Sunday, February 01, 2015

Hiking Little Big Econ WMA from Snow Hill Rd.

Charles Bronson WMA TrailheadThe weather this weekend was great for hiking, and the water levels on the Econ River are only about 18” from their lowest so today’s hike was also a dry one!  I started out by driving directly to the trailhead, but there are a bunch of no-parking signs all around it that weren’t there when Google Street View took their pictures.  I decided to park in an out of the way spot on the other end of Twisting River Ln, but someone came out of their house to tell me that there is no parking allowed on the street anywhere in the neighborhood.  So I ended up parking at the trailhead on the other side of Snow Hill Rd and starting from there.  (FWIW:  I looked up the Florida statutes and it is legal to park on the streets back here.  I guess he just didn’t like people he didn’t know parking near him).  Note that this is a Wildlife Management Area, and hunting is allowed.  Today’s hike was not during hunting season.

Road through treesThis area has no blazed trails that I found, but there is a good network of old dirt roads going through the fields.  Today’s hike took me along those dirt roads, through fields of grass, through woods, and along the Econ River.  It was a lot of fun exploring an area that not many hikers visit.

The trail starts at the end of Twisting River Ln with the “first” trailhead; from there I followed a dirt road that eventually took me to the second trailhead.  This one actually had the placards and signage that is normally seen at main the entrance.

Bridge under oakAfter passing the second trailhead, the road took me through a grassy field; along the way there was a ditch that fed water into a watering hole for the local livestock.  The ditch was dry today and the water levels in the hole were also pretty low – a good sign that I wasn’t going to be slogging through mud today.

A little further along I came upon a bridge under a large oak tree covered in Spanish moss.  It was a pretty sturdy bridge that looks like it was designed to carry a good amount of weight.  The bridge crossed a small stream, and the road took me to the first of many gates to be crossed.  There are several of these, and I photographed each of them so they would show up on my trail map.

Small bridgeTo the north of the road on the next leg of the trail is private property.  I could see a spot on that farm that the show “American Pickers” would love to go through.  All sorts of junk, including a few vehicles quietly rusting away.  The next spot to cross was another bridge over a creek.  This one wasn’t nearly as big as the previous one, and the creek that it crossed was smaller as well.

Water CoolerFrom here the road passed by a small oak hammock on the right and then back through a small patch of trees before opening up into a grassy field.  This is the spot I was looking for to venture down to the river.  As I left the road, I noticed a few things of interest in the trees to my right, so I had to do a little exploring.  There was an old shelter back there (really just posts with a roof that was falling in).  It may have had walls at one point, but there is no sign of them today.  Under the roof, there were some old tables and picnic chairs as well as a water cooler that has seen better days.

Old storage shelterThere was another shelter back there that had accumulated more junk.  The bed of an old pickup truck, a boat still on it’s trailer, and an “extenda cab” for a pickup truck.  Another structure back here looked like an old outhouse, but it seemed to be facing the wrong way for that.

Hunting shelterThere was also a hunt cabin back here.  This one looked like it was in use recently.  A peak through the windows showed a bunch of bedding tossed around, and some of the stuff outside didn’t look that old.  The cabin was also wired for electricity with a light inside, and several lights outside.  I didn’t see any power lines going too the cabin, so I suspect that the hunters bring their own generator with them when they wan to use it.

Leaving this hammock behind, I headed on down to the river to stop for lunch.  This part of the hike took me off the roads and through a big grassy field.  This is the type of grass that is similar to what we have in our lawns (maybe an inch or two long), so it was easy to cross.

Field Panorama

Cypress tree by river
At the river’s edge, I pulled out the latest addition to my daypack.  I’m really glad I picked up this stool; it packs up nicely and fits in the side pocket of my pack with a strap to hold it in place.

Down by the water, there was a good size cypress tree with a lot of knees – one of ‘em was almost as big as the tree itself.  If you look at the picture, you’ll notice that there is a waterline that is about seven feet above the current water levels.  After lunch, I packed away my stuff and headed back north through the field.  The plan from here was to head back up to the road and then south again around the woods to look at the river where it was crossed by power lines.

Climbing wallAs I headed north, I could see something by the trees that was painted sky blue.  The closer I got the more curious I became so I had to make a little detour to check it out.  It turned out to be a climbing wall.  I have the feeling that the owner of the farmland to the north is a “collector”… I realized some time ago that the difference between a “collector” and a hoarder is really only determined by how much space one has to store their stuff!

