Sunday Walk To Fern Hammock Springs @ Fort McCoy, FL

This cluster of vents is located at the back of Juniper Springs Recreation Area. Always best to visit when the park opens. The morning silence gives way to Cardinals, turtles and hikers.

More information check out;

http://www.flsprings.com/content/fern-hammock-springs

A December Hike Through Wekiwa Springs 13-Mile White-Loop

How do you remember a walk in the woods? With months past now, I had reflected on this winter outing because of the sunlight illuminating the golden, brown and red hues of dry brush and weeds. On this morning, it hadn’t mattered how near or far this location. More important was the immersion into adult introspection contrasting with childish titillation.

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Traveling the first mile of the artery feeding the majority of park trails, a wooden marker had signaled a break in the path. Turning left and moving across a paved road, my friend and I had encountered a campground. At the edge of this encampment of vehicles was a small row of wooden benches converging into a theater like area. Much to our amusement, we had found a lady’s discarded top nearby on the ground. Wasting no time for a photo-op, I had stretched the garment across my chest for minutes of grins.

During the second portion of the hike, we had walked through crisp foliage underneath a green canopy of pine needles. The gray dry sandy trail had eventually transformed into a dark brown. With each advancing step, our feet had slipped further into the watery mud. Despite the diminishing quality of the surroundings, our spirits had coasted along on the power of puns and innuendo. This had continued until encountering a small black constrictor. Collecting snapshots of the peaceful reptile, we had completed two-thirds of the white trail loop.

The final leg of our morning journey was characterized by curiosity regarding walking sticks and bees. The walking sticks insects had seemed eerily out of place. They were easy bait for any predator hungry for a meal; however, pairings of these insects had slowly crawled unabated from any lizard or bird. Next, just past a worn wooden hold for horses, a hoard of bees had hovered in the air. Almost out of sight, the droning sound of the bees had recalled a recent news story. A story in which a father and son were stung by a hoard ending up in the local hospital. With this thought echoing a similar childhood experience for my friend, we had expeditiously cleared the last portion of the hike.

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That small adventure navigating through nature had epitomized a moment of personal freedom and liberty. An adventure that had deferred adult responsibility. With fall coming around again, I had looked forward to not only cooling weather but, the smile of an earnest friend.

Read more:
Wekiva Springs State Park

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Prelude to the Fall in Gemini Springs Park @ DeBary, Florida

Today had marked my second visit to Gemini Springs in the past few years. The last time out, I was visiting some friends playing flag football in the open green spaces of this park. On this October afternoon, I had searched for solitary moments for recording video and stills; however, human activity had reached a fever pitch filling the air with sounds of conversation and horse play.

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Making my way to the lake and spring boil, I had run into stray squirrels going up and down the various bridges. Despite all the surrounding water and soft mud on the water’s edge, noticeably absent were mosquitoes from my previous week’s journey to Green Springs, just a few miles away.

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Circling the lake, I had looked about for a slithering reptile or two. No such activity had existed to satisfy my curiosity. The only water borne creatures that had swam about, mullet and a turtle. With soft yet firm cool breezes pushing through trees and across the water’s surface, I had focused on some red and purple flowers. These blooms I had concluded wouldn’t be around much longer.

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Last time leaving this park, a thunderstorm was rolling in a with palpable change of weather. With an overcast morning giving way to sunshine and blue skies, a transformation had begun.This tangible sense of nature had resurfaced with a prelude to the fall.

Gemini Springs Park is located at: 37 Dirksen Drive, DeBary

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Admission: Free

Read More:

Gemini Springs Park (volusia.org)

Detour into Green Springs Park @ Deltona, Florida

“viridescent adjective \ˌvir-ə-ˈde-sənt\ meaning: greenish or becoming green. Origin: Latin viridis green” –merriam-webster.com

A friend had suggested visiting Green Springs Park in Volusia County at the beginning of September. He had mentioned an affinity for walking the premises with his wife at dusk. Now, for some reason, perhaps this aforementioned quaint notion had reduced my mental image of the park into just a pond, an oak tree and a park bench for a loving couple. The reality though, this park was more lush with plant life and extensive with acreage than this assumption.

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Heading to the beaches of Titusville this past weekend, I had detoured off course into Deltona, Florida. Coming off the I4 exit, after a quick left on Debary, a right on Providence, then another quick left on Lake Shore Drive, my vehicle had pulled parallel to the St. John’s River. Across the road from the St. John’s was Green Springs Park’s entrance.

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On this mid-morning, the gravel parking lot was fairly empty in difference to perhaps Wekiva Springs State Park. Approaching the main paved trail, a slow trickle of bikers had flowed in and out of the picnic tables and restroom area. Walking left down the main paved trail, Green Springs was immediately available on your right. This body of water had certain mysterious quality on viewing. The differing shades of greens emanating on, around, and below the surface had further underscored the forthcoming fall season. A friend of mine, had described the elongated branches of a tree stretching over the spring as finger-like and evil. Maybe, it was just symbolic of the history of the area being part of an old winery?

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Aside from the multitude of overhanging tree limbs, a number of white square signs had lined the spring perimeter noting “No Swimming.”  If entering the water, the signs had spoke of being trespassed from the property by a park ranger. This was only the second park with fresh water springs in my travels prohibiting swimming by the generic public. The other was Silver Springs in Ocala; however, another passerby had mentioned the “locals” wait until after dark for venturing into the spring head.

