I left Silver Springs headed North on March 3. I don’t usually leave Florida until early April but this year I was unable to get campsites in any of the Florida State Parks I checked for the month of March. I was actually rather surprised. I know March is difficult in Florida because it is “Spring Break” month for both high schools and colleges but I thought covid would perhaps make it easier. However, it is also true that I wanted to get to Virginia and take Winnona in to RV Service of Virginia in Ashland whom I trust to finally fix the problems I’ve been having. And I haven’t been able to get the covid vaccine in Florida moving around every two weeks as I do so I hoped that with a longer stay in Virginia I could get it.
So North I went. First stop, Camp Walmart at the Georgia Border. I like camping at Walmart for an over night since all I’m going to do is sleep. I have better things to spend $35-$65 dollars on. With Solar and propane I lack for nothing and it’s easy.
Next day after 180 miles of driving, I pulled in to Magnolia Springs State Park and got set up in site 19 which was wonderfully level and very near the bath house. I’ve definitely left Florida too soon. I don’t do temps in the 30’s and it was 32 this night, 29 the next and 28 the next night. I knew I might be in trouble when I found the bath house was heated. But that’s nice for taking a shower since I didn’t hook up my water until it got over 32.
My second problem was lack of signal. I have two phones, on two different networks. My sprint phone had no signal and the verizon signal was so weak I could not watch my hometown basketball team beat Louisville for the #1 spot in the ACC. That puts a big hammer on my potential for being able to reserve any sites in Florida State Parks for next February while I’m here. This reservation thing is so irritating.
I was beginning to feel that with the RV problems I’ve had, my inadequate internet set up and the impossibility of getting reservations for next winter perhaps I’m being pushed to give up this way of life. At this moment I have no reservations from January 16 2022 to today 2022 that’s nearly 3 weeks. I clearly need some help with these three things.
When I pulled in, I saw that my neighbors had a nice little bounce house for their children to play in. Next morning after our freeze over night it looked quite different.
Magnolia Springs has a small network of trails all very wintry looking but conveniently leading off from the campground which is very nice.
On the map, the campground is the gray loop to the right of the bottom of the lake. Things are much farther apart than they seem on the map. My first day I took the tiny looking trail out of the campground to the Beaver Trail and around to the boat dock at the bottom Magnolia Lake. I think the map is large enough for you to see all of this.
Along the Beaver Trail was a viewing deck at the upper tip of the lake where I suppose one would see Beavers but I didn’t. Too cold for them? I doubt it with their coat. It was 50 degrees out and windy so I was glad to be in the woods and warmly dressed.
I stayed a while and watched for Beavers but couldn’t see their lodge or them. Still it was a nice quiet spot along the water.
I ended up at the boat put in on Magnolia Lake but sadly it was far too chilly to kayak over my days here. I headed back up the Beaver Trail spur from the lake to complete the Trail circuit. I later learned that one could not head out kayaking from the lake either north or south on what is known as Spring Hill Branch due to the swampy nature of the branch feeding into the lake and the damn dam on the southern end. So, though I would certainly have kayaked around the shore of the lake, I wasn’t too terribly grieved. The cool places were inaccessible.
On another day I took the spur trail out of the campground going the other way and hiked by the walk in tent sites which are very nice. I know when I was a tenter and backpacker, which I was for many many years before Winnona, I really appreciated not having to be by those people who weren’t really camping but just had brought their house with them.
Very nice flat tent pads.
The spur took me onto the Lime Sink Trail which is blue on the map. I was walking along admiring the long leaf pines. Their needles always amaze me at at 8 to 15” long.
Listening, I heard talking up ahead. I really hadn’t seen more than one person on the trails up to this point so I was surprised at what sounded like a group. And that’s what it turned out to be.
I wondered what in the world this group of people was doing in the woods off trail and then I saw the flags. I was standing watching them when one guy looked over and waved. I waved back and yelled Archeology?? He smiled and said yes and next thing I know his professor from Georgia Southern University came over and told me all about what they were doing. Professor Ryan McNutt was wonderful to take so much time for me.
