The Walking Posts

The posts labeled with the little “Truckin’ ” man are from my Walking Journal, which I've been keeping since January 1, 2012. What began as a simple New Year's Resolution to exercise more quickly morphed into a hiking addiction. Below are some running totals.

  MILES TIME CALORIES
February 2018 13.70 6h 29m 1984
Year-to-Date 79.57 33h 39m 10822
February Avg. 22.61 9h 38m 2452

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

Posted By on February 19, 2018

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

6 miles; Franklin County, FL

St. Vincent NWR is an entire 12-mile-long island off the coast of the Florida Panhandle. This was not the only hike I’ve ever needed a boat to get to (Block Island being the other), but this trip was a heck of a lot quicker. This National Wildlife Refuge is home to all sorts of wildlife I didn’t get t see, including endangered Red Wolves and Sambal Deer. And probably alligators. I’m to the point now where I both really want to see one and really, really don’t want to see one. This results in my walking by marshes and swamps very quickly doing the “side eye” thing.

St. Vincent Shuttle

St. Vincent Shuttle

It’s not a long ride—that’s St. Vincent in the background. At 8:45 a.m., I was shuttled over, along with a family of 4, and told to be back at the dock no later than noon or I’d have to spend the night. I think he was kidding.

Dew-bedecked Spider Web

Dew-bedecked Spider Web

The island of St. Vincent is about 12 miles long by 4 or 5 miles wide at its widest point, and is, as is usual for forests in Florida, criss-crossed with logging roads. I am told there is about 80-90 miles worth of roads/trails on the island. I got to about 3 and had to turn around. I think, without a private boat or kayak, the best way to see this place would be with a mountain bike.

Typical Panhandle Woodland

Typical Panhandle Woodland

It is a typical Florida park, in that the National Wildlife Service does periodic burns to keep the underbrush at bay and encourage pine seed that needs fire to germinate. As a result, there are the usual tall longleaf pines with the usual saw palmetto underbrush.

Road 1

Road 1

I made my first mistake by heading out Road 0, which, eventually, took a hard left into a swamp. No, nope, n’uh uh, not me, not traversing a swamp on a wildlife refuge. So I had to backtrack to where Road 1 crossed, and then took that to the beach.

Bubbles

Bubbles

There’s something magical about being the only human in sight on a 12-mile-long beach. It’s amazing.

Hiking Companions

Hiking Companions

That’s not to say I was all alone. This little flock of willets hiked along with me for probably half a mile.

Road B

Road B

After following the beach for a mile, I turned back inland on Road 2. The numbered roads are approximately 1 mile apart, and except for Road 0, cross the island from north-ish to south-ish. I eventually came to Road B (the lettered roads cross the island lengthwise, perpendicular to the numbered roads), and took Road B back to the dock. It was pretty much straight and boring. Not all the roads on the island are like this. Road 0, for example, is basically just a firebreak, and not very heavily travelled.

Four-Petal St. John’s Wort, Hypericum tetrapetalum

As I travelled Road B, I noticed this pretty yellow wildflower. “Hm,” I thought to myself. “That looks like St. John’s Wort, but St. John’s Wort has 5 petals, so it can’t be.” Wrong again. It’s 4-petalled St. John’s Wort, and is only found in a few counties on the Florida Panhandle.

You can find out more about St. Vincent NWR here, at the Federal Wildlife Service website. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

Port City Trail in Two Parts

Posted By on February 14, 2018

Port City Trail in Two Parts

8.55 miles; Port St. Joe, FL

I walked this urban trail in two parts, the first on January 21st (2.31 miles) and the second part on February 14th (6.24 miles).

Part 1, Port St. Joe Marina to the Cecil G. Costin Sr. Boulevard trailhead—Another adventure in urban hiking, this 4-mile trail runs through Port St. Joe, using some city sidewalks, but mostly as a paved bike/pedestrian path. I did a bit of it today, just to get some walking in before the Patriots game. Some nice views of St. Joseph Bay.

