As we finished the trail yesterday, I asked Bill, “What we should name this post?” We usually agree on most things. But he said, “Central Florida’s Best.” For him, this was a perfect day on a trail. So much better than Disney World, he continued. But maybe not the best. We’ve had a lot of GREAT hikes. But for me, I thought it was the best, at least in a long time.
We are currently in a location we would not have selected. We are here by chance. The tire blow out. GEICO Insurance. We’re in a “preferred” shop that happens to be an authorized Tiffin (our RV’s maker) repair facility. But we do know Central Florida. We’ve lived in what is called, south central Florida. I wrote about it here.
But we never heard of this place, the amazing Tiger Creek Preserve, Lake Wales Ridge, The Nature Conservatory. From the trail brochure, it tells us, “It is located on the edge of peninsular (their word) Florida’s oldest and highest land mass, the Lake Wales Ridge. The ridge shelters some of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the United States…” It is “a high-quality blackwater seepage stream and the vegetation that falls into the creek colors the water….The preserve protects various Florida habitat – hardwood swamps and hammocks, scrubby and pine flat woods and sand hills…rare animals…including swallow-tail kits, bald eagles, gopher tortoises….” And for us, it offers great hiking, up and down this high mass in Florida, on white sandy trails as well as other diverse trails and with very well marked trails. So we were all over it! Our first day, we did one of the main and most popular hikes, just over four miles. We decided to start with it, Heron Pond Loop Trail. There are 10+ miles of trails in this nearly 5,000 acre preserve.
The day was overcast, a bit breezy and cool. So our photos aren’t the best. But it was so tranquil! And a bonus, we didn’t see any other hikers, although a couple had signed in earlier in the day.
While we had our camera ready, we didn’t see any wildlife. But we saw lots of deer and other wildlife tracks, hog tracks/mud holes and just serene nature at it’s best. It was a bit windy so we think that kept the wildlife hunkered down.
Of course, we love history, so I had to look up Ken Morrison when we got home. The few facts they posted only made me want to know more about this man. Oh, how I would have loved to met him! Here are a few excepts from his obituary:
….He thoroughly enjoyed life until his death of natural causes at age 92.
Ken was born April 1, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He graduated from Carleton College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. In 1943, he married his high school sweetheart, Helen Curtis. The family moved from New York where he was the Editor of Audubon Magazine. They settled in Babson Park, Florida and for 25 years Ken was the second Director of Bok Tower Gardens. He was President Emeritus of the Florida Audubon Society and on the Board of Trustees of the Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy’s Florida Chapter. His lifelong love of nature grew out of a childhood fascination with birds. With his enthusiasm and knowledge, he inspired many people to appreciate and protect Florida….
Ken’s love of the English language was revealed through his public speaking abilities, his writing skills and his great sense of humor. For 10 years he wrote a weekly column “Ask the Naturalist” for the Daily Highlander and the Waynesville, NC Mountaineer. He authored two books, Mountain Lake Almanac and the Tonic of Wildness. Ken was also known for his musical talents. Although he had no training, he was a singer extraordinaire in the Vaudeville style and enjoyed music gatherings. He was a long-time member of Babson Park Community Church….
Being a minimalist who also loves to read, I hope I can find copies of his books I can “borrow” since I gave up owning books. Wouldn’t you want to read his books or his column? Anyway, we had to go back for more so the next day, we brought lunch and were prepared for a seven mile hike!
We haven’t hiked this far in a while, so we felt we needed to pace ourselves. While we started rather early for us (11:00), we decided to take our lunch break at 12:15, after only two + miles into the hike. What prompted it was the bench we found at the entrance of the Highlands Trail. We took a short break and then entered the trail ….
We were not disappointed. In fact, on one review, it said don’t do this hike unless you want the miles, the rest of the hikes show off the area. But we disagree. Granted, we wanted the miles, but we just love serenity and tranquility as we wander around in nature! And what made this so great is our conversation. I wish I had a recording of it! We talked about everything as nature prompted us….
We actually didn’t take many pictures we now realize. But we enjoyed every step of the way. We knew there was wildlife there. We saw so many different animal tracks. We recognized the deer, there were LOTS of their tracks, also birds, tortoise tracks and even snake tracts. We carefully looked to make sure we didn’t get a surprise.
As we began to wind down, around miles 5.4, we noticed there were two directions we could go! The whole time, the trail was clearly marked. Long story short, we ended up looking for our own tracks as we seemed to get a little lost. We know if that happens, to go back to where you last saw a trail marker. They provided phone numbers in the brochure in case this happened. But I had my “Map My Hike” tracker going, so we used it to “guess”which direction to go. As it turned out, we found a detour around all the swampy areas so we only had to walk back through a few of them. This probably added another 1/4 mile or more to our hike.
And then the excitement begins! Finally, Bill spots what may be an otter in the pond as we emerged off the trail.
We watched for 15 minutes or more and enjoyed these gorgeous creatures. There we four of them. They were so playful! I saw two of them kiss! Up and down off the bank, on the other side of the pond. We just never got a descent picture. But what a treat it was! We always hope to see wildlife. So Bill said, “Oh just to see one more animal would be good!”
And then, SWOOSH! We saw two beautiful and rather large deer literally flying through the bushes beside us. And then SPLASH as they landed in the water….and then they were gone! I’ve always said the Lord hears our prayers and desires! I had just read this Psalm a few days ago and really meditated on it as I thought about all the answers to our prayers and what a wonderful lifestyle we have:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4