Hey everyone! Hope you had a wonderful 4th of July weekend and unfortunately for most of us, it's back to work as usual.. After running around chasing storms all Saturday morning, I got a phone call from my brother with some Fourth of July plans and immediately headed down towards Ft. Lauderdale. I didn't bring my laptop along, so I was unable to bring any updates at the time. In this shot, the rain was coming down heavy and the lightning strikes were so frequent and intense that I was not about to leave my car and risk my safety or equipment. The water droplet image would be the only one that I would capture that morning.
Waking up at my brothers apartment in Ft Lauderdale Sunday morning was a bit rough, as I'm sure it was for many others. My brother and one of his friends took off for a round of golf and I decided I would just go home and rest. One thing that I hate terribly in life, is repetitiveness. I've driven between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale via the Florida Turnpike and i95 more times than I can count. To switch it up, sometimes I like to take Alligator Alley (i75) towards the center of the state to RT27 North and then back east across State Rd 80 to Wellington. Although it takes an extra 45 minutes or so, the scenery is gorgeous, there's way less people on the road, and there's always a good chance I run into a pop up thunderstorm during the afternoon. As I was coming up to Rt.27 to head north, I decided it just wasn't time to go home yet. I'm not sure what it is about me, but my mind was created with a completely instinctive thought process as opposed to one with any kind of rational thinking or decision making. The desire to just go further and to go deeper into places I have never been lives deep inside me. I wanted to see something new, something different. Even if I don't have the means to travel the world, I am still driven to find new things in my own backyard. I drove for about another 20 miles west and exited at Snake Rd, which has a well known gas station right off the exit. It's also home to one of the biggest alligators I had ever seen!
The actual temperature Sunday was 97°F and with the humidity added in, a real feel of 113°F! As dehydrated as I may have been, I bought a gallon of water knowing I may very well end up on some type of walking trail, in the middle of nowhere, in the excruciating South Florida summertime heat. Still with no general direction, I hopped in my car and decided to head north on Snake Road, for no reason at all really. With no storms on the radar and an overall dry day (so far), I took a quick glimpse at Google Maps to see what my options were. One thing I like to look for on Google Maps, are big green areas that usually indicate some sort of national park or forest. This time, my eyes caught a glimpse of an area on the map that turned out to be Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. I punched it in to my phones GPS and started driving in that general direction. I have never witnessed a straighter, more flatter road, in my entire life! Beautiful at first, but after miles of it, it became quite boring.
As I pulled into the area of the State Forest, I saw a few different signs along the road marking multiple trails. Since I was completely unprepared and hadn't had time to do any homework on the subject, I picked a road that looked to be the most open and inviting. Sometimes trail heads are within sight of peoples homes or what looks to be someones property, so I try to avoid those. Also, I drive a small 2 door coupe that easily gets stuck in any sand or mud, so I do my best to avoid those roads as well. The first road I chose to go down was called Oil Well Pad Road. At the entrance, there was a typical trailhead sign with a map and some brochures, but it looked like it hadn't been maintained in a long, long time. There was a $2 dollar fee which seemed to be based on an honorary system. You put the money in an envelope, rip off a tab and slide the envelope into a little mailbox trap door type contraption. There didn't happen to be any envelopes on that particular road/trail, so I forged ahead anyway. This one lane, dusty, rocky road seemed pretty adventurous at first and I was hoping it would lead me to a trailhead to start hiking, but it just ended in a small boring circular field. Time to backtrack.
At this point, I decided to do a bit of googling again and see what I can do to make the best of my time while I was there. Through the Florida State website I found another trail called the Tram Loop that was probably another 3 miles to the west and the closest one to me. I took the drive over there and again the same sign with the entrance fee, but this time there was an envelope and made sure to pay my dues. A lot of time and effort goes into maintaining these lands, so I will always pay when I can, even if there isn't another soul around for 50 miles. I drove only a few hundred feet and to my left was a sign with a trailhead marker indicating there was a boardwalk. I love boardwalks on trails because they're usually a good bit elevated above the ground and give great overlooking views. Something about this trail though and how tight the brush was on each side just gave me a weird feeling, especially being there by myself. I hadn't seen another person, even on the main road in over an hour or two. I got back in my car and started driving further down the road away from the main entrance when I came to the start of the Tram Loop. This trail was a lot more open and inviting. I got out of my car and started walking. There were tons of amazing native birds along way, along with native Floridian flowers and trees, but 1 mile in and the trail hadn't changed very much. It was now 3 o'clock and about the hottest part of the day with no shelter from the sun, so I decided to turn around. As I was walking back to my car I was thinking I should give the boardwalk trail just one more shot since I shook the nerves off while walking down the Tramp Loop.
A little braver this time, I parked my car, grabbed my camera gear and headed into the thick forest area that lead to the boardwalk. Almost immediately I thought I heard a pretty loud noise in the bushes, but I shrugged it off as if it were just some birds in the tree canopy. It was probably only a quarter-mile to a half-mile where the forest let up into a wide open field of overgrown grass and weeds. It was so quiet and tranquil. All you can hear was the wind blowing through the grass and the trees with the occasional vocals from the birds. It was just a surreal moment walking out of the woods and into the open like that where the boardwalk presented itself. It ended up being a short boardwalk that really didn't extend very far or go anywhere in particular. I was definitely hoping for more but it was elevated as I assumed and just made for an awesome vantage point. Unfortunately, only about the first couple of feet of the boardwalk were actually accessible, because the rest was under repair and missing many boards. The wood in the beginning of it looked and smelt fresh like it was just installed, so it's good to know someones actually working on it when it feels like nobody has been in that area for days or months.
I stood there shooting photos maybe for 20 minutes taking it all in when I was interrupted by something making a lot of noise back in the woods. All I could hear were branches on the ground cracking and a big body moving over the noisy palm leaves on the ground. I became paralyzed with fear and just didn't move a single muscle while trying not to make a sound. I wasn't equipped with anything but my camera and tripod and even left my phone in my car unknowingly. I felt seriously hopeless at this point. All I could do was just stand there and hope nothing leaped out at me from the woods. After all, even though rare, I was deep in Florida Panther territory. I don't know how those animals act and not sure if I'm capable of taking one on with a tripod, but I wasn't trying to find out. It could have been anything really, but the way it was pacing back and forth and the feeling I got that it was staring at me every time the noise stopped, just had me fearful that it was a predator type animal. Coyotes are also known to roam that area along with wild hogs and deer. I probably stayed there frozen for 5-10 minutes while listening to this thing go back and forth before I was ready to make a run for the exit (which happened to be between me and the animal in the woods). I waited until I thought the cracking noise sounded as far away as it would get and instead of running like a crazy person, I opted to calmly walk out at a fast pace, trying to eliminate the noise of the gravel I was walking over while keeping and eye in the direction the noise was coming from. I never did end up seeing what it was behind that thick brush. I came around the last turn to see my car and took the biggest sigh of relief. For all I know, it could have been anything. The fear of unknowing what lurks hidden in the thick brush was scary enough for me. Next time, I'm bringing a friend who I know I can outrun easily to leave them as a sacrifice. In the video below, the camera was barely able to capture some of the noises I was hearing over the wind, but it was so much louder being there. At the 20 second mark you can make out 2 very distinctive footsteps and then a quick shuffle, but you really need to have the volume all the way up in a quiet room or you need to wear headphones. Thanks for reading!
P.S. Nothing fun happened on this Monday. Except for me buying a killer mosquito net suit.. Pics and stories to follow.