Day 3 of the Panhandle Trace Hike
Yesterday, while being shuttled back to camp, we drove through an area that was still burning. The forest was black and charred, filled with thick smoke. As we drove past, we watched for small flames still brightly burning. Our first thought was why would the forest service do a prescribed burn now, knowing that the local Florida Trail Association chapter was leading a hike along this area with people from all over the state?
Weirdly enough, they did. But that wasn’t the only fire in the neighborhood. Since Florida State Forests were burning their land, a local farmer decided to join in and burn his field. It got out of control and scorched the route of tomorrow’s hike, the southern portion of the Jackson Red Ground Trail. Worse, it burned one of the few AT-style shelters along the Florida Trail to the ground.
Not wanting to breathe in smoke all morning while walking, Sandy and I had our own plan. We would start hiking where the shuttle vehicles were left and hike back into the campground, doing part of tomorrow’s hike for most of our group. As they drove north, we headed south along Juniper Creek, with a touch of smoke in the air.
It wasn’t long before we took a side trail to the bluff over looking the creek. And I do mean ‘Bluff’! These beautiful red clay walls dropped sharply some eighty feet to the bottom. We had to be careful not to stand to close to the undercut edges of these eroded cliffs. This spot on the Florida Trail would be the highlight of the trip for me: I never imagined that I’d see anything like this along the Florida Trail!
We descended slowly to the creeks edge, walking past gigantic Atlantic White Cedar trees, some so large that I couldn’t reach halfway around them. The trail climbed up and down, through and along ancient bluffs from the creek’s side channels created by many generations of flooding. The trail dropped down to snow white beaches that would blind you when the the sun glittered off them, and circled around gum swamps in old oxbows of the creek.
After stopping at a very large sandy beach for the view we came to a shelter for a snack where we came across Trudy and Martina, two fellow hikers in our group. They’d decided to skip the smoky part of the hike, too.
We separated again while stopping to admire the amazing domed spider webs. With the shrubs all covered with dew, it was easy to see the intricate designs of these unusual webs. They reminded me of geodesic dome buildings. I may not remember all of my insects from earning and then teaching the Insect Merit Badge at summer camp decades ago. But I’m sure that I would have recalled if I had ever seen webs like these before.
Climbing away from the creek and into the pine forests, we met Peggy and the ladies stopping for a water break at Peggy’s van along Indian Ford Road. We could see an old house, all tumbling down, just before slipping back into the woods and on the trail.
Soon we were hiking through a recently burned area. The only green that we saw were young tufts of wiregrass emerging from the destruction, and the still-green titi bogs with their long bog bridges. Each of which led us back into the burnt forest.
Knowing that this was once a pine plantation, I began my customary search for clay turpentine pots. They were used to collect the sap to be boiled down into turpentine. Remembering the catface scars on the trees of my youth, I have started watching for these clay containers. I’ve rarely had the chance to see a nearly unbroken one. Most of the time, all that’s left are just small bits and pieces. Today, finding the remains squared off clay turpentine pots was an unexpected surprise. I had never before see anything but round ones.
As we approached Blackwater River State Park, we started noticing a barbed wire fence. It separated the State Park land from the State Forest land. Thank goodness that it – and the “No trespassing” signs – were there to keep the forest and park from becoming intermixed. Sandy snapped a picture of me trespassing on the wrong side of the fence, which was the RIGHT side of the fence for me, as I was on the Florida Trail. A simple “No Hunting” sign would do.
Apparently, the fence had a dual purpose. It could also deter some hikers from passing between state-owned lands. Not only was the opening much too narrow for anyone but a child to pass through, but the barbs had been left where they were wrapped around the post, making it like a vertical game of limbo, providing pain if you didn’t make it cleanly through. We decided to crawl under the gate instead.
Today’s hike ended inside the state park, along the Blackwater River, at a picnic area with restrooms. We caught a short ride back to camp with Peggy. It was time to move Primrose to our next campsite in the park!