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[ft-l] This weekend's hikes

Since Rich (Solar Bear) threw his back out AND had the flu, I scrambled to find some hiking buddies for this past weekend to help push the measuring wheel as I did my data collecting thing. 
Our own listmaster, Jeff Walters, accompanied me on the first two hikes on Friday.  Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area is an extensive marshland with forested islands, the birthplace of the St. Johns River, located on SR 60 between Yeehaw Jct and Vero Beach. We got there the day before hunting season, lots of hunters roaming around scoping out the place. The 3 mile trail starts by circling Horseshoe Lake. The trail register was pretty nasty, full of ants and tree frogs, so we didn't sign in. It's a pretty little lake, obviously dug out ages ago, because you hike on tall hills of spoil material. An island in the lake has two campsites with fire rings.  The trail then follows a jeep road out to a 1/4 mile boardwalk through a cypress dome, an intriguing immersion into the swamp. Saw lots of ibises and heard a barred owl. The boardwalk ends on Hog Island, where you hike an FT loop trail around the island, with swamp always to the one side of you the entire hike. A little wet in places, but fun. When we stopped at
 a campsite for lunch, we saw a chicken turtle laying eggs. I was impressed by this park, but disappointed we didn't see any caracara, since this is one of the few places the large raptor is found. I was surprised by the orange blazes, as the FTA has no loop trail map for this place. I presume the Indian River chapter maintains the trail.

The Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area is on the edge of the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach. The trail starts out in a tangled jungle of wild coffee, marlberry, ferns, and other assorted tall shrubs under a canopy of oaks. Wild coffee around Orlando only grows up to a foot high. There were two types here, and both grew up to ten feet high! Bromeliads (air plants the size of pineapple plants and larger) grew from the old oaks, many dangling at the ends of vines like natural chandeliers The 2.9 mile trail winds through this dark forest out over a couple of bridges to the coastal mangrove swamp, with an observation deck sitting high up a long ramp over the water. Our only glimpse of the lagoon was at the canoe dock.  A trail on the return trip led to the "Awesome Pine." It's the National Champion Slash Pine; their map claimed it's the world's largest slash pine. Anyway, it was BIG. 

It turned out that just before we showed up at this trail, we saw some police cars leaving the area, and later heard a helicopter overhead. I found out last night there was a manhunt in the park that day for a fugitive who escaped from the local prison. We saw the stolen truck he'd abandoned, down where the road ended in the lagoon (duh!), but didn't know that's why a truck was sitting around with a door open and no one there (and an "Eat More Possum" bumper sticker!).
On Saturday, my friend MJ (a new Central chapter member) accompanied me to Tenoroc Fish Management Area in Lakeland, just south of the SR 33 exit.  This hike has something most hikes in Florida don't. Hills!  Cool views for most of the hike. The area was once a phosphate mine, so you're hiking on spoil piles that are so old that some of them have mature slash pines growing on top. The deep gullies between piles make it feel like the foothills in North Carolina. Great views of the many lakes. Rattlesnake Ridge (the first few pictures) was pretty freaky, as it was a narrow knife-edge type top that was so overgrown with weeds it was tough to keep to the trail and not slip down a gully. Lots of fun. The trail turned out to be 6 miles, not the 8.2 they posted on the sign at the trailhead and on the FTA map. We met some locals who complained that the Rattlesnake Ridge trail hadn't been cleared in at least 2 years. Boy, were they right. We waded shoulder-deep through weeds and grasses, and got thousands (literally)
 of little burrs all over every bit of clothing and hair. Now I know to blame the wild hibiscus plant! MJ's knowledge of plants was a helpful addition to the hike. She pointed out various flowers and some endangered ferns.  

On Sunday, I did the Tibet-Butler Preserve, off SR 535 north of Lake Buena Vista, hiking with my friend Terry from work. It was a beautiful non-waterlogged stroll through pine flatwoods (most of the pine flatwoods I've hiked lately have been ankle to knee deep in water), had a long boardwalk through a bayhead swamp, an observation deck over the marsh along Lake Butler. Great place to take kids, as there is a neat environmental education center as well. A gopher turtle strolled the trail in front of us. In the scrub, I came to an epiphany regarding old man's beard, a moss that grows on scrub oaks. It wasn't until I saw a particular clump of it that I realized all the corn flake-type crispy lichens on all the trees were just another form of old man's beard before it flowered. Cool!

Off to the woods again this weekend...

Cheers, Sandy