'scene' along the way, a second look, adventure, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Preserve, finding my way, Florida landmarks, friends, fun, making memories, nature, perseverance, photography, road trip, unintended images

And then there is the distillery…

When we arrived at Chassowitzka the other day we stopped at the station to check in and find out if we did or did not have to pay to enter the park. We didn’t, being over 65, in our case way over. But the real reason I was happy that we had stopped was because the ranger asked if we had ever been to the distillery in the park. No, we hadn’t, and once my friend heard that word ‘distillery’, and we didn’t know the park so we were wandering anyhow, we found ourselves following the signs for NJoy. And what a fun surprise it was to find this place after becoming convinced that we had somehow lost our way more than once. If you go keep driving, there will be another sign eventually.

We found a nice brick pathway to draw us in.
This butt-shot view was chosen to eliminate cars from the background. In case you wondered.
Conveniently placed near the entrance is this out house, complete with light switch.
Just to our right we couldn’t help but notice the outdoor bar area.
But the actual distillery caught our eye, with it’s working water wheel.
The coloring on this donkey, (it is a donkey, right?), caught my eye, but he wasn’t interested in posing for a picture.
There were horses and cows in the pasture.
And a pig just outside the distillery itself.
And a charming pond to sit by and enjoy the view.
Perhaps we will have to return for this event.

I had already decided that this could make a great venue for a party of any kind. There was lots of seating, a giant fire pit, and the bar of course. If private parties are allowed, I didn’t ask. Tours are offered all day long when it’s open, which is weekends only, and while we didn’t take the tour or even sit at the bar and have a beer this time, we might just correct that oversight when we return. Hours later my friend was still marveling over the idea that back in the woods, and I mean way back in the woods, you could find such an oasis waiting for you.

'scene' along the way, a second look, adventure, butterflies, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Preserve, exploring new places, Florida landmarks, friends, fun, making memories, nature, perseverance, photography, road trip, sky

A short visit to Chassahowitzka…

You know how it is. You head out the door intending to do one thing, but the conversation leads you in an entirely different direction. That’s what happened yesterday when we set out to see and take photos along the back roads of ‘old Florida’, but we wound up at the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Preserve instead. I’ve been there before, but I’ve always been the passenger tagging along with friends who know the park backwards and forwards. Which means that I have no idea how to get around in there so I wasn’t the best guide that a person could hope for. In fact we never did see the scenery I expected to show him, but that was okay, we’ll find that next time. And next time maybe there won’t be bow and arrow hunters in the woods, a fact that kept us close to the road as we got out for pictures. Not that we are hikers. As you can see from the feature photo we found lots and lots of butterflies in the thistles at the side of the road.

There was a lot of competition over this flower.
I love the detail in the thistles.
Rain was expected later on, but for the most part the skies were pretty.
And the rains we have had meant that we had to drive through puddles that took over the road in spots.
Trees and sky are your companions as you drive the winding road.
The sky seemed threatening at times, but mostly it was pretty.
Then on the way home we saw this rain falling in the general direction of where we were heading, but we seemed to drive around it. Then it started to rain as soon as we got home. Perfect timing.

The wildlife was keeping a low profile as we drove through. Of course it was afternoon and there is usually more action in the morning and at dusk. Still my friend was happy to see the Florida landscape as it was before people decided to ‘improve’ it…

'scene' along the way, adventure, bugs, butterflies, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Preserve, Florida landmarks, Florida wildlife, nature, perseverance, photography

Into the woods…

I tagged along with my friends into the woods at the Chassahowitzka Wildlife preserve yesterday, which always involves lots of fun. And bugs, lots of bugs. We took pictures of some of them and swatted many more.

And not only bugs, we also found a deer, a fox squirrel, and we had to search but we did find the baby alligators we were looking for. I can almost say that they are cute, but they are alligators so they won’t be cute for long. And they were calling for their mother, I think we were distressing them. We didn’t see her though, but chances are good that she wasn’t far away.

You do have to wonder what happened here. Maybe someone was extra anxious to jump in the water at Eagle’s Nest for some scuba diving. Or something like that…

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Finding our way home…

What we had been deciding, before we took our little side trip to find the lost hiker, was whether to head to Eagle’s Nest or to just call it a day.  Imagine driving the pot-holed trails that you see in the feature photo, and coming across a person in full scuba gear.  It came as a surprise to me, but the signage told the story.

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Exploring the underwater cave system is for experts only, with the proper equipment and experience.  Another mysterious natural world right underfoot, something you would never in a million years expect to be there.  Unfortunately the area has been underestimated with a certain degree of regularly over the years.  Of the 14 people who have died here in recent history it is the father and son who went out on Christmas Day with their brand new equipment and never returned that tugs at my heartstrings.

