Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Spring Equinox on the Florida National Trail

Monday March 20, 2017                                                                          Most Recent Posts:
Rodman Campground                                                           The Santa Fe River and Two Tries at River Rise
Palatka, Florida
                                                            March at O’Leno – So Far Raining and Cold




Spring Equinox this year Bring on the longer days and sunshine but not toooo hot.
Spring Equinox is the time of  balance between the light and the dark. 

It has felt very dark to me since November 8 and I am very ready for a journey out of that dark. 

To mark the day I put on my special shirt which I hope you can read and hike a section of the Florida Trail.  I’ve been finding little bits and pieces of it at some of the state parks we stay in and always try to hike them.  The Florida National Scenic Trail is a 1300 mile hiking trail that stretches the length of Florida from the Southern trailhead at Big Cypress National Preserve where we have hiked to the Northern Terminus at the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola where we have also hiked.  It is one of only 11 congresionally designated scenic Trails in the United States.   The Florida Trail Association began the trail near here in the Ocala National Forest in 1966 and continues to work closing the still existing gaps in this long trail through a very populous state.  I’m amazed at their continuing effort.

In my resarch on this section I read that the trail head is across the damn dam and that I should park in the parking lot and walk up and over to it..  In my research on this I find that to walk from the campground would add 2.5 miles to this hike and to walk from the parking lot adds over a mile..  The hike is 8 miles so instead I drive over the dam, look around and park on the far side with the fishermen.   I’m not sure where the trailhead is but I follow the orange blazes on the utility poles.

Here’s Ruby looking back at the main part of the dam.  By the time I get to the trailhead and look back, I can’t even see Ruby.   It was another half mile from my parking place.




Here’s the trail head and there is a truck parked where I should have parked and where you should if you ever come to Rodman Campground to see what Marjorie Harris Carr tried to save and walk the Florida Trail.







So by now I have 3/4 of a mile on my pedometer and I finally enter the woods beside the reservoir created by the damn dam.




Not sure what “recreational use” this reservoir is since nearly 60 years after it was put in the drowned trees are sticking up all over it making it dangerous for any motorized boats.  Trees line the dam wall and the shores of the reservoir from where they have been uprooted.

It isn’t a very pretty sight.



But as nature will do, she takes my mind off of all this man created mess with an osprey yelling over my head.   We call back and forth a couple of times and then s/he flies out to a nest platform in the lake and calls from there







S/he doesn’t look all that happy.  After the fly off, I quit calling so I hope it isn’t me that’s the target of this.



The Ocala National Forest which I am now walking through has many Grimms Fairy Tale looking spots with Spanish Moss hanging down creating dark tunnels.




As I move away from the lake and into the Scrub Pine Forest habitat,  I come upon the first of MANY forest roads that cross the Florida Trail here in the National Forest.  The first of these is one of the ATV trails that is part of what is known as the Rodman Trail system.  Thank goodness it is a Monday and not a weekend or the noise level from those would seriously impact the wonderful serenity all around me.





I’m not very far into my hike when I pass what turns out to be the only bench on this section of the trail.  Great idea for the use of a downed tree.  I try it out and proclaim it very fine.



The sand pines are getting taller with an understory of scrub oaks.


Oh dear, now what do I do, I’m over two miles into the hike when I come to what looks not like and ATV road or a regular Forest Service road but a fire break. My first clue is that across it the soil is all black and there is a red plastic piece of hazzard tape on the ground as though it had once been blocking the path.



I go across to investigate.  Having spent over two weeks at Rainbow Springs beginning the day after they burned the entire park around the campground, my nose can tell this fire is days old. 



I see these guys are back to business as usual on the trail so it’s clear the ground is no longer hot.  I make the executive decision to continue on.



I do pass one smoking hole and walk up a little closer to see what’s going on.



It’s a root still flaming but with no probability of escaping its confines which is clearly why the forest service left it as the park service at Rainbow did with similar things we saw on hikes there.




