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

Henry David Thoreau

Without a Map-Rain on the Prairie

Monday April 9-Tuesday April 10, 2018                                                 Most Recent Posts:
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park                                                 
Finally, Back to Our Original Plan
Micanopy, Florida                                              Further Adventures??-Quail Run, CollisionRV and Candlewood Suites


Ever since we arrived at Paynes Prairie I’ve really been enjoying all this off treadmill, off sidewalk, off pavement hiking.  But my goal for today is the Chacala Trail and its trailhead is just off the park road so both the first and last parts of this hike will be down the pavement of the campground road.

Our site is the purple star and from there I follow the black road out of the campground and down the road until it intersects with the main park road.  There on the far side is the trailhead for the 3 section loop of Chacala Trail.  As you can see from my free form purple path, I follow the yellow trail until it meets up with white, then I make a right onto white and follow it around until it meets back up with yellow and takes me back to the trailhead.   It’s 4.83 miles including the walk to and from the campground.

I didn’t bring my camera with me.  I’ve gotten out of practice.  I have my phone but the pictures aren’t much.  Still it’s sort of what I saw.  The trails wind through shady forest and seasonally wet pine uplands.   This usually would mean wet in summer since that’s the traditional rainy season but recently all bets are off and this has been one of the coldest and wettest winters on record.


It seems these trails must have spots for backpackers to pitch tents because I haven’t gone very far when a sign points me off to my left for “nonpotable water”.  That’s a fancy way of saying you can’t drink it if you don’t steralize it by boiling or other means.  It’s a cute hand pump.



It’s a gray day.   They say it’s going to rain for the next couple of days and boy they are not kidding.  The trails narrow as I go.



I love looking up through the pines, gray skies or not.


Off to the sides of the trails it is swampy.  Wonder what the rains will do here?


At the right turn for the white trail I see a sign for Chacala Pond.  I don’t remember seeing any pond on the map.  That will be nice I think but I never see it because it is on the blue loop which runs off of this white loop.  I save blue for another day.


Like I said, it’s been a rainy winter.  The trail is dry in most places today but there are some exceptions.


Not sure how this tree is managing to survive when its center is hollowed out and you can see right through it but it’s inspiring and I take a selfie with it hoping some of its strength will rub off.


Back home Carrie calls and we do a little skypeing with her and Celia.  Wish I’d been able to set my life up to work at home 4 days a week like Carrie has.  This is one of her flex days.

It’s fun to chat and read books.


It’s wonderful to be part of their lives even when we are so far away.


The rain starts as predicted in the early afternoon.  It’s really coming down.  This picture is out the front window.


Rainy days are gloomy and always make me want some sort of comfort food so David suggests home made potato chips.  YOU BET!!

Here he’s making sweet potato chips.  They are fantastic.  There is nothing in a restaurant or a bag that can compete.  Just slice the potatoes thin, put them on the microwave tray with parchment paper and microwave on high for 2 minutes to start then for decreasing time as you check to see when they are done.  Takes us usually about 4 min per tray but it really depends on your microwave and how wet the potatoes are.

As you can see, we had eaten almost all the sweet potato chips before I thought to take this picture but I did get some of the white ones.  Doing them is a little bit different.  Slice the potatoes thinly just like with sweet but put them in a pan of salted water to rinse off the starch, then blot them as dry as you can before putting them on the parchment and in the microwave.  Same time frame but watch to make sure they don’t get too brown.  Takes whites about 5 minutes total for us and sometimes we have to wipe off the inside of the microwave if there is too much moisture.


Boy are they delicious.  So sad when they are all gone.


It rains all night long.  David thinks it’s the hardest rain since we’ve been on the road.  The thunder is so loud and powerful that it actually shakes the RV.  Hard to sleep through that and the really serious pounding on our fiberglass roof.  BUT – there is not one single drop of rain anywhere around our new windsheild or anywhere else inside.  WAY to go Winnona and thanks so much again to Dar Fortney of CollisionTec RV for fixing the frame and to Mike Howard of RV Glass for replacing the windshield glass.  Everything seems hunky dorey.  Boy are we glad!

