Monday, May 20, 2013

Paynes Prairie & Devil's Millhopper

Recently, I was up in Gainesville visiting my best friend, Auz.  This is a guest post from her about some of our hikes up there:
Paynes Prairie became the first state preserve in Florida in 1971, and since has been designated as a National Landmark.  

More than 20 distinct biological communities thrive in this national preserve - you can even see wild bison and horses from designated observation decks!  There is a Visitor Center (which we did not go to) that provides audio-visual programs that explain the area's natural and cultural history. 
One of the most popular trails, Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
is a 16 mile long, paved trail that snakes through Gainesville.   

 We had a great time trouncing through Paynes.  We even saw some wildlife! 

The hobby herpatologist wasn't paying attention and Megan almost stepped on an exquisite adult coral snake.

I didn't have my snake stick, so I couldn't get a very good picture.  I can only blame myself!
There was a good amount of canopy cover on the trail that we walked.  It kept it from being too terribly hot.
We were out for a couple of hours and it was very overcast the entire time.  The sky was threatening us with rain, but that didn't deter Megan and I from continuing our adventure.  We stumbled upon a gorgeous observation bench.  This was my favorite part of the day.  We took a seat and slowly ate our Publix subs and took in the sights.  

Devil's Millhopper

The second part of the day was a short jaunt over to a set of lushly landscaped stairs.  It's the second cousin of Tallulah Gorge State Park 1099 steps down.  This pristine limestone 120 feet deep sinkhole has been visited by the curious since the early 1800s.  There is a Visitor Center with clean bathrooms and pets are allowed!  We saw a lot of people running the stairs.  It is definitely a beautiful place for a morning workout.  At the end of each flight, there is a information plaque regarding the sinkhole.  It's a nice way to catch your breath and learn something new at the same time.   

Devil's Millhopper Descent
Megan is looking ethereal while reading one of the information plaques

Path around the "Millhopper"

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cedar Key

This really isn't hiking related but yesterday, Auz and I went to Cedar Key, FL.  I had been wanting to go here for awhile and when I found out how close it was to Gainesville, I insisted!  It is an old town by Florida standards.  It dates back to the mid 1800s when it had an important role as an army base, port, shipping base, and pencil factory supplier.  Cedar Key used to be located on nearby Atsena Otie Key, which was harvested for its "cedar" slats (likely it was juniper) to send to northern pencil factories.  Unfortunately, when Henry Plant built his railroad to Tampa they lost their importance as a shipping port and all their business, causing a decline in the area.  In September of 1846, a hurricane destroyed Cedar/Atsena Otie Key and it became abandoned.  After the hurricane, the remaining residents moved to modern day Cedar Key to rebuild their town.  Only one building remained standing on Atsena Otie, and it was later moved to Cedar Key.

We started our day in Cedar Key at their Historical Society where we learned a lot about the history of the islands and were able to view some very neat historical artifacts.  We then walked around the town and checked out the shops and art galleries until we were ready for lunch.  We randomly chose Seabreeze Restaurant based on their menu and were not disappointed.  We each had a beer and a Cedar Key salad which is lettuce, peaches, tropical fruit, candied pecans, and a scoop of pistachio ice cream!  It sounds like a crazy concoction that a pregnant lady would eat but it is surprisingly good!

Artifacts at museum

After lunch, we paid a guy to take us on a boat to Atsena Otie Key to explore the ruins on the former town.  There is a main dock on the island and a trail that goes through the middle of it.  We checked out the cemetery, building remains, and the beautiful beach before calling for our return boat ride.  On the way back, the man brought his two young daughters.  We ended up seeing some dolphins near the boat and followed them for 30 minutes.  They were swimming so close to the boat you could almost reach out and touch them!

We ended our trip at Low Key Hideaway which is a hotel and tiki bar on the beach that was recommended by some locals.  We drank some tequila and enjoyed the sunset before heading back to Gainesville (warning: they only accept cash!).  We had a fantastic day in Cedar Key and definitely want to return and stay at one of the cabanas at Low Key Hideaway!

Funny stools at the bar

Relaxing by the water

View from Low Key Hideaway