Further on, there is hazard tape at the Forest Road on both sides but I continue.



I’ve walked under a mile through the burned area when I cross another fire break and it’s all past.   This is a lovely section of the trail and the last of the scrub area before I move into the fantastic Long Leaf Pine area.




The understory is wide open.  These are the forests that once covered nearly all the southeast before they were clearcut for “wise use”.



There are small long leaf all around.  I am so happy to see them. Soft light filters through the pines and dapples the forest floor.


Just look at the length of those needles.  I shake this one’s hand and wish him a long life and perfect health.




Another source of joy on this Equinox Day is the sight of these white bands around some of the Long Leaf pine trees.  There are 4 in this picture. They represent trees which have been marked as having evidence of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, now an endangered species from lack of habitat due to the devastation of its only dwelling place.  He’s going to be in big trouble if the Endangered List is eliminated as I have heard is on the list for the scraping of the EPA

The pines are immense, raising like columns to the sky.   Such a huge cathedral.  My camera cannot capture the ground and the tree tops in one picture.



Sadly for me, I didn’t see or hear the Red-cockaded but here is a picture from Bird of North America.   He sure is handsome but that seems like a silly name for a woodpecker with a fine black cap since the red cockade for which the bird is named is a small patch of feathers behind the eye of the male, that is very hard to see in the field if you can even find the bird.
Who decides these things and keeps changing the names?.

Red-cockaded woodpecker


Tall Long Leaf Pines as far as I can see with an understory of wire grass.  This is ideal habitat for the woodpecker which needs mature pine woods (trees 80-100 or more years old), with very open understory maintained by frequent fires (the pines are fire-resistant).




More white strips, this time 6 in one area.



I spy several cactus in the grasses.  That really surprised me when I first came to Florida.


From the pines I pass into an area of very large Live Oaks and palmetto.



This oak is so large that I cannot get a picture of its enormous canopy no matter how far away I get.  Majestic is the only word for such a venerable being.



I’m hoping a Florida native can tell me what kind of fruit this is that I find on the ground underneath a medium size tree covered with them. 








I was hoping on this section to see or at least hear not only the Red-cockaded woodpecker but the Florida Black Bear which is known to live is this area.  The best I could do is see clear evidence that both are here even if unfortunately out of sight.   Convenient of the bear to leave evidence right ON the trail.







I’m actually shocked when I see the little trailer through the trees.  It’s the white spot on the left.  Clearer in person than in this picture.  I’ve obviously reached my destination, the Lake Delancy West Campground.  I’m earlier than I predicted by nearly an hour.




So I wait for David to come pick me up and chat with these inadvertent camp hosts.
They were in Florida from Michigan and bent the axel of their popup and were stranded here when they were offered this host spot which is very hard to fill becasue of the noise of the ATVers who us this campground for the trails nearby.



While I’m waiting I hear several sandhill cranes calling and follow the sound until I locate this campground visitor.  When he stands up tall to look around, he’s significantly taller than the picnic table.   This is a big bird.



Even his back is taller than the seats.



David eventually comes after some self induced difficulty but I add another 2 miles and 2 hours to my trip exploring the campground and enjoying the crane. 

My total for the day was 23,944 steps and 9.44 miles.


Imwithher 25

As I walked these steps, I thought about the beauty I was seeing and the significance of this day.

Spring Equinox always brings to my mind nature’s resilience after the harshness of winter, in most places. Carrie lives in Severn Maryland.  She wrote today to say that this has seemed like a very long winter.  Although I haven’t had to experience the cold and literal dark, these days have seemed dark and harsh.  Even though I don’t watch the news, you can’t live and know nothing about the jaw dropping events that seem to occur every day now.

We need Nature’s resilience amidst the struggle.  Hopefully beauty will emerge and the threats to our values and safety will decrease as the light increasingly shines on these fear mongers with no moral values.  My greatest hope today is that a very new life for all beings will be born from this struggle.  I hope we are coming out of  the dark before the rebirth into a time of loving and caring for each other and the Earth from which all life springs.


