Little Manatee River State Park, February, 2012
I met my clients at 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon at the park trailhead. Two very sweet ladies from Miami and Slovakia wanted to learn how to backpack. Melissa and Allison were eager to learn all I could teach and were quite fit so I knew this 12 mile loop would be an easy trip for them. As we loaded their backpacks at the trailhead we made sure they were not carrying too much and soon we were on our way. Sky was overcast and a cold front was on its way in, we would be lucky to get to camp before the rain started.
Spring is an amazing time to hike. One of the first things we saw was baby lubber grasshoppers – they grow though 7 stages before becoming adults! I was nice to see them so tiny. There were many spring flowers in bloom and all the trees were starting to bud. There were even a few new mushrooms on the trail!
We only stopped once or twice for short breaks as we knew the weather was turning bad. As soon as we got to the site we wasted no time putting up the tents and gathering the firewood. Soon the rain started and we quickly put up a tarp to sit under and covered our gathered wood for the fire. We knew the rain would not last long, once the cold front pushed though the weather would be wonderful. We took the time to learn about each other and share stories. As the rain let up we walked around the surrounding area and found some interesting items of trash left behind that we quickly picked up.
Soon it was time for dinner and I had a surprise for them, we made trail brownies and boy were they a hit! After dinner we had fun making a boondoggle and enjoying a wonderful fire! The skies cleared and the stars were just amazing. Soon we were all ready for a good night’s sleep and planned a leisurely hike out the next day – since we practically ran the trail the day before to beat the rain… Not long after we went to our tents I hear a rustling near where we hung our trash. I got out the flashlight and saw the biggest raccoon of my life and he had just pulled out of the bottom of our trash bag what was left of the brownies…he took off and I did not bother chasing him. I went and tied the trash 4 ft off the ground instead of 2 and a half and went to bed knowing that coon was in for one big sugar crash in a couple hours…
Morning was cool and a bit overcast – but dry. The birds were chirping and a nice breeze was coming through the tent, but that is when our peace was over…See the primitive campsite for this park sits about 75 yards from a golf course and Monday is lawn maintenance day. The birds were muffled by weed eaters and lawn mowers. Of course the blowers had to make a presence to. Note to self, never camp here on a Sunday night again…
After coffee and a yummy breakfast we loaded up our packs and headed out. The trail took us past the residential neighborhood that surrounded the golf course. We noted many wild edibles and animal tracks along the way. We identified a couple types of scat and many small songbirds. Here we also noted even more flowers blooming. The Hatpins were numerous! Finally we had reached the river and the trail would follow it mostly back to the trailhead. There were more than a couple turtles and fish, lots of butterflies and dappled sunshine! We stopped for a while by the river and the girls played around looking for things in the mud with their toes. A hiker that had been behind us said there was a small feral hog that had been following us on the trail for a ways but took off when he got too close to it. We never even heard it. Packs back on we continued our journey, stopping occasionally in the shade for a cold drink or rest. Upon arriving back at the cars we loaded up with the AC running and drove the couple miles to the main entrance to the park. Our 2nd night of camping would be much more luxurious.
I set up camp, 2 nice large tents with cots, picnic table, shade canopy, flushing toilets and showers. We also all charged our cell phones (wore the batteries out taking photos!). It was nice to have water and electric here. With everything all set up, we decided to do some exploring without our packs on! We hiked the Oxbow Nature Trail, visited the canoe launch, and hiked many of the other trails around the lakes and such as we watched the sun set. On our hike we came across a dug up turtle nest and harvested some AMAZING fresh grapefruit! After an filling dinner we again enjoyed the fire as we watched a family of baby skunks playing and going back and forth out of their den just past the forest line. It was like watching kittens play!
The morning greeted us with birdsong, there were many around our site. Breakfast included some of our harvested grapefruit and we could not wait to hike yet another trail. We had to be off the site at 1pm so we headed out for some more exploring, this time we chose to take one of the equestrian trails. Not too far from camp we noticed a pile of vultures that were startled by our approach, so we went to see what they had gotten into. We had heard coyote in the direction the night before and there before us was 2 dead hogs. Feral hogs are a big problem in Florida, so much so that the park rangers no have permission to dispatch them onsite (but out of site of the guests). Where we had walked off trail was a place we found later to be called the bone yard. Melissa had a blast looking at and for all the bones. She identified many of them as she uses bones a lot in her artwork. So this stop kept us busy for about an hour. It was fun exploring in the large field of young pins and we saw many signs of critters there. Time was soon running short and we had to break camp. We had become such good friends on this trip.
We made one more stop before parting ways. They wanted to stop at Flint Creek Outfitters in Lithia because Allison wanted to buy my backpack. Max took the time to make sure she got the perfect fit!
I love taking clients there because they get taken such good care of! It was time to say goodbye. They had a long drive to Miami and I had to get to another gig. I have often though back on this trip. It was wonderful to spend time with other who had as much love and respect for the outdoors as they had. I hope to take them up on their offer to go hiking in Slovakia and sleep in the shadows of old castle ruins someday.
For more information on Little Manatee River State Park: http://www.floridastateparks.org/littlemanateeriver/
For more photos from this trip visit: http://notaclueadventures.kodakgallery.com/gallery/personal-url/albumView.jsp?albumId=3599643380103#p/2815743380103
To book a trip with Not a Clue Adventures or for more information on our trips visit us online at: http://www.notaclueadventures.com
To check out some of Melissa’s cool artwork visit her site at: melissamccabeart.com