From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grassy Pond to Oak Hammock Shelter---March 11th

Mighty glad the things were dry since it's my opinion that last night was the coldest yet. In the morning it was the winter hat and not the summer shade that donned my head. The trekking poles were strapped to the back of my pack so I could keep my hands in the pockets of my jacket. The trail led through open woodland (pine and grass), bright sunlight and blue skies promising warmer temperatures as the day progressed. Indeed, by 10:00 a trekking pole was back in my hand and the sun hat had replaced the winter cap. I'd also seen a large group of turkeys. If a large number of crows is called a murder of crows, do we call a large number of turkeys a thanksgiving of turkeys? Somehow it sounds right to me.
I had a pleasant lunch break at Penner Pond thanks to the sandhill cranes that were there putting on a show. Flying in circles over the water and then rising above the trees, I could hear the flaps of their wings as they passed overhead and there was no missing the whoop, whoop, whooping. It made for a special experience, the most memorable I would have with these feathered creatures.
An impressive first view of Ocklawaha Lake as the trail leads to its shores. Such a large expanse of water. The path follows a bit of its southeastern shore and you can continue to see views of the lake through the trees to the left. I saw a good number of water fowl, but my best sighting was that of a fish-eating hawk guarding its nest. There were a lot of fishermen at Kirkpatrick Dam, but vastly outnumbered by the cormorants, which by nature's gift are better at catching fish.
Hiking on the banks of the Cross Florida Barge Canal I eventually came to Buckman Lock. I rang the bell and the lock tender came to unlock the gate so I could cross. Seeing me in my shorts and shirt he asked me if I was warm enough. Well, it was one o'clock in the afternoon and I thought the weather was ideal. Like Goldilocks---not too hot, not too cold, just right. For Floridians it must have still been chilly as the lock tender and others were wearing jackets and trousers, some with beanies pulled low over their ears.
The forest road walks were OK as there was no vehicle traffic to disturb me, but there was an awful lot of trash scattered around: beer cans, liquor bottles, cigarette packs, fast food wrappers and cups. Can't fathom how some people think the great outdoors is their own personal garbage pit. These are most likely the same people who left their empty shotgun shells and shell casings. As "Hammer" would term them, the "Bubbas".
Anyway, from bad to good, I finished the forest roads and entered Rice Creek Sanctuary. The highlight of the day, and high on the list for the trip, was Hoffman's Crossing, a 1,886 foot puncheon through a very diverse sub-tropical wilderness. As I took my first few steps on the wooden walkway, some hooting erupted from the branches over my head making me feel as if I were headed into the heart of darkness. The wooden path starts low and then rises to two or three feet above ground level. There are benches in the middle where you can relax, wildlife watch or close your eyes and listen. This would be a great place for a family day hike.
I emerged from the jungle where a clearing had been bulldozed near another dirt road. Looking for the white blaze leading to Oak Hammock Camp, I thought I had missed it. I'd been walking long enough that I felt I should have reached it. Had the path disappeared beneath the broken ground? Had the bulldozer erased its traces, knocking down the white-blazed trees? Disappointed, the only thing I could do was continue and hope to find a suitable camp not marked on the map. A mile or so later, I came across the white blaze. The only thing I could figure while I stood there scratching my head was that the mileage in the data book was a little off.
Arriving at Oak Hammock Camp I let out a whoop myself. This was by far the nicest camp on the Florida National Scenic Trail. A two-story shelter with mesh screening so no mosquitoes can touch you, a picnic table downstairs, sleeping quarters upstairs accessible by an outside ladder and trapdoor, a pully-operated bucket to hang your food in (keeping it safe from bears), and a well pump. There are also picnic tables and benches around a fire ring. It's dubbed The Rice Creek Hilton, and for this hiker it's five stars. As I bedded down, one thought crossed my mind. Forget the family day hike, make it an overnighter!

Walking on Pine Straw
Penner Pond
Entering Hoffman's Crossing
The Rice Creek Hilton

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