Moving to the opposite end of the spring overlook, I had climbed down to the water’s edge. In my movements to get a better picture, small fish had splashed beneath the surface trying to escape perhaps some other natural predator. After collecting few more images and video, my friend and I had moved back onto one of the side trails. We had come across several small rusty colored streams. While charming in sound, the abundant thunderstorm season had provided ample breeding grounds for mosquitoes. With the swarming insects, we had quickly opted to head out of the side trails. On the way out, we had seen a pair of red cardinals. Before we could grab a few stills, they had flown away. Following that lead, we had left the park pondering the dynamic fall temperatures might bring to the miles of trails in this park.

Green Springs State Park is located at:
994 Enterprise Osteen Rd, Deltona, FL 32725

Open daily: Sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free

Read More:
Green Springs (volusia.org)
Volusia County Florida Ecological nature parks (Volusia.org)

Wanderlust in Wekiva Springs State Park @ Apopka, Florida

“Wanderlust  …dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home … may also fuel the desire to travel…commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.”- Wikipedia

Two weeks after surgery, I had discovered an ever increasing desire to wonder around Central Florida. With a little help from my friends, I had tempered this flame with standard fare from walking at Lake Lily Park to Lake Eola; however, that was just the start. Hitting the road yesterday to Canaveral National Seashore, I had wrapped up the weekend back in the heart of Central Florida with swimming at Wekiva Springs State Park.

The latter two outings were less than ideal with chilling coastal winds to cloudy waters of an over populated springhead. The importance of the walking and swimming this weekend was an affirmation of a healthy recovery. In some sense, I was grateful in earning back more mobility. Though, in the back of my psyche, I had recalled dialing down my fervor a few notches. It wasn’t like I was playing with snakes seeking atonement, rather simple solace. This notion sometimes had seemed easier stated than done with an elderly lady power walking right by you as an adult male.

Recovery from surgery for anyone, was a measure of equal parts physical healing and mental attitude. With possibility of pain and discomfort acquiescing to a “pity party” was the lost opportunity in focusing a return to some sense of normalcy. Before surgery, I had blogged for folks to make the most of their day. Today, for those with a recent procedure(s), I had thought the same rule applies. I hadn’t needed to beat grandma, just redirect that intensity elsewhere. I had dared you to do the same no matter your circumstance, just live it up!

Read More:

Wekiva Springs State Park (Florida State Park)

Wanderlust (Wikipedia)

Courtesy of Florida State Parks

Courtesy of Florida State Parks

Down the West Orange Trail Apopka-Vineland Outpost @ Orlando, Florida

“There is nothing more beautiful than a tree.” – Joyce Kilmer

Moving onto the paved trail known as the West Orange Trail from the Apopka-Vineland Outpost, I had pondered the similarities between people and trees. Each respective organism had embodied the potential to bloom into a beautiful dynamic sight. With both organisms, each had matured under the seasons and the sun. Each were also equally vulnerable to any neglect or harsh environmental conditions.

With my second trip out to the West Orlando Trail at the Apopka-Vineland Outpost in as many years, I had picked up a friend for an afternoon walk. Approaching the parking for the trail, I had taken a wrong turn going up a gravel side road. For a few moments, I had thought a perched O.P.D. vehicle would peel me off for a moving violation. Luckily, just a quick U-turn had redirected my vehicle into the proper parking area without earning a ticket.

With a few years passing by since our last conversation, my friend was ecstatic about voyaging out into the green overhang up this 22 mile trail. Walking through the cool breeze of Monday afternoon, he had talked with jubilation about getting a fresh start after losing his job and a long term relationship. By his own admission, some of his recent “bad luck” were just bad choices.

Making our way up the paved walkway, we had seen open fields of golden bushes and palmettos. Behind those fields had laid the pale blue sky with the fading sun and a scattering of cirrus clouds. This backdrop was a calming contrast to my friend’s recent troubles. Continuing our conversation, we had whimsically shifted to nature of personal etiquette, growing older, and relationships. With all those subjects, we had both evolved from personal experience.

In our different journeys, we had struggled to find the answer to the question, “Do you know who you are?” To that question, I had responded recently to a friend “Yes!” In my mind, I had thought, “What’s inside me? A part of the American mythology, freewill.” For each person, we had the opportunity to manifest our own destiny and leave the world in our wake. For each of us, we had roots, limbs and leaves for baring our soul.

Read More:
West Orange Trail (Trailink)

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Afternoon hike in Wekiva Springs State Park @ Apopka, Florida

Wekiva Springs State Park was a bit of an ongoing natural exploration for myself. I had viewed different passing phases of weather elements ranging from hot, warm, humid, rain to cool, cold, dry, and windy. All these elements had enshrouded different perspectives in and out of the water for swimming, camping and canoeing. One thing I hadn’t done yet, hiking on the many trails emanating around the spring boil. Taking a half day of time off work yesterday, I had met up with a friend for taking a leisurely advance into these nearby woods.

Our walk had started on the boardwalk close to the trail-head. On this weekday, the first thing I had realized the lack of people occupying the grounds. This expectation was bit of an adjustment, on weekends in warmer weather, people flock to this watery arena. Another adjustment was the lack of insects in the air whether wasps, flies or mosquitoes. The offset was the cool breeze washing in and out of the pine and palmetto trees. My logic had concluded this being the reason for lack of ever present indigenous locals either human or not.

