From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Upper Aucilla Camp to Pinhook Camsite---March 23rd

Woke up at 3 a.m. to drag things into the tent thinking it was beginning to rain, but came to realize that it was a thick mist that had started the trees to dripping. Was able to catch a couple more hours of shuteye before willing myself out of bed. The walk along the Aucilla must rank among the top five things for hikers to see on the Florida Trail.
First up are the Aucilla Rapids. If this conjures up visions of class V whitewater and rodeo rides in a raft, wake up! You must be dreaming. All it really means is that the river drops a few feet and you can actually hear the sound of the rushing water. This may not seem much to you, but it is unusual for these meandering slow flowing rivers.
The second feature is an island in the Aucilla that splits the river in two. It isn't very big, but it has all manner of trees, plants and flowering bushes on it. A unique feature that I didn't see on the Suwannee, Withlacoochee or Alapaha.
The third place of interest is the "Aucilla Sinks" where the Aucilla River disappears, flowing beneath the ground. It just comes to the base of a limestone bluff and abruptly ends. A jumble of logs and tree trunks have been deposited here at times of high water. A short distance away is "The Vortex", a sink to the west that turns into a violent whirlpool when water volume is near maximum.
Last but not least are the "Aucilla Races", an area of limestone solution holes where the river continually appears, disappears and then reappears again. Trying to navigate this area when the river is at flood stage would be tantamount to suicide. Where the river disappears, you'd vanish along with it. Thankfully, we had nothing to worry about. We could simply enjoy the uniqueness of this path. However, I would have loved to see "The Vortex" with water coursing through it. I'd just have to be satisfied with the wonderful array of plant life that surrounded me on all sides and the huge trees I saw that lined the path---cypress, oak, sabel palms and flowering dogwood.
After marvelling for hours in this majestic landscape, along came the inevitable road walk. Though, as road walks go, this was perhaps the most scenic with beautiful shady hardwood forests on both sides of US 98 and a fairly wide shoulder to walk on.
At the mid-way point we stopped at JR's Aucilla River Store, which was not quite the smorgasborg we had imagined. Jon was especially disappointed since there were no convenience store hot dogs to be found. They had the machine but were roasting no weiners that day. It was slim pickings really, but enough to see us through to St. Marks, where we could chow down.
I came out of there with Chef Boyardee Raviolis, Texas Cinnamon Rolls, Honeybuns, Lemon Planks and a few other goodies.
Shortly after entering St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, we stumbled upon a group of wild pigs that were rooting around in the mud near the trail. There were about eight in all of different sizes and colors. When the boar raised his head out of the muck and saw us peeking at them from behind a bush, he let loose a squeal and they all scattered. Best hog sighting of the trip.
Sitting on the Pinhook River Bridge in the late evening sun with a warm breeze caressing our faces was a joy. The campsite set amidst the pine, oak and palm on the other side of a small tributary feels like a small island. The two benches are an ideal number---one for me and one for Jon. I filtered some water from the small camp stream and the Pinhook River, but both were brackish. Too salty to drink. We were after all on the margins of Apalachee Bay a small part of the greater Gulf of Mexico. We'll be low on water until we reach the refuge visitors center, which isn't good news for Jon as he started pissing blood this afternoon. This certainly gave him cause for concern at the time, but he gained some consolation from the fact that I'd experienced the same thing on the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail and it was probably nothing to worry about. With proper hydration, the condition should pass quickly. For added peace of mind, he contacted a friend who works as a nurse. She told him it was not uncommon for something like this to happen. He was probably low on some essential salts and minerals. Keep an eye on the problem. If it doesn't clear up in a few days or you start to experience pain while urinating, then see a doctor. So, watch and wait.

Aucilla Rapids
The Vortex
Aucilla Races


  1. the Pinhook Campsite that you mentioned the same 1 who picture is on the internet (2 benches at a blackwater stream)? How do I walk there from the Pinhook Bridge?

    1. I'm not sure about the image on the internet, but it could be. To walk to the camp, you have to cross the Pinhook River Bridge to the west. Once you've crossed it, look to your right for the Florida Trail sign and the tent sign that indicates camping. You'll cross a small bridge composed of two railroad ties set together lengthwise that spans a small blackwater stream that empties into the Pinhook River. From there, you should be able to see the two benches to your left and several flat places for tenting.