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Posts from the ‘Florida Hiking’ Category

Double Vision

We recently hiked the Grassy Waters Preserve — specifically the SWA Trails within the Preserve, the Rookery Loop, and the outer Owahee Trail. Today, the Preserve serves as the freshwater supply for the city and its associated municipalities — but historically the area was the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River (Seminole for River of Turtles). It was also a key component of the Everglades watershed, which began north of Orlando and flowed through rivers that emptied into the vast Lake Okeechobee, where the lake’s waters flooded into the Everglades Basin and slowly flowed into the Florida Bay.

So while we expected to see alligators (as always!) during the hike in the Rookery Loop section of the Preserve, such numbers as those we encountered were not expected. I lost count at 40…in 3 hours! And in this area, as warned by the signage, the gators are in very close proximity to the human visitors. But as is often the case, they were very shy, perhaps not quite as accustomed to humans. And I was thrilled to spy such numbers of these amazing creatures in this beautiful and thankfully preserved ecosystem — they always make wonderful models. I don’t even know where to begin with my alligator collection from this outing, but this duo made me smile.

Seeing Double: Alligator Pair in the Everglades

 

A Return to Cypress Creek

The last time we visited Cypress Creek Natural Area, we were thrilled to explore part of its 2000 acres of newly restored sensitive pine forest and wetland habitats. We were even more ecstatic to learn of the county’s continued aggressive preservation and restoration efforts of the area.

Restored Everglades Vista of Cypress Creek Natural Area in Jupiter, Florida

Part of the Northeast Everglades Natural Area (or NENA, which holds approximately 165,000 acres of conservation land in northern Palm Beach Country and southern Martin County), and serving as a buffer for the Loxahatchee Wild and Scenic River, Cypress Creek is a valuable part of the Everglades ecosystem. Managed by Palm Beach County, current restoration activities in Cypress Creek include the removal of invasive non-native vegetation, filling miles of ditches (we continue to witness these efforts), changing the elevations of shell mining pits to encourage re-vegetation of native plants, and improving the Old Indiantown Road grade — now known as the Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail — for use as a multi-use trail.

Cypress Creek’s restored Everglades habitat

A Great egret in the restored Everglades habitat of Cypress Creek: I see your brightness, fella

Cypress Creek’s restored Everglades habitat

We recently hiked a different section of Cypress Creek, and saw loads of animal tracks due to the fact that not many humans probably make it out to where we ventured — deer, coyote, bobcat, wild boar. It was a wonderful sight to see, and I hope that the county continues it preservation efforts to protect this critical and threatened habitat, returning it to its full splendor…and providing a home for the wildlife once again. It’s wonderful to witness!

The remnants (slash pines) of a controlled (?) burn

Wading friends: A cattle egret and tricolored heron were inseparable

Overlooking the restored Everglades habitat: We need to get over THERE. Trail was flooded, however… We made it, but it was dicey and involved lots of high-steppin’ through the swamp

Gator check… Good to go. OK for foto session.

Wonderful old live oak canopies of Cypress Creek Natural Area

A Rainy Walk, a Cache of Found Feathers, and a Jealous Gator

On an especially soggy day — we underestimated the might of the day’s thunderstorms — we pushed ahead with our continued exploration of West Palm Beach’s Grassy Waters Preserve. We hadn’t explored the SWA Trails within the Preserve, and had been searching to see how they linked to the outer Owahee Trail. While we couldn’t do much on this particular day — the rains and lightning proved too much, even for us — we were able to stretch our legs a bit, and visit with hundreds of egrets, herons, and ibis.

And even better? I collected feathers; oh, I collected feathers. If there’s anyone in blog-land who’s equally enamored with the loveliness and power of Everglades’ feathers, just holler. I have plenty that I’d be willing to share — and one can make only so many smudge sticks out of found feathers….

Heading into the SWA Trails: We should be good. Sure.

Further into the trails: Whoops. Looking a bit dark; where’s our ponchos?

Sabal Palm Tree along the trail

Graceful as ever, a Great Blue Heron flies down a waterway on the Rookery Loop

Flying Ibis against invasive Australian Pines

Rookery Loop Signage: CLOSED! Nooo…! But how wonderful they’re protected.

And, of course…. An alligator encounter! This guy was a juvenile, very small. But most amusing about him (her?) was that, as I was praising his loveliness and snapping shots, he swam ever closer. Unbeknownst to me, my guy had silently crept up to take a peek, and this little gator’s calm demeanor suddenly changed — he thrashed wildly in the water, like a bezerker on acid. We both jumped like jackrabbits, and the human male skulked away, muttering something about a “big dumb lizard”…. I think he was just jealous. And as if on cue, up popped the gator, swimming back towards me for another cooing session.

Alligator Near the Rookery Loop Trail: A Lovely Friend

Alligator Near the Rookery Loop: Come Closer, Cutie

A Slightly Soggy Swamp Hike

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. —John Burroughs

This was definitely one of those days — we needed to have our “senses put in order.” During the continued exploration of West Palm Beach’s Grassy Waters Preserve, we finally managed the entirety of the beautiful Apoxee Trail — “beyond tomorrow” in the Miccosukee language (pronounced A-po-hee). We also hiked part of the outer Owahee Trail, looping around to the Apoxee — where we spied the most amazing untouched cypress swamps and waterways. We previously weren’t (mentally) prepared for a flooded-trail hike, but on this day, we knew what to expect, so trusted our boots to do their stuff. Sadly, my sturdy pair lasted until the last half-mile…. Which, out of an entirety of 6 miles, was fairly frustrating. That’s when a startled OH! sounded from ahead on the trail, which one NEVER wants to hear while navigating waters that are the same height as the neighboring swamp / wetlands. Poisonous snakes swim down here. As do alligators. Ker-plunk goes my leg into the deepest section yet. No worries — there was so much beauty to be had, what’s a pair of soppy socks?

Not sure what the weather holds this weekend, but we’re sure to hit another of my favorite natural areas — one with a lovely, ancient history of habitation, magnificent old growth trees, and one where we spied fresh panther and bobcat prints — so needless to say, I’m excited. May your weekends hold equal anticipation and beauty!

Untouched cypress swamp, where we just missed an otter…

Everglades vista

Flooded Apoxee Trail: Take One

Pileated woodpecker

Apoxee Trail boardwalk — once or twice the swamp was covered!

Everglades vista

Flooded Apoxee Trail: Take Two… For some reason, the male didn’t appreciate the paparazzi at his back

Air plant along the trail: Common to our area, this one was enormous

Flooded Apoxee Trail: Take Three, the doozy

Waterway on the Owahee Trail

A Lush and Rocky Little Trail

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

We recently visited Grassy Waters Preserve and the short Eagle Trail, a narrow trail of sand and exposed limestone outcroppings that loops around Gator Lake, and meanders through wet prairie and cypress. It’s truly a lovely little hike, and reminiscent of some areas of Big Cypress Preserve (adjacent to Everglades National Park). Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic in the shade, before hitting a longer trail….

Lush Trailhead of the Eagle Trail

The Mini-Mini has taken a beating on our ventures…

Slash pines and palm along the trail

Abundant berries…

Rocky limestone outcroppings

Everglades vista

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