Isn’t his mask fantastic? I asked him if it was his face and he said no, it was General Grant. Wonder how the folks in the former Confederacy feel about that.
He said he and his students came every Tuesday and Thursday for field work as they were investigating the area around the Civil War Fort Lawton which I hadn’t even known was here since the Visitor Center is closed due to Covid. There sure were a lot of flags everywhere. Red meant one thing and blue another. They used a metal detector to place the flags and then investigated more carefully each marker. What a surprise find to come upon an archeology investigation on a hike in the park.
From there I walked on to the Woodpecker Trail where as with the Beaver Trail I saw no woodpeckers. But it was a nice trail that started near the bridge over Spring Hill Branch (see map)
From the bridge I could see the turtles and fish swimming near what must be the spring based on the color of the water there and how amazingly clear it was. No way to put my hand in and see how warm it was.
There were large mouth bass here. I don’t know if they allow fishing. I didn’t blame the turtles for lining up on the log to warm up in the sun. The bridge reflects in the water in the picture below. It’s a lovely spot and the clear water allowed me to take this video of the turtles and fish.
From there I walked along the part of the loop trail next to the Spring Hill Branch which connects the Lake above to the Spring below. It was a lovely branch and probably my favorite part of all the trails.
To remember it, I took this little video of the water flowing down stream. Listen for the Pileated Woodpecker.
Along the way I found some more shelf mushrooms with pink lichen on the side for you Paul.
After finishing the loop, I walked on beyond the spring to the dam where I found the one of two gators I saw here as well as the “waterfall” at the dam.
Notice the gator bottom right.
And from there, back to the Lime Sink Trail and home. I can see that I can put together a daily walk that will amount to 10K steps and not require that I walk on the park road except to cross it. And that’s what I did every day thereafter. My routine was to go around the Beaver Trail to the Woodpecker Trail and back the Lime Sink Trail to the campground.
Except that is for the last day when I extended my route to the Camp Lawton Trail at the lower edge of the map in yellow.
Fort Lawton was the site where, in the latter months of the Civil War, a gigantic stockade of 42 acres was erected to contain thousands of prisoners of war held by the Confederates at the infamous and over crowded Andersonville Prison in South Carolina. This site was chosen because of the abundance of clear water provided by Magnolia Spring and for its proximity to the railroad at Lawtonville. The stockade was completed in October 19 1864 to house 40,000 prisoners but was abandoned November 17, 1864 one month later after only 10,300 prisoners were transferred here. Sherman came to town. I wondered how in the world they could not have known the war was coming to an end. I learned this minimal information from the kiosk below since what looked like a very nice museum (above) was closed as was the Visitor Center.
The kiosk actually had a reasonable amount of information on its 4 panels including this map of the facility. The sun was no help in my photographic efforts.
Originally, prisoner camps on both sides were erected as temporary since neither side expected the war to be a long and bloody conflict. The number of deaths in the camps was high over time – 30,000 Union soldiers died in Confederate camps and 26,000 Confederates died in Union run camps. Captain Henry Wirz, the camp commandant at Andersonville, was tried and executed for war crimes. One of Camp Lawton’s most famous prisoners was Sergeant Boston Corbett who would later be recognized as the man who shot Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth.
The only things left of the camp or the fort are the earthworks constructed to guard the prison and its approaches. Also remaining are these sketches made by Union prisoner Robert Knox Sneden. With the archeology going on here perhaps there will be many things to add to the museum. I wish I could have visited it.
The trail goes through, around and over both the Breastworks and the site of the Redoubt
Longleaf pines have taken over as you can see.
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BIG pine cones. A real handful.
It was hard to capture the height of the Breastworks from on top even in what must be a very warn down condition after nearly 160 years.
I walked back down to the branch before heading back. There’s always something interesting near or in the water. Today it was a second alligator surrounded by turtles while sunning and a killdeer along the shore.
While I can’t say I’d return here to Magnolia Springs and certainly not until later in the spring. It was a nice 5 days before heading even further north. Tomorrow I’m leave for South Carolina and Poinsett State Park. I hope I don’t go back in time to the freezing night time temperatures that were here 4 out of my 5 nights.