Courtesy of www.mappery.com
Courtesy of www.mappery.com

Finishing the short boardwalk, we had moved onto the main trail heading toward Sandlake. The shimmering light of the sun had revealed harvest like colors of auburn, browns, grays, yellows and green. With a recent trip out to mountains of Georgia, the slow arcing topography of the Wekiva basin was a welcome contrast. Both environments had their unique elements of appreciation yet, Florida’s emitting a more familiar comforting emotional refrain.

With an eventual split in the trail, we had steered to the left eventually moving across a road. Coming to the connecting side of the trail, we had seen a metallic hiking icon hanging on a wooden marker. It was a bit of flashy icon with another patch below for “no biking.” Proceeding down the way, we had come to some yellow caution tape on both sides of another road. On the ground had fallen a paper white posting listing the area for a controlled fire burn for January 15 – January 17th. With lack of sight or smell of fire, I hadn’t worried much about such postings; however, with the dashing winds, I had thought prudent in a turnabout. A few moments further down the trail, I had heard the chopping of wood in the distance. I had recalled a presentation from Wekiva burn manager about their preparation for controlled burns. I had theorized these noises from an advancing group of “preppers.” With that thought, such burn notices were better suited for the front gate or a website. With this turnabout, I had accumulated unfinished business for another Florida afternoon.

Read More:
Wekiva Springs (Florida State Parks)

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A final taste of the Appalachian Trail

After spending three days in Georgia, my good friend and I had hiked from Amicalola Falls out to Hawk Mountain. Waking on our last day on the AT, we had viewed the sunrise cresting over the horizon with the intermittent sound of birds. This vision had seemed like something between Sauron’s flaming eye from movie Lord of the Rings or the appearance of the Good Witch from film Wild at Heart. In these moments in the sun, we had drank some water while enjoying our makeshift breakfast. With dwindling food supplies, we had discussed our options for the day. Part of both of us had wanted to stay longer on the AT; however, another part of us had yearned for a hot plate of Chicken Parmesan @ Oliver Garden. With the dawn just breaking, the later impulse had won out. The plan for the day had encompassed hiking 17 miles back to our vehicle at Amicalola Falls State Park. The physical challenge for the day was exceeding our personal best for traveling this terrain in one day, 8 miles.

After packing up, we had walked back on the AT traveling at a reasonably good pace. With this tempo, we had predicted returning to Amicalola Falls by dusk. Returning to the top of Springer Mountain, we had eventually revisited the southern terminus for the AT. This time, clouds hadn’t obscured the mountains in the distance. This was a memorable sight for anyone living at sea level or Florida most of their lives. After another round of photo ops on Springer, we had moved back down the trail.

What I hadn’t expected next, the grind of the last couple of miles with the setting sun. Along the way, a few issues had cropped up for us. For myself, water and carb loaded food had run in short supply for energy. For my buddy, there was the additional weight of his belongings and the number of declining slopes on his knees. Engaging the last 6 miles of a series of ridges, I had thought, “Just one more mountain.” Seeing another ascending trail after another, I had felt crestfallen. After a while, I had focused on traversing step after step on the ascents. Removing the emotional impact of any topology changes, the logic was to keep my motivation on the earth below my feet. In the last two miles to the end, my friend had took the lead hiking. At first, it was little demoralizing to switch roles. Though, the motivation for keeping up had beat back the accumulating exhaustion from my two concurrent trips to California and Georgia. In the end, this switching of horses had provided us with the necessary daylight on our way back to the top of Amicalola Falls. After taking another brief break above the Falls for the restroom, we had quickly navigated down the side of the mountain face.

Returning to our vehicle finally, looking worn, we had smelled awful. One of the most gratifying parts of this arrival was turning the ignition on in the garnet 96’ Ford Explorer. After sleeping nights in the 20s and 30s F, the onset of heat blowing on our cold bodies was a cathartic experience. With the rumbling of the engine, we had drove out of the park turning right onto the darkened highway. We were searching for our destiny with Chicken Parmesan @ Oliver Garden in Gainesville, Georgia. After about 30 minutes, we were seated at an Olive Garden. Soon after, we had received some bread sticks with soup and salad. Savoring our food, we had pondered the day and the road ahead. This trip had meant different things to each of us. For myself, it was an expression of wanderlust, companionship, and physicality. The final taste of the Appalachian Trail was continuing to foster the idea to be truly wild at heart with adventure.

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Read More:
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (IMDB)
Wild at Heart (IMDB)

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information: website: www.seminolescuba.com phone:  407-333-8856

Hawk Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Kicking off a third day of hiking in Georgia, my friend and I were coming down Springer Mountain heading toward our destination of Hawk Mountain on the A.T. The first mile on the trail was a soft downward descent. Clearing the mountain, we had encountered a few different creek crossings until reaching another wooden shelter. This shelter was open faced with two floors, a picnic table and two wood window doors opening on the second level in the rear. It had appeared the last occupants left in a rush. They had left a tarp, toilet paper, a t-shirt and few other pieces of trash. Needing to take “nature’s break,” the outhouse was thankfully not too far away. While at the outhouse, I had read a posting on the wall regarding the methodology regarding composting of human waste. Apparently, the process had included a two year breakdown with some general upkeep.

