Highlands Hammock

Along the Ancient Hammock Trail

Along the Ancient Hammock Trail

The word “hammock” supposedly comes from the Indian word “hammaka”, meaning shaded tree place.  Sebring, FL would be the second of six state or county parks this winter but the last one until the end of February. Every driving say is not without its wrong turn event and today was no exception. Missy, our “trusty” Garmin (the lesser of the evils) GPS says the park is on the left so when we see the large brown state park sign on the left, we turn. Oops , should have gone straight because OF COURSE the county road continues right through the park and the park is simply smack dab in front of us. We drive about four miles before finding a spot to turn around; no backing up you may recall.
The check-in process is different from Anastasia, requiring Russ present his license and we only get one vehicle tag to place on Bonny. None for Annie, but she’s not leaving until Saturday. Map in hand with no directions from the ranger dude (kid) who I thought we’d bonded with because of his CT connection, we proceed to drive past our loop road thanks to focusing on the bear-proofed dumpster! Yes, we’d been told, a couple of young bears had been in the park recently.

Keep away from the electrified wire-be sure to make a good toss

Keep away from the electrified wire-be sure to make a good toss

After an unnecessary tour through the campsites, our favorite spot being where we had to hold our collective breaths driving between two trees- and yes we were on the right road. The map gets scrutinized and we realize our road and the pump out station share a driveway, silly us.
I’d been bragging that our site was a pull-through, always easier than backing in because even if you are a super-pro the car has to be unhooked before you back in and you need room to do that. Often you do that in the parking lot at check-in. Since our spot was a pull-through we didn’t unhook and Bonny got a campground tour too. We pull into the site, brushing just a few palm fronds, our 52ft total length fits fine, but what’s this the electric and water hookups are at the end of the site not in the usual middle. You can guess what that means; yep we have to unhook, move Bonny and THEN we can back up the necessary 12ft.
Highlands Hammock is one of Florida’s oldest state parks (1935), covering 9,000 acres, with a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Museum, park tram tour, bike trails and nine nature trails that lead you through lush, jungle-like foliage. Orlando lay in our way as we bravely ventured off I95 to Hwy4, but I still thought the Florida’s Natural OJ plant was a nice visual as were the acres of orange groves and grazing cattle. The smaller campsites sat empty on Thursday; the fifth wheels, trailers and motorhomes prevailed. By Saturday, with the day’s high temp forecast for 70, the tents popped up all around as local campers set up for the weekend.

Campground view Friday evening

Campground view Friday evening

The museum offers a glimpse of life in the CCC camps; filling in a gap in our knowledge about the CCC. When the U.S. entered WWII, the CCC men who were used to a military structure, became among the first to enlist.

Not the American Automobile Association

Not the American Automobile Association

I was thankful this was the only bear we saw during our short stay

I was thankful this was the only bear we saw during our short stay

At Highlands Hammock,  between 1934 and 1941 the CCC had planted thousands of plants, constructed roadways, dams, bridges and buildings. Palm trees and massive live oaks, heavy with bromeliads and Spanish moss, are commonplace throughout the hammock. One ancient oak, measuring 36ft around, is 1,000 years old. You can see where preservation repair work has been done.

The ancient 1,000 yr-old oak

The ancient 1,000 yr-old oak

Repair work

Repair work

 

Evidence of wild hogs

Evidence of wild hogs

Wild hog evidence could be seen along many of the trails; disrupted soil and the occasional hoof print.
The Wild Orange Grove Trail was disappointing at first but by the mid-point orange trees delighted us left and right.

One of many wild orange trees

One of many wild orange trees

 

Cypress Swamp Trail: Strangled or embracing roots?

Cypress Swamp Trail: Strangled or embracing roots?

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Old oaks offer perfect growing spots for other attractive plants

Old oaks offer perfect growing spots for other attractive plants

 

This boardwalk reduced to a catwalk as it wound through the swamp and Bowlegs Creek

This boardwalk reduced to a catwalk as it wound through the swamp and Bowlegs Creek

This guy below was fiercely protective of the nut he held. He began his warning sound way before we ever spotted him high up in the branches ahead of us.  He kept it up even after we’d walked away; at least 5 mins total.  Wildlife was scarce along the nature trails, mostly egrets, squirrels, ibis. Alligators and turtles eluded us.

As we approached, his steady squawking caught our attention

As we approached, his steady squawking caught our attention

 

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