Sunday, May 27, 2012

Seminole State Forest, South Entrance

Being a Florida-based outdoors-person/backpacker can make it difficult to create interesting mountain-hiking stories.  The need to exit the state just to hike in mountains is the worst part.  Complaining aside, there are many wonderful areas around the state where the outdoors is just so awfully beautiful.  When I do get out, it is usually for a morning walk along an urban rail trail, or a half-day hike/bike ride in the great flat outdoors.
This is my half-day trip in mid-April and it is local.  I just headed East on I-4 from Orlando, then west at Sanford on Highway 46 and turned right on the first road past the Wekiva River bridge to get to the Seminole State Forest.  Nice and close.
I had been here as a Boy Scout leader with our troop twice, backpacking in from the West and leaving at the North entrance on Highway 44.  We had camped at a large group campsite with 20+ boys each time and enjoyed the trails in area, worked on merit badges and rank advancement.  If you are interested in group camping here, call the Ranger's office.
Today, I am day-hiking with Walt, a hiker-bicycler friend.  We met at the highway 46 entrance near Sanford.  After paying the "Iron Ranger" our $2 to park, we looked at the lake a few minutes, then started on the Florida Trail at the entrance just behind us.  The walk started quite pleasant on a soft trail under the pines and oaks and we made good progress.  At the first left-hand turn of the trail we saw two Woodpeckers in the trees.  We watched them a few minutes, enjoying how the birds seemed to "play" around the trees.  You could see their nest hollowed out of one tree if you walked far enough around.
Just after this the trail crossed a small stream on a bridge and turned uphill.  The ground cover was lighter here than the first half mile.  We soon came to the shelter.  This is just a plain and open shelter with a fire ring and table out front.  The shelter has an open front and there is no water or facilities nearby.  The land is open and grassy here with lots of room for tents.  This shelter is for the Florida Trail hikers use.
Continuing on we realized the tree cover was dropping and now at about 5 feet high and thinning.  It looked like a fire had been here some time ago.  Well, a few minutes later, we were in the open.  And I mean the "Open".  You could see a long way. This is just a few miles away from Interstate 4, Sanford, Deltona and Orlando Florida and yet it seemed way, way away from anything.  You couldn't hear a car!  This was nice.  Occasionally an airplane buzzed aloft, but that was it!  This was also the scenic Florida Trail and is one of the great secrets of hikers in the state.
Of course it was hot and clear.  I kept my long sleeve shirt on and started sweating in the sun.  We kept to the trail and crossed a few sand roads.  We are in the land of Scrub Jays and watched them flit in and out of the bushes.  Some shrub was close, but the trail crews had done a fine job in keeping the rest of the trail clear.  After a while we crossed the park road and went into a little shade (thanks woods).  But then we came out of that, turned left and went back onto the dirt road, and followed the road North.  The road was dusty and hot with some shade.  We followed the road down to the cement bridge with no guardrails and crossed Blackwater Creek.
We sat at the picnic table there and ate a snack in the shade.  Blackwater Creek drains to the Wekiva River and would make a nice kayak/canoe trip.  The weather in the shade was bearable, alligators napped in the shade along the banks.  The creek made a bend here and a man was fishing.  You could see fish in the water, but he hadn't caught anything and was getting back on his bicycle to ride home.
My hiking partner Walt was about two weeks out of knee surgery and said he couldn't go any farther, except to go back to the parking lot.  I brewed a cup of tea-bag coffee on my Esbit stove and enjoyed it while watching the water.  We discussed a real lunch and headed back along the road to save time (and knees).  We saw many small birds.  Walt could tell you the names of them.
We didn't see anyone, except the ranger driving by.  I had expected to see hikers but did not on this trip.  We got back to the cars without any issues and drove to eat near the mall nearby.  We had hiked about 8 miles (not bad for Walt's surgically-altered knees) and were more than halfway across the forest at the creek.  In another post I'll talk about hiking from the other side to Blackwater creek.

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