This review covers our most recent camping trip to Paynes Prairie.
Campground: Paynes Prairie
Nights Camping: 5
Nearest City: Gainesville, FL
Space Number: 46
Hookups: Water/Electric/No Sewer
Cost per Night: $23
Likes: Our spot was very secluded. We experienced virtually no bugs. Weather and temperature could not have been better. Lots of dogs for Sophie to meet. Very clean with campsites well maintained. Courteous campers. Weather was beautiful. Clear and cool.
Dislikes: Space 46 is difficult to back into. The water hose at the pump out station was not working so I could not run the internal black tank sprinkler. Also, the camp ground needs to arrange to have the recycling picked up more often.
Notes: Becca and I camped here in our Jayco Jay Flight 23RB travel trailer. We brought our Cairn Terrier, Sophie with us. Even though the spot was difficult to back into, I would choose it again due to the seclusion. The “kids” came down from Gainesville and we had a great time.
Human Impact: Heavy impact due to proximity to Gainesville, FL
Location: Paynes Prairie, FL
Start: La Chua Trail parking lot
End: La Chua Trail parking lot
Dates: April 9, 2017
Becca (my wife), Bobby (my eldest son), Katie (my daugher), Miguel (Katie’s boyfriend), Stevie (my 2nd son), and I hiked this very easy, but very interesting trail. The interesting part is that you can get VERY CLOSE to nature. The hike is an out-and-back that goes from the self-pay parking lot, out to an observation tower, and back. Parking costs $4.00 per vehicle on an honor system. Full disclosure on this hike is that you can get way closer to alligators than some people would feel comfortable. However, the wildlife on this hike is amazing. Here are some of the highlights:
Wild horses roam free and even walk on the trail with you. We saw several colts.
There were many many large alligators. One of the park rangers told us that there has been a recent rash of cannibalism. In fact, right before we arrived there one alligator had just killed another and was eating it as we watched. Note this is NOT like Bass Pro because there is no fence between you and the gators.
Here is a picture of Wild Horses and an alligator in the same picture!! If you increase the size of the picture you can see the alligator in the middle.
In the picture below you can see a lot of alligators basking in the sun on the bank.
We could see Bison off in the distance from the observation tower. We took this picture from our monocular.
On the hike out there was an armadillo on the trail. It did not seem at all afraid of us.
Likes: Nice and helpful staff. Clean. Courteous campers. Weather was beautiful. Clear and cool. No bugs.
Dislikes: Utility pedestal was on the wrong side so we had to use extensions. Also, this particular space was very narrow.
Notes: Becca and I camped here in our Jayco Jay Flight 23RB travel trailer. We brought our Cairn Terrier, Sophie with us. We hiked Scout Island and had a great time. I purchased a 50 ft 30 amp extension and a 50 ft hose extension from the Long Point store for $70. That was better than making the 1.5 hr round trip to Walmart on the mainland. Funny thing that my GPS showed Walmart as only three miles away, but you would have to swim to get there!
Notes: I embarked on my Foothills Trail adventure in early September. It was still quite warm in the Carolinas during the day so to avoid some of the heat my routine was to get up as early as 0430 and start hiking by 0500. Normally, I would start out hiking in the bottom of a valley I had camped in the night before. With all of the tree cover and no sun, the visibility in the early morning hours was horrible with real potential to lose track of the blazes and get lost. This head lamp was my first line of defense against getting lost. My second line of defense was my Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch, but I will save that for another post. My third line of defense was my satellite messaging device (http://anthonygalluscio.com/anthony-galluscio-satellite-communicator/).
As my first line of defense against getting lost, this headlamp worked really well. Between the spot light, flood light, and dimmer controls I was able to have the brightness I needed when I needed it to find those hard to see blazes. I used this light for a couple of hours every morning and replaced the batteries only once towards the end of the hike.
Pros: Lightweight, comfortable to wear, configurable, water resistant, and very bright.
