In search of the Paynes Prairie Bison

There are many ways into Paynes Prairie, and I’ve been on a quest to explore them all in hopes of finding the elusive prairie bison.

There’s the Bolen Bluff entrance, off of U.S. 441 near Gainesville, and there’s the La Chua Trail entrance,  off the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail.

I’ve hiked each of these several times, but despite my passionate finger-crossing, I’ve yet to spot the bison.  So, I went to the only park entrance left – the main one. (Scroll down for an interactive map of the park entrances.)

Paynes-Prairie-watch-tower

The three-story watch tower looking over the prairie.

The main park entrance, which is along U.S. 441 near Micanopy, provides access to the park’s campground, ranger station, observation deck and several trailheads.  I went for the trails and the tower, hoping to spot the bison before the herd is no more.

I went twice, on consecutive weekends, to no avail.  But I did get to check out the trails on that side of the prairie, and I had another encounter with the Spanish horses that roam the park, which was a nice consolation prize.

The two main trails that leave from the park entrance are Cone’s Dike and Chacala Trail.  Cone’s Dike is a four-mile, one-way trail that heads straight (literally) into the prairie.  It’s beautiful scenery, but the hike itself isn’t terribly enjoyable.  Cone’s Dike Trail is four miles and exactly three 90 degree turns.

Cardinal-Paynes-Prairie

The view from Cone’s Dike Trail (and a solitary cardinal).

Built on the route of an old ranger service road (still apparent, as the first two miles of the trail are gravel), the trail runs in a straight line for a half mile before making a sharp right, where it goes for another half mile.  Eventually, and this is exciting, the trail turns left.  In two miles, another right.  Eventually, it dead ends, and you walk back.

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An interview with Lars Andersen, river guide and Florida author

If you are even moderately involved in the Florida canoe/kayak scene, it won’t take long before you stumble upon Lars Andersen.  His name pops up all over – he’s an author, a river guide, owner of Adventure Outpost, lifelong Floridian and an expert in the natural and cultural history of north Florida.Lars Andersen

With his wife, Lars owns Adventure Outpost, an outfitter and guide service in High Springs.  He offers tours at more than 60 Florida waterways, including the Suwannee, Silver River, Chassahowitzka, and trips to Cedar Key and St. Augustine.

He writes about many of his adventures on his blog, and even wrote a wonderful history of Paynes Prairie in his 2003 book “Paynes Prairie: The Great Savanna,” which also includes a complete guide for hikers, bikers and kayakers.

Lars keeps a busy schedule guiding kayakers down Florida’s best waterways, so I was thrilled that he was able to take some time to answer a few of my questions.  He told me all about his interest in Paynes Prairie, his favorite rivers, and his go-to kayak.

It’s time to vote… for Florida Adventurer!

Florida Adventurer Photo Contest

As poll results trickle in this evening, I’ll have my eye on a race that doesn’t end until the end of the month – the Florida State Parks Photo Contest.

Please vote for this photo! (click to go to the voting page)

About a month ago, I posted photos from an up-close encounter with the famed wild horses of Paynes Prairie.  Now, one of those photos is in the Florida State Parks monthly photo contest.

I would greatly appreciate your vote.  It won’t take more than five seconds – there’s no registration, no signup – all you have to do is click “vote” on the photo titled “Walking with Wild Horses.”

While you’re there, be sure to check out the other selected entries for this month.  Just don’t vote for any of them.

To vote, click here, or click the image at the top of this post, or click the obnoxiously large button in the right toolbar (which will be there all month, thank you very much).

Thanks in advance, and I’ll split the cash prize with everyone who votes!

 

 

 

Note:  There is no cash prize.

 

Hiking with wild horses on Bolen Bluff!

Bolen Bluff Trail, which is part of the Paynes Prairie trail system, packs a lot into a three-mile trail.

There is easy access to the trailhead (right off US 441 between Gainesville and Micanopy), so it’s great for an afternoon hike.  I had never been, and considering I live only a few minutes away, that seemed like a problem that needed fixin’.

Bolen Bluff trail

The main trail is a 2.6-mile loop, with a bluff about halfway that (supposedly) looks out over the prairie.  From the bluff, there’s an additional half-mile spur that juts out, in straight line, into the prairie.

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Photo Friday – Monarch butterfly in Paynes Prairie

Monarch butterfly
A monarch butterfly rests along La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie state park outside of Gainesville, Fla.

Unusual wildlife on La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie

Earlier this week, tropical storm Betty rumbled over northern Florida, delivering some much-reeded rain to our perennially dry summer coffers.  But then it kept raining and raining and raining.  Some estimates have the rainfall as high as 25-30 inches in parts of north Florida.

Tropical Storm Betty

Tropical Storm Betty dumped more than two feet of water on north Florida.

In Alachua County, a lot of that rainfall drains into Paynes Prairie – a 22,000-acre preserve with a variety of ecosystems and wildlife.

One of the things I’m always looking for are places where you can forget that you’re living in the 21st century, even if only for a moment.  I cherish the moments where I can look out into the horizon and not see any roads, billboards, drugstores or golden arches.  In Paynes Prairie, there’s plenty of moments like that.

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