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[ft-l] The Aucilla Chainsaw Massacre, and other stories

I spent a wonderful weekend visiting with our own Earthworm, Linda Patton, on 
a mission to check out cool geology up in the Panhandle. We kicked off 
Saturday with the Leon Sinks trail, checking out the various sinkholes. 
Opportunities for elevation changes in Florida! A smidgen of wildlife -- so 
hot it was amazing anything crawled out of the bushes, but we saw a long, 
languid, and lounging rainbow-striped lizard by Dismal Sink, and vast 
quantities of butterflies lingering around the plantings near the parking 
lot. Water levels were pretty low, not even a puddle to be seen in the 
Gumtree swamp, but the riversink was flowing well.

Onward to Wakulla Springs, where I'd hoped to do the glassbottom boat and 
take spring photos. Alas, the river was too murky. So we took the river 
cruise instead-- and glad we did! Never seen so many 'gators in my life. It's 
a wonder anyone swims there. Plenty of waterfowl too, including the elusive 
limpkin and too many annhinga to count. But the score of the day-- watching a 
LARGE alligator drag a deer into the river! Such drama. Such photos. 

Next day we headed to the Florida Trail at the Aucilla Sinks, and hiked north 
to the riversink for our lunch. Dark tannin-laced water, shrill cry of a 
red-tailed hawk, and the fuss of a pileated woodpecker to add to the scene. 
Then we hiked south a couple hours, past the mega-number of sinks that make 
this such an unusual place. I'm a geology nut, and I was duly impressed. For 
those of you who've not been here, the river flows underground, popping up in 
sinkholes, flowing under natural bridges, and through caves that you can, at 
times, peer into and see the rush of water. 

We discovered the chainsaw massacre, though, right along the trail. Oblivious 
for a while, we hiked right past what we thought were blowdowns until it 
became obvious that trees with blazes had been sliced off 4' off the ground, 
hacked apart for hearts of palm, and left to die, leaves still green. 
Heartbreaking, especially when combined with the scattered beer cans, oyster 
shells, and broken glass. Dozens of cabbage palms destroyed. 

Just when I called "uncle" on the length of the hike, having gotten halfway 
through my water, Linda heard a rustle in the forest and went to investigate. 
And what a find. A diamondback rattlesnake, 4-5' long and thick as our arms, 
jaw unhinged, swallowing a squirrel. I got close enough to get the big guy to 
rattle, and pulled off a few shots with the zoom lens at full. Perhaps an 
entry for next year's FT photo contest? Exciting, nonetheless.

Linda also gave me the tour of her 7+ miles of trail, which looks like a heck 
of a lot to maintain. What a trooper! 

Great time all the way around. If you haven't seen Aucilla Sinks, GO!  I'm 
itching to do Bradwell Bay next. :)

Cheers, Navigator
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