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[ft-l] The Big 360 / Seminole Ranch to Deseret Ranch



Call us stubborn. When you work on a trail with Wiley Dykes Sr., that trail 
HAS to go somewhere, right? 

Such was our assumption on setting up a section hike through Tosohatchee. 
Rich and I had helped with cutting new trail north from the Bee Line into 
Tosohatchee -- new thru-trail, although blazed white because it hadn't been 
"certified" yet. So we left my car at the end of a dead end road along the 
Bee Line, and drove up to Tosohatchee's Power Line road to catch where we'd 
left off on the FT at lunchtime. Started at 4 PM to make it down what we 
thought would be four or five miles of trail. Six, tops. 

It had been a beautiful day thus far. We started off in Seminole Ranch, 
treading through dry streambeds in places where the old FT bridges had fallen 
into disrepair. In patches of dense hammock, we swung sticks at spiders in 
the path. The ground was uneven, with toe-catching divots by armadillos, and 
downright dangerous diggings of the wild hogs. Wandering cypress-lined creeks 
drain this area, bending and turning through unusual switchbacks that require 
crossing and recrossing the deep drainages.  Most were dry, but the ones with 
water shimmered with tea-colored reflections of cypress knees. 

Crossing SR 50 at the Christmas RV park, we lost the trail momentarily. It 
used to pass behind someone's house (we found the old blazes) but now that 
someone has painted "No Trespassing" in large letters across his shed, and 
put up a not-so-amusing "Trespassers Will Be Composted" sign on his gate. 
Consulting the map, we discovered a roadwalk down St. Nicholas Road was in 
order.

You would think with that name, it would be a jolly road. Not so. Growling 
dogs behind high fences. Every trailer, every tumbledown shed festooned with 
"Keep Out," "No Trespassing," "Beware of Dog." The only redeeming sight on 
the street was an unusual piece of yard art, a chainsaw-carved and painted 
pine tree trunk that looked like an artistic rendition of the jolly saint's 
face.

Reaching Tosohatchee, we wandered through the massive burn. Much of the 
reserve was hit by wildfires a couple of years ago; a charred and almost 
broken FT marker stands testimony. Leafy green sabal palmetto with blackened 
trunks? Here, the norm. Distracting blobs of blue, green, and yellow paint 
decorated what remained of the grand old pines. The remains of a paintball 
game, or something more insidious-- say, trees marked for lumber? If so, a 
terrible loss, since these survivors of the fires are the last pines in that 
part of the forest.

Mosquitoes gathered en masse, chasing us down the trail. Although DEET kept 
them off us while we walked, even a momentary halt for a photograph was 
enough to invite dozens of bites. I painfully held my bladder until the 
elevation rose high enough that the swarms dissipated a little. 

After some discussion in the morning, we'd settled on a mid-point car 
placement at Powerline Road, so we drove back up to Seminole Ranch to 
leapfrog the other car forward. Stopping at Fort Christmas to snag a picnic 
table (you can do that on a section hike), we discovered that Christmas is 
named after the fort, circa 1837, and the fort got its name from construction 
starting on Christmas Day. There's a nice little history museum inside the 
reconstructed structure, open on weekends.

Cars back in place, our plan was to finish Tosohatchee (the ongoing hunt made 
it impossible to camp there) and head off to find a campsite after hiking. As 
we hurried down the trail towards Jim Creek, the sky grew brighter and bluer. 
A large black snake sunned itself on a fallen log; cloud-like tufts of 
goldenrod and purple deertongue colored the fire-stricken forest. Here, the 
pines are dead, mere hulks waiting to fall (blazes hurry the process, it 
seems). Eventually, we got to Jim Creek, an ancient strand of cypress. The 
mosquitoes were waiting. 

And the trail ended!

Arrgh! We walked up Fishhole Road, looking for orange blazes. Looking for 
white blazes. No luck. We found a few orange tapes tied in the forest, 
followed them, thinking they were trail-in-progress. They petered out. The 
sun was getting lower. Less than an hour of daylight left. What to do? We 
couldn't get back to our starting point in time, but we knew my car was along 
the Bee Line. So, let's find the Bee Line, and walk the fence back to my car.

Practical plan. Poor choice.

Within a half mile or so heading west along the fence, breaking through thick 
brush, dodging spiderwebs, climbing over deadfall, we came to a swamp. Damn! 
I was reluctant to step into it, since I was hiking in running shoes. But 
what else could we do? (Hindsight: climb the fence and walk along the Bee 
Line!)

Rich found me a stick so I could poke ahead of where I was walking, and I 
sunk one foot after the other into the swamp. Startled a beautiful buck with 
a huge rack of antlers, likely hiding out from the swarms of hunters in the 
reserve. Did I mention the mosquitoes? Or the cypress trees snagging my hair? 
I was beginning to feel a little lightheaded. Stream of consciousness took 
over: "Why am I here? What am I doing? I'm thirsty. Where's my water? It's 
getting dark. I don't like walking in swamps. Is that a snake? Where's my 
M&Ms?"

We made it through the swamp...only to come across Jim Creek again. Damn! 
Damn! I turned to Rich. "I am NOT wading across that. No way."

So we looked for a way to climb the fence. Found, coincidentally, someone had 
cut the wires exactly where we needed to get through. Clambered up to the 
bridge, westbound traffic whizzing by at 70 mph every few seconds. Crossed 
it. Talked a little. Decided roadwalking the Bee Line, soggy shoes, swamp 
mud, and all, was preferable to climbing back over the fence and risking yet 
another swamp.

There were several more swamps, as it turned out. So although I felt kinda 
stupid, cars whizzing by, walking on the berm along the Bee Line, at least I 
wasn't in another swamp. At least with our orange vests, people probably 
thought we were highway workers. And then, I swallowed a bug.

As I was choking, Rich grabbed me and pointed down the slope. "There's your 
car!" Sure enough. Darkness nearly complete. And, coincidentally, another 
hole in the fence just where we needed it. No camping tonight, I declared. No 
way. I want a shower-- and the hot tub at the apartment. At home, I scrubbed 
off the swamp slop and found a tick or two, pulled chunks of cypress trees 
out of my hair. Discovered a mean little two-fang spider bite on my hand. 
Slept like a rock, in my own bed.

The next day, we returned to the scene of the adventure. THIS TIME, we hiked 
NORTH from my car to find the connection. I doubted it existed. But, sure 
enough, after coming across a bevy of hunters hanging out on Fishhole Road, 
we found the white blaze / orange blaze intersection. It's poorly marked. 
It's SO easy to blow past it...it would help tremendously if there were 
double white blazes BELOW the orange to indicate the intersection. But damn 
if it wasn't right where we saw our first hunter the day before.

To finish up the weekend, we walked the new trail over Wiley's new stile and 
out to SR 520, then roadwalked to Deseret Ranch. The trail is rough where it 
gets off the road and follows the fenceline, but it sure is pretty. Besides 
the wild sow and piglets, we startled a deer, and saw this bizzaro 
safari-vehicle-tank - like contraption humming through Deseret, filled with 
guys in khakis. Weird. 

It's a pity that we have to skip ahead in the journey, since the closure of 
Deseret to hikers (but obviously NOT hunters) pushes us more than 30 miles 
south, to Three Lakes. One last bit of wilderness before the roadwalk to 
Green Swamp.

Oh -- and the new trail in Tosohatchee ISN'T on anyone's map. The FT map does 
show the orange blazes ending at Jim Creek, just like they did. My 
suggestion: blaze the intersection better, or blaze the orange north up 
Fishhole Rd to meet the white blazes heading west.

Cheers, Sandy



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