The Santa Fe River and Two Tries at River Rise

Wednesday March 15 to Saturday March 19, 2017                                               Most Recent Posts:
O’Leno State Park and River Rise State Preserve                             March at O’Leno – So Far Raining and Cold
High Springs, Florida                                                                      Apalachicola Oysters – Boy are They GOOD!



Wednesday is doctor day and I go with David for the 25 mile trip to Gainesville.  When the day is finished I remember why I usually don’t do this.  I ended up waiting at Florida Cancer Specialists for 2 hours while he got his velcade shot and then waiting another 30 minutes while he went into the ABC Store to pick out beer,  then a stop at Walgreens to refill prescriptions and at the grocery store to stock up.  Good-bye Wednesday.



On Thursday I really want to hike over to River Rise where the Santa Fe comes back up out of the ground.  It’s a long hike and we get a late start because it has been so cold here over night.  Last night’s low was 35 and today’s high only 59 and that was at 5:00 pm.  We’ve become weather wusses.  It has to be at least in the 50’s for us to hike.  But tonight is supposed to be even colder so today’s the day for the hike.

We walk over to the suspension bridge and take what we call the “Knees Trail” down through the bottom. Along the way we get some pictures of these knees.  First we take one that comes up to my knees, but then we just keep seeing taller and taller ones.


Up to my waist.

Up to my chest.


Same height as I am.



At the end of “knees” we pick up the River Trail (yellow blaze) for a short way and then take the Paraners Trail (Green Blaze) going down the back to our real goal which is the Sweetwater Trail (Blue blaze).




Along the way we find this swallowtail butterfly.



We also find this locked box just out in a palmetto field.  The tumbler combination lock holds the top piece to the bottom.  There is a cement base which says FGS 4-04.  We’re guessing that this is from the Florida Geographic Survey.  Not sure if the numbers mean April of 2004 or what might be in the metal box but if Sue Malone is reading, maybe she can tell us.







The Green Trail continues to mostly look like a service road at least on this back section we’re hiking.



We arrive at the intersection with the Blue Trail and see that it’s 3.5 miles to River Rise.  Hmmm.  We’ve already hiked 2 miles and it’s 1:30.  Can we make it and back before dark without pushing our selves more than we like to?




We come to Jug Lake which looks totally covered with duckweed.  Seriously green.  Would anyone actually swim in there?  Well besides gators and turtles.




We walk on and come to the other end of Jug where there is some clear water.





This Sweetwater Trail has a variety of habitats all created by only slight changes in Altitude.





At about mid way we cross the Old Bellemy Road created in the early 1800’s as the first road to connect the new capital Tallahassee with St. Augustine.  There are information boards down the 1.1 mile road inside the park.  If we had more time, we might well hike this too and read them.



But we cross on over and continue on the Sweetwater Trail.  Now we’re in a Long Pine forest.



We cross into a hardwood forest.



When we see the outhouse just off the trail in the middle of nowhere in the forest we realize we are approaching Sweetwater Lake and the primitive campsite there.  Beautiful campsite and having an outhouse is pretty top of the line for a primitive site.  Don’t think there are any of those on the Cross Florida Trail.






There’s a big fire circle with large rocks circling it.  David is looking at the lake.



It’s not much further to the turn that indicates we’ve got 1.4 miles more to River Rise.  It’s 2:45, we’ve done 11,357 steps and 4.5 miles.  We have to face it that to go all the way would mean a total of another 7.5 miles before we’re back at the rig.   DARN!  Really wanted to see River Rise again.  It will have to be another day.




We turn around and head back down the Sweetwater Trail.   One fun thing we find is a gator on the far side of Jug Lake.




He’s got duckweed decoration.






Maybe he’s left the end of his tail in the water as a little cooling mechanism.  It has gotten warmer and warmer all day long.



On along the way we also find a red bellied woodpecker who might well be checking out a nesting spot.







