A peaceful early morning stroll on the bluffs above the Suwanee River was broken when we got to Suwanee Valley Campground, which looked as if it was holding a motor home convention. Not my idea of camping at all. It looked more like a parking lot with a few patches of grass and picnic tables.
Crossed the bridge over the river to White Springs and found out from some of the locals that the town was hosting the Azalea Festival that day. There was going to be live music and lots to eat. A shame really that we hadn't known about it earlier because I thought it would have been loads of fun. As it was with us arriving around 10 a.m., they had just finished putting up the stage, but there were other things that needed to be done. Oh well, that's the way it is with trail life. Sometimes the timing is right and at others it's a little off.
Anyway, Jon dropped by the post office to see if he had any mail. I think he informed people that follow his on-line journal that the next town after Lake Butler would be White Springs. I'm sure to his surprise as well as mine, when he came back from the window counter he was carrying a package and had three letters in his hand. The package contained a bunch of trail food and two of the letters included money. Now this was a lesson in resupply! Certainly a direct means of improving hiker morale. Wow!
I asked the postal clerk about the nearest supermarket and he told me that it had gone out of business. Oops! This was to be our resupply stop. With a voice of concern, I asked if there was another place in town where we could buy food. He advised us to try the Dollar General. Being from the west coast I didn't know what kind of shop the Dollar General was, but I was worried. I'd seen the outside of a Dollar General in another resupply town and from what I could tell, it looked like a hardware or garden supply store. Well, as they say, don't judge a book by its cover. For a hiker, the Dollar General is a great place to resupply for those on a tight budget. Not the greatest selection of perishable items, but plenty of the standard items that sustain a hiker on the trail with many chances to mix and match.
Our packs full of food we exited the town through Stephen Foster State Park, where the ranger was kind enough to waive the fee. This part of the trail hugging the banks of the Suwanee matched the vision I'd had of this area well before I'd entered the state of Florida. Large cypress trees with limbs draped in Spanish Moss. Giant oaks, branches stretching out across the slow-moving sunlit water. The sultry weather making you feel a bit lazy on a hot afternoon. We met quite a few elderly day hikers along this section of trail, obviously enjoying it as much as we were. We also shouted out a greeting to a pair of older gentlemen in kayaks cruising down the river below.
At the confluence of the Suwanee River and Swift Creek we stopped to have a break and fill our containers with water. It's a very picturesque spot, so pull out that camera! If you're really hot, on the bluff above the bend there's a rope attached to an oak branch that will allow you to swing out over deeper water. Try it if you have the courage. Some areas near Jerry Branch have large, white, sandy beaches where you can set up tents, launch canoes or lay back and catch some rays. The steepest place on the trail is just north of there. You actually have to use a steel cable anchored at the top of the bluff to pull yourself up. Who said Florida wasn't rugged?! :-)
Camp Branch was our stopping point for the day. About a half mile down a blue-blazed loop trail, the camp sits in the middle of a very interesting geological area. Just a few yards from the tent sites, a stream, appropriately called Disappearing Creek, vanishes in a depression beneath the overhanging limestone rock. There are two other sink holes near this side trail where you can see the stream reemerge, then disappear again. Some underground passage must eventually allow it to empty into the Suwanee. As far as the camp itself is concerned, we were disappointed. No picnic table, no benches, no fire ring, not even a log to sit on. We must be getting spoiled.
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Swift Creek Meets The Suwanee
The Steel Cable Climb