Sunday, February 18, 2018

Alston Tract, Upper Hillsborough Preserve, Zephyrhills, Florida, February 6, 2018

Alton Tract, Zephyrhills, FL, 2/6/18

Mileage:  11.6 miles (Loop)

Trailhead: The trailhead is located at 42144 Deems Road, Zephyrhills.  My Garmin (and Google maps) got me there no problem. The trail is just beyond Mosaic Company's facility. 

Hiked with Lindsey and Daisy today. Alston Tract has dozens of geocache* locations so we figured if our hike wound up being one big dirt road walk we could still get excited over finding caches.  And that' s exactly how the day went.  

The Alston Tract's hiking trails are nothing more than a series of roads within a labyrinth of other old roads.  (For more information on this tract, visit Southwest Florida Water Management District's web page)

Things to note:
 - We were in the sun for most of the hike.
 - Parts of these trails can be under water (just puddles today).
 - The map has numbers that match small signs posted at trail junctions, making for easy navigation BUT more than once we found ourselves at a junction with many road options and had to guess the way. 
 - We had no idea of distance from one point to the next and didn't intend to do over 11 miles today, but it's easy to make up time and distance on flat road.

We arrived at the trailhead/picnic area around 9:15 and grabbed a map from the kiosk.

Parking lot/picnic area.

Daisy sprinted ahead as we passed piles of lime rock and cows grazing.

Soon we got to marker #2, which marks the beginning of the loops. Here we chose to head north to #6, then #7, up to #12 where we found several caches not far off the trail.

 Following the map up the perimeter was easy as we checked off geocache sites.

Found a cache.

Daisy leads the way!

Number 11 is very close to 7 (see map below).  

We arrived at marker #12, where we poked around for a few more geocaches, then headed for junction number 13.

We arrived at junction 13 - the top of the map - and turned right.

At #13.

The road continues and a few minutes later there's a right turn.  There's also a road straight ahead.  The sign indicates we turn right (which we did) but we were only somewhat sure that was the way. 

The road straight ahead has a fence, we assumed marking a boundary.

The rest of the hike is in open field, as seen by the photo below. Pressed for time but still confident we could complete the loop quickly, we continued our moderate pace.

Lindsey and Daisy in front of the trail we took.

We were going the right way (small arrow sign in the distance).

There are small paths and other roads along the way and it's a ways between markers 13 and 10 so we were relieved when we reached #10.

At marker #4, we were confident that we were almost done. #4 marks a three way junction and the map appears to be indicating the quickest way to #3 (and back to the parking lot) is to go left, which we did.

We went left here. 

We found a nano cache here!

Turns out that's not the quickest way, in fact going left put us on the wide loop, a much longer way.  A sign would have helped, something like "this way to parking lot."

Rather than turn around once we realized we were headed away from (and not toward) our cars, we picked up the pace and completed the long easterly loop that (eventually) took us to #3.  

A few puddles were around.

Just before marker #3 we hit a boundary and a very interesting clearing.

At marker #2 we went left, completing our clockwise circle and heading back to our cars.

Back at #2, the beginning.

The junction.
High water gauge.

We got back to the car around 2:15 and headed out.  Not a lot for cool things to see on this hike but searching for the geocaches made it fun and interesting. 

Our route.

Route shown here in yellow.

*There are several geocache apps for your phone, complete with locations and tracking. We used the information on Lindsey's phone and a handheld GPS.