We’re back at the park just after 4:30, in time to make dinner.  Good decision not to add to our hike 3 full miles and the time to enjoy River Rise.   At this point we have 20, 870   steps and over 8 miles.

We come out in the cabin area of O’Leno.  This one, #13 is my favorite.  It’s at the end of the road away from all the rest.  But looking at Recreation.gov it seems that you can only rent the entire set up of all the cabins and the other buildings in the group area.  There hasn’t been anyone in the area since we’ve been here.  I wonder about the wisdom of such a reservation restriction but perhaps the summer revenues make up for what they might get renting the cabins individually.






Today we want to mix it up a little and do some kayaking instead of hiking. We’ve never put in at O’Leno to kayak the Sante Fe so we’re excited to do it.  Last nights low was TWENTY SIX, in Florida, good grief.  That, of course, also led to a late start today but that’s OK since paddling never takes as long as hiking.

It’s a nice put in but a long way from the parking lot.  If I were not with David so that we could both carry the kayaks, we’d have to use carts and then some how negotiate the steps near the put in.



It’s a lovely river.







Turtles on the left.



Apparently we frighten the guy on the bottom away as we go by.





Along the right bank I mange to get one not great shot of this waterthrush.  Not sure if it is a Louisiana or a Northern.  Perhaps better birders than I can tell me.  It appears that Northern can winter here but they both can migrate through.  He bobs his butt constantly as he flits all around the shoreline.




In the middle of the river is a group of stunning cypress trees.  It’s like being in a fairy tale.






David goes by on one side and I on the other.



We can see the riffles in the water that indicate shallow water.  We just don’t know how shallow.



Turns out it is so shallow and rocky it requires a portage so I pull Tootsie through.  The water feels great.






David has a reputation for dropping cameras and phones in the water so he doesn’t risk getting out of his boat but eventually he has no choice since all this attempt to push himself across the rocks and what he calls “scootching” by trying to thrust the boat along, doesn’t work.




This is “scooching”.  You make fists and throw yourself forward and try to make the boat go too.  Don’t try this at home.




Can his hands walk him forward?  Nope.   Just after this, he tells me he’s almost there so I go on up river but when he catches me he says he had to get out of the boat so I missed any pictures of that.  Maybe it was intentional on his part.  <smile>



We make it past and paddle on down the lovely river









And then we see those riffles again.  I try to power through this time but no luck. Stuck again.





I back up and check out the situation on the other side.




No way through here either.   So it’s portage again or turn around. 



I really wouldn’t mind portaging again.  The water is just wonderful but we both agree that there could be an infinite number of these as we go further back up the river to its source.  We are paddling away from the River Sink so the river will likely get more narrow and possibly more shallow as we go.   Our afternoon paddle gets cut short and we coast back with the slow current headed for the River Sink.










It was a shorter paddle than we wanted but it’s probably our fault for assuming about the river rather than asking at the Ranger station what the depth of the river was.  From the banks at the park it looked fine but you really never know. 




What’s a real shame is that we won’t have time now to go over and paddle the gorgeous Ichetucknee river up to the springs which we would have done had we known this end of the Santa Fe was too shallow.

But we’ve done the Ichetucknee before and will definitely do it again.  We’ve also kayaked the Santa Fe closer to High Springs and up to Ginnie and other springs.  Also on the list for a return visit list will definitely be to Kayak the 3 miles up the Sante Fe from High Springs to the River Rise.  Tomorrow we’re going there on foot for sure.




Today we decide to drive over to the Old Bellamy Road where there is a parking lot for those who want to bike or hike the old road and read all the signs.  We’ll hike down to where the Sweetwater Trail crosses the road and take the trail all the way to the River Rise this time.  It’s our last day at O’Leno and the temperature gets up to 83 degrees.  Amazing, a low of 26 one night and and 36 hours later it’s 83.

The first historical infomation sign is just beyond the trail.  It shows pictures of the road in earlier days.  I have to give the park a huge amount of credit for the restoration here.  The road really does look now like it did in these old photographs.








