Friday, April 14, 2017

Hiking Highland Hammock SP (Plus a Tram Ride)

There are a bunch of short hiking trails throughout this park, and most of them are connected.  I recommend starting at the Alexander Blair Big Oak trail, and after hiking all the connected trails there, riding or driving to the next one.  They aren’t too far apart, but wheels will save some time between trail heads.

View of the swamp from the boardwalk on the Cypress Swamp Trailhead

Andy by burly oakThe trailhead for the Big Oak Trail is about 200 yards east of where Loop Road starts.  The trail starts out looking like a typical oak hammock, but after the first turn is an amazing tree.  This is a huge burled oak that only recently died.

burled rootsThe burls on the tree are huge, and one can easily get an idea of just how much stress was on the wood as it held up it’s own weight.  Along part of the tree, there is still cement and rebar visible where tree surgeons back in the day tried to support the inner structure. 

We learned later that, once upon a time, tree surgeons would crawl inside large trees and chip away old dead wood and fill the gap with cement to help stabilize the tree.  They no longer do that, but it was a common practice many years ago.

Boardwalk-2The Big Oak Trail connects to the Hickory Trail, which then connects to the Fern Garden trail with a great boardwalk along the way.  After we looped back to where we started, we went across the road to look at the Wild Orange Grove trail.

This trail is kinda neat – we saw several wild orange trees growing in the woods, most with ripe fruit.  Tina picked a couple to use in her next batch of marmalade and found that they were surprisingly sweet.  Most of the wild oranges I’ve tasted (especially the ones with thorny branches like these trees had) are more sour than lemons.  Oak by trailhead'

We also explored the Richard Lieber Trail, which has another giant oak right at the trailhead.  This oak is still alive, and the work of the tree surgeons can be seen on it as well. 

The Swamp Trail is short hike that goes through the heart of a swamp.  Most of the trail is along a boardwalk, so even when the water levels are higher it is likely still a dry hike.  (This is the trail where the picture at the top of this post came from).

Alligator Eating 2We wrapped up our hiking trip here so we could grab some lunch before taking the Tram Tour.  This was about an hour and a half long guided tour that took us through parts of the park that are otherwise closed to the public.  The highlight of the tour was a stop alongside a canal that was teaming with alligators.  Gator Show 02

After all these years, I still find these to be amazing creatures.  When we arrived, it must have been lunch time because we saw several of them catching and eating fish.  Normally gators are seen just laying in the sun, but today they were very active.

The hiking at Highland Hammock SP is great – the trails are wide and clear, so things like ticks and poison ivy are really not a concern.  The tram tour is a must-do for anyone visiting the park.  We learned a little about the history of the area, the flora and fauna, and saw some amazing gators!

Photo Gallery
More photos available in the gallery

Egret and Gator
Egret Taking Flight
Camoflauged baby-2
Camouflaged Baby 
Swamp Trail boardwalk
Swamp Trail Boardwalk

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