Small penWith that mystery solved, I continued on my original plan and headed through the next gate and as I headed south, I followed a cattle trail that just happened to be going the same direction as I wanted to go.  In the trees to the west, I saw something else that caught my eye.  It looked like a small livestock pen that is slowly falling apart.  This probably dates back to around the time the land was donated to the state many many years ago.

Near this part of the river was what can best be described as a bone yard.  There were several bones (cattle I assume) scattered all over the place.  Some of them were easy to identify, some were a little tougher.  Some were from large animals, and some from babies.  All of the bones were picked clean bleached white from the sun.

BoneyardCalf skull 1

SpillwayAs I approached the river, I came up on a swamp that looked like it was going to block my way, but after a little exploring, I found a dry path that took me down to the rivers edge.  As I mentioned earlier, there are no blazed trails back here, so I think that the ones that I found were created by either cattle or game (or both).  That means that sometimes I had to push through palmetto leaves, but the trail itself was easy to follow.  Looking across the river, I saw an area framed by palm trees where the river spills into a small pond.  As I explored this area, I finally saw my first alligator of the day.  It was a small on (no more than four or five feet long), and it jumped into the river too quickly for me to get a picture.  That turned out to be the way all of the wildlife was today… just in view long enough for me to get a glance.

Cattle-game trail-2As I left the river’s edge and headed back to the north, I saw an old gate crossing south of the road that I was headed towards so I went and checked it out.  Like the other gates, this one was closed with a loose chain, so I decided to look around this area and found another cattle trail (or maybe it was just an old water runoff) heading into the woods.  I decided to see if this would take me to the other side of the trees and sure enough, it did.  Like the other trail, I had to push through some palmetto leaves, but the “trail” was easy to follow.

Old forest roadI was glad I took this path because it lead me to another old forest road.  Had I stuck to my original plan, I would have missed this altogether!  Near the beginning of this road, I saw a small black snake coiled up on the side of the path.  He wasn’t too thrilled about having his photo taken and he slithered away before I could get a good shot.  A little further along the road, I came upon a small pond with another alligator (also small).  He also was too quick to jump in the water for me to photograph.  This is definitely the theme for wildlife today.

Old bridge maybeAfter the pond, this road seemed to die out.  It got to be overgrown to the point that it was not much more than another game trail.  That wasn’t a problem though – it took me back to the path that I had originally planned to follow.  The trail led me to a small grassy field (this was the tall grass that isn’t as easy to walk through), that was just south of the dirt road that I had been following earlier.

Wild boar hidingAlong the south side of the road was a canal that was about ten feet wide and still full of water.  On the other side of the canal I heard a grunt and looked up just in time to see a wild pig pull his head back and run through the grass.

Camping shelterI was coming up on my destination for todays hike – a camping shelter along the edge of the river.  I saw a photo taken by Tom Choma back in 2011 on Panoramio, and it looked pretty run down then.  It’s obviously been rebuilt since then.  As I approached the shelter, I saw that someone had set up camp there so I announced myself as I approached.  I met a couple of really nice guys; they invited me to sit down and have a beer with ‘em.  We talked mostly about different areas for hiking and camping.  They told me that the shelter is really nice to have nearby if a thunderstorm rolls in, and they also liked this spot for camping because their was enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay.

Tree skeleton and cattleLooking at the time, I saw it was about 4:00 and I still had another couple of hours hiking in front of me to get back to the truck, so we said our goodbyes and I headed back.  As I headed back, I sent Tina a text to let her know I was okay but running a little late.  She asked if I saw any wildlife, and as I was texting her back a deer hopped across the trail twenty feet in front of me.  Of course, I missed that photo too.
Corral and giant oakI did see some livestock on the way back.  A herd of cattle, a couple of horses and even a couple of ponies.  I also passed what looks like an old corral under a giant oak tree covered in Spanish moss.  This doesn’t look as old as some of the other livestock pens that I saw, but it’s difficult to tell if it is still being used for anything.

This was a great place to hike, and because of the trailhead location, I suspect that not many hikers make it back here.  The trails and roads are easy to follow, and if you’re looking for solitude you’ll find it here.

If you’d like to see the details of the hike, click on “Trip details” below the map. 

Second trailhead Canal towards watering hole Gate to cross
Oak Hammock Old shelter Outhouse maybe
Downriver view Another gate Cattle trail going my way
Calf skull 2 Swamp by river Heron by river
Cypress trees Knees and trees Cattle-game trail-1
Camera shy black snake Grassy field Crossing gate
Swamp in the field Pony Horse and ponies
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