Monday, May 11, 2015

Hiking Withlacoochee State Forest–The Cave Trek

Yellow blazed trail 1Our second hike of the weekend took us along another part of the “C” loop of the Citrus Tract in Withlacoochee State Forest.  We started from the Tillis Hill Campground and headed north along Forest Road 13 for about a mile until we arrived at the yellow blazed trail.

Yellow blazed trail 2The trail meanders in a generally southwest direction through pine and oaks with very little undergrowth until the trees start letting some light through.  The trail winds parallel with a heavily wooded ravine on the north side for quite a way at the beginning, but eventually straightens out as it crosses the first of four firebreak.

Forest road 20 facing east

When we arrived at the intersection at Forest Road 20, we looked to the east to see what one of our alternate return paths looked like, and it sure doesn’t look like a good road for hiking.  It was mostly sugar sand with a long hill to climb in the distance (you may have to click on the picture to see it clearly).  This road would take us back almost to the door of our campsite, but it fell to third place on the list of paths for our return trip.

What are these clearings 2After taking a couple of photos we continued along the blazed trail past another firebreak before coming up on a patch of land that I looked at in Google Earth and couldn’t figure out what it was.  There are several of these areas in the forest that are all about the same size, roughly rectangular, and have a row of trees going down the center.  My first thought was that the areas were formed when harvesting trees,  but I didn’t see any stumps.  Tina suggested that maybe they were set up to be large primitive camping spots.  We couldn’t figure it out and there was nothing in the pamphlets about these areas, so we still don’t know for sure.  I’m still going with it being a harvest area, for lack of a better idea.

Butterflies on Thistle 1A little beyond the harvest area, we crossed Forest Road 15 and soon saw something that Tina had been trying to photograph at a few different spots – butterflies on thistle.  Up until this spot, the butterflies kept flying away before she could get a good shot, but this spot had several thistles growing and almost a dozen butterflies.  She managed to get a couple of really nice shots!  At one point, five butterflies landed on the same flower and Tina said that each time another butterfly landed they all beat their wings faster.  The more butterflies, the harder it became to get a good photo. 

Natural bench along trailLeaving the butterflies behind, we soon came up on a natural bench alongside the trail.  This was a good spot to take a little break and cool off before the final leg to the first cave that we were looking for.  This one was called (or not called, depending on one’s point of view) “Unnamed Cave”.

Spelunkers at unnamed caveWe knew when we were almost there because we could hear voices of people around it.  It turns out there was a group of people who came to the forest to go spelunking.   We stopped to talk for a bit and they told us that this area has several caves that were formed by water eroding the limestone deposits.  This particular cave goes back about fifty feet, and it turned out there was another smaller cave right below where the guy in the red shirt is standing.  We didn’t notice it until a teenager popped out.

Andy at Daimes caveFrom here we headed to the west to see the next cave on the trail – this one is called “Daimes Cave” officially, but it also picked up the nickname “Vandals Cave” because of all the spray paint and garbage that the site seemed to attract.  I read an article about the cave going through a restoration, if that is the right word, some time ago.  It looks like it is holding up pretty well.

Tina at Daimes caveThis cave has two areas of interest.  On the west side is a large wall that is recessed back to a low entrance, and on the right is an area with a steeper but much smaller entrance.  The one on the right is mostly blocked with fallen stones, but I’ve seen people squeeze through tighter spots.Andy by another small unnamed cave

Heading west from Daimes Cave, we passed by a couple of other small caves that weren’t flagged as waypoints on our guide trip; they  could very well be part of the same cave system as Daimes. 

Roped off caveThere was another cave just south of Peace Cave that was roped off.  From what we could see from behind the ropes, this was a very large and very deep hole.  There is a stand here that looks like it once held an informational placard, but the placard is gone.  It would have been nice to see what it said – possibly a warning that the ground was unstable, or maybe a description of fossils or artifacts that had been found in the cave.  Peace cave marker

View down Peace CaveHeading north from this cave we took the trail to Peace Cave.  This one has a marker that is hard to miss:  a big peace sign painted on a tree.  The cave doesn’t look like much more than a hole in the ground (that is my foot in the lower left of the picture for scale), but the spelunkers that we met at the unnamed cave told us that it opens up into a very large area not far from the entrance.

We stopped for lunch about twenty yards away from this spot, and while we were eating a group of at least a dozen people came to Peace Cave.  While we were eating, the disappeared down the hole one by one until they were all gone.  I guess that shows just how big this cave is once past the entrance.

Green lizardThis was the last cave on our list so we headed back from here.  We decided to take Forest Road 22 straight to the east to Forest Road 13 as our trip back – no reason other than we haven’t been there before.  Along the way we passed another of those areas that look like an area where trees had been harvested, and I even got a picture of a bright green lizard who didn’t mind posing for me.

All of the other pictures from this trip are down below, and if you click on the “Trip details” link below the map you can see more of the technical details and even pull down a GPX file to use in your own GPS.

Firebreak crossing 1 Firebreak crossing 2 Firebreak crossing 3
Forest road 20 facing west Firebreak crossing 4 Crossing Forest road 15
Butterflies on Thistle 2 Butterflies on Thistle 3 Spelunkers at unnamed cave 2
Daimes cave 2Daimes cave 4 Daimes cave 3 Andy at Daimes cave 2Andy by Peace Cave 3
Deep into Daimes cave 1 Deep into Daimes cave 2 Deep into Daimes cave 3
Another unnamed cave And another small unnamed cave Roped off cave 2
View down Peace Cave 2 Andy by Peace Cave Andy by Peace Cave 2
Tree face Gate at road intersection  

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