Friday, February 10, 2012

Croom Tract, Loop A

We were back out to the Withlacoochee State Forest today to hike the last of the three loop trails in the Croom Tract.  Loop A is 7 miles in length with a short, quarter mile connector trail from the parking lot.  Again, Tony and Diana were out there with us.  We’re liable to make hikers out of them yet.
Posted this photo yesterday and have now decided it is Yellow Star Grass

We learned many things before we ever got started on our hike.  The parking lot is the same one we’ve been using for all the Croom Tract hikes.  It’s located on Croom Road at the fire tower.  It’s a very large parking lot with a nice restroom and drinking water.  There is also a picnic area and across the street is a small campground.  There is a $2 per person day use fee to use these trails.

While we were still in the parking lot getting our things ready for the hike, a forest service truck pulled up.  Naturally, we chatted with the driver (John) for a few minutes and he was just full of information.  Perhaps the most important thing we learned was that there is an annual pass available at the District Ranger office (and maybe online) for $30.  The pass is good for up to 7 people per car.  We’ve spent more than $30 in day use fees already.  That will be something we’ll definitely purchase next winter.
Gopher mounds

He also told us that the large mounds of sand we’ve been seeing on our hikes are made by gophers.  We saw plenty of them today.

Thanks to you readers who confirmed our suspicions about wild hogs being responsible for the damage to and around the trails.  John verified that, as well, and he also said that armadillo will also root around in the sand.  The places we saw on our hike on Thursday I feel sure were made by hogs.  They were too widespread and too deep, I think, for it to be the work of armadillo.

As it turned out, John was the person who had laid out, built, and maintains the trails in Withlacoochee State Forest.  He told us how many miles of horse, biking, and hiking trail he had built during his 25 year career with the forest service and it was phenomenal.  Of course, he has volunteers who help maintain the trails now, but still it is quite an accomplishment.  Way to go, John, and thanks a million.

John was so interesting we had to drag ourselves away, but, alas, the trail was calling.  Besides, it was chilly this morning and I needed to get moving to warm up.  We crossed Croom Road for our trail and headed down (literally) the connector trail to Loop A.  We did our hike in the clockwise direction.  At the junction with the connector trail and the Loop, is a backcountry camping area.  It is very large and will accommodate many tents.  There is one picnic table, but several fire rings with logs or benches for sitting.  There is no privy and no water, but it is only a quarter mile to the parking lot with the restrooms and drinking water.

This hike was different from the other loops in Croom Tract in that there were several short hills we had to hike over.  Everything else we’ve hiked in this area has been essentially flat.  The hills were different and offered a little change of pace.  We hiked through mostly pine forest.

Our excitement of the day came at lunch.  We found a shady spot and spread our out ponchos to have a clean place to sit.  While we were enjoying our lunch, a couple of hunting dogs trotted down the nearby horse trail.  We didn’t see any sign of their owner, but they were obviously well cared for hunting dogs with tags, collars, and GPS tracking devices.  A few minutes later one of the dogs came back to investigate what we were doing.  He was a cute little thing and though he checked us all out, Gene was his favorite.

A mile or so down the trail after our lunch break, the other little dog showed up.  There was no sign of her brother and she followed us all the way back to the parking lot.  Since she too had a GPS, her owner was waiting for her when she came out of the woods.

We added the feather from Gene's hat to the dog's collar.

Since we had gotten free coupons for blizzards at the FMCA rally last week, we deemed it necessary to stop by Dairy Queen on our way home.  Another great ending to a successful hike.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

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