Friday, April 28, 2017

Deep Hole, Myakka River State Park, Florida, April 25, 2017

Distance: 4.6 miles (RT)

Trailhead: Myakka River State Park is located at 13208 State Road 72, Sarasota, Florida. The park charges a $6 per vehicle fee to enter. A permit must be obtained in order to visit the Deep Hole (it's free but donations are encouraged). The park limits the number of permits issued each day so get there early. The trail begins at the end of Lower Lake Court, which is less than a mile down State Road 72. (I've included a map at the end of this report.)

Hiked with Lindsey today. We were both dying to see Deep Hole and took advantage of the clear day and mild temps to visit Myakka State Park.

Our plan was to visit Deep Hole and then hike another loop within the park - to make a total of 8-10 miles of hiking. 

At the visitor center we got our permit, directions to the trailhead and gate combination.  The park expects us to return this permit to them when we're done. At the end of the day rangers check to make sure everyone has returned safely from this area. 

We got back into the car, drove out of the park and turned left onto Lower Lake Court. Signs direct you to parking.

Trail starts on this road.

Gate needs a combination to open.

 Follow signs to parking.

We parked the car and walked past the trailhead gate, down an old road heading toward the trees. Portions of the old road are sandy, not our favorite terrain but we were able to walk on the grassy portions.

Some shade here and there.

There's a path on the left in the treed area that goes to Lower Myakka Lake.

Lower Myakka Lake is left of this sign.

The ranger issuing our permit said she sometimes walks along the shore of the lake to get to Deep Hole (instead of walking the traditional route). 

Lower Myakka Lake.

We tried going that way but couldn't find a path to get from the lake over to Deep Hole and wound up walking back to the sign.  So unless you are more adventurous, stay right when you see the sign for Deep Hole and bypass the lake altogether.

Trees gave way to a clearing.  The path becomes grassy and veers to the left. Deep Hole and its residents are visible from here. There were a few people already there taking pictures.

Head left once out of the trees.

The water is low.  The right side of the hole is completely dry (the birds love that area).

Deep Hole.

At first they looked like a bunch of logs.

It was like I was sneaking up on a secret meeting of the Loyal Order of Gators. Several hikers arrived and stood behind us and we all just stared, no one spoke.

(Photo by Lindsey)

There had to be 50 alligators on the shore and in the water.  Most didn't move, a few swam lazily, and I did see one dive quickly like it caught a fish. The shoreline was strewn with empty mussel shells.

We got within seven feet of a few of the gators - no closer; this is their home after all and we didn't want to encourage aggressive behavior!

(Photo by Lindsey)

We tried to walk along the right side of the water to explore, and get some photos from a different perspective until we realized something was very much in our way! Scrap THAT plan.

This guy came between us and the other side (Photo by Lindsey).

There are LOTS of birds. Birds have an unusual relationship with alligators.  I read where they'll stick close to a gator to ward off predators, and I've heard that alligators eat birds only occasionally, usually if they are injured or sick (too much work to try to grab a healthy one).

Roseate Spoonbill. (Photo by Lindsey)

We decided to walk along the left side of the water instead but the path was very close - too close to Mr. Smiley here (pictured below). Fortunately two burly men had the same idea. We let them lead and soon the gator moved away from the trail and retreated into the water, watching us.

(Photo by Lindsey)

For some reason I got it into my head that if we went too far around the pond, Mr. Smiley would return, crawl on shore and onto the path behind us, impeding our return. We turned around.

When we'd seen enough (Lindsey got some great photos), we headed back to the car. We re-entered the park, dropped off our permit, and drove way down Park Drive to the Mossy Hammock Campground trailhead.  A permit is not required to hike the other trails in the park.

Pigmy rattler, with attitude!  (Photo by Miriam)

Mossy Hammock's trail in is primarily under cover, lush woods with a rooty path. We hiked to the campground and back, adding 5.2 miles to the day - a total of 10ish miles.

Deep Hole is lower left on the map; Mossy Hammock is upper right.

We both agreed that we would do these hikes again. It was amazing to to see the gators, and the cover of the Mossy Hammock trail provides a comfortable hiking experience.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cypress Flood Plain River Hike at Richloam, Webster, Florida, 4/13/2017

Cypress Flood Plain River Hike at Richloam, Withlacoochee State Forest, Webster, Florida, April 13, 2017

Distance: 11ish miles (lollipop)

Trailhead: Hike begins at the Richloam fire tower at 38294 Richloam Clay Sink Road, Webster, FL.  (I've included a rough map at the end of this report). 

This is one of my favorite area hikes!  A beautiful forest turns into the mysterious and forgotten - you'll feel like you've gone back in time and discovered a deep, isolated part of the world within the cypress flood plain.

Hiked with the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association today. We parked at the fire tower and headed back up Richloam Clay Sink Road (left out of the parking lot) a hundred yards or so before ducking left into the woods and onto the trail.

The group parked in the fire tower lot.

On Richloam Clay Sink Rd - trail ducks in just before the next intersection.

The path is blue blazed and connects to the Florida Trail, which has orange blazes.  The side trail that leads from the Florida trail to the river is also blue blazed. All trails are well marked.  

We went south - a new sign was installed in 2018.

Extremely dry forests and more than a few wildfires have been plaguing the state but this area is unaffected so far.

Keep south. From here on the blazes should be orange.

It's serene as we passed through thick woods, and fields of tall pines. One of the dirt road crossings requires a left turn and short walk to the continuation of the trail (noted by a double blaze prior to reaching the road).

There are several road crossings (see map).

No, you shouldn't bring your tractor on this hike!

The trail is well maintained and crosses several bridges.

A well-built bridge over a dry stream bed.

Another road! It's obvious where the trail continues, though.

Our plan was to enter the "lollipop" portion of the route from the south, making a small clockwise loop.  We walked by the first sign to the trail pictured below (this is the north entrance). We will return from the river to this sign.

North entrance to the river - we went straight (clockwise loop).

Side trail to a primitive campsite.
Picnic table and fire ring at the site.

Five miles went fast! We took the south entrance of the "Scenic Low Water River Trail." Note: this sign may be facing south, so you may be approaching the back of the sign.

This is the south entrance to the river, we went here.

The scenery changes as you get closer to the river. The sun went behind a cloud, muting the already shadowed surroundings. 

The group entering the enchanted forest.

We were in a cypress flood plain, lush and eerie.  Several watermarks remain on the trees, a field of large multi-shaded trunks. 

Like sentinels guarding the river (photo by Howard).

Two watermarks, one over 4', are shown here.

The woods are hushed as we got out our phones to take photos.  Though the trail is dry, it wouldn't take much rainfall to muddy up the plain.  To think the only way around here in high water is by boat - we'd be up to our chests in water.  We so often forget how powerful our weather can be!

We made our way to the edge of the Withlacoochee River where we had lunch and watched things in the river float by.  It's a peaceful spot (the river is quite low).

At the river.

To complete the lollipop portion of the hike the group headed right (as you face the river) and following the river (and the blue blazes) back to the Florida Trail, where we took a left and backtracked back to the cars.

We followed the river for a bit on our way back.

Back to that north entrance trail.

We got back to the cars before 2 p.m. and headed home.  

This hike wowed me - definitely worth the miles. 

I'd go back again just to see those dark giants looming over a silent wood.

Map with the route highlighted.

Our track.