Sunday, April 16, 2006

Torreya, Spring '06

I took Friday off and went to Torreya State Park, about an hour west of here. This time I stayed in the "primitive" backcountry camping area, so I had to severely cut down my "stuff" to fit in a backpack. I still probably took more than I needed, but it was very nice this morning when I could get up, fix breakfast, and pack everything and be ready to go in less than an hour. Here is a picture of my campsite, about a mile from the parking area.
This was my view from where I ate breakfast and dinner.
The west side of Torreya is bound by the Apalachicola River, the largest River in Florida. Here's the Apalachicola at dawn.
And a little later in the morning, when the sun has come up some.
Pretty, huh? It all would have been perfect, but for a houseboat on the other side of the river that ran its generator all night long. It sounded as if someone had left a lawn mower running right outside your tent. It wasn't unbearable, but it was annoying. I tried to convince the college boys camped nearby to swim over and cut the gas line but, kids these days, no sense of adventure.

Yesterday I walked both the Torreya Trail and what is called the "Challenge Trail." What makes Torreya unique in Florida is that it has a lot of elevation -- a topo map of the area actually has contour lines! The west side of the Torreya Trail follows the river and has a very tropical feel to it, like I imagine a rainforest might be. The east side of the Torreya Trail and the Challenge Trail are more like the Southern Appalachians. I started by going from my campsite along the trail (not the shortcut) to this washout area that looks like a canyon.

It's hard to explain to people who haven't been here how amazing it is, and how, about every mile or so, there is an entirely different terrain. Along the trail I saw lots of deer and heard birds and got a photo of two reptiles (although the black snake I encountered was too quick for me to photograph). This guy was one the east side,
and this one on the west.
Two things I was looking for were to see if the Ashe Magnolia was in bloom and tuliptree blossoms. Ashe Magnolias are much larger than Southern Magnolias and the blooms are huge and very high in the upper storey. I didn't think I saw any Ashe Magnolia blossoms, and a young man who was studying botany that I spoke to said he didn't think he had seen any either. That just means I will have to go back soon! I also wanted to see the tuliptrees in bloom since last year there was a carpet of tuliptree blossoms on some parts of the trail. They are really beautiful, palmsized, yellow and orange tulip-shaped flowers. This year I saw a few on the ground but none in the trees. The botanist said that is because the blossoms are cupped in green leaves when they are on the tree so it would be hard to see them except from above.

I did see a few of these trees that were in full bloom. They only grew by the streams and there weren't many of them. I'm not sure what they are, but they may be in the haw family. I'm going to keep looking. Here is one shot from a distance (if you click on it to make it full size you can see the blooming tree better) and one close up. They have waxy leaves, like camellias and magnolias, which are spiky at the ends.
Along the river, on the west side of the park, was a carpet of these Indian Pinks. They are in the Strychnos family (sounds like a deadly Greek clan, doesn't it?) and Indians used it to expel worms and parasites from the intestines. Yum.
This is Tread-Softly, a kind of nettle. It was all over the pinewoods on the east side. Here is some Florida Anise. At first I thought it was Rhododendron, like you find in north Georgia, but when you crush the leaves you can tell the difference. They were blooming all over on the east side. Needle palms along the riverbank.
I'm not sure what this is either. See those weird little bulbs on it? I think those are going to bloom. I took this at one of the other primitive campsites, Rock Creek. It is so dry this year that there was only one small creek here. In the past when I have been here there was plenty of water.

The third primitive campsite, below, is on the Challenge Trail. It's about 5 or 6 miles from the parking area and dry as a bone -- no running water of any sort. I can't imagine why anyone would stay here except, maybe, to dissuade Boy Scouts from ever going back in the woods.
Here's another as yet unidentified tree, a small one close up, and a larger one. They were everywhere on the east side.
All in all Saturday I think I must have walked about 16 miles -- each loop is 7 miles and the connectors. Here are some shots along the way -- from east back to my campsite on the west. All the riverbeds are typically 6" - 12" deep, but this year they are almost dry except for a few spots where there was flowing water.

I think that what most people remember from Torreya is the Gregory House, an antebellum home that was built on the other side of the river and moved across in 1935 by the CCC when they were building the park. Here is the house seen from the riverbank. Look way up, see the rooftop and chimney?
Here is the river from the house.Here is the house from the backyard.
And the front.This is actually all I've ever seen of the Gregory House. I have never taken the tour. Maybe next time.

Finally, one of my favorite wildflowers, phlox. There was just this one perfect stem. I was glad I had my camera so I could bring it home to share.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Blackwater River

This weekend I paddled and camped on the Blackwater River, about 180 miles west in Santa Rosa County. This river is known for its dark tannic waters (hence Blackwater or Oka-loosa, Creek for...water-black) and white sand beaches. I didn't put in until about 1 p.m. (my time, but that's another story) because of shuttle doings. Here's my boat at Kennedy Bridge, about 28.6 miles from the take-out at Blackwater River State Park.
I wanted to paddle at least half the total distance Saturday so that I could get home at a reasonable time on Sunday. Time, however, became an issue that I simply had to dimiss because it's confusing enough for me to cross time zones (Santa Rosa is on Central Time), but then with the time change, lose an hour, spring forward -- it was all too much for me and I still don't have a firm grasp of what time it really is.

It was a pretty easy paddle, with a few obstructions -- I had to get out and pull my boat around a downed tree once -- and a lot of very shallow places where I got beached. But other than that, and a bit of wind, it was not very challenging. Here are some high bluffs. You can see that in some places the soil is red clay, rather than white sand.
The owner of the outfitter/shuttle service was a very nice fellow who referred to me as a "young lady" (as in, "you're the second young lady this year who was camping by herself"). He told me that the white sand came down from the Appalachians during the Ice Age, pushed by glaciers through the red clay to the Gulf. He also told me that he hated cold weather, noting that "Me, I'm ready for global warming when it will be like Miami here all the time and I can grow orange trees in my back yard." He was, all in all, a very forward-thinking young man.

Along the way I saw, in bloom, titi...
and wild azaleas...
as well as their showier cousins, the citified domestic azalea.
I saw and heard a lot of birds, too, including a couple of kingfishers, ducks of some sort, a hawk, and a pileated woodpecker.

The first 10 miles turned out to be kind of a drag because just about every other white sand beach between Kennedy Bridge and Cotton Bridge was a hangout for, as my shuttle driver termed them, "drunks." After Cotton Bridge, though, it got better, which was a good thing, because I was ready to find a place to camp.

I saw one likely spot, but I was just getting out of the boat when I heard voices across the river and promptly lost my balance and fell in the water, along with my camera. (Very amusing to my potential neighbors.) This is why there aren't any pictures of my campsite (a bit farther down the river, away from people, and really quite nice) but here are a few that I took before my impromptu swim.

Cypress trees are so lovely and graceful to me.
A white sand beach -- not where I camped, but very like it.
A typical scene along the way. Sunday I woke up early -- I have no idea at what time because my watch, mobile phone, and gps all said something different, but the sun was just starting to come up -- fixed breakfast, packed up camp, and paddled the remaining 13 or so miles to the take-out. Along the way I saw scarlet morning glory and yellow jessamine; too bad I couldn't take pictures. It was all very nice except the last two miles where there were just too many people for me. I don't know if I would paddle this river again, but if I did, I would either do it on a weekday or put in at Cotton Bridge and forget about the first 10 miles.