Visiting Florida's state parks and beyond in our Roadtrek. This is how we saw it all. Hopefully, the posts will give you some useful information. Questions and comments are welcome.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Return to Florida's Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Returned to Puc Puggy Campground on the southeast corner of Gainesville after a long absence.  The campground is still well maintained and the staff is as friendly and helpful as ever.

We returned to the same site, #18, we've had before as it is very level hardpacked sand/limestone.  Previously it was a full shade site, however, the largest tree has been removed due to rot and now it is a partial shaded site.  Still a good site, though.


The loop is paved. The sites are all back-in and have a lot of shade and side privacy.  There is 30/20 amps and water.  A few have 50 amp, none have sewage.


There are no cabins here, but there are 14 nice tent sites in three separate loops off the main loop with water and electric.  Plus along the Chacala Trail there is primitive and equestrian tent camping.

The day park area contains a playground,

two large pavilions and a 3 grill pit, plus several picnic tables, small grills, restrooms,


and a small boat ramp into Lake Wauberg.  Fishing and boating (no gas-powered engines)

Saturday evenings from November through February campers can enjoy ranger-led campfire programs about Paynes Prairie's cultural and natural resources at the campfire amphitheater. 

The main attraction this trip was to go up the 50' observation tower for a view into the prairie.  It had been closed on previous visits.

Heading to the top.

Worth the return trip.  View from the top. Early morning on the prairie.

And, way out there seven wild horses.  About a mile and a half away near La Chua Trail.

The lavender field just below the top of the photo is a sea of Pickerel Weed.

Close to the observation tower is an abundance of Wild Hibiscus.

The Observation Tower from Cone's Dike Trail inside the prairie.

Near the tower is the newly renovated Visitor Center. Inside are several items telling about the prairie preserve including, books, on-going videos, brochures, dioramas, telescope to view the prairie, and rangers and volunteers to answer questions and talk story about the prairie.

The center looking from the prairie edge.  There is an outside deck to sit and observe a section of the prairie.

The view from the lawn in front of the visitor center deck. A group of wild horses were along a narrow trail that passes along the fence in the foreground the day before.

There are several miles of trails in the campground area ranging from .3 miles to 8 miles.  This area is the trailhead for the Chacala Trail.  This trail is for hikers, bikers (fat-tire) and equestrians.  The trail has three segments with marked intersections at various distances so you can create your own path if you don't want to do the whole 5.88 miles.

The trails vary from narrow, 

to wide.  

Easy going (there's one of those intersection markers),

to a little challenging with roots, rocks, elevation changes.  Part of Jackson's Gap Trail.

Cone's Dike Trailhead.  This trail, a paved 8 mile round trip, is for hikers and bikers only.  No pets allowed.  You enter through a locked gate and you are now in the prairie, a wilderness area.  Unrestrained wildlife on the trail.  Very strict rules.  Utmost, if a bison, horse or alligator is on the trail...STOP.  Do not attempt to pass.

And, there are a few miles of paved roads within the campground, day park, and to the visitor center and observation tower.  While biking this road we were startled by a deer bounding out of the woods and across the road.  Ride cautiously. 

 Outside the park area are two trails into other sections of the prairie.  La Chua Trail (southeast corner of Gainesville) and Bolen Bluff Trail (off Hwy 441).  Each is about 3 miles one way. Foot trail only.  No pets.

Things seen along the way.

Palamedes Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Gopher Turtle heading for home.

A doe on the trail.

A once majestic (maybe) tree on the prairie.

Great Blue Heron

Ready for take off.

Interrupting her lunch.

Blue Dasher

Eastern Amberwing

Huge snapping turtle half hidden along the road.

Gnarly limb. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Daytrip to Florida's Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park

Located on the northwest corner of Gainesville, this park's main attraction is a very old conical shaped sinkhole about 117 feet deep and 500 feet across at the top.  Just inside the entrance is a shaded area with picnic tables to enjoy a picnic lunch during your visit.  There is also a visitor center with interpretive displays, and you can arrange a tour with a ranger.  Currently the center is under reconstruction, so we didn't get to see it this trip.

Why Devil's Millhopper? The shape lends to the name.

A path leads past the center to the sinkhole and a half mile nature trail, a loop that follows the rim of the chasm.

Just before the staircase to the bottom of the sinkhole is an outlook.  The growth of the foliage has pretty much covered up a good view of the bottom.  So, the only way, and best way, to see the bottom is to descend the staircase. 

All 232 steps.  Fortunately, there are a few landings so one can stop and rest and observe the lush surroundings. 

As you begin to descend you notice one of about 12 springs, fed by rainfall, that feed the sinkhole.  This is the only spring above ground.  The remainder seep from the walls of the sinkhole as the rainwater seeps through limestone layers and encounters a layer of clay. The clay layer forces the water to seep along the limestone layer and finally come out the wall. 


A fascinating root system along the way.

More of the staircase.  Just fascinated with the staircase.

Getting close to the bottom.


Slopes of the sinkhole provide a cut-a-way view of central Florida's geological past. Each layer of sediment contains a record of the events and animals that ocurred during a particular period.  The shells of marine animals found in the lower layers represent a time when this area was covered by the sea.  The bones and teeth of land animals found in the upper more recent layers tell of a period after the sea level dropped.

The bottom.  A lot of algae.  Probably due to the still water and the hot, sunny weather.  The changing water level allows for some tree growth in the sinkhole. Fossilized bones and teeth from early life forms have been found at the bottom of the sink.

Where the surface spring meets the bottom.

At the bottom there is a short boardwalk and stairs to another overlook.

Another spring outlet into the sinkhole.

Yet, another.  Most are well hidden by foliage.  A game to find them.


Oh, by the way...there are 232 steps back up to the top.  Enjoy the climb.

Back at the top take the half mile nature trail through three communities: the sand hill, the hammock and the swamp.

The bridge crosses a small ravine cut by the only surface spring.

The trail is an easy hike, well marked, with informative signage, and occasionally a bench to rest and enjoy the surroundings.

An Eastern Fence lizard.  In the bright sunlight it casts a blue tint and the sides and belly are brighter blue. The park is home for many reptiles, birds and mammals.

There are several "unblazed" paths to the outside of the trail with signage to stay on the main trail.  On the inside of the trail is the chasm with appropriate signage.  Obey and enjoy the day.