Start of the Bay Walk

Start of the Bay Walk

The trail is divided into 8 sections, for some reason. On January 21st I walked from the Port St. Joe Marina in the lower left-hand corner of the map on the Bay Walk, then followed the Pelican Walk (which is the sidewalk beside Cecil G. Costin Sr. Boulevard) and back again.

Bay View

Bay View

Cape San Blas Lighthouse

Cape San Blas Lighthouse

This is by far the prettiest segment of the Port City Trail, with sweeping views of St. Joseph Bay and the picturesque park surrounding the Cape San Blas Lighthouse.

Costin Blvd. Trailhead Sign

Costin Blvd. Trailhead Sign

I finished this segment at the Cecil G. Costin Sr. Boulevard trailhead, which is where I picked it up on February 14th…

Part 2, Cecil G. Costin Sr. Boulevard trailhead to Gulf Coast Community College—I can at least say I finished this. It was really nice in parts and pretty boring in other parts. The part of the trail from this trailhead to Buck Griffin Lake is called the Sandpiper Run, and it’s ostensibly 3/4s of a mile long. I say ostensibly because my mileage for this whole trail was more than the 8 miles it should have been for an “out-and-back.” Whatever. 

Blue Spiderwort with Pollinator

Blue Spiderwort with Pollinator

Hikes with Bathrooms, A Continuing Series

Hikes with Bathrooms, A Continuing Series

It runs past 2 urban playgrounds/parks/sports complexes and has convenient bathrooms open 24/7/365. Sweet!

Canal

Canal

The trail crosses this canal several times on nice wooden bridges. I didn’t see any alligators, but…

Ominous Signage

Ominous Signage

Of course I did see this sign just before coming to the Cormorant Loop that goes around the lake. I’m actually beginning to feel a little cheated, what with the abundance of warning signs about bears and alligators and never getting to see any.

St. Joe Sharks Water Tower

St. Joe Sharks Water Tower

The next little 1-mile section took me through a nicely wooded area. It was called the Osprey Loop, and was quickly followed by the Eagle Loop (I skipped Egret Lane… this time. I might go back). Eagle Loop goes by the entire Port St. Joe School system I think. There were several schools and then the High School.

Um, what?

Um, what?

I will say I was a bit disturbed by this sign. I mean, I get that the school mascot is a shark, but Blood Trail? Seriously?

Gelsemium rankinii, Swamp Jasmine

The final section of the trail was called Heron Run and it was basically a long straight walk. Kind of meh. But on the way back I noticed this lovely yellow flower. Turns out to be a kind of scary thing. This is from the website of the Florida Native Plant Society:

Members of this genus are HIGHLY TOXIC and a single flower may be fatal if ingested. The toxin acts much like strychnine by blocking muscle activity, and symptoms are similar to tetanus. The flower nectar is also toxic to bees and honey derived from the flowers has been implicated in human deaths. Medicinal uses are ill-advised but it has been used to treat measles, muscular rheumatism, tonsilitis, and headaches. In Asia, Gelsemium elegans has been used to commit murder and suicide.

Ack! Glad I didn’t take a nice long sniff!

You can find out all about the Port City Trail from the City of St. Joe website. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track(s).

Cape San Blas Beach Walk with Company

Posted By on February 8, 2018

Cape San Blas Beach Walk with Company

4.45 miles; Port St. Joe, FL

Some friends came down to Florida to stay with us, and this morning we went for a long beach walk. So interesting! There was a big storm last night, and lots of stuff washed up on the beach, including tons of jellyfish and something called “sea pork.”

Crop Circles in the Sky

Crop Circles in the Sky

My friend asked me what the “crop circles in the sky” were, and I told her I figured they were F-22 fighter jet contrails from Tyndall Air Force Base, which is not quite 30 miles further down the coast from us. We later heard them going overhead.

Not Exactly Hiking Gear

Not Exactly Hiking Gear

This was a casual stroll, as opposed to my usual forced march on the beach, so I wore my sandals instead of my hiking boots. They were fine.

