Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lake Lotus Park

Hiking and fishing on the boardwalk along Lake Lotus
Lake Lotus Park is a 100 acre city park in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  Lake Lotus is fed by the Little Wekiva River as it flows out of neighborhoods and industrial areas and follows along the east side of the park.  The river continues it's flow in a northerly direction past Lake Lotus to reach the main Wekiva River before it reaches the north flowing St. Johns River.  The city of Altamonte Springs bought this piece of land in the southwest corner of the city in 1972 and developed and opened the park in 1995.  This park is perfect for individuals or families looking to de-stress for the day.
Roots are plentiful as are cypress knees
The best thing is the park is peaceful and very beautiful, and has fine trails built over five of Florida's ecosystems.  Here you stroll through the Sandhill, Pine Scrub, Mesic (between wet and dry) Hammock, Floodplain Wetlands and Lake Lotus communities, mostly on a well built raised boardwalk trail.  There is a fishing area and a covered window hut for bird and viewing wildlife further along the lake; shaded benches and sunny boardwalk along the Mesic Hammock and Floodplains Wetlands; and a dry wood chip highland trail in the Sandhill and Pine Scrub communities.
Across the lake are apartments and you can see parts of some homes to the north and west of the lake.  The highway noise is low, despite Maitland Boulevard passing adjacent to the park.  Birds were everywhere, from small jays, egrets and ducks to hawks, as were lizards, squirrels and signs of turtles and raccoons.  There are covered picnic tables with grills, restrooms, playgrounds and the quiet walks through nature.   The lake has floating lotus plants just past the Little Wekiva River outlet and around the north side of the boardwalk.  The hiking trail starts to the east of the central picnic area, and continues about a mile and a half as you walk in a counter-clockwise direction, returning you to where you began.  Shorter cross trails connect you back to the park center.
The walk around the outside of the boardwalk took less than an hour, but it was a peaceful hour.  While it was a little warm for winter, there were few bugs.  (I noticed bat houses located throughout the park.)  And there were no crowds for a Sunday afternoon.  A billboard shows photos of local dragon flies and butterflies.  You could easily spend a few hours here decompressing.
Mesic Hammock, benches are just around the corner
The park is used as an outdoor education center with interpretive programs offered throughout the year and Lake Lotus Park is staffed with trained park rangers.  Parking is across Maitland Boulevard just off Magnolia Homes road with a free tram ride over to the park on the weekends.  Entrance is free daily, they are closed Wednesdays.  Check out Sandra Friends trail description and park pictures on Florida Hikes!
To find Lake Lotus Park, take the Maitland Boulevard exit on I-4, just north of Orlando, go west 3 miles, after passing over highway 434, turn left onto Magnolia Homes Road, and left into the parking area.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Petzl Tikka 2 LED Headlamp Review

I am quite pleased with the performance of my Petzl Tikka 2 LED Headlamp.  For night time book and map reading in the tent, it works great on the low light setting.  You may have to tilt it up or down slightly to reduce glare on your Kindle screen.  I have not used it on the high lamp setting yet, I found did not need that much light around the campsite or for trail walking.  The headband was comfortable and adjusted easily while wearing it on my head for reading and close work.
Petzl Tikka 2 Headlamp
For night time hiking, I stuff the headband under my belt and aim the light from my waist.  It has worked well for a short walk along a trail, though on a longer walk I may need a more sturdy way to attach it to my waist or belt.  I have also carried it in my hand, like a flashlight, and have been pleased with the headlamp's performance.  While the bright setting was too bright for my slow trail walking style, it may be too dim for running or bicycling with no other lights.  Those lights sold for running and bicycling usually have almost twice the brightness of this one.
There are also accessories available like the Adapt Tikka 2 system that includes different light fixture parts (on the back) that attach to shirts, belts, helmets, just about everything.
As for the battery life, I'm still on my first set of AAA batteries, so I'll have to say it seems to be doing well.  We'll see how that goes after a few sets of batteries, though the user reports online look good.  I generally carry a spare mini flashlight (0.4 ounces), so I won't be stranded on an over night backpacking trip due to dead batteries.  For longer trips, I'll just replace the batteries before I start.
I see how the strobe selection can be used for calling for help, but I wouldn't walk with it in strobe mode at night.  For a kayak or canoe at night, the strobe will keep you seen by most other watercraft.  Walking along a highway in daytime, the strobe will help you to be seen by motor traffic.
I do wish the headlamp had a lower light setting, like 5 lumens, or a red LED lamp for after dark chores around the camp.  The Tikka 2 headlamp has 40 lumens of light or lights up 95 feet on the bright setting and 10 lumens or 42 feet on the low setting.  That's about an hour and a half of battery on high and two hours on the low setting to use the manufacturer's information.  It would also be nice if the headband was easily removable without having to cut the plastic frame.
My older ultra-mini headlamp had only one LED and 3 light settings plus strobe.  While it wasn't bright enough for night time trail walking, it had a low enough power to not blind others in camp, and had a clip for placing on a hat bill when you removed the headband.  I found out the year after I bought it that the coin batteries it used cost a lot more than the whole headlamp did, just for replacements.
At 2.8 ounces, or 80 grams with 3 AAA alkaline batteries this headlamp is lightweight enough for me.  With lithium batteries it may weigh a little less.  REI has it listed online at 2.9 ounces.
At REI the Petzl Tikka 2 was just under $30, which is an OK price.  It is an ounce lighter than my trusty old AA mini-mag flashlights (at 3.8 ounces each) and seems to provide the illumination that I need for overnight backpacking trips.  In time, I'll acquire a headlamp with a red LED or lower light levels.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hiking during Florida's hunting season

