Monday, December 7, 2015
Lafayette Creek lets me through!
"Key West or Bust" - Day 61
Hiking through Lafayette Creek Wildlife Management Area you'll find a great diversity of trail sights and experiences. The part that gets your attention when reading the guide information is the long walk along the creek itself. There's a blue blazed bypass route on a forest road. That means there can be dangerous conditions on the trail--frequent flooding and deep flowing water. So I headed in with a trepidation, ready to bail out and walk the bypass. There had indeed been a recent flood, and the trail had been scoured clean with debris piled up against trees. The water had been deep and impassable. But not today. The creek was behaving.
Left behind was standing water and those debris piles, both blocking the trail. In a number of places I needed the blazes to find the way through, but it was definitely worth taking the extra effort to experience.
So that was the headline that gets your attention, and rightfully so. What a simple 'headline' can 't tell you is that the danger is not over, even if you take the bypass route.
North/west of the bypass the trail follows Magnolia Creek in its flood plain for a quarter mile, and it is prone to flooding that, from the debris piles and scoured trail bed, can be just as bad as Lafayette Creek -- every bit as deep and fast flowing.
But here there is no bypass route.
Here is where the NoBo hiker who took the bypass is going to have an existential crisis if not an honest-to-goodness dangerous passage. This is an alert to future hikers (and perhaps to the guide writers). Don't expect the bypass route to be any sort 'get out of jail free' immunity-pass to flooding.
Okay, on to lighter things. Although I loved the walk along Lafayette Creek and Magnolia Creek (hiking along you suddenly find that the creek you walk beside is flowing in the opposite direction than it was before--that's your cue that you've transitioned from one creek to the other), I loved the Steephead Ravine section more.
In the last post, I promised to talk about Florida's unique geological feature--the "Steephead Ravine". Today's hike gave me a good look at one near the aptly named Steephead Campsite.
It's hard to photograph a steephead from within. The areal shot shown in the link above gives you a better perspective. Out west you'd call it a 'box canyon' - a ravine that comes to a steep ending, so that it boxes you in. At the 'head' of a steephead ravine there is invariably a big spring where abundant water emerges from the sand and forms an instant stream. Here's the one I explored today.
As mentioned in the link, steepheads have cool microclimates and harbor species that are well south of their normal range. Here's a big pignut hickory in its resplendent fall color. Last time I saw one of these was in the Appalachian mountains of northeastern Alabama.
This view was taken from beside the spring pictured above--looking steeply up the slope that I had to scramble to get the photos. I saw other northern hardwood species too--white oak, sourwood, red maple and tulip poplar to name a few.
Back up top, and just steps beyond the edge of the ravine it feels like you're on a different continent. The ground is flat and there was a Longleaf Pine plantation with grass that looked like it was immaculately groomed.
Other notable highlights of the day were a sighting of this edible delicacy - the lion's mane mushroom.
And the much more common poisonous-psychoactive Fly Agaric - always a photogenic subject.
The latter was sighted as I ended the day on the Eglin Air Base walk beside US 331. The highway is under construction, and half of this 3.8 mile walk is on the shoulder of the highway where the base is permanently closed to public access, but it was no trouble getting through.
Here's a map of today's meanderings, with links to dozens of additional photos:
Florida Trail through Lafayette Creek WMA at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond