Saturday, June 15, 2013

Florida Trail: Loop Road to Mystery Dome and an Alligator Encounter

This morning I went on a very memorable hike that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.

My dad and I met up with the Florida Trail Association Big Cypress group to go on a short hike led by Christopher.  The plan was to hike 1.7 miles on the FL Trail then veer off and explore a cypress dome he saw on Google Earth.  For those of you not familiar with the term 'cypress dome' it is essentially a group of larger cypress trees that grow in a circular cluster with the tallest being in the middle, therefore shaping it like a dome.  It also looks this way from an aerial perspective.

Group with Cypress Dome behind us to the Right

We met up with the group at the Eastern Loop Road junction with Tamiami Trail to carpool to the trail head.  As we were leaving, Chris said something about not getting our hopes up with ideas of seeing bears or panthers.  Not 5 minutes into the drive, we spot a huge Florida black bear in the middle of the road.  These sightings are usually brief but the brush on either side of the road was so thick that the bear had no choice but to run away from our cars in the opposite direction until he found a trail to get into the woods.  This allowed us a clear view of him for at least one minute.

Florida Black Bear on Loop Road

We regrouped at the trail head and started hiking in ankle to knee deep water covering the Florida Trail.  When my dad and I hiked this section in February it was the dry season so the trail didn't have nearly as much water as it does now.

Florida Trail at Loop Road Trailhead

Butterfly Orchids on Trail

About 1/3 of a mile in, someone just ahead of my dad noticed an alligator's tail on the side of the trail.  The gator was about 6 feet long.  My dad wanted to get a picture of it but got a little too close and the gator jumped causing us to all jump.  This made the water on the trail completely murky and we assumed the gator had gone off the trail to get away from us.  I picked up my foot to keep walking and just as it brushed up against something bumpy that was not a log, Chris started screaming, "It's between your legs! It's between your legs!"  Somehow I had ended up straddling the alligator when we all jumped!!  I leapt far off the trail as the gator took off.  After we calmed down and even laughed a little we kept going.  A minute later we ran into another gator on the trail, this one about 7-8 feet long.  This one was in no hurry to get out of our way so we went way around it.

Gator #2

Hiking on this section of the trail was difficult enough since you usually couldn't see where you were stepping and the ground was made up of limestone riddled with holes for your leg to fall into.  On top of stumbling through the water covered trail, we now had to keep a close eye out for gators and venomous snakes.  We finally reached the turnoff and then what Chris had labeled the "Mystery Dome".  The inside of the dome was filled with sawgrass (ouch), large cypress trees, and beautiful bromeliads.  Cypress Domes are magical!

Inside Mystery Dome

We made our way through the sawgrass to a clearing.  Here, the water got deeper inside and some group members decided a swim was in order.

Swimming in the Cypress Dome

By now it was starting to get very hot and buggy so we finished exploring the dome and headed back to the main trail to start the hike back to Loop Road.

Bromeliads just Outside the Dome

It was an incredible hike with a great trip leader.  Oh and my new trail name is Gator Rider.

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