Hunting season and Hiking season are held at about the same time during Florida's best season to be outdoors.  That means wearing a blaze orange vest or an orange hat and making noise while hoping for the best when hiking or backpacking.   Alas, if you are considering hiking in a water management area, wildlife management area, state preserve, state forest or national forest (like the Ocala National Forest), hunting is permitted and there will be people shooting firearms.  That is unless you are hiking in a place where there is no hunting allowed.
Wear your blaze orange vest when hiking during hunting season.
You may remember I brought this up last year when hiking the Kratzert Tract along Lake Monroe, I had left my orange vest at home and ended up borrowing one from some very friendly hunters.  You also may remember my wife was not too happy with me about hiking in hunting season.
Florida hunting season dates for 2013 vary by zone with General Gun Season (AKA: Deer Season) running through January 20 in zone C and through February 17th in Zones B & D.  Central Florida lies in zones C and B.  Quail hunting runs through March 3.  Then there is turkey and gray squirrel hunting and all those other animals like Coyote that people are allowed to shoot almost year-round.  You must look at the State Hunting Date site here to get an accurate picture.
The good news for hikers is that hunting is not allowed in State parks, State recreation areas, county parks or county-owned land like the Lyonia Preserve in Deltona.  The other good news is a lot of the state parks hiking trails were built and are maintained by the Florida Trail Association volunteers.  I had a little experience with them last fall, and I am impressed with the quality of the trail work.  You have to understand the Florida year-round growing season, with almost continuous plant growth because there is no winter weather here and few freezes.  This results in almost constant trail maintenance.  Otherwise, the trails here would just disappear in six months.
So here's a list of hunt-free State parks with hiking trails, many also with primitive campsites along those trails.  While none in the state have very long trails except for Mayakka River State Park, you can still backpack out and enjoy a night of camping with a good bit of walking to and from the trailhead.  These parks are listed on the Florida Trail Association web site.  All overnight camping will require reservations.
Torreya State Park
Suwannee State Park
Wasington Oaks Gardens State Park
Bulow Creek State Park
DeLeon Springs State Park
Hillsborough River State Park
Little Manatee River State Park
Wekiva Springs State Park
Rock Springs Run State Reserve
Lake Kissimmee State Park
Mayakka River State Park
Seabranch Preserve State Park
Collier Seminole State Park
Get out and enjoy!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Outdoor Blogger Network

I was just added to the Outdoor Blogger Network web site under the Hiking and Backpacking section.  This broad based site covers almost everything outdoors from fishing to hunting, birding to conservation, kayak & watercraft to photography, and much, much more.
Please click here to check out the site.
I'm listed under Lightweight Backpacking
I'm on page 13 of the Hiking and Backpacking section for now.  I am with good company on the site with bloggers I read regularly, like Section Hiker, Stick's Blog, Brian's Backing Blog, Guthook Hikes, The Smoky Mountains Hiking Blog and others that I follow, plus there are so many new writers to read.
This is so cool, where I am now featured on two networking sites, the Outdoor Blogger Network and on the Hiking Blogs Directory.
Thanks to everyone who has visited me through the Outdoor Blogger Network!
My gratitude and warm thanks go out to Rebecca Garlock and Joe Wolf with the Outdoor Blogger Network, and Philip Werner with the Hiking Blogs Directory!  Big thanks to readers of these sites who checked out my blog and keep coming back!