Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back to Cypress Creek North

It was 58 degrees and clouds were few when I entered Cypress Creek Preserve on Sunday morning, eager to explore parts of its northern trail network that I skipped on my previous visit:

Birdsong filled the air from the very beginning. At one point, I could make out so many individual tunes within the cacophony that there had to be representatives from more than a half-dozen species singing at the same time.

If you read last week’s post, you may recall that on my previous visit I skipped the first side trail and took the second one -- and later consulted the trail map, at which time I noticed it portrays these not as separate trails but as a single one which “travels north from the paved path at milepost 0.7 and eventually curves back to the south, crossing the paved path again at milepost 1.3.”

Well, after Sunday morning’s visit I can confirm that the trail map is correct on this point. From 0.7, the trail’s horseshoe route totals about 1½ miles before its crossing at 1.3. For most of this route it travels through hardwood forests, parts of which are downright jungly. I will not claim that the girth of the following trunk equals the biggest ones I saw in the Northwest, but when I say it brings those trunks to mind, I absolutely mean it:

One word of warning: Be aware that you may have to slog through standing water if you hike this trail during the wet season, because a third of a mile from 0.7 it crosses the creekbed of Cypress Creek’s headwaters without benefit of a bridge. On Sunday the creekbed was dry, but it is sure to be flowing once the rains come; and as you know, you stand a strong chance of running into alligators and cottonmouths anywhere in this state you see water.

But anyway, continuing southward after the 1.3 crossing, the trail drops several feet downhill and enters a much drier habitat where fields of bluestem are backed by treelines of maple and pine:

This section of trail continues for its own 1½ miles before dead-ending at a fence, and along the way it is crossed by several other trails that lead to…well, right now I don’t know, but hey, that gives me a reason to come back!

In the meantime, I can tell you that another thing I learned on Sunday’s visit is that if you take the right fork where the paved trail splits (I took the left one last time) you will only go about a third of a mile before reaching its end and having to turn around.

And, I can let you know that this trail network is a primo place for viewing wildlife. After seeing lots of creatures the weekend before, Sunday’s visit turned up two pileated woodpeckers, a pair of storks, and five whitetail deer -- four of whom darted across the path no more than 30 feet in front of me.

I will leave you with a photo of a tree that my last post described as “the tallest live oak I have ever seen.” While last week’s dim light resulted in a photo that was little more than a silhouette, Sunday’s brightness did a better job revealing contrast and showing Spanish moss hanging from the branches:

Happy Trails!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cypress Creek North

Back in January I wrote about a trail network in the west central portion of Cypress Creek Preserve. Temperatures in the low sixties drew me back to Cypress Creek on Saturday, but this time I decided to check out the trail network in its northern section -- which, amazingly, I had yet to hike despite living only 20 minutes away.

The network’s main artery is a paved trail that cuts across the property from west to east and is wide enough to be considered a road. It connects with a number of dirt trails that, needless to say, have a more “wildernessy” appearance:

However, the paved one was more productive for wildlife viewing when I was there, turning up nine deer and a big alligator. Although its size does not fully translate in this picture, judging by the distance between the gator’s forehead and nose as compared to the plant life, I would estimate him to be about eight feet long:

I travelled more than three miles on the paved trail, passing four dirt trails that were signed and a few more that were not signed, before opting to turn around and try some of those side paths. Right before doing my about face I heard the loud rattling call of a sandhill crane and glanced up to see it flying in my direction. It landed nearby and I thought of how fascinating it is that this species, which I see almost every day in Florida, lives as far away as Siberia:

From the preserve’s entrance it is 0.7 miles to the first signed side trail, which travels north from the paved path; and 1.3 miles to the second, which crosses the paved path just after a culvert through which Cypress Creek flows underfoot. Because those trails enter woods that appeared more lush than the woods entered by the more easterly trails, I skipped the easterly ones and backtracked all the way to the trail at the 1.3-mile mark.

Going north, the first ¾ mile on this trail travels alternately through hardwood forests and pine-ringed palmetto fields before the former finally prevails in a kind of battle of the ecosystems. At first the canopy is open but soon it closes up:

At one point I gazed up at the tallest live oak I have ever seen, and it made me understand why Hollywood executives chose Florida as the place to film those old Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller:

A little more than a mile after turning onto this trail, I had my most heart-stopping wildlife encounter in over two years. I was minding my own business when a large mammal stepped onto the trail no more than 20 feet in front me, travelling right to left and totally oblivious to my presence. Its jet black fur made me wonder if I was looking at a bear, but then I noticed its snout and realized I was sharing space with a wild hog.

Aware of their not-so-friendly reputation, I stopped in my tracks and apparently was not quiet in doing so. The hog glanced in my direction and saw me, then he jumped sideways and hustled off into the underbrush, providing a glimpse of his side profile that looked impeccably like the Arkansas Razorback of football helmet fame. Not knowing whether hogs travel solo or in groups, I interpreted his presence as a message to get the hell out of there.

I felt a few raindrops, and, knowing I was already on pace to log more than eight miles by the time I got back to the car, decided to wait until next weekend to try the first side trail. I can not wait to see what awaits me then, given how much new, here-comes-spring foliage I saw on Saturday:

There are a few things about the “Cypress Creek North” trail network you should know. For one, I am not convinced of how reliable the trail map is. Assuming you hike west to east like I did, the map shows the paved trail forking near the preserve’s eastern boundary, with the left fork turning north and continuing to go north; however, I took the left fork and found that it soon shifted to an east-southeasterly direction. Where I turned around, it was heading in that direction in a straight line and I could not see the end, so until I explore more and write about what I find, take that for what you will.

Also, after consulting the trail map when I returned home, I noticed it shows that the first and second side trails are one and the same. According to the map, it travels north from the paved path at milepost 0.7 and eventually curves back to the south, crossing the paved path again at milepost 1.3. As soon as I confirm whether that is true or false, I will let you know.

And lastly, you should know that accessing this network is not as easy as accessing the one I wrote about before. From Ehren Cutoff, turn onto Pump Station Road and drive to its end, where you will be stopped by a security gate beyond which buildings can be seen. There are warning signs about needing to register before entering, but they are intended for visitors to the well houses, not visitors to the preserve, so feel free to park on the shoulder and use the walk-through opening in the fence. Then, continue walking 0.3 miles to the actual preserve entrance, which is visible the whole way:

If you don’t like the idea of hiking on pavement, a good idea would be to bring your bike and pedal to the various trailheads. That would save a lot of time getting from one trail to the next, and give you more time to explore each one. Happy Trails!