The low temps seemed to invigorate wild animals rather than discourage them, as evidenced by the cries of hawks that frequently pierced the air and the large numbers of sandhill cranes seen milling about:
With that kind of atmosphere greasing the skids into 2012’s final weekend, there was no way I could let the weekend pass without exploring some woods, even if our calendar showed things scheduled. So yesterday morning I made my way to the Cypress Creek North Trail Network for the first time in nine months.
In March I wrote two posts about this network that can be read here and here. The second post mentions a 1½-mile section of side trail that “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!” Those other trails were my destination yesterday.
Because we are entering rather than exiting winter, the foliage is more scant right now than it was the last time I was here, a fact to which these bald cypress can testify:
To reach the trails I had in my mind, it was first necessary to head east for 1.3 miles on the paved path that serves as Cypress Creek North’s main artery. Almost immediately after using a culvert to pass over the creek itself, the paved path is crossed by an earthen trail onto which I turned right and trod into a forest of mixed hardwoods.
Just under a half-mile later, as that trail begins to emerge into a more open landscape, it encounters a pair of side trails marked by signposts 4 and 8. The first is on the right and plunges into moist-looking woods dominated by oaks. The trail itself consists of deep, lumpy dirt that has the appearance of never being dry anywhere there is shade:
Several steps beyond that, the second side trail turns left and heads into a pine flatwood that is slightly higher and considerably drier:
A quick glance at the two photos above shows just how abruptly one
ecosystem gives way to another. As far as beauty and adventure are concerned,
the first trail looks more promising; however, I opted to walk the second one because
I was wearing tennis shoes instead of my hiking boots and didn’t want to find
myself sinking ankle-deep in mud.
The flatwood through which the second trail passes is thick with hip-high palmettos, but it has no canopy because the pines are so spread out. You will find two decision points soon after stepping onto this trail: first at an unsigned side trail branching off to the left, then at an intersection with another unsigned side trail, which goes off in both directions. I kept moving straight, wanting to see how long this particular trail is and hoping it would go far. I learned it does not, however, for it ends at a T intersection after little more than a third of a mile.
While you can choose to go either right or left at the T intersection, it was hard not to notice the barbed wire fence on the other side of the intersecting trail, which told me that any further travel in that direction was probably verboten. Although the intersecting trail is composed of the same sort of deep, lumpy dirt I skipped back at signpost 4, I chose not to skip it this time. Because these woods are sunnier than the ones at signpost 4, I figured the dirt here at least wouldn’t be wet from the prior morning’s rain -- plus there is a wooden observation tower to the left and I wanted to find out if it is accessible.
It turned out the dirt was dry like I hoped, and soft and deep like I expected. Covered with abnormally deep deer tracks, it gave under my weight with a sensation reminiscent of
snow. Unfortunately, when I got to the tower I found that access to it is denied by the barbed wire, but at least it makes for a nice photo in its own right: Rocky Mountain
As for the earlier decision points I mentioned, I did go back and check them out, discovering that one-fifth of a mile is a recurring theme. At the first decision point, the unsigned trail on the left travels one-fifth of a mile before petering out at a spot where the flatwood gives way to a mixed forest that is thicker with trees. It was there that I saw these young maples holding on stubbornly to their autumnal leaves:
At the second decision point, you will walk approximately one-fifth of a mile regardless of whether you turn left or right. A left turn takes you to a T intersection with the same deep dirt trail that passes the observation tower, while a right turn empties you back onto the same side trail that brought you here from the main artery. Interestingly enough, the spot where you empty back onto that side trail is one-fifth of a mile past the spot where you left it!
I can not lie: I wish this network of side trails off a side trail would delve farther into the preserve than it does. Even if the barbed wire marks a property line, I could not detect any reason why the trail from “decision point one” has to stop at the maples instead of probing past them into the forest beyond. But it is still worth your time to come to these paths, especially when you consider that they are a decent ways into the preserve, and are but one piece of an extensive network of connected trails that you can explore while here.
For directions to the trailhead, please visit the first of the links I included earlier in this post. Happy Trails!