Florida flatlands, barefoot

Myakka State Park, Dec 2018

  A Florida gulf-coast area visit gave me an opportunity to go poke around the Myakka River State Park.  I had been there a few years before and did the "touristy" stuff, like the boat tours on the lake to gawk at alligators, but this time I just wanted to go hike around its trails some.  The park is *huge* and its trails go for long stretches between intersections, and it's not easy to plan a loop that isn't going to take all day.  I made a guess at a route that would take me through some "wooded" areas and open fields.  [In Florida-speak, those are respectively called "hammock" and "prairie".]  In aerial views it's pretty easy to see where these regions are.

Here's the GPS track from the day, about 6.5 miles.  This view is about two and a half miles wide, showing that the density of trails here is fairly sparse, and this is only a small fraction of the park!  I was aiming for something called "hiking trail", one of the more wiggly lines on the map, which is a metric I often use as indicating the interesting trails.  I wanted to make a loop, so the return from that would be up one of the larger access roads.

[Images are linked to larger copies.]
Edge of Myakka Lake The main road up runs right by Myakka Lake, making for an easy stop to cross the grassy area and wade right into the water for a shoreline shot.  No worries about getting my boots wet, of course...

The transition from dry to wet is very gradual, with no real drop-off.  I'd assume that the grass is the floodplain, and spends some amount of time underwater.

  I parked up at the "Lower Fox" trailhead and started in, through mostly wooded terrain which opened up a little later.  "Wooded" here is mostly a mix of live-oak and saw palmetto, with some other stuff mixed in.  The ground is usually covered with a litter of dry palmetto leaves, and is sort of "crunchy" in places.  But it's usually humid enough that a lot of what's on the ground gets damp and softens up; depends on if it's in close contact with the sandy soil or not, and how recently it rained.

Still, it's almost impossible to go through any stretch of palmetto thicket without making a *lot* of noise.

Roto-tilled trail As I reached the open area, I found that the main trail had been oddly roto-tilled across some of its width.  Big clods of grass and roots were just thrown up in every direction, making for very uneven terrain.  It was actually not easy to walk on from a stability standpoint, so I generally edged along just outside the bumpiness.

I learned later that this is a fire-break, to try and prevent burning from either prescribed or natural fires from spreading across trails. I still don't quite understand how eight or ten feet of less-burnable sandy dirt would prevent wind-blown sparks from flying across.

Narrow hiking trail through palmettos I found the intersection for the "hiking trail"; this was a much narrower footpath threading through the foliage.  A wiggly trail on a map is often indicative of steep hills and elevation changes, but not here -- all dead flat as it wound back and forth.  It stayed mostly under cover, out of the "Florida winter" sun which can still be fairly intense.

The ground under the thicker clusters of oaks was quite open, peppered here and there with foot-deep pits in the sand that had clearly been dug by something, and I was remiss in not getting any pictures of that.  These would have been from wild pigs; I didn't encounter any today.

Into big open plain The 'all-purpose' trail
The narrow trail finally emerged into a huge open area.  To attempt to photograph the breadth, I went up a convenient tree a little ways for the left-hand shot.  Now I was at the "all-weather road", which stretched away to the north with no end in sight -- this was the other half of my loop.  This is the prairie land, which constitutes most of the area in the park.  This had the same sort of firebreak, not the full width of the slightly raised roadbed.  This was going to be something of a slog, trading off between the tumbled rototill and the spiky rough-cut grass for another two miles or so.

Through a small stand of pines Oh, and add occasional wet boggy bits to that list of underfoot features.  It had rained fairly hard a couple of days before, so there were some leftovers.  I eventually came up to the small stand of pines I had seen in the distance, which appeared to have been planted.  The road continued, flat and featureless, for a good ways past that.  It was quite silent, too -- the prairie certainly wasn't seething with critters that day.

Stepping technique to mash down grass stubble Most of this required a particular stepping technique to flatten out the spiky rough-cut grass stems before putting weight down.  I found myself settling easily into an appropriate gait, and realized that as I slid my foot forward a little just above the ground that I was feeling the stems pass between and under my toes, thus getting feedback when they were just the right state of flattened before stepping.  I found that I could do this quite fast and almost automatically after a while, so I'm assuming it's another one of those things that the human feet/brain system is wired to be able to do almost instinctively.  Stiff twigs sticking out of the ground don't just come from brush-hog cutting; we probably evolved to handle such environments when needed.

Colorful poop! Eventually I got around the rest of the loop and re-joined Lower Fox, and reached the relative shelter of the hammock.  The open part of all that was actually rather tedious, and I didn't see any other hikers along there.

Something had left some very colorful scat along the way; clearly a critter that likes berries but may not have been able to extract much out of them.

View from canopy-walk tower After getting back to the car I drove down toward the entrance, stopping briefly where there's a short "nature trail" with a short bridge at canopy level and a taller wooden tower at one end.  The view from on top is, as could be expected, pretty flat and featureless.

Sometimes I really wonder what early colonists ever saw in this place.

_H*   181231