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On Sunday, between rainstorms the spousal unit and I went to Payne’s Prairie. I’d been hoping to go there sometime, and suddenly, it was the time. It’s a huge area–a 21,000-acre savanna that’s now a Florida Preserve State Park with numerous entrances and trails.
We decided to visit La Chua Trail. From their website: “The LaChua Trail is three miles round-trip from the North Rim of the Prairie to the observation tower. This trail provides scenic views of wet-prairie and marsh habitat including Alachua Sink and Alachua Lake. … For safety and wildlife disturbance reasons, the trail closes 1 hour before sunset. … Foot traffic only! Pets are not allowed on this trail.”
No pets because pets may become alligator bait. Seriously. Alligators can walk across the dike the trails are on, and high water effectively “lowers” the trails closer to the watery areas right beside them, making pets a draw for the hungry alligators. How close are the gators? This close:
That is, when I spoke to my husband, excitedly pointing out the alligator sunning on the banks, it turned its head to look at me with an open jaw. I backed away, like a smart human who wants to keep all her limbs, and snapped a photo on full zoom.
We also saw lots of anhinga, moorhens, egrets and herons. On the trip back, we saw 4 more alligators sunning on the opposite side of the pond from us, one a real monster that was probably 10 ft long. Also, there were signs that wild pigs (nasty, invasive things) had been rooting and feeding in the area some while before–turned up earthen areas, and the “sweet” smell of swine manure. Even after the morning’s rains, it was still pungent. Dragonflies raced through the sky in huge numbers, almost seeming like flocks–red ones, blue ones, ones that sped by so fast I couldn’t track their colors.
Frogs croaked and birds piped and American lotus were blooming above their pads that thrummed like drumheads when moorhens ran across them (my photo turned out poorly, so no pic here–sorry). Ferny wild fennel grew taller than our heads, and smelled like anis if you crushed a leaflet. And above it all, over the wide, flat horizon, clouds piled up and grew taller as they drifted ponderously by, and some were raining down on areas below while others shone bright white against a dark backdrop of rain caused by the former. Through them, the sun shone so that down below we sweated and thanked the breezes carrying the sweet and cooling scents of rain.
Unfortunately, we did not see the bison, or the wild horses or cracker cattle that roam the area, although I’ve been told they do show up in that area. Perhaps next time.