Out the window we see a very interesting trailer back in and park across the road.



Still raining, time for more comfort food.  How about chocolate chip pancakes with fruit topping?


There’s a break in the rain in the afternoon.  Weather.com says it’s a two hour window so we head out to get some steps.  David gets a dry but slightly fuzzy picture of the Tiny House RV.  We hope they will stay long enough for us to get a look inside when we won’t be dragging muddy feet along with us.  But that’s not to be, they pull out in the morning.


We think we’ve checked out the trails enough in our past few days here to know which sections of the trail will be dry.  And we’re right, at first. 

The yellow star is our campsite and the light blue hand drawn line is the way we went. 

We go through the campground over to the picnic area and then across the bridge to the second picnic area.  All of this is paved.  From there we take the Lake Trail over to the Jackson Gap Trail.  So far so good  no water, pretty dry. 

Then we make a mistake.  Neither of us brought a map.  We thought we knew the trails and  instead of turning left on the red Jackson Gap Trail which would shortly take us back to the Visitor Center and the road; we don’t do that, we turn right.

We thought we remembered that the Jackson Gap Trail would take us to the Chacala Trail Head and we’d walk up the road back to the campground like I did yesterday.  I did see a sign for the jackson Gap Trail from there yesterday but it must have meant take yellow and white to get to it.  We were counting on Jackson Gap to the Trailhead since we knew it was dry and from there we could take the road back to the campground. 

But as you can see from the map, the red Jackson Trail leads right into the white section of Chacala where the mud was yesterday and today.   Well, let’s just say it was an adventure.  My blue line stops there because frankly I’m not at all sure which way I went.  Not sure at all it was the shortest way rather than around.  It seemed to take forever.  I did finally end up at the trailhead which is the red star.

I didn’t bring either my phone or my camera since I didn’t want to get them wet if the weather folks were wrong about the window as they often are.  I don’t mind a walk in the rain.  But not so much a walk in the water.   David did bring his camera but only took this one picture of one of the least flooded trails we “hiked”.  More like a stream than a trail.  Still, here you could walk along the edges and in some places not brush up against soaked bushes and plants.  But for the most part all the trails here were totally flooded into the surrounding bushes, vines, trees and there was no where to walk that wasn’t water over ankle deep. 

At that point, too much attention had to be paid to what you were doing to take what would have been much more fun pictures.   Oh and it’s raining again by now.

I do hike it all the way through the water to the Chacala Trail Head, down the road and back to the campground.   This is what I looked like when I got back.  Soaked shoes, socks, pants and wet raincoat.


David took a  “service road” he hoped would bring him out to the road and when I got back I took the car and picked him up.  By then it was really raining and  he was mighty glad I’d gotten back before him since he would have been even more soaked having to walk at least another mile and a half.

If you visit Paynes Prairie remember that it is often a WET prairie.  HA!   Still it was a grand adventure and we are none the worse for it.

Finally Back to Our Original Plan

Friday April 6 – Sunday April 8, 2018                                                           Most Recent Posts:
Paynes Prairie State Park                                                                             Further Adventures??
Micanopy, Florida                                                                                         Mid March

IMG_0001Friday morning we check out of our “suite” and head over to CollisionTec RV to rejoin Winnona.

She’s looking lovely as always. Even though we can’t see her newly spiffed up window frame we can appreciate a seriously clean new window.  

We grab one photo of her with the man who did the metal work Dar Forney.  He tells us he also put new hallogen headlights in along with everything else he did.  This is a great business that we highly recommend for any collision work you might need in the Tampa area.   Thanks Dar.

We’re finally getting back onto what was our original winter schedule after having to cancel two months of park reservations.  It’s 136 miles from Clearwater to Paynes Prairie State Park, our destination,  and it’s an easy drive.  We leave CollisionTec, turn right on 49th Street, go a couple of blocks, turn right on Ulmerton Road and follow it until it turns into I-275 and goes across the bridge toward Tampa.  Then we stay on I 275 until it dead ends into I-75 and take that to exit 379.  At that point, we’re about 4 miles from the park.   I’m looking forward to such an easy drive.