After our interlude, we had continued our trek coming to a medium sized bridge going over a creek appearing more like a river. From the horizon, the water had rolled through the greenery at a slight incline with the vestiges of snow fall on the ground. The rumble of water passing underneath had provided a serenity similar to listening to the cadence of waves on a beach. After collecting filtered water, we had moved back onto the trail. Walking only a few hundred feet, in the corner of my eye, I had got a glimpse of a small open air campsite down the slope. As curiosity took over, I had decided to scale down to take a closer look. Appearing in my vision, a series of rocks had wrapped around some cold grey ash. Just past the ash was a downed log where a person could easily sit gazing into this water way. I had wanted to stay longer but, our goal lay further up the mountain ridge. Rejoining my friend, we had proceeded up the side of mountain for a mile or so until bumping into another set of hikers making their way toward Springer Mountain. We had swapped information about the Hawk Mountain shelter and details of building a fire atop Springer. At this point in the day, the sun had raised the temperature a considerable amount. My buddy and I had shed most of our upper layers of clothing to avoid overheating. The bright sunny day was a welcome contrast to the gusty cold overcast previous one. During the last two miles of the trail toward Hawk Mountain, we had seen a few military helicopters conducting maneuvers. At first, I had thought maybe a rescue operation but, according to my friend’s guidebook, standard training fare.

Arriving mid-afternoon at the Hawk Mountain shelter, we had run into another group of travelers from earlier in the morning. While getting settled, we had snacked and refilled our water. Later in the afternoon, we were joined by an older gentleman. He had inquired about the general direction of the water. After some instruction, he had hiked on. Returning later, he had managed to go five miles over the next ridge top looking for water versus just down an opposing slope. After some casual conversation, one of our fellow shelter guests had started collecting wood to build a fire. This day, I had opted to cough up my bag of Doritos as kindling. I had seen YouTube video demonstrating their flammability. After trying the wet wood, the dry Doritos had proved the means to start the fire. Though, one of the other travelers had mocked the idea of carrying the Doritos, saying “Why pay for something, when you can get something for free.”

With the onset of dusk, I had opted to sequester myself socially allowing my buddy the autonomy to talk it up with our visitors. I was looking forward to get good night’s rest after the previous evening on Springer Mountain. With the evening in full swing, the sound of military helicopters had filled the night air a few times. This sound was a bit of a buzz-kill wanting to get away from “civilization.” Laying on my back, I had listened to the fire and fellow hikers for a bit slipping into unconsciousness. It was the best rest on the trip up to that point just for the dreaming. These unconsciousness dreams I had not remembered. For dreams becoming a reality, my dreams, I had believed that’s a different thought altogether.

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba


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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Springer Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Measuring life in metrics, getting to the top of Springer Mountain was 8.3 miles from starting at Amicalola Falls State Park for travelers unfamiliar with the journeying to the Appalachian Trail; however, I had traveled so much further beyond maps or miles. I had carved out a mental image from films, a friend’s listing of favorite books, and a mutual wanderlust. The objective of the day was reaching the southern terminus, aka tip, of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on this mountain top.

At the start of this Sunday, the view atop Amicolola Falls had gave way to the Blue Ridge mountain range below a clear baby blue sky. The mind’s eye aside, climbing Amicalola Falls’ steps a second day in a row had become a welcome break from hiking in the cold damp darkness of the night before. After soaking in this gaze for a few moments, we had quickly retraced about two miles of progress from the previous evening. We had reflected on the decision to turn back momentarily being the “right choice” and “smart choice.”  With that in mind, the next revelation of the day had come in the discovery of a clearing for an open air camping area. It was just past the previous night’s turnaround point. Any second guessing our decision had quickly washed away with daylight illuminating a clear sight of stout mountains and leaf less trees. The day’s hike had continued from there in a rhythmic manner; ”up”, “then down,” “up,” and “up again.”

During our first major mountain ascent, this pattern was interrupted by a descending party of about ten people. Out of common courtesy and easy passage, we had pulled to the side of the trail. While eating a snack of pop tarts, a little blonde girl stepping down the path had wished us a Merry Christmas. This innocent act had colored our physical activity in a different range of emotions. A common bond of community had asserted itself beyond our solitary activity. Before starting up again, an elderly gentlemen had asked about the trail below. In his response, my travel companion had described the steep decline and his preference for stark inclines instead. The gentleman’s response was, “You’re going to get plenty of that shortly.” So we had begun our hiking rhythm again. Until late afternoon, we had marched taking impromptu breaks for water, food, bathroom, and of course photographic evidence!

Approaching the final three miles of our trek, we had started to experience cold gusts and snow flurries. At first, I had thought the snow some form of fungus or tree decay. Not seeing snowflakes since the age of 18, it had provided a degree of personal wonderment and euphoria. In contrast, the brooding grey clouds had sparked some personal concerns. Having lived in tropical zones most of my life from Florida, the Bahamas and Singapore, I had wanted to limit my exposure to the elements with the onset of dusk. The elevation and chill were one set of tenable question marks. I had thought, “What of water in its various forms; sleet, rain, snow?” Water had offered the greatest potential for transforming this rocky landscape into something seductively dangerous. Regardless of the answer, I had not wanted to find out in the dark of night.

Fortunately, we were close to reaching one of two trail shelters and our final destination. The first landmark denoting our proximity to this first shelter was a wooden blue sign pointing down to water. Navigating down the slope to a tiny creek, my friend had graciously volunteered for water extraction duty. At the creek, he had used a manual filter pump for collecting water. While waiting for his return, my mind had drifted into mischief. Up to this point, I was channeling a certain degree of seriousness, unwieldy for such an adventure. The idea of mooning him from a downed log had popped in my brain; however, the biting cold wind gusts had wiped that idea clear into oblivion.

