After church today, we decided to go to Hell. Tate's Hell, that is. Tate's Hell is a Florida State Forest in Franklin County to the west of here. Legend has it that a man named Tate once was lost in the vast swamp there for some days. He'd been bitten by snakes and devoured by insects, lost his gun and his dog, and when he was finally out of the swamp, he announced he'd been to hell and died on the spot.
We followed US 98 along the coast, going out Bottoms Road for a winter beach picnic. Sheltered from the brisk north wind by beach shrubs, we sat in the sun by the dazzling bay. We watched a loon off-shore and admired fresh tracks that we believe were bobcat's. A cedar tree had washed over, exposing the vast root system.
We continued to follow the coast with stunning views of the water and sky. We passed the rebuilt Angelo's Seafood Restaurant that had been destroyed by a hurricane.
Directed by the Great Florida Birding Trail guide, we found the High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail within Tate's Hell. The trail brochure at the kiosk said that the trail was completely orange blazed. Ain't necessarily so. The blaze markers lasted only a few yards down the trail and then, we were on our own. Bears are frequently seen in this area and we were on the lookout for any signs of them. Did we mention we were the only vehicle in the parking lot? The trail got more and more narrow and the scrub palmetto and blueberry bushes got higher until the trail was no more than two boots wide and we decided that we had seen enough of this trail. We stopped at a picnic table and rested a while and I took the picture over my head.
State road 65 took us up the western side of Tate's Hell. It is a road that goes fairly straight north from the coast for about 65 miles to our return route east. It is as straight as the pine trees that line the road. It is a beautiful, lonely road and named a scenic byway. Along the way the ownership changes from the state to the national forest. Today, it was just us --and the hunters with their dogs, trying to bag one more buck for the season. Us, and the hunters and their dogs and the suicidal robins that played "Chicken" with our truck. Most of the way, we noticed there was no cell phone service. It would be a good place to have cell phone service, as no one lives out there to loan you their land line.
Just south of Sumatra, we went down a forest road to the former site of Fort Gadsden, on the Apalachicola River. It dates to the War of 1812. Presently, it is truly in the middle of nowhere, but apparently at one time the river compared to I-75, with over 200 steamships running its length. The commanding view of the river made this an important site for about 50 years; it was fought over and occupied by British, Spanish, local Indians, escaped slaves, the North and the South. The first fort was blown up in 1816, killing about 250 people, mostly women and children. Andrew Jackson ordered Lt. James Gadsden to rebuild the fort and it was used until 1863 when malaria forced the Confederates to abandon it. Today, it is a cleared spot of land by the river, with only a couple of exhibits and picnic tables. The quiet has fallen on this bloody place and it is peaceful. We could hear the birds in the trees across the river. Again, we were the only vehicle in the parking lot.
We survived our trip to Tate's Hell with narry a snake or insect bite. From the truck and trail, it was lovely.