Friday, February 14, 2014
Hiking in Barr Hammock Preserve, Florida…
With a cold front pushing through our area soon we decided we had better get outside for some hiking before it hit our part of the state of Florida. I read that there was supposedly great hiking at the Barr Hammock Preserve. It was a short 20 minute drive east alongside Interstate 10 just west of Micanopy over to the preserve. The Barr Hammock Preserve is more than 5,700 acres of an expansive wetland area called the Levy Prairie.
The Levy Prairie Loop Trail is simply a long looping set of levees that ring this wetland prairie. The trailhead was located near the dirt parking lot and had a kiosk with trail maps.Actually a map may not have been necessary as there is only one trail… a 6.5 mile along the levees that circumnavigate the Levy Prairie. However, Sharon liked having a map to track our location and mileage. She also likes to wear her polar watch to track our calories burned. At the trailhead our initial choice was which way to go on the loop. We noted that going south would provide a lot of sun as there are very few bordering trees whereas the northern route offered shade via a woodland canopy.
We chose the southern route and started out with the sun beaming down on us on the 74 degree day, perfect for hiking! There was more brown than green in the expanse surrounding us as a freeze or two had knocked down the green stuff and given it a rustic brown hue… The trail was still a bit muddy from the earlier rains but it was nice as it exposed many of the tracks left behind by the residents. I was glad to have my camera and binoculars because there were lots of birds along this trail as the Yellow Rumped Warblers and American Pipets were easily seen all along the surface of the levees. The most notable sound this day was the musical cacophony of the large flocks of Sandhill Cranes overhead as they have begun gathering together preparing for their northern journey to their mating grounds.
The trail had a few benches along the way (drawn on the map) where hikers can sit and gaze out upon the prairie. In the wet prairie were several Sandhill Cranes, many Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons and Glossy Ibis. As we neared the edge of the woods we were often scorned by some Red Shouldered Hawks screaming a warning to us that this was their turf and telling us we should simply move along…
We walked nearly two miles before we finally spotted a smallish 5 or 6 foot American Alligator at the water’s edge. I was wondering if we would spot any of these beautiful beasts this far north especially with the temperatures a lot cooler here than in southern Florida. As we entered the more wooded part of the trail we saw a Blue Grey Gnatcatcher milling around the fruiting Red Maples full of bright red fruits. A thicket gave us our first glimpses of a pair of Common Yellowthroats as they flitted through the thick understory. Their brilliant yellow throats contrasted with their vibrant black “Zorro” style masks.
After about 4.5 miles we came upon something that startled us… a really, really large alligator sunning on the trail. Now this guy had to be at least 10 feet in length and he/she was sunning with its head up and mouth slightly opened. There was no more than about 6 to 8 feet of usable trail behind the big tail that we would have to navigate to get around this beast! With only 2 miles left and 4.5 if we had to turn around I was determined to get past it. I chose to pick up some sticks and toss them in the alligator’s proximity hoping to spook it back into the water below. After 10 or 15 sticks being tossed and even after one that bounced and nudged it the gator simply wouldn’t budge….
With only a few sizable sticks left and after making tons of loud noises by clapping I threw the last few sticks. Another bounced on the ground and nudged the very end of its tail when at last it sprang forward and launched itself into the open water below with a thunderous splash… As we both calmed down we were happy that we were now able to go the shorter route to complete the trail. We were cautious keeping our eyes pealed for other gators but we saw only one more gator as it was making its way into the water well off the trail.
After we finished this great hike we laughed about the prospect that if that alligator we had encountered near the end wouldn’t have budged we would have had to walk completely back the other direction making this already longish hike of 6.5 miles more than 10 miles… Yikes! Lucky for us this wasn’t the case and we happily had a great hike with a little adventure thrown in…
Today we head about 75 miles further northwest to Suwannee River Rendezvous Resort where we scored an $89 weekly rate from the Tampa RV Show.