Once we’re on  I-75, we drive by “the wall” that separated our site at Quail run from the interstate..   As we drive by, I grab this picture from the other side of the Wall.  We think we must have been right about where the red arrow is.

Wall 1

Things are going just fine to this point.  And then we come to the great slow down.  From here we are slowed down to 20 mph and sometimes to a stand still.  It takes us an extra hour and a half to make this trip. By the time we arrive at Paynes Prairie we’re exhausted but happy to pull into site 34 and away from cars, trucks and all the noise.  We’re surrounded by the hardwood hammock and the only sounds are the birds and insects.

One of the things I love most about finally being back where I belong is waking up to a beautiful view out the bedroom windows.


On our first full day here,  I was up and out early to hike the Lake Trail and a couple of others over to the Visitor Center and then to the viewing platform that looks out over the prairie.   The yellow star on the map is our site in the campground.  The yellow hand drawn line on the left side of the page is the way I went this morning.

One thing I would have loved about Paynes Prairie in my previous life is that it has a totally separate tent are and all the sites are walk ins.  There are 15 of those and 35 RV/Trailer sites.

This picture shows the tent site closest to the parking but there are several others further back a path into the woods.


The trails are laid out very nicely here in that you do not have to walk on the roads to reach any of the trail heads.  Sometimes you have to cross the road but you don’t have to walk along it.

On my way this morning, I pass through the day use area which has a nice picnic section, an interesting playground and the boat ramp into Lake Wauburg.  It’s a nice little lake which the park restricts to non powered or electric engine.  Love that but unfortunately the other sides of the lake have homes with power boats and facilities owned by the University of Florida in Gainesville which rent sail and other types of boats.   It looks sweet and quiet today but I suspect during the summers and on the week-ends it is far from it.

It looks  like an early morning paddle might give us the lake to ourselves.


From there the trail goes across the edge of the lake on a boardwalk with a pier for fishing I assume.    There are swampy sections on the trail leading to the boardwalk and one might expect to see a gator there except that we’ve been in Florida often enough to know that today is a bit cool for gators unless they can find a nice spot in the sun.  No sun here.



These are my favorite kind of skies, blue with puffy clouds.


From there the trail becomes a sandy road first through the beautiful Live Oaks and then through a hammock area before opening up into Pine Flats where I might expect to see a gopher tortoise but don’t.

My first wildlife sighting of the day is on a juvenile pine, at the very top of its leader.  Can you see him up there?

I’ve never seen a grasshopper without any markings or color at all and wonder what he was.
Any of you Orthopterologists know?  Paula’s my Florida expert.  Haven’t heard from her in a long time.  Are you out there Paula?


He blends right in with his sandy surroundings but I sure couldn’t find him when I searched on line.  Maybe he’s getting ready to shed this outer skin and there’s something totally different inside.  But if so, I wouldn ‘t expect him to do it where he’s advertising himself on top of a “pole”.



After this I cross the park road, pick up the Jackson’s Gap trail and take it a mile to the turn off for the Visitor’s Center.


The Visitor Center is a beautiful building which I’m surprised to find closed on this Saturday both when I go by it on my way to the viewing platform and on my way back.   I later learn it is only open when there are volunteers from the community to staff it.  Apparently this park is seriously understaffed in both paid personnel and resident volunteers.

The Viewing Platform is down a handicapped accessible path not far from the visitor’s center.  The lowest level of the platform has a ramp but of course the views are not as good as the levels above.  I remember clearly when I would take my mother places in a wheel chair during the last years of her life with ALS, that even with accessible facilities, her life was so much more limited than mine.  But still I’m glad we, as a country, are at least trying to make as many things as possible accessible.

On the way to the platform I snap a selfie with the amazingly large roots of this Live Oak tree.


