One of the things I meant to post about was our visit to Tate’s Hell State Forest. It’s a weird place that was once a dense swamp that got remade into a tree plantation. It lies between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers in the Florida panhandle. It got its name because a fellow named Cebe Tate got lost in the swamp for days in 1875 and when he finally found his way out he announced “”My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” That’s the legend of how the swamp got its name.
The original swamp from hell was drained, flattened, and many roads and deep drainage ditches between by flat planted forest blocks result in a grid like set up which reminded me of the prairie more than anything else. Beyond the grid pattern there is little resemblance to the prairie. The combination of deep ditches and forest and open roads has changed the nature of the place from an inaccesible forbidding swamp like Okefenoke Swamp to a place you can drive right in and yet see all kinds of wildlife up close. There is only primitive camping in designated areas of the forest so it isn’t a place for big rigs even though the main roads are wide enough. There are many trails in addition to the roads and it is a favoured hunting ground for the locals. Some of the roads have been allowed to deteriorate until they are nothing but trails and some roads were very well maintained and even a little sports car can manage them. The forest is huge. We explored only one small bit right off the highway. I am told it includes great places to fish, oyster and canoe in addition to hunting. We went in for a short visit late in the day after a long walk at St George Island and a pizza dinner.
On our visit we saw deer, more birds than I can name, opossum, and a small snake. The place reputedly is full of alligators which would not surprise me one bit. Those big wide deep ditches would be great gator habitat and all the associated mammals and birds would make for good eating. Our hosts, Jane Elzie Brand and Jack Rudloe gently suggested maybe Dick’s interest in closely examining the lily pads by leaning over the edges on his knees was better done just a little further back from the black water. I would not recommend taking a dog off leash either lest a beloved pet end up like Jack’s poor Megan did. These deep ditches are just a bit too good for gator sneak attacks. (We did not see any gators. It was cool and they don’t normally do much in cool weather.)
One of the more interesting features of the park is “miniature” or “hat rack” cypress. You can get right up close to one such stand at the Ralph G. Kendrick Boardwalk. It is an easy drive in and there is good parking. (I would not recommend doing it with a big rig as the ditches full of water are on both sides and it would be a bit tight to turn around. You could leave the big rig on the road before the turn and walk in.)
The cypress trees are literally dwarf or miniature and you can see them up close. Being winter, the cypress were silvery with no green except the Spanish moss green and the rest was kind of brown and drab. I half expected to see Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor. Still we had a very nice time. There is information on these little trees posted on the dock and they are not a distinct species as I first thought. Underlying impermeable clay means the swamp is shallow and nutrient poor. The trees are stunted rather than dwarf.
We spent about an hour at the boardwalk. There was a lot to see but the sun was setting and the no-see-ums got pesky in spite of how cool it was. It was a nice way to end a very nice day and I can heartily recommend taking a detour through this fascinating forest if you are in the area.