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[ft-l] More hiking

The indignity of working has prevented me from writing until now about last 
weekend's hikes.  But, better late than never, so here goes:

Friday - Weeki Wachee Preserve

We headed out to the Suncoast area on Friday and Saturday for our hikes.  
First stop, Weeki Wachee Preserve, a reclamation area of lake filled 
limestone pits.  The main loop trail winds around a bunch of these pleasant 
lakes for a total of 5 miles.  The alkaline waters are noticeably bluer than 
normal and are very deep, unlike most natural Florida lakes.  Also unusual 
were the rocky shores.  In one lake, a pile of large limestone boulders forms 
a twenty foot high island visible for most of the loop hike.  In other areas 
you walk alongside mounds of what were apparently tailings from the 
operation.  There is virtually no shade on this loop, though covered picnic 
tables are nicely spaced for breaks.  At one parking area, portolets are 

This may sound dreadful, walking through the remnants of an old surface 
mining operation, but enough years have gone by to make the scenery quite 
pretty.  The dahoon holly trees were loaded with their bright red berries.  
Hair grass with beautiful purple seed stems backlit by the sun waved 
luxuriantly in the breeze. A large passing fish glinted silver from the 

In the northeast section of the loop, an out and back trail beckoned us.  The 
map suggested about 4 additional miles for a trail that would lead away from 
the reclamation area and into the woods.  One of the reasons we use a 
measuring wheel is that we have found a lot of errors in maps.  This one 
turned out to be a doozie!  The trail extended beyond the two miles that we 
expected, but we continued on, wary of the time because we were attending a 
dinner theater that evening and had to find a motel, shower and change to 
appropriate attire.  The trail took a turn to the west so we thought there 
was a good chance that the trail was looping back to where we needed to go.  
Finally at 4.5 miles the trail simply dead-ended.  This was bad news because 
it meant our hike would total over 14 miles by the time we backtracked to the 
car.  Further, we had to hike double-time in order not to be late.

We would be happy to recommend the first mile or two of the out and back 
trail with its shady respite granted from the towering magnolias, cypress, 
slash pine, oaks and hickory.  We also saw bear tracks here.  But then the 
trail becomes loose sand and passes a housing development.  We could have 
done without that -- twice!

We did get done in time to enjoy our evening watching Guys and Dolls in the 
town of Hudson.  As the meal was buffet style, we had an opportunity to 
refuel in style after those grueling 14 miles.  Unfortunately for our feet, 
our hiking for the weekend wasn't even half over.

Saturday - John Chesnut, Sr. Park - Pinellas County

Though only 255 acres, we were impressed with the short but wonderful trails 
in this county park.  The Peggy Park Nature Trail is mostly on boardwalks and 
fronts the banks of Brooker Creek and Lake Tarpon.  The ferns were abundant 
and included leather, cinnamon, netted chain and royal fern among others.  
The leather ferns were huge, some exceeding 8 feet in height.  They gave me a 
sense of walking through a prehistoric jungle.  The ancient cypress added to 
that feeling.

After looping back out to the parking lot, we followed a trail past the boat 
ramps to an observation tower overlooking the lake.  I believe it was a 40' 
tower and it was a joy to bask in the sunshine on the cool pleasant day 
looking out across Lake Tarpon.  Beyond the tower were additional boardwalks 
which branched out to covered picnic tables on the lake.  It was here that we 
saw an alligator.  A moorhen about ten feet away was sounding the alarm, but 
two others joined it close to the gator, but the gator seemed uninterested.

We totaled about 1.75 miles in this park and enjoyed ourselves.  If you ever 
have the pleasure, give these trails a try.

Saturday - Hillsborough River State Park - Thonotosassa

What a gem!  Here's the chance to hike along the river listening to the sound 
of rapids.  It's true!  Less than a mile from the parking lot the trail meets 
the river right at the rapids, with a beautiful old cypress growing out of an 
outcropping of limestone.  This and other limestone boulders force the river 
to narrow and rush through in a chute of white water.  Neat!

This is one of Florida's oldest parks, opened to the public in 1938 and 
developed by the CCC.  You can see their handiwork in stone walls and the 
bridge across the river.  Even the trails felt old and well established as we 
hiked along the Hillsborough River, the banks shored up in places with old 
bags of cement.  After crossing the suspension bridge downstream from the 
rapids, we headed for a 3.5 loop trail through the park.  Some blowdowns were 
encountered and I did my best to clear the trail, also filling my pockets 
with litter.  It wasn't bad except near the river where casual users 
thoughtlessly tossed their empty cans and bottles.

