Nature Walks – Loop d’loop
Today was another opportunity to explore Central Florida a bit further. I started off by driving south to Ponce de Leon Springs State Park. The park was a popular roadside attraction in the 1950’s. There is a huge fresh water springs that dumps into a big lake. Folks can swim in the springs which is 72 degrees F year round. There is also a tiny restaurant called the Sugar Mill which serves breakfast, with a snack bar outside if you want burgers, dogs or soft drinks. A tour boat makes three trips daily around a large nearby brackish lake. And there is a nice paved .5 mile natural trail. I actually came to the park to hike the longer Persimmon Trail (4.6 miles) but it was still closed today due to downed trees and flooding. So…. I wandered around a bit, took in the sights and decided to continue on my way. The weather was quite foggy and not good for taking photos out on the water; I will go back and take the lake tour when the weather is a bit more sunny.
I decided on a second option — to drive north on Hwy 17, back to Melaka Forest and do the walk to John’s Landing. Since it was slightly cooler today, it would be a good day for a four-mile hike. Following SR 17 to Crescent City, I stopped in this old town to walk around and look at Crescent Lake. It’s a pretty large lake which drains into the St. John’s River, a brackish body of water that empties into the Atlantic at Jacksonville.
Next I drove County Road 308 to CR 309 and the trailhead, near the boundary of the Forest. I started out on the Nature Trail which soon intersected the main trail coming from the north. Then I walked out to the first primitive campsite at Orange Point, located on the shores of the St. John River. The river is huge at this point and is called Little Lake George. I wasn’t particularly taken with the campsite… it is indeed primitive, having only a solitary picnic table and no “facilities”. BTW, the forest has plenty of blueberries but they were too sour to eat… although I noted the occasional evidence that the bears like them.
Melaka State Forest is a “working” forest, with multiple use trails, hiking / biking trails and specified trails for horses. Some of the forest lanes can be driven at specific times. I encountered one vehicle just as I was leaving the forest later on.
I continued on to John’s Landing, which is a much nicer campsite, complete with a metal fire ring and table. The views of the river were better from this site, as well. The trees in this vicinity grow right up to the banks, making it hard to see up and down the waterway. There was an eagle chortling in the trees above my head and a lone raccoon ambled along the edge of the camp much to my delight. Knowing that black bear and raccoons frequent the area, any campers would be wise to bring some rope to hang their food overnight, a practice learned from my backpacking days.
The next stage followed some forest lanes in a broad loop to return to the car. Along the way I ran into some local residents, namely a hawk, a large gopher tortoise and two deer, quite a crowd! I soon finished the four mile hike and felt like I had accomplished something for the day. The only humans I saw along the way were one couple with their dog and a lone bicyclist traveling along one of the lanes.
I sat at the picnic table at John’s Landing for a long while soaking in the pure silence of the place, punctuated occasionally by nature sounds of birds and the odd boat on the river in the distance. There was no road noise or babble of human voices. It was wonderful!
In times such as these, it is a healthy thing to get out into Nature any way you can. My life-long joy has been to walk / hike and I will continue on, a bit slower than I used to be, until I can walk no longer.
Blessings to all,
All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com
Photo Credits: De Leon Springs State Park, Crescent City and Welaka State Forest.