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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
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
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