Model: Quark 30F Down Sleeping Bag, Long Size, Cinder/Citronelle
Weight: 27.875 oz
Notes: I embarked on my Foothills Trail adventure in early September. It was still quite warm with the potential to get cool at night. This was the perfect bag for that trip because it is comfortable to sleep in or on depending on your needs. On my thru-hike, it turned out to be rather warm and I found sleeping on this bag to be very comfortable. The bag packs up very small and does not add too much pack weight.
Since returning from the foothills trail I have had the opportunity to use this sleeping bag on a winter trip in the Florida Panhandle. You can see my blog from that trip at: http://anthonygalluscio.com/florida-trail-aucilla-river-hike/. On that hike it was rather cool at night (in the 40s F) and I was very comfortable.
Pros: Comfortable in warm or cool weather, light weight, very well constructed, packs up small.
Cons: May not really keep you warm under 40 degrees F.
Notes: Before I left on my Foothills Trail thru-hike, a friend of mine who is an outdoor recreation lover from the great state of Wisconsin, convinced me that I should bring a satellite communicator. She said that if not for my peace of mind, then I should do it for the peace of mind of my friends and family. I really can’t argue with that.
When you set up the device you can invite people to follow you on the map. So, I invited members of my family and close friends to track my progress. I set the device to send a ping every 10 minutes. It seemed to work well as long as I had a clear view of the sky. If I was on a trail in dense forest there would be a longer time between pings. However, my friends and family were able to track my general progress.
Another feature of the device, and the associated paid plan, is that you can send an unlimited number of up to three different static text messages. Those are messages that you design in advance. My three messages were, “Getting started,” Doing okay,” and “Stopping for the day.” I also had a max of 50 free form text messages that I could send. I went way over that limit communicating with my wife, Becca, and ended up paying fees. You can get all of the information on plans and pricing on the Garmin website. The device is text only with no voice capability.
One very important feature of the device is what I call the “come get me” feature. If you unlock the safety and press the button, the nearest emergency rescue team will be alerted that you are in trouble. Luckily, I did not need that!
I really did not want to take this unit along, but I am glad I did if it gave others peace of mind. The pros are that it is light, has good battery life, and allows you to stay in touch with friends and family. The cons are that if you don’t have a clear sky, not sending pings may alarm folks back home. Overall, I would rate the device as “good.”
Notes: I have now hiked over 100 miles using these Black Diamond trekking poles. Originally, when I was prepping for my Foothills Trail thru-hike, my daughter, Katie, had to talk me into adding trekking poles to my gear list (Thanks Katie, I love you). I don’t know why but for some reason I had put trekking poles in the same category as umbrellas and snuggies, neither of which you normally see Marines use. Wow, was I wrong! These trekking poles quite literally saved my life twice that I can think of when I was miles from nowhere. Also, these poles help me keep my balance when my spinal arthritis invariably flares up.
The first time these trekking poles saved my life, I was hiking along the foothills trail alone in the morning when the sun was just starting to break the horizon. I felt the pole hit something that moved rapidly. I stopped dead in my tracks as saw that I had just hit a copperhead with my trekking pole. If I had not had the trekking poles, I would have hit that snake with my foot and I probably would have been bitten. See below for a picture I took.
The second instance when the trekking poles saved my life is actually a category containing many instances where I would likely have lost my balance without the poles. There were many times when I was negotiating steps or a dead-fall on a steep incline. When I would lose my footing, I would invariably catch myself using one of the poles. Imagine taking a tumble down the steps below and waiting a couple days for someone to come along. With these poles I avoided that!
While the instances above describe when the trekking poles “saved my life”, I supposed that could be said for any type of poles. However, these poles are outstanding. The pros are that they are lightweight, adjustable for any hiker, easy to set up, comfortable, and very durable. The only con is that you have to make sure you have the tension set properly on the screws that keep the poles from collapsing or the poles will get progressively shorter as you use them. Once you overcome that, there is nothing else negative I can think of to say about these poles. These poles are excellent and I would not go hiking without them.
