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Posts tagged ‘hiking’

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

Vestige of the Everglades: Grassy Waters Preserve

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. —John Muir

Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach presents the natural history of Florida in its pristine and wild 23.5 square miles. 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. Humans have since severely altered this historic water flow — although efforts have begun in earnest to resolve years of detrimental impact. The Grassy Waters Preserve (GWP) represents a remnant of the once-magnificent Everglades ecosystem.

Numerous hiking and biking trails wind throughout GWP, including the Apoxee Trail — “beyond tomorrow” in the Miccosukee language (pronounced A-po-hee). We weren’t prepared for a flooded-trail hike, so we drove north to the Hog Hammock Trail, where we were delighted to be completely alone for our 5-mile venture, save the critters. What’s wonderful about GWP is the variety of trails offered — long, short, easy, advanced — you have your pick.

Wildlife sightings include alligator, deer, armadillo, wild turkey, feral hog, bobcat, otter, osprey, great-horned owl, hawk, assorted wading birds, and snail kite. The survival of snail kite — the logo for the Preserve — is dependent on the preservation of pristine wetlands like those at Grassy Waters. Sadly, like so many other species, it’s estimated that this amazing bird of prey will most likely face extinction within the next 30 years due to habitat loss and other factors. But at Grassy Waters, snail kite sightings are common — proving that this iconic Everglades resident is allowed the quality habitat it needs for a fighting chance at survival.

These images were taken during our Hog Hammock hike, which we did in its entirety, including the mile-long dead-end trip…. As we were leaving the trail, I was yapping about something terribly important and startled a magnificent great-horned owl, which alighted immediately in front of us. Argh for the failed photo op!

Cypress Tree

Here There be Gators: Adorable but Flighty Juvies!

Outside of the trail…

Entering the trail…

Everglades Vista

Everglades Vista

Nature’s design: Slash Pines

NENA Signage

Hang On

“All you need to do is hold on tight…and believe.” —Stephen King

We made our second visit to a wonderful 24-mile-large Everglades preserve this weekend (more images forthcoming, it’s beautiful land) — an area new to us, so each trail is an adventure. What’s so wonderful is that we’ve been completely alone each visit, save the rustling of the critters, a magnificent great-horned owl (sadly, no picture, as we startled each other within a matter of feet), and the awe-inspiring trees, wetlands, and swamps. Entering one trail, there was a ruckus among a saw palmetto plant, and a tiny lizard popped out of its depths — it doesn’t take much to create a cacophony in their noisy fronds. He simply sat on a nearby twig, seemingly perturbed at the brief interruption. Cutie.

Brave Lizard Along the Trail at Grassy Waters Preserve

Trailhead at Grassy Waters Preserve

Everglades Vista of the Grassy Waters Preserve

National Trails Day

Tomorrow — Saturday, June 2, 2012 is National Trails Day!

Since 1993, the first Saturday of every June has been designated to inspire the general public and hiking enthusiasts alike to discover and celebrate America’s expansive trail network — comprising over 200,000 miles of trails. You can participate in a local hike, dog walk, cycle, horseback ride, help in a trail maintenance project, kayak, birdwatch, and so much more. It’s easy to forget how much work goes into trails’ planning, development, and upkeep: National Trails Day thanks the countless volunteers and partners for their support and grueling work.

National Trails Day also introduces many people — those who may not otherwise visit parks and trails — to all of their benefits. The day further highlights trails that people didn’t even know existed. I try to do this as well in this blog — after hearing many friends unaware of the magnificent parks and trails in their backyards (see Natural Areas and State & National Parks dropdowns, above — or the Categories section to the right). In today’s world, it’s critical to get outdoors and into nature. Hiking — even simple walks — gets the heart pumping, the muscles relaxed and stretched, and is an excellent way to improve overall health. It’s also cheap! Exploring these serene environments will help you decompress and find solitude as well; I often wander alone, watching and photographing as I stroll the natural areas.

Find an event near you for a National Trails Day event. Celebrate nature and promote our country’s parks and trails! I have far too many trail pictures to share (as proven in my past posts!), so I’ll revisit a few of my favorite areas, if that’s possible:

A most beautiful path in Riverbend (Jupiter, FL)

Cypress Swamp Along the Florida Trail

Into the Swamp, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Prairie Overlook Trail, Fern Forest

Sheltering Trees of the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Gorgeous Oaks of the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Cypress Swamp, Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail, Cypress Creek Natural Area

Boardwalk, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Pretty Sssssnake

Initially we thought it was a young Cottonmouth…. Being near the water, and with the surrounding wetlands and fields. We’ve seen a few of them and their skins on our hikes through the Florida flatwoods and swamps — which is why I always wear my boots when we’re out and about! It’s their land, after all. I’m thankful to visit, each and every time.

But we realized it was far too bright, even for an infant Cottonmouth — besides, this was an adult (this realization reached after the human male jumped excitedly over the embankment to get a closer look). I researched it later, as I had honestly never seen one, in all my years here. It’s a Corn snake — otherwise known as a Red Rat snake, apparently quite common. The term “Corn snake” — dating as far back as the mid- to late 17th century — arose when southern farmers stockpiled their harvested ears of corn, attracting rodents. The rodents in turn attracted these snakes.

Corn snakes are found throughout the Southeastern and Central US, and are known to be extremely docile — not biting easily, and not aggressive — making them “ideal” pet snakes (boo). Averaging 3.9 – 6 feet, they’re considered a moderate-sized snake, and prefer habitats such as overgrown fields, trees, palmetto flatwoods, and abandoned buildings and farmlands. They host a wide variety of color and pattern variations, as well. I’m still in disbelief that I haven’t seen one of these lovelies on any of our hikes — they’re pretty hard to miss.

Corn Snake, or Red Rat Snake

Corn Snake, or Red Rat Snake

Reaching for the Azure

A stricken tree, a living thing, so beautiful, so dignified, so admirable in its potential longevity, is, next to man, perhaps the most touching of wounded objects. —Edna Ferber

Scorched — but not necessarily dead — slash pines are profiled against their more lively brethren at the Bluefield Ranch Natural Area. Their tenacity is inspiring and a not-so-gentle reminder as I observe them throughout our hikes, standing tall with new growth peeping through burned limbs. Controlled, or prescribed burns are an integral part to sustaining Florida’s natural habitats.  Such burns mimic natural fire cycles to restore healthy natural communities, thus reducing the undergrowth that accumulates over time — a contributing factor in severe wildfires. An increase in native plants, birds, and wildlife is witnessed at these burned lands.

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