Moon Snail Egg Collar

I have been seeing these things for a while, ever since I got here actually. They aren’t hard at all, in fact, they’re easily crumbled—they seem to be made of hardened sand. E and I were both quite curious as to what they could be, and so naturally I had my Blog Director of Research, Dr. Harold P. Google, look into it. Turns out they are indeed made of sand held together with snail spit. They are the remains of the egg cases of the Moon Snail, which… oh, let’s go to the experts:

The unusual shape of the egg collar results from the extruded mixture being moulded between the propodium and the shell before it sets into its final sand/jelly state (middle drawing below).  The extrusion and moulding take place under the sand, commence at the start of flood tide, and take 10-14h.

Anyhoo, see the link for more info. Pretty interesting right? Well hold on to your hats…

Sea Pork

Sea Pork

This is called Sea Pork. It’s kind of rubbery but not slimy. And big! It was at least 15″ long. We were COMPLETELY baffled by it. Take it away, Dr. Google:

Each blob or globule is a tunicate: an invertebrate animal that can be one individual or a collection of individuals that reproduce to form colonies measuring an inch or more in height. The larvae look a bit like tadpoles until they join to create the colonies, living in water-filled sac-like structures that are rubbery or cartilaginous to the touch.

Yup. This was one huge colony of small animals, or zooids.

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

We also saw many, many jellyfish washed up on the beach. They were all sizes and shapes. I thought this one was interesting because of the radial “spokes.”

Where I Play Angry Birds

Where I Play Angry Birds

All sorts of sea birds congregate on the point of the cape, and just because I am perverse, I like to walk all the way to the end. It’s amusing to see how long they all take to vacate. And the cacophony! If I understood bird language, I bet I’d be pretty appalled. Today we saw pelicans, terns, willets, ruddy turnstones, laughing gulls, ring-billed gulls, one black skimmer and what we thought might be hooded merganser ducks. Most exciting were the bald eagles… we saw three of those. And many more that we couldn’t identify. Oh! And did I mention there was a pod of dolphins just offshore? What a great day on the beach!

Eroded Beach

Eroded Beach

We also got around the point to visit the eroded beach on the east shore of the peninsula. It’s an eerie sight to see stumps in the water by the beach.

Lighthouse Footings

Lighthouse Footings

There used to be a lighthouse on this shore, too, but as you can see there isn’t much left here.

Not putting up a map of this hike, since it’s a little too close to “home.” But you can read about Cape San Blas here.

Florida Trail—Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring

Posted By on January 30, 2018

Florida Trail—Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring

6.8 miles; Carrabelle, FL

This was an awesome hike… for about 1/2 of the total distance. It was on the vast St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, and as I’ve mentioned before, Florida parks and state forests are all criss-crossed with old logging roads. About half of this hike was on said roads. Not bad walking, just boring, compared with the rest. But the rest…! Oh my.

Some Unlooked-for Foliage Color

Some Unlooked-for Foliage Color

The Florida Trail itself is a 1300-mile National Scenic Trail, one of only 11 long-distance hiking trails so designated by the Federal government. It runs from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola on the panhandle to Big Cypress National Preserve between Miami and Naples. I’ve actually hiked a bit on it once before. This was a short section that included two really lovely spots: Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring.

Orange Blaze of the FT

Orange Blaze of the FT

The Florida Trail itself is very well-blazed with bright orange blazes. The rest of this hike was ostensibly blue-blazed, but I saw exactly 2 blue blazes. Not to worry, it’s pretty easy to follow anyway.

It was a lollipop loop hike, and I chose to do the boring parts first, which included about 1-1/4 miles of “lollipop stick” and another about 1-1/4 miles of logging road. The road brushes right up against the wildlife refuge boundary, and right on the other side of the boundary I counted probably 3 or 4 deer stands. Despite that I managed to startle a deer. You’d figure they’d be wary of the road by now.

Cathedral of Palms

Cathedral of Palms

At the far end of this portion of the hike (walking the loop clockwise), you make a right-turn into the woods and onto the orange-blazed FT, and maybe about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from there you enter the Cathedral of Palms. This is a habitat known as a coastal palm hammock and the cabbage palms in here are massive and very dense. It’s a remarkable experience. Watch your footing, though. It’s pretty muddy through here.