Here’s the view from the first level.  It was the perfect place to be on one of our past visits when the wild horses were grazing in the mowed grass just beyond it.  But not today.


On to the second level.

I don’t see any bison or wild horses or the herd of what is known as Florida Cracker cows.

We’ve seen them all on various previous visits but the ground is very wet now and more rain is predicted so I suspect they are all smart enough to have moved to some higher ground in this 22,000 acre park.  With more rain predicted and a shorter stay than usual, we may be out of luck this visit.

WAY in the distance I catch sight of one of those who is very happy in all this water.
I’m amazed that my camera can even get these pictures.

Time to head back, I’m out early and breakfast is calling.   On my return down the same trails, I meet up with this  little Miss taking her parents out for a hike.  Maybe she’s worn them out but she’s having a great time.  ..


I ask if I can take her picture and she gives me a look.  When I drop down to her level and show it to her, she smiles.  I ask her who is that?  Is it you?  And she nods yes and laughs.  She about our Celia’s age and just as interested in seeing her own photograph.


All the sections of this trail are lovely and so quiet.  It’s so good to be back in a natural setting.


There are two picnic areas, one on either side of the bridge/boardwalk.  When I reach the one before the bridge going this direction, I can see the sailboaters are out now.

But when I get out on the bridge, it’s clear the dark clouds are moving in.  Rain is predicted for the next 3 days.


I doubt I would have seen this Little Blue Heron had he not flown in right in front of me.  Do you see him?

Wow is he handsome.  What colors!

On sunday, David and I do the same nearly 6 mile hike over to the Visitor Center which we know is going to be open today becasue there is a Living History Program from 11am-3pm where you can chat with American’s first native born naturalist/artist William Bartram.

IMG_0929Most folks think of John James Audubon when they think of naturalist/artist but Bartram was first.

Between 1773-1777 Bartram explored the East and West Colonies of Florida which were then under British rule, and ventured as far west as the banks of the MIssissippi River which was then part of Florida.  His field notes were published in 1791 as Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, The Cherokee Country, The Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, Or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws.  Whew – what a title.  But then I guess part of the purpose was to get people’s attention and make them want to come see it for themselves and settle here.

Also, from the written information advertising the program, we learn that Bartram’s legacy influenced not only the scientific communities, but the literary as well.  Some have called him the father of the Romantic Movement in literature for his influence on William Wordsworth, and Ralph Waldo Emerson among others.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Kahan” both contain images from his descriptions of the Alachua Savanna which is now Paynes Prairie State Park.

Mr. Bartram answered our questions and relayed stories of his time in this area and with the Seminole Tribe whose land this was.  Among the stories he told was of his nickname. When He first went to introduce himself to the Seminole chief, he explained to Chief Cowkeeper that he was interested in studying the local plants and animals.  The chief was amused and began calling him Puc Puggy (the flower hunter). The park’s campground is named Puc Puggy and is located on Puggy road. If you don’t know this story they both seem like very strange names.

Mr Bartram also showed us some of his drawings of plants and animals as well as this drawing of Paynes Prairie.


Out the large glass windows behind Mr. Bartram is an observation deck.  After speaking with him, we go out the door to see the view from there.   This too is handicapped accessible.


We look for dark dots which might indicate one of the types of larger animals that graze on the prairie but again, not today.


I had back down the trail to the viewing platform.  David, still at the visitor center deck, snaps this picture of me in the “jungle”. 


On the top level of the viewing platform is a bench swing where you can sit and relax while taking in the beautiful scene.  It helps if you are tall enough that your view isn’t interrupted by the railings.  That would be David, but not me..

Out on the trail is definitely one of my happy places.

When we returned home, I got out our copy of the current unabridged edition.  We’ve both read parts of it but got bogged down in all of the latin horticultural terms.  If you are a botonist this is your book.  Great stories and plant names you’ll recognize.  This time I think I’ll just try to skip the long lists of plants and stick to his adventures in a Florida that doesn’t exist any more except in their state parks.  Living History Programs are great inspiration.