Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Trip 54: Highlands Hammock State Park

State Parks visited:  46

One weekend in November, I happened to notice a geocaching event being held at Highlands Hammock State Park.  It's only a couple of hours from home, and it looked like they were going to be publishing almost 100 new caches for the event.  Rob and I talked about it, and we were both extremely interested in attending.  We knew Olivia wouldn't want to hike for hours and hours, so we arranged for a weekend at Mimi's house for her.  Chris and Xandra were away at a regatta, so Rob and I embarked on a solo camping and geocaching weekend!

We got in late Friday night and set up camp.  The campground was almost to capacity, and there was one particularly large group staying behind us.  Apparently not everyone teaches their children campground etiquette...or boundaries, for that matter...and for some time we dealt with kids walking through our camp and even one little boy checking out our goods while we were standing right there.  They eventually got the hint that we weren't going to put up with them, thankfully, and we didn't have any further issues.

After introducing ourselves to the geocacher in the site next to us, we headed to bed.  Early the next morning we made our way to the pavilion where the event began.  After meeting a bunch of nice folks, we searched for a microcache hidden nearby, discovered some travel bugs, and then went off to find the caches in the park. 

The park is home to the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum and was one of the first (THE first, if you ask the locals!) state parks in Florida.  The CCC, like I've mentioned in earlier blogs, was an FDR program and created so many of the amazing parks we love to visit.  The event coincided with the annual CCC Festival, and the park was packed with people! 

So let me tell ya...when you get lots and lots of geocaches in a small area with lots of trails, it's easy to start going in circles and not really accomplish anything.  We thought we were heading toward some caches down the Altvater Trail, only to realize there was nothing out there.  We needed maps...and a plan...soon!

We eventually went back toward the festival area and ran into other geocachers.  They pointed us in a good direction to start, and while at that cache we ran into yet another cacher.  Only, this one had maps.  Not just maps, but maps and notes and organizational skillz that I admire!  And, he let us take pictures of his maps:

Armed with our 'maps,' we took the nearest loop and let the mosquitoes carry us away.  And by that I mean, OH MY GOSH the mosquitoes were HORRIBLE!!  Granted, we were in a swampy area, but still. 

Eventually we moved into a less-swampy area and began to fall into a groove.  The maps helped a lot, but they weren't perfect.  Still, it was a beautiful area and we really didn't mind spending time in it!

Lovely shot, right?  Well, I was returning a geocache to its hiding spot and Rob couldn't resist.  This was also where we ran into our map-sharing friend, Lloyd.  We had such a good time laughing and joking with him that we decided to hang together for awhile.  Lloyd was awesome company and his maps were spot on!  It was nice having him there also because he could take our picture:

We failed to get Lloyd's picture.

Onward we went down the main road, taking smaller trails as they looped off, finding caches and really just enjoying ourselves.  Lloyd decided to head off in a different direction, but by then we had a good idea of the layout of the trails and caches.  Then we came to the Cypress Swamp Trail.  And let me tell you, it was one of the highlights of the trip for me!

I don't think I gave the term 'catwalk' much thought when I took the picture.  Once we got out on it, though, the light bulb went on and it all made sense.  It was so AWESOME!! 

See that?  The catwalk?  Nothing but some wooden planks with a rail down one side.  Right over the swampy water, and it leaned to one side, too.  It was breathtakingly beautiful there.  And, it was just a matter of time before we saw this:

(Thank you, nice strangers!)

By this time we were pretty exhausted from hiking all day.  We lasted maybe another hour before heading back to camp and taking off our boots.  We rested a bit, grabbed some salad we had brought, and headed to the rec hall for an end-of-event dinner.  It was nice to meet even more people, smile at the ones we recognized from the trails, have some great food, and just relax.  Lloyd was there, as was our camp neighbor, and we all sat together.  After dinner, on the walk back to camp, we were surprised when a herd of about 8 deer jumped out of the woods and stood by the road.

The event's organizer, Sarah, calls the The Cronies.  Her mom works in the park and Sarah has had several run-ins with this particular herd.  I shouldn't have been surprised, then, that they let us get pretty close.

Our day was almost over.  Rob, wanting nothing more than to rest by the campfire, stayed at camp while I wandered down to the park's campfire circle for one last gathering.  Many cachers got together for s'mores and stories, and it was a nice end to a very long day.

Sunday.  Last day.  Before packing up and heading out, we met up with Sarah, her mom, and lots of other geocachers for one last event, a Cache In, Trash Out event.  We learned about invasive exotic plants and set to work ridding the area of air potatoes.  It wasn't much, but it was a great way to give back after the wonderful time we spent in the park.  We've been inspired since then and are trying to set up a CITO at one of our local parks.