The second board has more information and more photographs. There are five boards in all but today we will be turning off the road at board number 3 to take the Sweetwater Trail.






It’s a beautiful old road and we both said how easy it is to imagine people on horseback and wagons going to the town of Keno along it.



And speaking of horses, at the third sign where we were on Thursday, we turn right, look back down the Old Bellamy Road and there are three horses and riders coming up behind us.




We get off the road and head on down the trail but apparently we’ve spooked one of the horses who isn’t sure what we are.  So the rider just asks us to say something so they can know we are only people.




Having owned horses, we understand so we go back out into the road and talk to the horses.  No great sacrifice. <smile>



The River rise Preserve State Park really only has Equestrian Trails.  You can hike them but they all are sandy and wide like service roads.  There are a lot of them and the riders really love them.  I would have too.  Great place to ride.


But no horses on the Sweetwater Trail which is the only bikes/hikers only trail in the River Rise Park.



Trees are tall, sun is bright.


The trail is beautiful








We arrive again at the Sweetwater Campsite.



This time when we ge3t to the turn off for 1.4 miles to River rise, we take it.  It’s a horse trail that allows riders to go to River Rise and tie up their horses.   The tall Long Leaf pines have dropped a lot of their large cones on the trail in one section.   I remember being so surprised when I saw how tiny the Giant Sequoia cones were but these are BIG.









David appreciates one of the big Long Leaf pines.



As we come to the River rise  come upon two more of those locked boxes  near the end of the trail.



No horses and no swimming at River Rise.  The trail leads right down to the River Rise in just a few feet.



And there it is.




The knees give me a hand down to the water.



What a gorgeous spot.  We have it all to ourselves.  We haven’t seen another soul since we left the horses at the Old Bellamy Road.




What a wonderful spot to just take in the natural beauty and be thankful to those who saved this beautiful place from inevitable development.



Talk about lunch with a view.  In the spirit of John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go.




One of the big reasons David loves River Rise is the huge old trees.  After lunch we walk around on the right side of the river first.



This side seems to possibly be a peninsula around which the river curves.  Wish I could walk all the way around the edge and find out but David wants to go back on the other side where he knows there are BIG live oaks.



I am so surprised to see in this hardwood forest a little palm tree.  Way to go little buddy.



We cross back over biside the River Rise.  It’s not obvious where the river comes up.  There is nothing like the bubbling of a spring that we can see.  Perhaps it’s just a ledge and the water just slides right up nice and easy.   So quiet here it is just magnificent.



Here he is beween his two favorites.



There are a lot of big trees here and they need hugs.  So do I.




Time for a rest while David tromps around some more.






The afternoon is waning as we turn back.  Looking over at the Rise I see a kayak coming up.  Boy would I like to do that.  We walk back and talk to him and find out that it is only 3 miles up river from the High Springs boat dock to River Rise.  Wish I’d known that yesterday, I might have passed on the Santa Fe paddle especially knowing what I know now.



It’s been a great day finally getting to River Rise.  When we pass back through Sweetwater we see that some backpackers are there for the night.  I’m not surprised since it is Saturday night.  But I have been very surprised that on a Saturday during Spring Break we could have the River Rise all to ourselves.   How terrific!



This picture is for David’s niece Amy who brought him this shirt from Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  To hike there was always his dream which his health will no longer permit him to do.  Thanks again Amy,  the shirt goes a lot of places.  It’s his favorite.


This is our last day at O’Leno.  We move to Rodman Campground, a place we have never been becasue of the Cross Florida Canal and the Rodman Dam but I’ve finished the biography of Marjorie Harris Carr by Peggy MacDonald and want to pay my respects to the area Carr fought so valiently to save.  She did stop the canal after 16 miles had already been built.  Stopping a pork barrel project by the Army Corps of Engineers had never been done before.  Marjorie Carr isn’t well known but she should be.  She was during her life time a champion of the Environment and as well known and respected as her colleagues Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold.  She was an amazing woman.