I met my son (Bobby), my daughter (Katie), and Katie’s boyfriend (Miguel) for a very scenic hike of the Aucilla River Section of the Florida Trail. The “kids” live in Gainesville, FL so I met them there and we caravanned to the Southern Trailhead where we left my truck. We then drove to the Northern Trailhead and hiked south from there.
We started out hiking down an access road. We missed the first trail marker and ended up hiking about a mile out of the way. However, once we got onto the actual trail the orange blazes were easy to follow. The only time it was at all difficult was at the very beginning when we were hiking through some controlled burn areas and some of the orange blazes had turned white. Once we realized that, it was not a problem.
The Northern Section primarily follows the winding Aucilla river. There are some beautiful views of the river and you are rarely ever far from the river.
About half way through the first day we came to some rapids that seemed bigger than other rapids I have seen in Florida.
One of the landmarks you will pass along the way is Burnt Bridge. You can’t miss it.
We decided not to camp at the South Aucilla River Camp Site. That camp site was quite littered with beer cans and paper. Needless to say we moved on up the trail to a cleaner campsite.
The next morning we got a late start because we only had 6.4 miles to go. This is where it really starts to get interesting. The river actually disappears under ground. We saw a large beaver here making its home in the driftwood and debris. Note there is a lot of trash that floats down the river and collects here. We marked this site mentally for a possible future cleanup.
Hiking the South section of the trail there are many many places where the river reappears, called “sinks.” We lost count of the sinks and the scenery on this section of the hike makes the hike worth it. Here are some noteworthy pictures.
The Aucilla Sink Campground is really nice. There is even a bench there!
After leaving the Aucilla Sink Camp site we hiked through some beautiful pine tree and palmetto forest.
We got back to my truck around noon on the second day. This was a good hike. We ended at Longsuffering Road. Hilarious!
Notes: I hiked for seven days starting with only two full one-liter Nalgene bottles. I estimate that between cooking and drinking, I consumed approximately four liters of water per day. That means that I used this water purifier to purify more than twenty liters of water on the hike. The water came from many different sources including a running stream, a puddle, runoff from a cliff face, and a lake. I take arthritis medication that suppresses my immune system, and I did not get sick using this device.
The device is super simple to use. All you have to do is turn it on for one liter of water and stir your water until it turns off and blinks green after ninety seconds. There is also a setting for a half liter, but I did not use that setting because I have one-liter bottles.
The pros of this device is that it is light, easy to use, works well, and works quickly. The only con is that it has a battery that could run out so you may need to have a backup system or extra battery. However, my overall assessment is that this water purifier is excellent.
Model: Fly Creek HV UL mtnGLO Tent: 1-Person, 3-Season, Gray/Silver
Weight: 36.125 oz
Notes: This backpacking tent has LED lighting that lights the inside of the tent and makes it visible from the outside in the dark. I was initially unsure that I would trade this kind of convenience for the cost of additional weight. However, upon further inspection, the lighting does not seem to add much to the weight (probably on the order of single digit ounces). Furthermore, I find the lighting useful when camping in the woods on a moonless night. I really like having the lighting to find my way back easily if I have to leave the tent in the middle of the night. Therefore, I am glad I purchased the version with the built-in lighting.
Another feature I like about this tent is that it is free standing, but can be staked down. You can pick the tent up still on the frame and shake it out before storing it, which helps minimize maintenance. This tent is very easy to set up and the instructions are super easy to follow. Additionally, you have the option of pitching only the rain fly if you so chose.
The pros of this tent are that it is light, durable, easy to set up, and will keep you dry. Also, the quality and construction of this tent is excellent. On the con side I find this tent to be very small, my pack does not fit very well in the vestibule and definitely will not fit inside the tent with me. Overall, I like this tent enough that I am not in the market for a different one. The size is the only reason I give this tent a “good” instead of an “excellent.”