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Spring Equinox on Bolen Bluff

Wednesday March 20, 2013
Site 7, Paynes Prairie Preserve
Micanopy, Florida


I know Spring Equinox was a week ago but, sigh, that’s how far behind I am. 
How do the folks who blog every day do it??


To celebrate Spring Equinox we want to take a picnic and get out on a trail and experience more of the Prairie.  We choose the 3 mile Bolen Bluff loop trail for our celebration.  Given the speed at which we hike and the number of stops we make, this will take all afternoon.  :-)) Bolen Bluff Trail-Spring Equinox 040

Paynes Prairie Preserve is a 22,000 acre state park that is unfortunately cut through by US Highway 441 and I 75.   Because of its size some of the hikes are on other sides of the park.

Although we haven’t explored all of the trails in our area of the main entrance of Paynes Prairie, we decide to visit another part of the park and get another view of the prairie by walking the Bolen Bluff Trail .



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Paynes Prairie is renown for its winter flock of northern Sand Hill Cranes.  They come in November and leave in mid February so they are gone now except for the Florida subspecies which is here in small numbers all year long.  So we won’t be seeing them unless we come back earlier next year.  But ……….





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They are also known for having the only bison herd in the state.  Historical records show that bison lived in north central Florida.  Of course like other natives they were all killed off.  In 1975 10 American bison were brought here from the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.  The herd now numbers about 50-70 and range over about 6000 acres of the prairie marsh east of the of US 441.  Thus we think our best chances of seeing them are from platforms at the visitor center, here at Bolen Bluff and at the end of the La Chua trail.


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Another reason for visiting the platforms first is to try to get a look at Paynes Prairie’s wild horses.  These horses are descendents of Florida Cracker Horses, which were brought by the Spanish in the 1500s but abandoned in favor of bigger horses a century later. This breed was used by early cattle drivers. The name came from the sound of the cattlemen’s whips cracking. Both the cowboys and their horses were thus referred to as “crackers.”  The horses used to roam the prairie in huge numbers.  There are about 2,000 left in Florida – 30 or so of those are in Paynes Prairie. 


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The Florida Cracker is Florida’s official state horse. I love this and wonder if any state other than perhaps Tennessee has a “state horse”.  Three main bloodlines are maintained by the state of Florida. These wild groups are located in Tallahassee, Withlacoochee, and at Paynes Prairie. The horses at Paynes Prairie are there for display purposes while the other two groups are specifically for breeding. It is a rare breed, listed in “critical” status by The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.


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So we are well motivated to drive up Route 441 to the trail head.  It turns out to be a great choice.

The trail is named after a family of pioneer settlers who lived on the south rim or bluff of Paynes Prairie. it begins beneath the shady canopy of a hardwood forest dominated by the large southern live oaks we love.   The hammock also contains sweetgum, hickory, palm, magnolia and holly trees flourishing along the trail




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Located halfway along the loop-trail is an open, grassy knoll-- Bolen Bluff. The bluff was billed as affording a scenic vista of the low-lying freshwater marsh, wet prairie and open water of Alachua Lake. But, the hammock has obscured the view even though a bench still marks the spot. The second battle of the outrageously expensive and misguided Seminole War happened here on Bolen Bluff.



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From the bluff a 0.5-mile spur-trail heads out onto the prairie basin along an old earthen dike to the viewing platform. During the 1920-30's, the Camp family constructed an extensive system of dikes and canals into the vast wetland to reduce the flooding and thus create drier conditions for cattle ranching. In 1970 the Camp Ranch was sold to the State of Florida establishing the first state preserve in the Florida Park System.


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The “prairie” is not the kind you think of when you think about Little House on the Prairie.  It’s basically a floating mass of plants that pretty much just sits there while the water slowly flows under it.  Of course, due to its very nature, you can’t exactly go walking around in much of the prairie.  The viewing platforms are great for keeping your feet dry and not disturbing the ecosystem.



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We both search the beautiful grasses for signs of the big wildlife but no success.  That’s OK.  We are all alone on the quiet and beautiful prairie and that’s enough in itself.  As we leave the platform and walk down the dike back toward the hardwood hammock, I remember my Spring Equinox ritual for many years in Virginia.  I would spend Spring Equinox day on trails where I knew Virginia’s many ephemeral wild flowers might appear.  I have learned that Florida’s ephemerals are up in the panhandle so doubt there are any such things here but I think about this and am going to move my search now to the little things.



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And I’m not disappointed.  Here are the beauties I find today welcoming spring’s arrival.  I don’t think they are ephemeral but they are here celebrating.  I’m not positive of these identifications so if I’m wrong, please correct me.


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This has been a very leisurely lovely walk on an easy trail.  As we head back to the car, we decide to extend our Equinox Celebration over to tomorrow the 21st.  Why not celebrate for two days?  Isn’t everyone really ready for Spring?  After these last cold days it deserves a BIG encouraging celebration.  But that’s a post for tomorrow.


  1. Yep, I'm definitely ready for spring. I was out cleaning the beach of the pond and noticing that some of the early bloomers are just about ready to bloom. I didn't think I would be hear but will enjoy them just the same. Happy Spring :)

  2. The trial looks so nice, flat and peaceful. The kind of trail I would love to walk. That was neat to learn there were bison in FL I didn't know that. Seeing flowers in your blog is encouraging to see. Spring is coming!

  3. Bison in Florida??? I think I read you wrong. You picked a lovely place to celebrate Spring Equinox.

  4. You are showing me a Florida I never knew exixted. I guessed it was water, beaches, swamps,canals and boats and .......manatees :) but prairies, bison, wild horses, beautiful trails and little flowers? Can I go on your hike with you tomorrow too? I like the idea of the viewing platforms.

  5. Everytime you think you are behind on the blog...think of me and you'll feel better knowing you are way ahead of one person;o)) Beautiful hike and love the wildflowers!!!

  6. I recognized those flowers right away. A blue one, white ones and pink ones. Gee, I could be a botanist... ;c)

    Too bad the big animals were so elusive, it didn't seem like there was too many places for them to hide in the prairie.

  7. I'm a recent follower of your blog & enjoy it very much. I am curious to know how you've managed to consistently book 2 week stays at a variety of Florida state parks throughout the winter months. You may have touched on this subject before but hope you'll do so again as I will be new to this full timing lifestyle. My husband & I will be making our maiden voyage in just 3 weeks. We would love to explore Florida's parks one winter ourselves, do you have a system that you're willing to share? Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer. - Gayle Pietz

  8. Well researched blog! I think that makes it take longer - you put a lot of thought and intelligent tid-bits into them. I learned a lot I did not know from this one! Very good pictures too. I hope you will see some big wildlife - maybe they'd be out more around dawn/dusk...or maybe big wildlife aren't like that. The flowers are beauties :)

  9. Your comment about changing your focus to the little things inspired me to do the same on a walk today. I saw so many things that I had overlooked on what has become a familiar walk here on some trails in our park. Thanks for expanding my appreciation of my environment.


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