turpentine harvesting in this part of the forest, so I thought I’d try to have a look.  I was passing beyond a gate, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t connected to the fence… it was just leaning against the fence posts.  Luckily I didn’t drop it when it started to fall towards me, and I was able to squeeze past. 

Cypress wood pileAs expected though, the trail into the woods was pretty well flooded and the further back I tried to go the more water there was.  Instead of continuing on, I decided to come back to this spot another day.  Going back along the forest roads through the pastures, I saw several piles of cypress wood.  The trees had been simply cut down and piled up, which seemed like a waste.  Most of these piles of wood had some pretty interesting patterns going through the stumps that I bet a wood worker would have loved to use.  Sitting out in the weather like this, they are barely even good for firewood now as they’re likely too buggy to burn.

Lonely calfAs I made my way towards the east, there was another herd of cattle keeping their eyes on me until I passed.  I tried to be polite and told them that they all looked delicious as I made my way through the next gated area.  It was in this gated area that I had a nice surprise.  Just off the road, I saw something brown and furry in the grass and I was thinking that it might be a dead animal since there were so many turkey buzzards in the area.  Instead I found a lonely calf sleeping in the sun – she couldn’t have been more than a few days old.  She wasn’t afraid of me at all, but she didn’t stick around for too long.  After a minute or two, she got up and walked away.  Momma was nowhere to be seen but I hope she eventually found this cutie.

BridgeLeaving the calf behind, I came to the spot where I was turning north.  This forest road runs alongside a forest and a canal.   The canal was wide and deep today, but I could see several trails (likely cattle paths) that went back into the trees that I might explore another day.  The road comes up to a bridge that crosses a canal heading east towards the St. Johns River; this is the spot where I turned back to the west.  My plan was to circle around the woods and head back from here.

Orange treeThere were a few orange trees along the westward bound part of the trail along the canal – they were pretty full, but I wasn’t interested in trying them out today.  They looked ripe though, and with all of the natural fertilizer, I imagine they were good to eat.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to follow through with my plan to circle the woods.  This trail ended in a fence with a “private property” sign.  The canal was a little too wide and deep to cross, even with my overshoes.  I looked around for another means to cross, but the only spot I found was back over by the bridge, and then I knew I would be spending some time navigating through swampy areas in the woods.  I knew I could retrace my steps and be back before the sun went down if I picked up my pace, but I wasn’t so sure about how quickly it would be going through the woods.  I decided to turn back from here and retrace my steps.  I actually made it back with about an hour to spare!

This is an interesting area to hike, and would even be a good spot for bicycling.  I’ll have to come back when the water levels are lower so I can actually make my way through the woods… maybe when I do I’ll also take a look at the Indian Mounds along the river.  The location of where each of the photos were taken can be seen on the map at the end of this blog post.

Gate heading north
Working windmill
Water trough under windmill
Gate to north
Water trough by gate
Row of hay bales
Trail into trees
Old storage shed
Tiller cut hoses
Leaning gate
Herd watching me
Trail view with landmines
Road view
Private property
Canal view
Old feeding troughs
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