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[ft-l] Hiking update - Thanksgiving weekend

It's been hard to find time to write, but here's a quick update of our recent 
hikes since Thanksgiving Day:

Johnson Pond Trail - Withlacoochee State Forest - Dunnellon

A nice 2.8 mile loop through very dry sandhill and scrub ecozones.  Most 
unusual was the rosemary scrub habitat where the rosemary bushes predominate 
to a height of sometimes 10 feet along a trail brilliant with white sand 

Silver River State Park - Ocala

Probably the busiest hiking trails we've encountered thus far in our 
research.  The secret is that the none of the 4 trails exceeds two and a half 
miles and they radiate from a central parking area in a clover leaf like 

It was here that I formulated Solar Bear's Rule number 1 of loop trails, 
which is:  

The number of benches and or picnic tables along the trail is inversely 
proportional to the length of the trail.

Stated more plainly, whenever you are tired and need a bench or table for a 
break, there is none to be found.  Since these were all short loops, we had a 
choice of many benches, several to the mile.

Toward the end of the last of the 4 hikes, after about 8 miles of hiking, we 
approached the last bench before the parking lot, where I had the occasion to 
formulate Rule number 2 of loop trails, which is:

Even on trails with lots of benches, the one you desire to use will be 
occupied when you need it.

Sandy and I hike at a normal pace, usually between 2 and 3 miles per hour 
depending on conditions.  Ahead of us on the trail was a large family group, 
traveling at a snail's pace.  We closed the gap on them rapidly, but that 
last bench was the prize, and to our chagrin, they arrived first!

The best wildlife encounter of the day was in the cool of the morning, when 
we observed a whole family/flock of woodpeckers.  We are unsure if they were 
two species, or just a red piliated adult with a group of perhaps 10 little 
ones cavorting from tree to tree.  The little ones did not share the 
distinctive crest on their heads. I favor the latter hypothesis because one 
of the smaller birds landed on a springy young palm frond and was trying to 
peck at the frond, but it's efforts only caused the frond and the bird to 
sway rather than cause the beak to have any effect upon its target.  We had 
never seen so many woodpeckers at one time flitting hither and fro.

Two of the trails took us to the banks of the Silver River, one terminating 
on a boardwalk in a cypress swamp, the other on higher ground to a sandy 
beach undergoing restoration after years of abuse from boaters who are now 
excluded.  All these trails were nice, and especially recommended for the 
casual hiker looking for an easy hike.

Potts Preserve - Lake Tsala Apopka

This 13.5 mile loop did nothing to disprove rule number 1.  Apart from some 
facilities at a campground about half a mile from the hiker parking lot, nary 
a bench or picnic table was found.  And on this hike, it sure would have been 

This was a sad day for two reasons:

First, the hike was shorter than it should have been because a loop along 
some levees that would have given us more lake scenery and shorebird 
sightings had been closed due to vandalism.  Not just that frustrating 
redneck random vandalism, but repeated, willful destruction of FTA bridges 
apparently by an adjoining landowner who brings in construction equipment to 
demolish these bridges beyond hope of repair.  We hiked the alternate loop, 
but would have much preferred the view of the lake to a walk on jeep trails 
with a view of abandoned cattle pastures.

When one looks at a map of Potts Preserve, water abounds from huge Lake Tsala 
Apopka to the Withlacoochee River.  Since the lakeview was blocked, we 
figured we'd have a nice walk along the river, so we put aside our 
disappointment and hiked on.  And on. And on.

This river was proving to be a temptress, or perhaps a shy maiden, for the 
miles piled on, the river hidden from view.  I thought of the prior week of 
our experiences on -- no, I must say, in -- the St. Johns River.  Why, that 
brazen floozy flaunted her wares for all to see, even to the point of letting 
us see fish swimming on the blazed trail.  The Withlacoochee apparently was 
raised in a stricter environment, obstructing the chance to view her charms 
which were swathed in an impenetrable cypress swamp.  A fork in the trail 
offers a blue blazed low water trail which we took despite being warned that 
it had not been maintained in over a year.  Yes, we were made to work to view 
this maiden!  But finally, at a bend, the trail reaches a rare high spot and 
we emerged onto the bank of this river, only to find -- SCANDAL!  The beauty 
was being ravaged by the worst of all perpetrators, an airboat carrying a 
family of three, man and woman cutoff from the hearing world by large 
headphones, the small child lacking protection from the earsplitting racket 
that spoiled any chance for anyone to enjoy the charms of this maiden who 
obviously had a thing for bad boys!  We can only hope the adults had put 
earplugs in the child's ears.

We did encounter one magical moment on an otherwise rather disappointing day. 
In a thick forest setting walking underneath an oak and magnolia canopy, 
Sandy spotted a barred owl and pointed it out to me.  She went forward with 
her camera to try to get a closer shot.  At that point, I also noticed a hawk 
fly overhead, and almost immediately, an object fell from the tree above me 
about two feet in front of my eyes, startling me.  It was a squirrel, 
apparently, unnerved by either or both of the avian hunters in such close 
proximity.  It landed in a heap and scurried off in what looked like mortal 

We also saw a snake who posed patiently along the trail for Sandy.  After 
even she was sated with myriad shots from both cameras (one a digital), I 
reached down and touched the dry scaly skin near the tail and it bolted off 
into the palmetto thicket 30 feet away.  I smiled at Sandy's disapproving 
look; after all, I'm just a child in a grownup's body!

Panosoffkee Outlet - Sumter County

The main virtue of this 4.5 mile hike is that it was the only one that Sandy 
could find in this whole damn county.  It follows old jeep trails 
exclusively, and leads to the Withlacoochee River at an old boat ramp where 
we had a pleasant break at a pretty spot along the river watching some 
fisherman in a jon boat upstream and watching the bass jump for flies in the 
water stretching out before us.  It was relaxing and peaceful until, you 
guessed it, another airboat smashed into the tranquility like a clap of 
thunder.  It turns out that the word Withlacoochee comes from the Native 
Creek language:  "Withla" meaning noisy and "coochee" for airboat.  From the 
shouts and oaths coming from the fishermen, we weren't the only ones who 
didn't appreciate the airboat.

Gator Creek Reserve - north of Lakeland on US 98

A 2.5 mile loop, meaning what, class?  That's right, benches!  Lots of them.  
Gator Creek sounded intriguing, but when we reached it in about a mile we 
found a ruler straight drainage ditch choked with duckweed.  A bit of a 
letdown.  Back to the loop where we availed ourselves of one of the benches.  
Since this was our second hike of the day and fifth in three days, we were 
happy to have that bench, and as all to often seems the case, Nature took the 
opportunity to bewitch, to entertain a creative mind.  A clump of oaks on the 
opposite side of the trail provided the structure for a unique band of 
spiders.  And I do mean band, as in the musical variety, for these spiders 
had weaved a stack of CDs.  I counted 8 of them.  And just as a regular CD 
gives off a prism of light at certain angles, the afternoon sun was Nature's 
laser, lighting up these "CDs" with the same patterns of light, playing 
"music" for us, and us alone, sitting there on the bench, enchanted, giving 
us once again a glimpse into the complexities of Nature.  Who would have 
dreamed of arachnid DJs otherwise?

I'll continue in the next email with our hike of this past weekend, figuring 
only a few hardy hikers have read this far.  Maybe I should have provided 
benches!  :)

Happy trails,

Solar Bear and Navigator