With my buddy topside, we had walked about another half mile to signs pointing to the first wooden shelter. Scouting out the shelter for a few minutes, another pair of hikers had converged on our location. We had exchanged information relating to portions of the trail. After deciding to press forward, my friend had leveraged this opportunity for maxing out our water supply near this shelter. With the three of us remaining, we had stopped any physical activity while chatting. The immediate impact, we had all begun getting painfully cold in our hands and feet. During my wait, I had started moving about in circle compensating for walking on the trail. With my friend’s return, we had headed out on the last two miles of journey.

After picking up our walking tempo, we had arrived in short order at the demarcation for the southern terminus of the AT. In this clearing, two metal plaques had adorned rock along with a log book and statue. The only disappointment were the clouds obstructing the mountain top overlook. After breaking from photo ops, we had pushed on to the final destination for the day, a mountain top shelter. At this multi-level wooden shelter, we had encountered several other travelers. They had placed a tarp over the front opening to reduce the wind gusts. They had also attempted building a fire; however, the cold wet wood  had kept the fire from being viable. As far as sleeping for the night, the other travelers had conceded the elevated loft area for my friend and me. After eating some food, we had prepped our sleeping bags and clothes for slumber. During the night, I had focused on trying to keep my fingers and toes warm. I was bit paranoid with the rating on my Coleman sleeping bag. Before sundown, the temperature was around 30 degree F. What I hadn’t known, according to someone else’s gauge, the temperature dipping into the 20s.

Eventually, daylight had returned to the mountain top with warmer temperatures. Also returning, was our desire to move on from Springer Mountain. Our next destination, Hawk Mountain, was already brewing an image in our mind’s eye. Measuring life in moments, this was a start to another great day of wanderlust on the AT.

Read More:
Springer Mountain (Wikipedia)
Springer Mountain (GeorgiaTrails.com)
Review: Appalachian Impressions (GarzaFX)
Review: National Geographics’s America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail (2009) (GarzaFX)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia

On the morning of Saturday, December 14th 2013, I had embarked on 8 hour plus drive to Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. What had made this destination so alluring after a prolonged business trip? An unrepentant desire had filled my head with a need for physical adventure serving as counterpoint to the mundane nature of work in IT. Why now? For some of the road trips earlier in the year, sometimes the amount of “time off” hadn’t allowed the proper conclusion for random excursions. This go around, I had requested a whole week off. Earlier in the year, I had visited Vogel State Park, Georgia and some of the surrounding hiking trails. It was one of the best times outdoors ever because of precarious descent of up-tempo mountain side hiking despite, tempting fate with one wrong slip at dusk. Yet, beyond the scope of that hike was the untapped desire for convergence onto the Appalachian Trail by way of Blood Mountain. This idea had sat dormant after the last road trip into Georgia. As with any good master plan, the seed for a return was planted long ago in my friend’s mind. All that was required, a response to the question,”Wanna do anything this weekend?” Of course, I had formed the answer to the question well in advance. Free will was a beautiful thing. Now, the specific details for this hiking trip, I hadn’t mastered at all but, enter my buddy’s advance preparation. Even without that consideration, I had probably signed up in my current mental state for anything outdoors sans nuclear war.

After a supply stop in a Cumming’s Georgia Walmart, we had pushed for the final portion of our drive. Arriving in the state park off-hours, we had registered with park’s log book for hiking the A.T. Around 8 PM Eastern, we had headed out to the park trail going toward Amicalola Falls. With light from my friend’s head lamp, we had forged toward the sound of falling water. At the base of ascent, we had seen a sign cautioning strenuous activity of 175 steps. I had figured,”Not too bad.” Though, in my haste to get moving, I had left the top portion of hiking bag chest strap undone. This oversight had doubled the amount of effort on the ascent. At the beginning, I had enjoyed the exertion on my body; however, at the end of the night, it had caused some cramping in my right calf. In contrast, it had still beat sitting in car or airplane for hours on end. After clearing the 175 steps, we had both worked up good amount of perspiration. Completing the 175 steps and a walk across a wooden bridge, we had seen another sign for strenuous activity a few moments later. That sign had outlined a step count of 425. I had thought, ”You got to be kidding?” With some angst, we had eventually cleared those steps as well. About 2 miles later into the hike, we had started the approach trail toward our final destination of the A.T. With the cold wet dark night, we had let common sense prevail agreeing to double back to beginning of the park until daylight. Staying on premises, we had camped out in the first shelter to make way for the next day.

The good news the following morning, the views of the falls were astounding on ascent. The great news for you, there was road side access at the base and top of the falls for those with less of an inclination to cover the 600 combined steps. Amongst the four waterfalls in Georgia and Florida I had seen, Amicalola Falls, claims a special place in my memory with backdrop of the surrounding mountain range. That view had kicked off the 2nd of 5 days in Georgia. If you had decided to travel the Southeast, strongly recommend taking a trip out to Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia.

