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[ft-l] The Big 360: Deseret / Bull Creek (Part 1)

Rich and I had planned this hike back in November as part of our forward 
movement on the Bog 360, only to have the gate shut down when hunting season 
started: we reached Deseret that very day. We scheduled the hike again in 
Feb, as part of F-HATT, but I fell ill with the flu, which scratched those 
plans. The third time clicked. Here's the details...coming to you in 2 or 3 
parts, depending on how verbose I feel...  

Cheers, Sandy
Across the Deseret

It was what I expected, but it was not what I expected. Ever since coming up 
to the northern gate into Deseret last November, the very day hunting season 
opened, I had a picture in my mind: dry, hot, shadeless. A desert.

Under the blistering heat of Memorial Day weekend, it was all that. But it 
was more. I didn't expect the levee walk, forgot about Taylor Creek 
Reservior. Remembered only the stop sign with the addendum: "Do not enter. 
Private property."

DAY 1  (May 26)  12.5 miles: SR 520/Old Taylor Creek Road to Wolf Creek.

Old Taylor Creek Road: a bone-white limestone road, the old route to St. 
Cloud, bypassed by SR 520. No sign of a creek, but plenty of bleached 
fossils, especially whelk shells, added texture underfoot. Deer tracks led 
through rain-swollen puddles, tracks laid in soft white mud. Over here, the 
ridge-like track of a gopher tortoise. Over there, the mincing footprints of 
a hare.

To our right lay the ranch, long flat expanses of weak grassland punctuated 
by water holes and cypress domes. Cattle browsed in the distance. To our 
left, the fast-fading form of the Cocoa Water Treatment Plant, the second 
such facility we've passed on the hike, giving way to scrubby thin oak 
forest, looking tired and mean after years of drought. Amber crystals sparkle 
in the white road, catching my eye, beautiful calcite crystals encrusting 

A black shape crosses the road. Recrosses. Back and forth, until we draw 
close. Gopher tortoise? Crashing through the underbrush, a doe leaps the 
ranch fence to slip into the woods. Moments later, a wobbly-legged fawn, 
dappled with white spots, follows. Rich grabs my arm to keep me one footstep 
shy of stepping on a thin green snake, which coils in anger in response.

There are gates. More gates. Fences and gates. So rare is the lone stile at a 
crossing. Up and over. Down and under. Skin rips on barbed wire. After hours 
afoot, the fence crossings become exhausting. But the first set? A treat. The 
trail leads west, away from the white ribbon of road to the levee. 

Through the cows. They watch in bemusement until we draw close. Then 
consternation rules. They form mock battle lines, mooing in tones from bugle 
to foghorn. They stamp and sway, bluffing. And then they flee, breaking 
formation, scattering to the winds.

The presence of cattle is ubiquitous. We dance amongst the cow patties, fresh 
and dried, littering the trail, filling the air with pungent odors.

The levee. Who knew? Clambering to its top, finding the view. Big sky. Big 
water. A whopping panorama unheard of in Florida. Taylor Creek Reservior an 
endless lake, a swamp, the drowned lands, where dead cypress stretch their 
whitening bones skyward. Where osprey nest. Where sandhill cranes roam, 
calling out their mournful cries. Where fishermen sweat in the noonday sun, 
swatting mosquitos from their punts. A view of forever.

And thus it was for the next twenty miles. Although the reservior ended a 
mile or two down the trail, the views went on and on. Who knew? The levee a 
grassy lane nearly a hundred feet wide, partnered by a canal edged with 
lively growth along its banks.

The wildlife. Vultures scarcely feet away in the tangle of a chain link 
fence, seeking to pounce on stunned and dead fish falling through the flood 
control spillway. Gopher tortoises using the cant of the levee to stake out 
their domain, great furrows into the earth. A black widow spider, beautiful 
but deadly, guarding an abandoned hole. The vanishing form of a fox, slipping 
under a distance fence. The rumbling cackle and cry of a thousand cattle 
egrets in a crowded rookery.

The sun. Relentless. Not a speck of shade on the levee north of the road to 
St. Cloud. Our only respite a break by car, a 30 mile round trip to the 
nearest soda fountain, where we could cool down and quench our unslakable 
thirsts before finishing the last four miles of the day. A necessary break. 
Even after 4 PM, heat rose steadily from the cracked ground. The canal now 
choked with hydrilla. The levee ceases to be a friend, its weary frame eroded 
by rain, trails worn deep by a thousand cows, bitter weeds choking the path 
with thorns. Undulating ever southward, but broken in places. A fence to 
climb every mile. 

Exhaustion. Wishing for the last mile to end, feet like concrete blocks, lips 
like parched earth. A stop just short of Wolf Creek, where plans to spend the 
night are foiled by a logistical problem -- we forgot Rich's boots. He'd 
hiked all day in loafers, feet swatched in duct tape, reluctant to delay the 
day's hike. So instead of camping, we return home tonight to rest, recharge, 
resupply...and put the boots in the car this time!