Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hiking Withlacoochee State Forest–Jeep Cave

Holder Mine CampgroundThis weekend we brought our new camper to Withlacoochee State Forest to for some exploring; after setting everything up and relaxing for a little while, Jeep Cave was our first destination.  There were two things that I noted as the most different from hiking in the Orlando area:  hills and dry paths.  Another interesting thing about hiking through this forest is that it has a grid of forest roads (odd numbers are north south, and even numbers are east west) that can make it easy to plug in a short cut during the trip.  It was also nice to find that the temperature just this little bit further north is noticeably cooler than it is in the Orlando area.  There was a lot of rain the evening before we arrived, but we didn’t even see a puddle in the trails.  We headed out from the campsite along Forest Road 10 where we could see the trailhead kiosk almost as soon  as we left the campground.

Tina at start of A loopThe trail we took was a blue spur trail that headed northwest through a pine scrub area.  The blazes along the trails are very easy to follow (each one is within site of the last), and the trail itself is wide and clear.  It made for an easy hike as we reached the intersection of the “A” loop at a little less than a mile into the hike.

From here the trail headed more towards the west where it eventually crossed the first forest road (Forest Rd 11).  In this part of the forest, the undergrowth started to get a little greener and, though it wasn’t quite a field, the trees were still pretty far apart.  It was shortly after crossing this road that I saw something that I had been watching for.

Trail Crosses Rd - pano

Old Turpentine Tree closeup

I read on the Florida Trailblazer blog that there were a lot of old Turpentine operations in this area, and I learned that a key thing to look for was a “cat-faced pine” to find where those operations were done.  Basically a cat-faced pine is one that shows the scars from the cuts made into the tree to drain the sap. I found a couple of these along the trail; the first one still had one of the gutters nailed to the tree and the second one still had nails from where the gutters were.  Considering how long ago this industry was active, I think it was pretty neat to find one so close to the trail.  I didn’t find any Herty cup fragments, but I suspect that they are there somewhere.

Jungle beginsFrom here, the next landmark was the crossing of Forest Rd 13.  Here the ecosystem made a big change from scrub to (what I like to call) jungle.  The path narrowed quite a bit back in this area and Tina pointed out that there was a lot of poison ivy around so we made sure that we were careful about which plants we touched or brushed by.

Fallen tree in the forest 2

Still, it was very pretty, and even though it was a little wetter than what we had hiked through before, the trail was still dry.  The trail here winds alongside what appears to be an old sinkhole on the north side of the trail and then just a bit beyond the sinkhole is the cave that we were looking for.

Jeep Cave 2The cave itself was still a surprise to see – it just isn’t something that one would expect to see in Florida.  The main opening of the cave is like a small cliff face that only goes inward a short bit, but further on (you can see in the picture) is the opening that goes back further.  It’s probably about two feet high and around six or eight feet wide.  On the outside of the cave there is a lot of “graffiti” carved into the face of a large stone.  Some of it is relatively recent, but much of it is old enough that the lichens on the rock have grown over the words that have been etched into the stone.

Jeep Cave Crevace 5Climbing to the top of the hill from the cave gives another view – an crevice entrance from the top.  The crevice is large enough to crawl through, but we enjoyed the view from the outside. 

After taking a few more pictures of the cave, we headed back to our campsite by way of Forest Rd. 10.  We weren’t looking for anything special on this leg of the hike, but it was a different path than what we took on the way out, so why not?  Along the way we saw several trees painted with white bands around them – we speculated on what they could be for awhile, but Tina pulled out her map and found that they are banded white to signify primitive camping spots for backpackers.  Other than a one vehicle that we saw on this road, we seemed to have the entire trail to ourselves this day. 

If you would like to see the technical details of the hike (or download a copy into your own GPS device), click on the “Trip Details” link on the map below.

Strange tree growth Strange tree growth 2Gnarly tree Blue Spur Trail
A loop bench Black beetle Trail Instersection
Old Turpentine Tree Cat faced pineFallen tree in the forest Cat faced pine closeup
White bell flowers Fern covered tree Sink hole maybe
Tina in Jeep Cave Andy by Jeep Cave 2View from Jeep Cave Tina in Jeep Cave 3
Recent etching in Jeep Cave Old etchings on cave Jeep Cave Crevace
Tree on stone Candy Cane Tree Jeep Cave Crevace 4Gnarly oak

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