Hiking the Florida Panhandle
It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...
ANF: Monkey Creek Bridge - February 10, 2007
Iíve wanted to see the new bridge over Monkey Creek since I read that they were rebuilding it. The old one washed out awhile back, and theyíve had to reroute thru-hikers around that section of trail. I was going to go last weekend, but I found out they were doing the bridge dedication ceremony that day and I didnít want to hike in a crowd of people. That turned out to be a good decision. A heavy rainstorm caused the Sopchoppy River to rise about 10 feet, and portions of the trail were flooded. The water level has been falling all week, though, so I didnít think there would be any trouble getting back there today.
My plan was to hike to the bridge, and if I still felt frisky, go on down to the bridge at Oak Park, then turn around and retrace my steps. Monkey Creek is about two miles from the trailhead, and the Oak Park Bridge is another two miles or so beyond that. I ended up turning back at Monkey Creek Bridge.
I got a late start, and almost decided not to go. I wasnít feeling real hot, and I didnít have a hiking partner to keep me company. Nelda decided late yesterday evening that she wanted to stay close to the house this weekend, so she wasnít going with me. At the last minute, I tried to talk my wife into coming along and bringing the children. She was agreeable, but my daughter was disagreeable, so we decided not to force the issue. By the time I got ready to leave, it was after 10am.
The sky was overcast, and it was a little chilly out. It looked like it might be another day like last Saturday where it stays cloudy and cold all day. It cleared up by noon, though, and turned into a very fine day.
I missed my turn, and ended up going to the north end of Bradwell Bay and having to drive back down to FR 329 to the trailhead. The FT comes out of Bradwell Bay here, and makes a short jog up the forest road to the Sopchoppy River where it reenters the woods. The trailhead is on the Bradwell Bay side. I parked and walked up the road to the bridge over the river, took a few pictures, and then set off up the trail.
Florida hiking is mostly flat unless you are hiking next to a river. The little creeks that feed the rivers form ravines, and create elevation changes. That happens in a big way along the Apalachicola River. The Sopchoppy is just a little thing though. Itís more of a big creek, and the little creeks that feed it make small ravines that are more like ditches. The trail follows the west bank of the river closely, and dips down into these little ditches so that itís like being on a kidsí roller coaster. Most of the creeks are bridged, and many of them look like they only have water in them right after a rain.
Except for where these ditches cut through, the banks of the black-water river are high and steep. Cypress, oaks, holly, and sparkleberry grow in the white sand along the edge of the river, but just beyond are the pine flatwoods that are the Apalachicola NF: a vast expanse of pine trees and palmettos with titi thickets to mark the ponds and creeks.
About a quarter mile up the trail, it suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to get any water on my way out this morning. My wife keeps a flat in the trunk of her car, and I was going to pick up two bottles as I went out to the van. It totally slipped my mind though. So there I was in the middle of the woods with no water, not counting the river next to me. I didnít have a filter either. Thatís when I decided that I would definitely be turning back at Monkey Creek Bridge.
The hike down there took about an hour and a half. I kept stopping to take pictures of everything, so I wasnít making good time. I could tell when I was getting close, because the path widened to about two feet across and showed fresh signs of weed-whacking. I remembered reading that when the volunteers were working on the bridge, some of them were given the job of trail maintenance.
My mouth was dry, and I was feeling a little tired already. The words to a Led Zeppelin song started running through my head. Has anybody seen the bridge? Whereís that confounded bridge? From there I jumped to another song from Led Zeppelin III:
Well I ainít no monkey
Just before the bridge, the trail joins up with an old jeep trail. I got momentarily confused at this point. For most of the walk, the blazes had been superfluous due to all the traffic that this section gets. Here, though, it seemed that there was one set of blazes going forward across the jeep trail, and another set going left with the jeep trail. My confusion evaporated when I noticed that the blazes on the left were fresh. I guess the trail was rerouted when they built the new bridge.
I came to the bridge a few hundred yards from the turn. Itís a fine piece of craftsmanship. Theyíve built it up nice and high, so I donít think it will be washed out unless god gets pissed again. They did it all with no power tools, and no heavy equipment, just muscles and brainpower.
I took pictures and video of the bridge, and rested for a few minutes. The sun was out by that time, and the sky was a bright blue. I kept eyeing the water flowing under the bridge. It was black in the deep parts, and red in the shallows. It looked good though. Most people would probably have to be dying of thirst before they would drink out of something called Monkey Creek. I didnít see any monkeys hanging about, though, so I went ahead and got myself a few sips. It had a slight brownish tinge, and a bitter taste, but it was cold and it was wet. If I get violently ill next week, Iíll know why.
The hike back to the trailhead didnít take as long. I sped up and didnít stop to take as many pictures. I wasnít going to take any at all, but there were a few things I couldnít resist, like a black lizard hanging out on a burnt log, and a single yellow bloom on a Carolina jasmine vine.
Driving out, I took the shorter route up FR 365. The forest service is doing a controlled burn in the block on the east side of the road. I took a few pictures of that. Found a burning bush and waited around a few minutes to see if it would talk. It didnít have anything to say, so I came on to the house.
It was a fun hike, but it would have been much better if I hadnít forgotten my water. I might have found the gumption to walk on down to Oak Park.