Amicalola Falls State Park
Address: 240 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
Phone: (706) 344-1500

Read more:
Appalachian Trail (National Park Service)
Amicalola Falls State Park (Georgia State Parks)

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Big Shoals State Park @ White Springs, Florida

One of the reasons for traveling to White Springs, Florida was the mention of white water rapids at Big Shoals State Park. After seeing the low level watermarks for the Suwannee River at Stephen Foster State Park, my expectations had diminished for this excursion, from canoeing to just hiking. Driving down County Road 135, I had not seen too many signs for navigating to the park. After taking a right onto Old Godwind Bridge Road, the pavement had turned to gravel. In the middle of the road had laid a dog and her four puppies. I had started to question out loud,” Is this the road to a state park?” The dogs had seemed unaffected by our encroaching vehicle. In a moment of clarity, I had switched off driving responsibilities with my friend to handle the dogs on the road. Snapping my fingers at the oldest dog, I had pointed to a nearby house. The dog, on cue, had responded wonderfully, moving her entourage out of the way. Another half mile down the road, the sign for Big Shoals had come into view.

After parking, we had walked down toward the canoe launch area. The Suwannee River’s appearance at this location had appeared more robust than the offering over at Stephen Foster. Walking back up toward the Pavilion, a small wooden fence had provided a great view of an overlook with 50 – 60 foot drop off to the river below. After this stop, we had proceeded out onto Big Shoals Hiking trail. Along the way, we had seen the remnants of an old bridge. Standing amongst the trees, the huge pillars had remained a testament to the history of the area. A mile in, we had heard the rumble of water. In excitement, we had both started jogging to another overlook with a similar drop-off like before. Down below, we had noticed the foaming rapids break upon the rocks. Wanting to get more pictures, we had scaled down the side of the limestone bluffs. At the water’s edge, we had both taken the opportunity for some pictures and video. The rapid were relatively nice but, nowhere near their optimal peak for canoeing. According to Florida State Parks website, to earn the class III classification for Big Shoals rapids, the water level had required being between 59 – 61 feet.

Scaling back up the estimated 80 foot bluffs, we had decided to double back on the hiking trail to the Pavilion. Near the Pavilion’s picnic area, another structure had caught my attention. The sign had read, “Bat Exhibit.” In the Florida Keys, I had seen another tower but, with a different architecture. Even though I was unable to see the bats, their sound echoed outside of the structure. The take away, bugs, specifically mosquitoes, were almost non-existent in the immediate area. Or maybe we were just lucky. In the end, Big Shoals State Park had offered a dynamic environment for canoeing, hiking and camping. If you had wanted to hit the rapids, suggest calling ahead for a water level report.

Big Shoals State Park
Address: 11330 S.E. County Road 135, White Springs, Florida 32096
Phone: (386) 397-4331

Read more:
Big Shoals State Park (Florida State Parks)
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park @ White Springs, Florida (GarzaFX)

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Florida State Caverns Park @ Marianna, Florida: Part 2

Before proceeding to take a tour of the Florida Caverns, I had the opportunity to explore the back end of the park. If only hitting the caverns, you had missed out on the camping areas, horse trails, hiking trails and clean restrooms at the back of the property. Coming round to the tail end of the acreage, the road had gone up on a slight hill. On the left shoulder, probably the nicest looking restrooms in the state park system. Below this change area and outdoor shower, a scenic view that had given way to waters on the edge of my vision. Walking down the greens had appeared the deep aquamarine colors of Blue Hole and Blue Hole run. Blue Hole, though not advertised off the state’s website, had provided a means for swimming. It had also offered a location for fishing bass and other assorted aquatic life.

After soaking up some sun and the view, we had departed to canoe launch area about 1/2 mile down the road. This portion of the park had appeared considerably different but, no less tranquil with the sound of running water. A row of rental canoes had laid securely across aluminum framing near the river. There was one key difference about the Chipola River launch area versus Blue Hole, a sign relating to Florida’s favorite reptile, alligators. Investigating the canoe launch area were signs relating to flood history of the area, plus references to President Andrew Jackson.

After taking some of pictures and video of the Chipola River, the time had come to return to the front of the park for the cavern tour. Of the five state parks in West Florida I had visited, Florida State Caverns Park definitely worthy of the time and gas.

Read More:

Florida State Caverns Park (Florida State Parks)

Florida State Caverns Park @ Marianna, Florida: Part 1 (GarzaFX)

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Falling Waters State Park @ Chipley, Florida

Heading back from west Florida, we had wanted to check this out after reading the guide to Florida State Parks and visiting the falls of Rainbow Springs Park. After taking a quick detour off 1-10 into the countryside, we had driven to the park entrance. At the gate, the park ranger had provided a cheerful welcome; however, she was not excited about the flow of the river feeding the falls. Proceeding to the park area, we made quick use of the restrooms before heading down the trail to the Falling Waters sink. Without question, this park was exceedingly clean and well groomed by the staff and respectful visitors. The other two parks that had fallen in that category, Troy Springs and Florida Caverns State Park. Proceeding down the walkway were examples of local greenery including some wax murtle and some purple flowers. After hitting the boardwalk to the sink, it had appeared down on right with the 70 foot fall below. Crestfallen with the view, we had packed up shop reminiscing about the photogenic but, smaller offerings at Rainbow Springs. The park had a hiking trail, small river and lake for other activities. With about 3 hours left of daylight, we had opted to head back through Tallahassee, Florida. Before leaving Chipley, we had taken a quick stop for photo op of cotton fields. They were quite impressive in passing,  despite a possible negative historical reference and current shout out to US trade in-balance. For a weekend getaway, this park was exceedingly beautiful with the rolling hills and pine trees, just call ahead for feedback on the falls.