Helpful Bench was Helpful

Helpful Bench was Helpful

The other attraction of this hike was Shepherd Spring. From my research, I knew the spring was not directly on the trail, and I was nervous about missing the spur trail. I needn’t have been—it turned out to be kind of hard to miss. I also had no idea what to expect. My experiences of springs involve pipes coming out of the sides of hills, or trickles down rocks.

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Imagine my surprise when I ambled down a long boardwalk to see this. I am told by the good people at FloridaHikes that this is a third magnitude spring. I am told by Dr. Google that there are 8 magnitudes of springs, and that the magnitudes are so designated by the volume of water that comes out, with 1 being the highest magnitude to 8 being barely a trickle.

This 3rd magnitude spring-fed pond/lake was quite large and absolutely clear. It’s kind of hard to see in the photos, but trust me, you could see all the way to the bottom. It was also one of the most peaceful and enchanting spots I’ve ever hiked to. I hardly wanted to leave. There were benches. And butterflies. Sigh.

Wakulla Field Campsite

Wakulla Field Campsite

A minor attraction on this hike is a designated campsite for backpackers. When they said it was a field, I imagined what I think of as a field—you know, like, several acres. Nope, this was more a small clearing in the woods to my mind. Oh, and watch for the blue blaze that designates the spur trail that leads to this. Yes, another blue blaze. Just the one.

The remainder of this loop took me through what any New Englander would recognize as “The Woods.” Deciduous hardwoods, pines, broadleaf evergreens, and a dirt path. Then, just before rejoining the logging road, the environment changed again, and looked a lot like the hike I did at Wright Lake in Tate’s Hell State Forest—lots of longleaf pines with an understory of saw palmetto. So it was a kind of fascinating tour of various habitats in coastal Northern Florida.

Read about this section of the Florida Trail on the FloridaHikes website (although they start their hike from the other end of the logging road). As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve

Posted By on January 29, 2018

St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve

8.9 miles; Port St. Joe, FL

This is the main preserve, as opposed to the smaller part I did earlier this month. This is a really large area. I could easily have done another 3 or 4 miles through here. And it was very cool—so many tracks: deer, possums, raccoons, coyotes…even pigs! 

The Trail

The Trail

This whole preserve is criss-crossed with these old logging roads and that’s what the “trails” were all like. Fortunately they weren’t super sandy, so the walking was pretty easy. As you will see, the day started out kind of cloudy and gray, but the sun did eventually come out.

Tiny White Violet

Tiny White Violet

This was something I never expected to see here… a tiny white violet in bloom. This is, I believe, lance-leaved violet, Viola lanceolata. I don’t think it’s even officially its bloom season, but there it was.

Good Signage

Good Signage

All the trails/roads through here are marked like this at their intersections, so getting around was pretty easy, once you got hold of a map (more on this later).

Recent Burn

Recent Burn

I wanted to walk here the day I walked the Wilderness Trail in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, but when I got to the parking area there was a sign that a Prescribed Burn was underway and DO NOT ENTER. Mmm-kay. And here is part of the area burned. More on prescribed fire from the Florida Department of Agriculture:

Prescribed fire is one of the most versatile and cost-effective tools land managers use. Prescribed fire is used to reduce hazardous fuel buildups, thus providing increased protection to people, their homes and the forest. Other uses include disease control in young pines, wildlife habitat improvement, range management, preservation of endangered plant and animal species and the maintenance of fire-dependent ecosystems.

The Florida Forest Service through the Forest Protection Bureau oversees one of the most active prescribed fire programs in the country. In an average year the Florida Forest Service will issue approximately 88,000 authorizations allowing landowners and agencies to prescribe burn an average of over 2.1 million acres each year.

Interestingly, it was really only a very small area that was charred like this.

Moar Signage

Moar Signage

You can’t read that sign in this photo, but it says “Bear Research Site—Please Do Not Disturb.” Hey, NO PROBLEM. I will NOT DISTURB BEARS WHILE THEY ARE DOING RESEARCH! OR FOR ANY REASON AT ALL. EVER.