This is the view that greets you as you arrive at Eagle’s Nest…03-03-20chassnestview.jpg

Divers told us that the no-see-ums were out in force, but we were aware of the time and knew that we would have to head back before they closed the road at dusk, so they didn’t get to feast on us for long.  But the drive back to the entrance took longer than it would have if Mother Nature hadn’t been teasing us with a beautiful sunset.  There was so much purple in the sky, if you see it in the photos it’s completely natural.  We shot photos out the car window every time the view brought us to a halt.  The view and the pot holes in the road, I’m not sure which stopped us more often.  When I headed out the door to join Betty and Linda on this adventure I had no clue what to expect, but I did know that we’d have fun, we always do.

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'scene' along the way, a second look, adventure, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Preserve, Florida landmarks, Florida wildlife, friends, fun, making memories, nature, old dogs new tricks, perseverance, photography

Chassahowitzka with friends…

I headed north to join my friends Betty and Linda for a hike in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge yesterday.  It is a vast, 30843 acre, of preserved wilderness area encompassing four of the coastal counties in the area I call home.  They volunteer at the Chinsegut Conservation Center and have become quite knowledgeable about the history of the area.  The point of our hike was to find an area they had been to on a guided hike a while back, wanting to see the area again without a big group of hikers.  That the hike began with us looking for the particular tree that would mark the spot to go off the trail and into the woods didn’t come as a huge surprise to me, I had faith in them that we would in fact find our way back to the cars at the end of the day.

We were in search of the ruins of a thriving community that existed here from the years 1910-1917.  It was built around a logging company, and these are the remains of the actual logging business and mill that worked the area.  In addition to this area there was a town nearby with neighborhoods populated with workers of various nationalities.  They had a small railroad to move the logs to market, plus there were houses, a post office, school, saloon, all the components of a community.  By 1917 all the usable trees in the area had been cut and the people moved on, taking as much of their building material as they could, to be reused as they rebuilt in a new area.  In the 100 years since they left Mother Nature has reasserted herself, with help, and leaving not much to mark this time in history.03-01-20woodsruins03-01-20woodsruins203-01-20woodsruins503-01-20woodsruins6Some of where we hiked yesterday had been underwater when they had been there before.  The area is spring fed and there is water just off the road in a lot of the area.  Water and the creatures who live there, such as an alligator they dubbed Nestor, who they thought was a male until she had 16 babies last year.  As we hiked I had to wonder where she and her babies might be lurking as we took pictures.03-01-20woodsruins303-01-20woodsruins4I, for one, would not want to be lost on these trails.  Once we got back to the car we did something we don’t usually do, we sat and talked at a picnic table, deciding where to go next.  We were aware of a woman who was waiting for her 84 year old friend and his Jack Russel terrier to return to his car.  She was calling his cell phone, but she suspected that he’d left his phone in the car.  He had been gone quite a while, she said, and it was now 4 PM and with only a couple of hours of daylight left we offered to drive the roads to see if we could find him while she waited by the car in case he came back.  We drove a long way, I was afraid that if he had fallen we may have driven right by him, and we all suspected that surely a man his age wouldn’t have walked that far.  But Linda said that something told her not to turn around, to keep going, because this road was not traveled by many visitors who might come across him to help.  And the story has a happy ending because sure enough, we found him.  He was fine and still walking, but boy was he happy to see us.  He had gotten lost, and the trail he was on would eventually loop back to the parking area, but not for another five or so miles.  Don’t you just love a happy ending.  I do…03-01-20woodsbuddy

His name was Kenny and he said he learned a big lesson from this experience.  Always keep your phone with you.  Good advice.

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Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge

The Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1941, is comprised of over 31,000 acres of saltwater bays, estuaries and brackish marshes at the mouth of the Chassahowitzka River. The refuge, located approximately 65 miles north of St. Petersburg, FL, was established primarily to protect waterfowl habitat and is home to over 250 species of birds, over 50 species of retiles and amphibians, and at least 25 different species of mammals, including the endangered West Indian Manatee.

I lifted this description of Chassahowitzka straight off of the internet.  Just a little way up the road from me is such a wonderful natural resource that I probably would never have discovered if not for finding the photography classes offered by Alice Mary Herden at Creative-Nature-Photography.com.

 

 

I had heard of the extensive underwater cave system here in Florida, unfortunately because of the deaths which occur when people without the necessary training attempt to explore the caves.  What surprised me was the access.  An unimpressive staircase to enter a little pond, no bigger than the ‘lake’ in my back yard, is the access to such an amazing system of caves.  It seems like the entrance ought to be more dramatic than it looks.  It’s sad to think that divers have entered and never returned.

But the objective of the day was bat photos, which you won’t find here because none of mine turned out.  “It’s hard to capture the bats in a photo”, said Alice, and she wasn’t kidding.  And an owl would have been nice, maybe next time.  But here is what I did manage to capture.

 

 

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The Zipper spider was my favorite.  I had heard them mentioned before and wanted to ask why they were named that, but once I saw one I didn’t have to ask anymore.  What a perfect time to discover this place, with months of gorgeous weather ahead to explore and enjoy.