After the CITO and breaking camp, we went back into the woods to complete some geocaching challenges, such as hugging trees and eating sour oranges.  Then we made a stop into the CCC Museum.


Spending time at this amazing park, and then more time at the museum...well, I can't put into words exactly how it makes me feel.  The parks are so dear to me, and to see where they began...it's humbling.  Seeing quotes from the CCC workers, the kind of pride they had and how great an organization the CCC was really makes me wish we had something like that today.  Until then, I'll continue to get out and have experiences like this one because of the hard work they did so long ago.  I'll appreciate it that much more, too.  I'll share and encourage others to do the same.  And I am SO grateful.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trip 53: Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park

State Parks visited:  45

I was going to subtitle this entry 'Camp Innu-Weekend,' and for good reason.  It turns out Rob and I...and all of our friends...are essentially teenage boys trapped in adult bodies.  If given a chance to add an off-color or slightly perverted comment, out of Olivia's earshot, of course, we do.  And so I feel the need to preface this entry that if you're easily offended or prone to prudishness, then please stop reading now and go find another blog to read.

Camp Innu-Weekend began when, right before Halloween, we decided to just go camping somewhere.  Somewhere ended up being Gold Head, as it's commonly referred to (insert Beavis and Butthead-esque giggling here), which is two hours north of home.  And that's what started it all.  Our research showed us Campsite 69 was available (giggle), and we booked it.  We packed up as quickly as we could after work Friday and set up camp in the dark.

After a healthy sausage breakfast on Saturday morning... :D...we took a tour of Chris's new gigan-tent (which has since been christened 'Camelot').  It has room for 8, a covered porch (which his car will actually fit under), a wine cellar, veranda, and Jacuzzi out back!

We made a quick stop in town for ice and snacks, and then we decided to hit the trails.  One of the main reasons we chose Gold Head...{snicker}...was the amount of geoacaches within the park.  Our first stop was a portion of the Florida Trail.

The trail took us back to Deer Lake, which was gorgeous!  Unfortunately we weren't allowed to swim, but that didn't stop us from enjoying it.  Here are some photos:

Once we found the caches on this trail we turned back, and along the way we ran into some of the local wildlife:

We tried to get them to fight, but no luck.

Once we made it back to the trailhead {snicker} I noticed something.  There was a geocache ammo can mounted to the back of the info sign!  It turns out it was the final part of a multi-stage cache we were about to look for. 

The first stage took us to Sheelar Lake, which is just as beautiful (and off-limits) as Deer Lake.  Still, it was a beauty to take in!

Two snapping turtles...

...and their unfortunate friend.

Rob got a little fresh and grabbed a handful of Chris for this photo.  Aww yeah!!!

Our geocaching took us to the former mill site in the park, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  We've since learned the CCC was created by FDR as part of his New Deal, and was responsible for creating the first state parks in Florida.  Gold Head was one of the first 5 parks in the system.

After a quick lunch back at camp...where Chris had his manservant draw the shades so he could relax next to his indoor reflecting pool...we did our best to finish up caching for the day.  One stage of that multi-cache even took us right by Big Lake Johnson {SNICKER}, which, unfortunately, was shriveled up.  It must have been cold.  Little Lake Johnson didn't fare any better, and swimming is no longer allowed there as well.

Our only Did Not Find of the trip was in an area that had gone through a controlled burn.  In fact, the ground was still smoldering not too far from where we (carefully) searched, and we're pretty sure the cache is toast.

Not what it looked like, unless you thought it looked like cleaning up trash!

A very special cabin in the park!

Eventually our journey took us into the bottom of the ravine that goes through the park, and I was instantly reminded of Ravine Gardens State Park:

We did a little hiking...

...and heard an owl tell us a story.  Hard to see, ultra zoomed in from a great distance, but the owl is in this shot:

Our last stop, as the sun was preparing the sleep for the night, was the ranger station for some more firewood.  Then it was back to camp for garlic.  I mean, chili.


A new set of campers had set up at the site across from ours.  It was a (cranky) older couple with a handful of children in many age ranges, and I honestly thought it may have been a foster situation. I sincerely hope not, after hearing the man yelling at the kids.  There was nothing physical going on, thankfully, so we bit our tongues.  It was hard to do so at 5 o'clock Sunday morning, though.  That's when the man got up and REALLY NEEDED TO CHOP WOOD FOR HIS FIRE.  Rule one: Quiet hours are there for a reason.  Rule two:  Learn some camping etiquette, douchebag.

Once we got up at a normal hour, Chris made us a yummy breakfast of biscuits and gravy.  We had to hurry and pack up our gear since Olivia had a Girl Scout activity in the afternoon.  And so, we fondly bade farewell to our beloved Site 69, the Lakes Johnson, and Gold Head.  It was a fun weekend, steeped in childishness, and enjoyed by all.