Coyote Tracks

Coyote Tracks

Feral Pig/Hog Tracks

Feral Pig/Hog Tracks

Many, Many More Feral Pig/Hog Tracks

Many, Many More Feral Pig/Hog Tracks and Some Possum

While the roads weren’t so sandy that it made walking difficult, they still retained TONS of animal tracks. I back-followed a coyote trail for miles. Just the one guy going someplace apparently important to him/her. And what I first thought were a lot of deer tracks, on closer inspection, turned out to be feral pigs/hogs. Which are literally pigs brought here by the Spaniards in the 1500s and/or European wild boar brought here as game animals in the 17-1800s and/or hybrids of the two animals. The only “pig” species that is native to the Americas is the javalina. Which is not actually a pig at all, but a totally different kind of mammal. Or so my research assistant, Dr. Harry J. Google, tells me.

He also informs me the only 4 people have been killed by wild hogs in the US since the 1800s.

Now about that map… I searched for what seemed like days online for a map of this preserve. I knew it was big, and I knew it had hiking trails on it, but apparently the map was a MAJOR SECRET or something. Finally got a paper copy when I pulled in to the parking area—they had them in holders on the kiosk. Once I got home I scanned it using my cheap portable scanner that I brought with me, so please excuse the white lines. But as you can see, there are many miles of road/trail. In fact, I had planned to go back to my car on Dogleg Road (I believe its name is unfortunately under one of the white lines). Just as I was about to make the turn to head that way, a nice lady came up behind me and we got to talking and she asked if I had planned to go back via Dogleg Road. When I said I was she said, “Oh, don’t go that way, Dogleg’ll drown ya. It’s ALWAYS underwater. Here, follow me.” And she showed me a shortcut that wasn’t on the map and that wasn’t, also, underwater. I didn’t see anyone else the whole time, and she quickly disappeared ahead of me after showing me the shortcut. It was a miracle, I tell ya. The Miracle of Dogleg Road.

You can find out more about the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve on their “Friends of” page. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

St. Joseph Peninsula SP Wilderness Trail

Posted By on January 25, 2018

St. Joseph Peninsula SP Wilderness Trail

7.93 miles; Port St. Joe, FL

Eight miles hiked, and I didn’t even get to finish. The entire out-and-back trail is 8 miles one way. I got to about the 4-mile mark, and while I felt as though I could keep going, I also knew I was going to regret doing even this much in this thick, soft sugar-sand, never mind the entire 16 miles. I was correct. This one HURT.

Sign at the Trail Head

Sign at the Trail Head

Okay, Florida, I get it. Besides tortuous trails of deep soft beach sand, you have a lot of things out there that want to eat me. Fine.

The Trail

The Trail

I hiked in this State Park once before, but it was just a small, short Nature Trail. On that trip, which was almost exactly 4 years ago to the day, I managed a whole almost 3 miles. To access this much longer Wilderness Trail, you have to request a special permit from the Ranger Station at the park entrance.

Yup. 'Shrooms.

Yup. ‘Shrooms.

There were a lot of mushrooms out here. I saw at least 5 different kinds, including this funky black thing. They’re small, and from standing height they look like bits of tar or asphalt scattered on the trail.

Primitive Campsite

Primitive Campsite

There are 7 primitive campsites off of this trail. And they make the ones on St. George’s Island look positively luxurious! These are pretty bare bones.

Tracks

Raccoon Tracks

I’ll say one thing for this fine sand… it may not be easy to walk in but it shows tracks almost as well as snow does. I saw many different tracks, including lots of deer, birds, and canids (not sure whether these were leashed dogs or actual foxes or coyotes). And you can bet I kept an eye out for alligator tracks! [Note to self: Google “alligator tracks.”]

Gnarly!

Gnarly!

There were quite a few trees out here, mostly evergreens, but they were, as you might expect considering they’re way out on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph’s Bay, bent and twisted into some pretty interesting shapes.

Grass-like Stuff

Grass-like Stuff

This was a really lovely trail, and if I could have arranged to have a boat at the end pick me up to take me back to the trail head, I would have loved to have hiked the whole thing. Short of that, four miles was the best I could do and still get back. And that with a large amount of whimpering and self-pity.

You can learn more about this trail from the state website for the park, here. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

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