Monday, November 18th, 2019
Everything was dewy in the morning, but we were just happy to be back on the Florida Trail. We headed to Tony’s Food Mart at the Sunoco station for coffee. The lady working there was incredibly friendly! It was chilly out, so we were happy when she allowed us to charge our electronics and drink our coffees inside.
When we left, the trail continued through a residential neighborhood that bordered Crystal Lake. Per usual, we scoped the houses as we passed by. Some of them were really nice, others looked neglected and dilapidated. We walked by a few prisoners at work who were weed whacking as we approached the lake houses that surrounded Brooklyn Lake.
We cruised down a sidewalk that bordered a busy road before making our turn towards Camp Blanding. Double Check, a guy who lives in Florida who we hiked with briefly in February, told us how nice the upcoming section was. It’s a wildlife management area that is owned by the department of military affairs, so it’s occasionally closed. Fortunately it was open, so no road walking for us!
We filled out our permits at the kiosk, then began our hike around Lost Lake. We approached the former grounds of Magnolia Lake State Park which was a relic of the segregation era. Originally, it was built in 1957 to provide separate park facilities for African Americans and was one of four of its kind located in the state of Florida. The nearby Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park was reserved for whites only. Due to pressure from the federal government, lawsuits, and the Civil Rights protests, it became fully integrated in 1964, but then closed down in the late 1970’s and was handed over to Camp Blanding. The park had picnic pavilions, a swimming area, a dock, a boat ramp, and a bath house, which we ended up taking our break by. We ate an early lunch under a pavilion and let our damp gear dry in the sun.
Aside from the dark history that surrounded the ruins of Magnolia Lake, the area was beautiful in an eerie sort-of way, and the section that followed was as lovely as Double Check described it to be. We even saw a massive turtle, which we think was the Coastal plain cooter.
When we made our exit, we circled a quarry before entering Gold Head Branch State Park. We dropped our packs at the gatehouse, only planning to break for a snack and to refill our water bottles, but then a park ranger named Carrie Anne invited us inside for coffee and allowed us to use the restroom.
We sat inside to chat with her for a while. She told us about the Southeastern pocket gopher, one of the topics she would regularly give public talks about. For so long we thought those huge mounds of dirt were fire ant mounds, since we had come across so many of them in the panhandle. Frisbee had gotten a little too intimate with those little buggers up there. She also informed us about the turpentine trade and how it’s harvested from Longleaf pines. That’s one of the reasons they have volunteers rake pine needles away from the base of those trees in case they’re struck by lightening. Turpentine is very flammable! We exchanged some more stories with her and she shared some of her boar jerky with us, which was delicious by the way, then we made our way through the park.
We hiked through pine forests, grasslands, and then entered dense, shaded hammocks when we got to the nature trail. We took a break on a picnic table when we got to Big Johnson Lake (“tee hee!”), and talked to a ranger and some others who were planning an event for next year.
We left the park and walked on the roads into the night. We took a break to eat dinner before it got too dark, then continued until we reached Tinsley Road trailhead. Then we were back in the woods.
We stopped at Tinsley campsite and we were kept awake by very active squirrels that were causing a ruckus above us. Fortunately, none of them dropped anything on us overnight.
25.5 miles (41.0 km)
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