Category Archives: Hiking

The Strange World of Ocala National Forest

If you look at the image above, you may have no idea of what it is. What strange country is this in? It’s Fern Hammock Springs in Juniper Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest – one of several springs in Central Florida.

Ocala NF has freshwater springs sprinkled around its huge land mass. The water temperature in the springs is a constant 72 degrees year-round. You can swim in some springs, boat or fish in others and even snorkel.

Danny, Beth and Sawako on the Florida Trail

On my trip to Tampa to speak to the Tampa Garden Club, I stayed with Beth, a hiking friend. We walked through Tampa and St. Petersburg, both lovely cities. On the last day, we drove over to Ocala NF and met another Carolina Mountain Club hiking friend, Sawako.

What a lovely reunion!

The Florida National Scenic Trail goes right through Ocala NF, as it meanders for about 1,300 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore. We walked a small section of the trail. It was sandy and flat through scrub pines.

Trail to Lake George in Ocala National Forest

The trail to Lake George felt different, mostly because of the huge amount of Spanish moss. From tree to tree, the moss seemed to jump into the air, across the trail and land wherever. More palm fronds and less sand, as well.

We reached the lake in a little more than a mile. Lake George is the second largest lake in Florida, but so shallow, only ten feet in depth. It attracts migratory birds and alligators. When we were there, we only saw several herons in the distance.

I can really understand the attraction of Florida, beyond the allure of the beaches. I was hiking in shorts – I was in shorts the whole time I was there in February. I only put long pants back on in north Georgia.

But I can hardly complain. As I write this in Asheville, it’s over 60 degrees. Wild!

Big Island Historic Parks

In 1995, Lenny and I went to the Big island of Hawaii for the first time. We, of course, had booked our flights and lodging months in advance. But our government decided to forego a budget. Therefore the national parks were closed. We managed to walk a few minor trails in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park but never really knew about the historic parks.

Temple in PUHE

I’m making up for lost time and opportunity and dragging my family to the three historical parks on the west coast of the Big Island.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site protects a Hawaiian temple, one of the major sacred structure built in Hawaii before Europeans came.

It also introduces visitors to Kamehameha, the warrior, who united all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule, of course. Besides a half-mile loop through the protected area, there’s not much to do.

Staff at PUHE

But a poster in the visitor center caught my eye. There was a picture of every staff member that works in this park – from park ranger to the folks to manage the bookstore.

Now, what if the Smokies did this?

South of Kona on the Big Island lies the Captain Cook monument. Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was a British explorer and a navy man. He was the first European to visit the Hawaiian islands.

First the Polynesians welcomed him but by Cook’s third visit, he was no longer the “White God”. Tensions arose and he was killed by Hawaiians villagers near present-day Kona.

Captain Cook monument

In the late 1800s, a monument was put up on the bay where Cook met his demise. Several other groups have put up plaques in his honor. This website explains how to find the trailhead.

You can only get there by boat or by a steep 1.8 mile trail. On the way, we saw goats, a lost cow and several weasels. Most people who hike down plan to spend the day snorkeling but we just wanted to do the hike.

I don’t know why this monument isn’t more accessible. After all, Cook was a pretty famous explorer in the Pacific.

Maybe in the late 1800s, there was still animosity toward Europeans or maybe no one really cares.

Diamond Head – a classic

Climbing Diamond Head

Our last day in Honolulu – and I hadn’t climbed up Diamond Head yet.

The hike is less than two miles round trip, but climbs over 550 feet – up, up, up. By now, my son, Neil, and family had arrived to join me on this Hawaii vacation.

We drove out to Diamond Head State Monument before 8:30, a late start for us. How naive! On Christmas Day, all the parking spaces closest to the trailhead were already taken.

We left my daughter-in-law with seven-year old Isa to study the exhibits at the visitor center and turned back down to find a parking space. We climbed an extra couple of hundred feet and reunited. The five of us started climbing.

The route starts as a paved path, then turn to a hard-pack trail – all continuously up. We’re marching like ants: frustrated runners, slow-poke women in sandals, sneakered families and couples carrying babies in their arms or backs.

Then the stairs, tunnel and more steep stairs. The crowd is so orderly and polite. People are constantly apologizing for passing or for being too slow. By the time we get toward the top, there are lookouts and picture-taking opportunities.

Finally the top where groups are taking pictures of each other and the view. And what a view! Downtown Honolulu, the ocean, and Koko Head, where I had been several days ago. Reluctantly, we all started down the same way we came up.

Where did this trail come from?

Diamond Head was an ideal site for coastal defense of O’ahu. The Federal Government started fortifications in 1908. They built the trail for men and mules to bring building supplies and access. Now it’s managed by the Hawaii State Parks and, unlike Koko Head, is maintained.