Near the start of the loop, as I set my left foot down, a black racer 
startled me, slithering off the trail quickly.  I don't have strong 
recollections of the rest of the loop, still being a little tired from the 
prior day's adventure.  It emerged along the river bank eventually and we 
retraced our steps to the bridge.  

One thing I do recall from near the end of the loop is the most beautiful 
live oak I've ever laid eyes on.  Oh, it wasn't beautiful in the sense of 
some others with massive outstretched limbs and huge crown.  It was a beauty 
earned in the passage of time.  It's crown wasn't all that large.  In fact it 
was probably nearing the last decades of its time.  One could see some 
hollows at its base.  But it was at its base that this oak earned its 
description as beautiful.  I walked completely around it, estimating its 
circumference at 30 feet.  It was completely irregular, with flat planes, 
protrusions, roots and elbows.  I easily climbed about six feet up this 
massive trunk as one would climb a circular staircase.  Sandy took a picture. 
 I reached up to a hollow and thought of that tree in the Swiss Family 
Robinson, a tree they lived in.  Had I been industrious I might have explored 
that hollow, but I hopped down, humbled by my time spent with one of the old, 
wise ones.  I caressed the tree and apologized for climbing on it.  

After the bridge, we could have hiked an alternative trail back to our car, 
but the beauty of the walk along the river was to good to pass up, so we 
headed upstream to the rapids.  As there were further rapids upstream, we 
followed a trail not on the park map.  Again we followed it farther than we 
should have for it peters out after about a half a mile.  If you head 
upstream, you'll see all you care to within the first two hundred yards.  Our 
total for this park was almost 7 miles.  It was time to head back to Orlando.

Sunday - Tiger Creek Preserve - Lake Wales Ridge

This is one of those hikes that you don't want to tell anyone about!  Where 
the game trails are well worn and people for the most part are absent.  In 
the trail register, we were the first hikers to sign in in over a month.  
Ours were the only bootprints we saw, but that was a blessing that allowed us 
to spot tracks from bobcat and coyote, not to mention deer and raccoon.

This sterile sandhill environment is unique and many unusual plants grow 
here.  The first quarter mile was an oak scrub where we marveled at the 
variety of leaves.  We identified 7 or 8 varieties, but at least 6 more had 
us scratching our heads.  A type of dwarf wax myrtle grew only 2 feet tall 
and just a few yards down the trail grew regular wax myrtle.  The dwarf 
variety looked like it could be in a bonzai garden.  We also encountered a 
short bushy oak resembling turkey oak in every way except for smaller leaves 
and bushier, shorter growing habit.

We haven't yet researched the name of the abundant flowering shrub that we 
encountered all day long.  Many small pale pink flowers bloomed on each of 
thousands of these shrubs we passed, attracting many types of butterflies and 

At a trail junction, we took a left to the banks of Patrick Creek.  This 
would be an idea spot for camping, but this Nature Conservancy property 
doesn't allow it.  A bridge crosses the creek and on the other, lower side we 
encountered a short loop in a hydric hammock environment.

Retracing our steps to the trail junction, we headed right this time to a two 
plus mile loop through this exceptional sand hill community.  In many places 
the trail at our feet was sugar white sand.  We encountered steep hills and 
in many places the trail followed well worn game trails allowing us to marvel 
at the amount of use it got.  At one point we stopped to watch two deer 
frozen in place staring at us.  Only after Sandy moved forward to try for a 
picture did they move.  We saw three armadillos and a number of gopher 
tortoise holes.

Near the end of this trail we spotted a familiar diminutive pattern across 
the trail that we had associated with lizards.  But what we found was two 
grubs pulling themselves across the sandy trail, occasionally stopping and 
attempting unsuccessfully to burrow down.  These homely creatures were about 
two inches long.  What accounts for their unusual track is that they only 
have legs -- about three sets -- on the front part of their body.  Thus they 
really have to dig in and drag the back across the trail, creating a 
distinctive track I'll now properly recognize.

There being another trail within the preserve, and still a bit of daylight, 
we added another mile to our weekend's mileage, about 32 miles in all.  This 
trail, too, skirted Patrick Creek briefly, providing a pleasant break near 
the end of a very footsore weekend.  At one point, we saw lichens blooming 
with tiny red flowers.

I'm sure I left out a lot of stuff, but guess what?  You can buy the book 
when it comes out and get the whole story!  :)  And even directions how to 
find these trails.

It was a busy weekend and I'm still limping three days later, with a blister 
under a blister on my little toe.  That was a small price to pay for the 
wonderful experiences though.  Each of the four trails was top notch.  I 
can't even pick a favorite.

Happy blue moon,

Solar Bear and Navigator