Falling Waters State Park is located at:

1130 State Park Road, Chipley, Florida 32428
Phone: (850) 638-6130

Read More:

Falling Waters State Park (Florida State Parks)

Rainbow Springs State Park -Dunnellon, Florida (GarzaFX)

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Music from Steve Howe, “Valley of Rocks”

Pope Still Hunt Camp, Apalachicola National Forest @ Crawfordville, Florida

A few weekends ago, traveling through Tallahassee, Florida, one night’s final destination was the 500,000 plus acres of Apalachicola National Forest. After exiting I-10 east, we had headed south on US 319 for about 30 minutes. With dusk approaching, we had taken a detour for a quick dip in Wakulla Springs State Park.

After departing Wakulla Springs, our first concern was paying for a campsite. The solution my friend had dialed up, Freecampsites.net. With directions in tow, we had started moving toward Pope Still Hunt Camp. Not too far into Apalachicola National Forest, we had both lost cell coverage for T-Mobile and AT&T. Fortunately, Pope Still Hunt Camp site had sat close to the intersection of Florida Highways 13 and 350. Approaching this intersection, asphalt had given way to sandy dirt roads.

After parking at our destination, another vehicle had pulled into the camping area about 50 yards away. Unlike most other travelers in passing, they had seemed reclusive staying inside their van. Isolated moments like these had always invoked scenes from backwoods Hollywood movies like Deliverance or Wrong Turn. In an effort to get better feel for the immediate area, we had walked around for a bit before getting in our SUV. Driving down about a half mile, the road had become increasingly narrow and rough. Outside the driver’s side window had appeared a sign for “road closed.” After passing this signage, four ATVs had driven out on the road. The odd thing, they had all stopped moving in the middle of the road behind us. Proceeding for another half mile, I had turned around figuring to setup for the night back at the campsite. Upon coming around their previous location, the ATVs had parked at another turnoff. I was curious of their purpose but, more so in sleeping. This small bit of paranoia had clearly stemmed from exhaustion.

At the campsite, my friend had chosen to sleep in his tent in the cool dry air. I had decided to go it alone in the vehicle. I had surmised in the event of a bear or “crazy”, the path of least resistance, my friend’s tent! After taking off my shoes to sleep, I had noticed the lack of light and noise pollution. Initially, I had hoped to go hiking or visit Leon Sinks while in Apalachicola National Forest; however, the tranquil twilight environment had provided enough satisfaction. I had hoped to visit here someday again.

Read More:
Freecampsites.net (freecampsites.net)

Apalachicola National Forest (fs.usda.gov)

Apalachicola National Forest (Wikipedia)

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Review: Appalachian Impressions

Rating: Worth a spin for anyone considering a lengthy hike.

Wrapping up a Appalachian Trail Conservancy membership drive, the documentary, Appalachian Impressions (2005) had painted a pragmatic picture of hiking the A.T. It had started in Georgia showing the crowds starting in early Spring. Then the film had progressed through all 14 states. It had earnestly detailed some of the hardships from wear and tear on feet through overpacking gear. It had also highlighted the mental toll on hikers moving through different physical landmarks. It had detailed the charity of various individuals and organizations providing “trail magic.” “Trail magic” had simply meant food or drink for free for hikers. The film had offered witness to the community between hikers. If you had considered a protracted hike on the AT, check this film out.

Read more:
Appalachian Impressions (IMDB)

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Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park @ Port Richey, Florida

This state park had offered about 4,000 acres for various activities from hiking, fishing and canoeing. For reference, I had not confused this land for Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest. Visiting two entrances off US 19, hiking trails and port-o-potties had immediately been visible for any weary travelers. After making a quick visit to the northern entrance, I had ventured down to the southern entrance. Keep your eyes open, I had effortlessly driven by the southern entrance by the nearby Walmart. After parking, I had noticed surrounding acreage a recent target of controlled burns. Walking down one of the hiking trails, the park was exceptionally quiet. Upon nearing the water, I had come across some folks fishing in the salt marsh. For a quick or extended excursion, I had thought this park a great choice for avoiding the hustle of the Tampa Bay area.

Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park address was 9120 Old Post Rd, Port Richey, Florida. Admission was $3 for those without an annual Florida State park pass.

Read More:
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park (www.floridastateparks.org)

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Vogel State Park – Blairsville, Georgia: Part 2 – Vogel Overlook and Bear Hair Gap Trail

Before leaving the park office, I had received a detailed trail map for the extended area. Returning from Falls Bottom on the one mile Trahlyta trail loopback, I had recalled the other options in the area. What I had noticed that the Appalachian Trail being under 10 miles away. This had been one of the goals for my Labor Day weekend. Walking past the on premises cabins, another sign had pointed up toward Bear Hair Gap Trail. This 4 mile plus trail had seemed like a great place to start toward that journey. The varied physical features of the woods had been quite remarkable. The tree covered mountain side had its share of surprises. Park services had made a posting for no hang-gliding. After recent outing in Groveland, Florida, the trees, even without leaves, had been too dense to make flight of five feet. Across the ascent, we had crossed over creeks, streams and huge boulders. Florida had sand, Georgia boulders! Now on the trail, the terrain had composed of rocks and roots requiring attention care in passing over. The steep inclines up the mountain side had been challenging for my friend and me; however after about 2 hours we had arrived at Vogel Overlook. This view had peered down on Trahlyta Lake and most of Vogel State Park. At the summit, there had been a campsite of sorts with a log in the middle. With foliage still hearty, it had obstructed part of the sight. I had only imagined the grand scope of this view in fall or winter time. Then again the average temperature around those times had averaged around 30 F.

