Woodpecker Trail

I can always count on John to find new trails to hike or ride. Last week he suggested we ride the Woodpecker Trail in White Springs. That meant setting the alarm clock for 6:00 (during the first week of school), but we had a two hour drive ahead of us and didn’t want to ride in the heat of the day.

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Since Woodpecker Trail is only seven miles round trip, we decided to not only ride, but to also hike to Big Shoals, Florida’s largest whitewater rapids.

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It’s an easy mile to the shoals, but since we were the first on the trail, we had the pleasure of breaking through all of the spider webs. I looked like a crazy Ninja chopping my way down the path trying to avoid having webs across my face. And after a short while, John took the lead and handled the webs and spiders blocking the way.

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The overlook provided a good view of the Class III whitewater. But of course, we had to climb down the rocks to get a closer view. image

The first time we were on this part of the Suwannee River was in the early 1980s…in a canoe. We watched two canoes attempt to manuever through the rapids unsuccessfully, but that didn’t prevent us from making our own attempt. I’m pleased to say we paddled through without any difficulty and plucked the items from the overturned canoes out of the river tossing them on the bank so they could be retrieved by their owners once they were back on the water.

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When we completed the hike and returned to our car, we unloaded the bikes and started down the paved trail.

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Within the first couple hundred feet, we found the trail blocked by a tree upended in a recent storm, but John wouldn’t let me use that as an excuse to call it a day.

 

The 3.4 mile Woodpecker Trail connects the Big Shoals and the Little Shoals through a mostly wooded path with bridges crossing tributaries of the Suwannee.

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Big Shoals State Park offers over 28 miles of wooded trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and birding, and for those interested in water, there’s a canoe launch and plenty of opportunities for fishing.

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However, be aware that those who own the property adjacent to the park don’t take lightly to trespassers.

Happy (Retirement) Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that one year ago today, marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives called Retirement.

In the course of a year, our bags have been packed as we’ve traveled like never before. In addition to our numerous, traditional day trips, we’ve crisscrossed the continent and got our feet wet in Europe. Looking back, it’s been a wonderful year.

Omaha: College World Series

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Northwest Coast: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver

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Jacksonville: family weekend

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Miami: first week of school celebration

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Fall toad trip: stops in Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

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Birmingham: 90th birthday celebration

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Miami: college baseball opening

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South Florida: National Parks & Keys

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Netherlands: bike tour

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Iceland: camping

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Today, as we begin year two, we fly to Buffalo for another Canadian adventure. First, Niagara Falls and then off to Toronto.

We’ll be keeping our bags packed and go wherever life takes us.

 

Iceland’s Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular areas for tourists to explore in Iceland. Most join one of the tours and see the sites on the schedule of the tour bus operator.

But since we rented a camper van we set the pace, and since we camped in the geothermal area our first evening in the country, we had the place to ourselves the next morning.

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Strokkur, erupted every seven or eight minutes spraying 100° water more than 100 feet in the air. The geyser’s surrounded by mud pools, fumaroles and mineral deposits, and the boiling hot water churned up by the Earth produces that unpleasant sulphur odor, often associated with rotten eggs.

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The original geyser, Geysir, hasn’t erupted in years, but on the day we were there, a couple dozen people gathered around the steaming Geysir and tried to coax it into action by playing drums and bells while chanting. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

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Our second stop on the Golden Circle was the waterfall, Gullfoss. The wide and fast Hvitá River falls some 100 feet in a crevice producing a thick mist.

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Again, we beat the crowds so we were alone on the pathways along the edge of Gullfoss. It’s always suggested that visitors wear a raincoat to avoid getting wet from the mist, but since the temperature was hovering around 40°, down jackets instead of raincoats were the dress of the day.

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Thingvellir National Park was the final Golden Circle stop. This is the place where the American and Eurasian Tectonic plates come together. We passed on scuba diving or snorkeling between the plates something that requires multiple layers of wet and dry suits before entering the icy 35°F water.

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Instead we walked the trails observing the plates as well as waterfalls and a distant snow covered volcano.

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Thingvellir National Park is a World UNESCO site, not only for its unique geography, but for its historical value as well since Iceland’s first Parliament met at this location in 930 CE.

Some travelers suggest skipping the Golden Circle calling it too touristy. However, I disagree. The geysers, Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park provide a snapshot into Iceland’s diverse landscape, and with a rental car and an early start, it’s easy to miss the crowds and tour buses so you can take in the country’s natural wonders.

Triathlon Florida Keys Style

Ever since we completed the Tamiami Triathlon, an event sponsored by Everglades National Park to encourage visitors to enjoy hiking, bike riding and kayaking in the Everglades, we’ve found more ways to create our own versions of triathlon for non-athletes. No competition or entry fee or awards, just our own plan to bike, hike and paddle.

