At the beginning of this year I came across an article in the Miami Herald describing a “Hike to the Big Trees” in the Big Cypress National Preserve. This ranger-guided trip is offered by the National Park Service only a few times a year, so Charles and I rushed to get a spot on the last available trek in early March. Neither one of us had been on the southernmost section of the Florida Trail before, where the hike took place. This aspect and the possibility of seeing some of the remaining giant cypress trees that had escaped the logging period of the 1920s to the 1950s were highly intriguing to us. We gathered with 15 fellow hikers at the Oasis Visitor Center and the weather conditions turned to be out ideal for this venture. The sky remained overcast and I didn’t sweat a single drop the entire day – a rare occasion in the Florida wilderness! Contrary to the temperature, the state of the trail was much more challenging.
Due to the low water levels at the end of the dry season, 80% of the 8 miles we covered that day had us trekking through ankle-deep mud. After the first mile, there were no identifiable features left visible on my boots. This was quite a different experience than the usual knee-deep water we would be sloshing through just after the rainy season. The advantage of being in muck was the great variety of wildlife tracks we encountered: everything from alligators to deer, birds, raccoons, and even bobcats. Visible fauna was largely limited to the warbler species that call the understory of the dwarf cypress forest home. When lunch time approached we had reached a slough with deeper water and an island perfectly suited for a rest in Roberts Lake Strand. From there it was only a short stretch to the stand of tall cypress. Despite the fact that the trees were definitely old growth, their stature could not rival the giants I had seen before in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary or even the stumps that can be found near Kirby Storter Roadside Park. The trunk bases of some of these remnant trees span up to 10 feet across.
Our way back led us to three “friendly” encounters with water moccasins – from a small juvenile to a full grown adult. We gave them a wide berth, admired their varied patterns from afar, and continued our immersion into the rich muck beneath our feet. It is amazing to me that many people pay a fortune for mud treatments in upscale spas on Miami Beach when they could have the entire experience for free just by coming to the Glades! The last mile of our challenging hike dragged on until we finally reached the Oasis where we had a chance to hose down and relax after about 7 hours on the trail.
Although we ultimately didn’t get to see the giants we had hoped for, Charles and I could definitely cross hiking this section of the Florida Trail off of our respective bucket lists and were happy we had another chance to spend an amazing day in this remote wilderness that sits so close to our metropolis Miami.