After coming down from Vogel Overlook, we had moved further up Blood Mountain toward the A.T. Though, the weather had started to change to thunder and an overcast sky with a potential of a downpour. We had been unprepared for this weather or an overnight trek. After some disappointment, we had decided to make the right choice, the smart choice and turn back. That choice had left open another chapter for an adventure solely pursuing the beginnings of the Appalachian Trail. During 2013, Vogel State Park and all its various options had provided one of the memorable interactions with nature. As managed lands, it had provided first hand testimony to natural beauty and majesty right around the corner in the southern United States.

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Read More:

vogeltrails

Vogel Trail Map (gastateparks.org)
Vogel State Park Hiking Trail (gastateparks.org)
Blood Mountain  (Wikipedia)

Appalachian Trail(Wikipedia)
Vogel State Park – Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites (gastateparks.org)
Vogel State Park (Wikipedia)

Alexander Springs – Ocala National Forest – Florida

Driving back through Ocala National Forest a few times this year, my eyes had fallen onto a sign for Alexander Springs. After a hitting few other springs this past weekend, I had decided to try following this sign onto a dirt road. After redirecting myself back onto a highway, I had found the entrance to Alexander Springs Recreation Area traveling down on  County Road 445. After arriving, I had scoped out the park taking a brief swim in the springs waters. What had intrigued me, the hiking options. Going onto the Timucuan Trail, the loop had gone into woods behind the main creek area. Some portions of the trail had been saturated with rain water coverting the dirt into thick mud. Mud aside, the only excitement had come from a few mosquitoes and seeing the tail end of a fleeing rattlesnake. Towards the end of this loop, the ground had been replaced by a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk had provided riverside access with two overlooks for the creek. Another reason for the pit stop had been to get a feel for the location for possible scuba lessons. One item that had caught my eye, the proximity to the Florida trail. The Florida Trail had pretty much run into Alexander Springs recreation area. The park had seemed like a good detour, if hiking thru.

Though carrying Florida State Park’s annual pass holder, this federally run park had still wanted their cut of my money! Be sure that you had stored an extra $10 somewhere for admission. Additionally, you had an option to buy a Ocala National Park annual pass for $60 at the gate. For reference that pass had covered Juniper Springs, Salt Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and Salt Springs to start. If you had been considering hiking in central Florida, might be worth a stop to swim.

Read More:
Alexander Springs (www.floridasprings.org)
Ocala National Forest – Alexander Springs – USDA Forest Service (www.fs.usda.gov)
Florida Trail (Wikipedia)
Timucuan Trail (www.fs.usda.gov)

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Georgia’s Highest Elevation Point – Brasstown Bald, Georgia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia had been one of the most unique experiences of this Labor Day 2013. It had been composed of three phases. The ascent, descent and the 4,783 foot summit. All three had unique characteristics. En route to northern edge of Georgia, I had seen the rolling valleys and mountains on the side of the highway. After spending a considerable portion of the year traveling Florida, the varied topology had been a welcome break. Getting to the last few miles of road, little had I known the importance of having a newly replaced fuel pump. For most of the drive, the climb had been a series of sharp winding roads with a strong incline. There had been portion of the final stretch almost requiring second gear on my vehicle. In contrast, I had seen a vehicle in my rear view mirror struggling to make the drive. With the thick mist and slick road, I had wondered how truly awful a mechanical breakdown could be. Whipping around every turn had been vehicles speedily heading to the base exit. I had thought, ”Someone hand out crazy in Georgia today?”

Once near the top, there had been a gate for paying admission and a place to park before going up the last portion of the summit. From this location, the park shuttle had been available for those wanting or needing assistance to the top. However, this had seemed a bit cheap for a hiking endeavor. Walking up the mountain through the winding paved trail, I had exited at summit facility. Much to my disappointment, heavy clouds had obstructed the multi-state view in every direction. Crestfallen, I had opted to watch a 30 minute film on Brasstown below the observatory. The film had been informative regarding the history, weather, and views of the mountain. One of the facts regarding the summit had been the climate’s similarity to that of New England. With the show over, I had been ready to leave the summit without any good pictures or video. During the 30 minute film, enough of the clouds had been whisked away revealing the surrounding Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountain ranges. The sight had been simply astounding. To describe the breath and scope of this view had almost been a disservice. What had made it more rewarding, the last minute sleight of hand by mother nature, God, good luck, or whatever you chose to believe in.

After taking some departing shots, I had a friend switch driving duties. The roads being narrow with steep incline had posted speed of 30 MPH. So I had chided my friend for driving too fast. In the passenger seat, I had wanted to be back in control.To his credit, he had been riding the breaks all the way down. Having some foresight I had replaced all the brakes on this vehicle right before the trip. However, I hadn’t been too confident swerving around the edge of disaster like Mr. Toad’s wild ride. All I had recalled seeing two roadside crosses on the way up, denoting two accident fatalities. The smell of the breaks overheating had started to drive me fracking nuts. Now I had discovered why the descending cars move dangerously down the mountain. The answer, there had been little choice.

So the summary, if you had been living at sea level all your life, what a great first experience to be on a real mountain. If you had wanted to see a stellar view, a great value for a few dollars. If you had needed a good thrill, well you get that too. Just make sure you had good set of brakes and a good fuel pump to feed gas to your engine.

Read More:

Brasstown Bald – Wikipedia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s Highest Mountain – USDA Forest Service

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