We didn’t set out to do a freestyle triathlon in the Keys but after kayaking, snorkeling and then hiking over three miles in Key West, we knew we had to bike ride to make it complete.

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We started the morning sailing with Danger Charters where we snorkeled in sponge beds and kayaked around Mule Island.

When the boat docked and we disembarked, it was off to Fort Zachary Taylor where we explored the old fort.

This turned into a three mile city hike by the time we traveled from the dock to the fort to Blue Heaven for a little key lime pie snack and then back to our car.

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On the way to Long Key State Patk to set up camp, we decided to add a bike ride that evening to catch the sunset on the opposite side of the island – a five mile round trip ride to exit the park and get to an open area for sunset viewing.

Even without a medal, it felt good to accomplish another triathlon and a full day of actively enjoying our surroundings.

 

 

Hiking the Ocklawaha Prairie

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The plan for Saturday morning was to hike through the Ocklawaha Prairie to a boardwalk for what we hoped would be a morning of photographing wildlife.

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John had a backpack loaded with a spotting scope, binoculars, tripod and camera and we started out for the boardwalk trail along the Ocklawaha River.

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An incredible magnolia tree meets hikers just across from the trail head where we picked up a map. We’ll have to make another trip in a couple months just to see this enormous tree in full bloom.

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Construction on the bridge caused a change of plans since the boardwalk trail was inaccessible.

While the trail was mostly dry, there was one area where we had to cross a small steam. Too wide to jump across, several pieces of downed trees had been fashioned into a bridge by previous hikers so we could cross without plodding through the water.

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We followed the white diamonds indicating a multi-use trail for hikers, bicyclists and those on horseback. It appears this is a popular trail for horseback riders, evident by the need to keep your eyes on the trail to avoid the gifts their horses left behind.

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We were even surprised to find a campsite with a picnic table, fire pit and well on the river for campers willing to backpack in from the trail or by boat.

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Our new plan didn’t result in any wildlife sightings, but the five mile hike was a good way to start the day. Only a few minutes from home, we’ll definitely be back.

The Ocklawaha Prairie is located at 7910 SE 137 Avevue Road, Ocklawaha, FL.

Warning: While we had no problem with mosquitoes on a warm March morning, this place looks like it will be mosquito heaven in another month or so.

Azalea Trail

Since we would be meeting our daughter in Palatka on Monday to return her dog after a weekend of dog sitting, we decided to spend some time at Ravine Gardens State Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to take a hike in the garden known for its azaleas.

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Unlike most Florida parks, the trails at Ravine Gardens include stairs to accommodate the step drops along the ravine as well as a couple of suspension bridges. The trail also commemorates William Bartram’s eighteenth century travels in Florida.

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We decided on the Azalea Trail instead of the Spring Trail in hopes of being immersed in flowers. We certainly saw our share of blooming plants along the trail, but we obviously missed the peak season.

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On March 4-6, the park held its annual Azalea Days festival, the 70th year of this event. From what we saw, the festival was timed perfectly for the maximum color from their more than 100,000 flowering plants.

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Even on the Azalea Trail, we passed the spring, a stream and pond.

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And how does a tree grow like this? Looking for a short, two mile trail that’s in a beautiful and unusual setting? Then Ravine Gardens Park may be the place for you.

 

 

TBT: Up close and Personal

Preparing to travel requires packing the proper clothes as well as items like cameras, umbrellas, sunglasses, hats and other trip specific items. This is something Sarah learned at a young age.

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What better way to identify the animal tracks found along the trails than to wear a sweatshirt covered with animal tracks? And of course, no well prepared traveler would go to Glacier National Park without a pair of binoculars. A park where she saw bears, moose and mountain goats.

 

Santos Trail: Marion County

I’ve always thought of Santos as a place with trails for bicycling and horseback riding, but last month when I received my weekly email from All Trails, it suggested the Santos Trail in Belleview as one to hike. Sure enough, when we pulled in to the parking lot of the Santos Trailhead, it was clearly marked for hiking.

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Restrooms, a water fountain and picnic tables are available at the trailhead. The well maintained trails begin near the campground and cross paths with those designated for bikes and horses, but never share the same route. The out and back trail covers a distance of 3.4 miles round trip making it a nice way to get out for a short walk while experiencing part of the Florida Trail.

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We enjoyed our first hike at Santos so much we decided to take Luna with us a couple of weeks later. A true, blue, city dog who spends most of her time inside, Luna had quite a day on the trail briskly walking all the way out, but then slowing considerably on the way back, and did she ever sleep when we returned home.

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Less than twenty minutes from our house, the Santos Trail will be one we walk regularly, and it may be time to try the bike trail as well.