Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lichgate on High Road (Tallahassee, FL)

I came across Lichgate thanks to a friend of mine. I was visiting Tallahassee for work and had some free time so we were exploring Tallahassee. Lichgate was the first thing we did. Tucked away in plain sight, you could drive by it a million times and not know it was there (in fact, my second visit I had trouble finding it!).

What is Lichgate? Lichgate is the work of Laura Pauline Jepsen. She was a professor of English Literature at FSU from 1946 to 1978. The site of Lichgate features an incredible 200+ year old live oak tree, next to which Jepson built a English Tudor-style cottage. She named it after the Old English word "lychgate" which is a gate that separated the world of the living from the world of the dead.

Arriving at Lichgate you park in a small lot. There is a board there with information, and a path that leads through the trees. As you walk you start to get glimpses of the tree, and then all of a sudden you walk out into this large tract of land, upon the middle of which is a huge live oak tree. This thing is massive, and has branches that reach the ground.

The cottage is located behind the tree, and is unfortunately closed to the public (although I believe they do open it for special events). To the left of the cottage you can find a variety of gardens. First comes a butterfly garden. Overgrown, as a real garden should be. After that there are some benches that are used for special events at Lichgate. Finally you come upon some vegetable gardens, which are cared for by a local school.

Unfortunately on my last visit I noticed that they have cut down a lot of the trees in the front area. You can pretty much see the tree and the entire plot of land from the parking lot, so the suspense and surprise aspects are pretty much gone. Nonetheless, this is still a beautiful site worth taking the time to experience.

You can check out the rest of the photos at IMGUR:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moses Creek Conversation Area (St. Augustine, FL)

I was up in Jacksonville for a few days a month ago, visiting my best friend while she was in town for a wedding. I had some time to kill while she did some wedding prep so I made my way down to the Moses Creek Conversation Area. It's about 15 minutes south of St Augustine, between US1 and US1A on the 206. It's a fairly large area, covering over 2,100 acres and serving as one of the few tidal creeks in the region that have remained undeveloped.

I parked at the east trailhead. There were a few cars around, and as I started the trail I encountered two separate families and a large group of elderly women out for a nice hike. I think they only make it to the campsite.  After 5 minutes the initial canopy opens up, and you are walking on a open grassy trail with pines on the side. Lots of green (and yellow). After 1/4 mile you can turn right to go to the campsite.

I kept on going straight instead. The grassy ground and surrounding trees turns into a white sand path with tree cover one one side, and a mostly open area on the right. The sand was a bit annoying to walk on, so I took to the edges by the trees which was somewhat grassy and firmer. There are a few forks and spurs here, but keeping on the widest patch of white sand keeps you going on the main path.

After another 1/4 mile you find yourself under canopy again. To be honest, the trail up until his point was a bit boring: mostly straight with not much to see. Plus the sun beats down on you. From here the path curves a lot more and the ever surrounding presence of trees leaves you visually stimulated.

At the 1.3 mile mark, you get to the bluff observation point. This was the highlight of the hike for me. You get a beautiful view of the Moses Creek (which is a tributary of the Matanzas River which is off to the east) as it winds through the marshland. The view is incredible. There are some stairs and a metal dock so you can get down to the creek itself. The hike had been virtually lifeless with regards to wildlife up til this point, but there were tons of birds in this spot.

Lack of adequate water supplies and a need to get back to my friend made me turn back at this point. There are miles and miles more trails after the spot I turned around at, which I will have to come back to some day. Moses Creek also has some mountain biking trails (I almost walked into one, before I saw a "Wrong way" sign posted on a tree haha) and you can kayak the river. Horseback riding, fishing, and camping are other activities you can enjoy here.

You can check out the rest of the photos at IMGUR:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pennybacker, Mount Bonnell, Oasis (Austin, TX)

 Pennybacker Bridge

The Pennybacker Bridge (or as it's better known, the 360 bridge) is a beautiful structure. It helps the 360 Loop jump over the Lake Austin section of the Colorado river. On the north side of the bridge is the rockface that was carved into in order to make the 360 possible. The rock rises on both sides of the road, a sheer face on either side acting almost like the walls in a hallway. West side of the road has some unofficial parking on the shoulder of the road. From there, you can hike up all the way to the top of the rock, which gives you a gorgeous view of not only the Pennybacker and Lake Austin, but also a great view of the hilly nature of Austin.

The top of the hill is pretty flat, right a few trees giving some shade and scenery. To the left you can see the other tall rock, which is a virtual mirror image of the one you are one. I didn't get to hike that one (there's no parking on that side and there's a slight chance of "trespassing"), but maybe next time. Looking straight you see the bridge, Lake Austin, the 360, and a lot of green and hills. To the right, you see the west side of Lake Austin, and the hike continues for 50-60 more feet before you encounter a fence. Great views from every part of the rock!

Mount Bonnell

The Mount Bonnell scenic view gives you a much wider (and higher) viewpoint of Austin and in particular Lake Austin. Not entirely sure why they call a part of a RIVER, a lake, but that's how it is. The peak of the hill is almost 800 feet, although you drive up most of that. The amount you actually go up is closer to 200 ft. After you park on the side of the road there are two entrances: we took the southern one, which is a fairly long set of steep stairs (99 steps? 100?). The northern entrance is right at the level of the parking area; the hill descends from the peak down to that spot.

From the top you get an incredible view of Austin. The river/lake is right under you, as well as many ridiculous houses/mansions. I mean, if you have a lakeside garage for your BOATS, then you are really rich. And it wasn't just one person with this, almost every house touching the lake had one. Unforutunately that community is gated in so there was no way to explore that aside from above. There are trails to the left and right of the high point; if you go left you will descend a bit and get to a point where you cannot go anymore due to a fence. To the left of that spot is a view of downtown Austin.

Hiking to the right takes you down the 190 ft descent much more gradually through somewhat uneven white rock. This hike gives you a few more views, and also a few vantage points where you can get further out into the hill, right up to a few sheer drops (which I did, of course).


Ah, the Oasis...the latest and greatest in Tourist based shopping and dining! This place is similar to Bayside in Miami and Riverfront in Ft Lauderdale, a large collection of shops and restaurants grouped for the purpose of all-in-one tourist entertainment. This one is actually really beautiful, the design is pretty incredible since it is on the hillside and has many levels. Oh, and the twist that might actually bring locals back more than once is the spectacular sunset views; it's high on a hill facing the sunset and Lake Travis. We managed to race the sun and get there in time!

You can check out the rest of the photos at IMGUR: