A Hidden Gem and a trail through Hell

I have not been blogging much because we have not been doing much lately.  Today we did get out to explore a new Florida State Park.  Our first stop was the Ralph G. Kendrick  Boardwalk in Tate’s Hell Forest. The boardwalk takes you over into a wonderland of dwarf cypress trees and swampy water.  We were a bit uncertain about the route we had to take to reach the boardwalk.  It involved several miles of dirt road and we have a low-slung car.  But, the dirt roads turned out to be not too bad.  Rob drove slowly and it hasn’t rained for a while, so they were dry and not too bumpy.  As we drove along the gravel road, I had my first black bear sighting.  We’ve heard there are black bears in this part of Florida, even spotted some of their poo in our yard, but have not seen one until today.  It was a small one, way up ahead on the road.  By the time I called out to Rob that he was there, he had scurried off into the underbrush.  Rob never did see him.

Shortly after the bear sighting, we reached the turn off for the Kendrick Boardwalk.  As expected, we were the only people there.  We hadn’t passed a car on the road since leaving the town of Carabelle.  Swampy water ran along both sides of the road, which had clearly been built up by man.  I kept watch for alligators, expecting to see one at any moment.  No gator sightings for us today, but we did see a lot of other cool and creepy things.  

One of the first creatures that we saw after we got out of the car falls squarely into the creepy category.  Movement caught our eye in the water to the right.  As we watched, some kind of water snake slithered away through the water.  Thankfully he was headed AWAY!  Nonetheless, I hurried the last 20 or so feet to get up onto the boardwalk.  It ramped upwards until we were about 10 feet off the ground.  The main section of boardwalk follows what is now a submerged old logging road.  In the photo, you can see a straight section of growth that is lower than the surrounding area, which must be the old road.

View of old logging road

The Kendrick Boardwalk was built to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the dwarf cypress trees in this area.  They are so called because they only grow to a max of 15 feet. They really were cute, like looking at a doll world. It was a bit surreal to walk along at treetop level.  I felt like I was much higher than I really was.  The cypress have soft, bright green needles.  In the near distance, a great white egret sat perched on top of one cypress, watching the shallow water below for a morning snack.  We were fairly close to him and expected him to fly away as we neared the end of the boardwalk, but he stayed, perhaps knowing that we would go no farther.  All around us we heard constant bird song along with other sounds: a clicking sound, some bullfrogs, and a scratchy sound that reminded me of someone rolling 2 metal balls together in their hand.  We spotted a few pitcher plants (carnivorous plants that eat bugs) in the water below some of the cypress trees.  Dragonflies circled our heads and buzzed about.  Lilly pads floated on the water, many with bright white flowers blooming up to the sky.

Swampy area at Boardwalk

It was so peaceful and there were so many exotic things to look at here that it truly is a hidden gem.  We will definitely go back.  I understand the Cypress trees lose their needles and go stark white in winter, so that might be cool to see, too.

From here, we ventured back out on the dirt roads.  We traversed over rickety metal bridges that creaked and clanked under our weight.  This time we spotted a pair of deer running along the side of the road, their white rumps dipping up and down as they ran.  As we turned into our next destination, a medium-sized black lizard went scurrying across the busy highway.  He made it, but I would have been in a hurry, too, if I were him!

Our other stop for the day was a 3.5 mile hike on the eastern portion of the Tate’s Hell High Bluff hiking trail.  The whole forested area (over 200,000 acres) of land is known as Tate’s Hell.  According to the Florida Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “Local legend has it that a farmer by the name of Cebe Tate, armed with only a shotgun and accompanied by his hunting dogs, journeyed into the swamp in search of a panther that was killing his livestock. Although there are several versions of this story, the most common describes Tate as being lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drinking from the murky waters to curb his thirst. Finally he came to a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” Cebe Tate’s adventure took place in 1875 and ever since, the area has been known as Tate’s Hell, the legendary and forbidden swamp.”

Today’s hike was less than pleasant, so I can empathize with old Cebe Tate.  The first part of the hike (comprising about ⅓ of the total 3.5 miles, going counter-clockwise around the East loop) was down a sand road.  It was soft sand, like walking along the upper part of a beach, quite the calf muscle workout!  They had recently done a controlled burn through this section, so it was very exposed, no tall trees, only some very green new ferns and saw palmettos emerging through the blackened sandy earth.  In the hot sun, it was an unpleasant slog through the sand. 

Rob in Tate’s Hell 1

The next section introduced a bit of shade and much more foliage along the sandy road, which also had some growth in it, making it a little bit easier to walk on.  Along with the shade and some damper ground came a lot of nuisance flies that buzzed around our heads and bit me on the shoulders.  We put on bug spray and that reduced the amount of them, but some die-hards still got through.  My favorite part of this portion of the trail is what I think might be wild hog wallowing spots.  It has been dry for some time, but in quite a few spots, the wetter edges of the trail had been all dug up, just like a wild hog had rolled around in the mud (last time it was wet enough to be muddy).  I even found what I think might be hog footprints.  Leave your comments below if you think I might be right or wrong.

The final ⅓ (or probably a bit less than that) was the best.  We left the wide, sandy road behind and traveled down a narrower, firmer path with lush vegetation all around us.  We passed a little meadow of flowers that looked like lavender on steroids and some other small white flowers in little clusters.  There was a bit of shade from the sun and the bugs mostly left us alone, except for a dragonfly that seemed to like Rob.

Lavender on steroids?

So, definitely not our favorite new hike.  I wouldn’t actually call it a trail through hell, but it was a trail through Tate’s Hell and that makes for a catchy title.  ; )

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