After my visit to Shady Oak Gallery to check in on Linda's stained glass class and get some pics - Linda Starts Stained Glass Training, .... I drove over to the main section of Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park which was just a couple miles away.
We had heard a lot about this park, but we hadn't yet visited. I wanted to check out the campground and take some photos.
At the entrance, I learned that some of the trails in this main section were covered in water. The ranger told me which trails were wet, she told me the observation tower near the visitors center was closed, and she handed me a map of the park that included a description of the various trails.
I drove through the campground noting that we would fit in several sites, but that it would be difficult backing in with the narrowness of the road and all the vegetation. The campground was heavily treed, and the sites had some nice privacy. However, the loop was a bit tighter than some of the other Florida state parks we've been to, and the campground didn't jump out at me as a place we just had to stay.
I drove on down the road to the boat ramp, .....
where motorized and non-motorized boats could launch onto a lake.
Once parked, I looked over the map and trail descriptions. With the best trails in the main section underwater and the observation tower closed, I just decided to take a short trail along the lake.
I saw a large bullfrog in one of the ponds, ....
and then I met a photographer out on a boardwalk.
After chatting with him a few minutes, he told me that the La Chua Trail is by far the best trail in the park for wildlife and birds, and that my time would be best spent there. The only catch is that the La Chua Trail is on the north side of the park and is accessed from a road on the south side of Gainesville.
So, I would have a bit of a drive, and I would have to flirt with in-town traffic in my big truck. What the heck. There was plenty of daylight left, and it was a beautiful, warm day.
I couldn't get the La Chua Trail to come up on my GPS, so I had to rely on the crude map I got at the park entrance. There were no signs, I missed my turn, and I got lost. The La Chua Trail is not easy to find, and it took me a good fifteen to twenty minutes longer than it should have.
I never saw a sign for it anywhere, you just have to know where you are going. As it turns out, it's only a half an hour from our RV park, but it seemed like I drove forever.
Finally, at the trailhead, I got my bearings ....
and headed out on the 1.5-mile one-way trail.
The first part of the trail is paved .....
and goes through an old stable.
There are signs warning about open range bison, cattle, horses, and alligators. I was amused by the term "open range alligators". There were additional warnings reminding the city folk that "This is not a zoo" and the animals are wild.
The next section of the trail was a nice boardwalk, .....
passing by majestic oaks covered in Spanish Moss.
The next stop had a description of the area and the Alachua Sink.
Beyond that, I got a photo of this Little Blue Heron, .....
and a couple of Cattle Egrets.
The boardwalk continued .....
out to the "sink".
Just past that point, the boardwalk ended with about a half--mile down and a mile to go to the end of the trail on a grass & dirt path. But it was just a short walk before several alligators came into view.
Some were quite near the trail .....
and they made for great photo ops.
Then there were several, larger ones across the lake.
The University of Florida is in Gainesville, and it has lots of real life mascots right out its back door. :)
Continuing on, there were plenty of birds to photograph. The red-winged blackbirds, the coots, and the moorhens ....
all filled the air with their songs and calls. I always forget to video to share the sounds.
Cormorants were abundant as well.
More gators lying on a levy between ponds.
And then I saw a couple of the wild Spanish horses (aka "Cracker" horses).
There is a herd of about 30 of them in the park.
This large gator was swimming ....
and its always nice to see them doing something besides basking in the sun.
I continued walking down the path as it narrowed between the water on both sides.
Here's a nice look at a Savannah Sparrow.
It was about that time that Linda called me to tell me she was already home. They got to a good stopping point, so she went home early. Well, I was a good hour from being finished on the trail, and it was going to be a couple hours before I got home.
The last half mile of the trail, most of the alligators were quite a distance away from the trail, and I was be-bopping along looking at birds on both sides, when I walked up on this little gator right next to the trail.
It was facing away from the path, but it startled me nonetheless.
Continuing on to the observation deck at the end, this White Ibis posed for me.
I climbed up on the platform ....
for some great views of the prairie all around.
The sun was going in and out of the clouds to my west, but it was still pretty warm and I was sweating a lot on this short, flat, easy trail.
After having the deck to myself for quite sometime, I started back. Being out there in nature always puts me right in the moment and provides me with a subtle joy that I crave.
On the return trip, I took more bird pictures. I'm not sure what this Turkey Vulture was doing sitting in the marsh.
The Great Egret made more sense.
Anhinga drying its wings.
The Pied-billed Grebes are adorable.
I got some really good looks at this Snowy Egret.
And it got a good look at me, too.
Getting closer to the boardwalk, I saw the horses again, only this time there was a Cattle Egret on the back of one of them.
One more Moorhen photo ....
and then one more gator photo. :)
Soon, I was back on the boardwalk finishing up my wonderful afternoon.
So, I can't tell you much about the main part of Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park, but if you are in the area, it's worth a trip to find the La Chua Trailhead and take a little walk. It's sort of like a smaller version of Shark Valley down in the Everglades without requiring the trip all the way to the southern tip of Florida.
Hope you enjoyed tagging along. :)