Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Highlands Hammock, Sebring, Florida

We spent the weekend camping and hiking in the Sebring area.  For the ride down from south Orlando, I take the Orange Blossom Trail.  The road has a great name and no doubt it once travelled through many orange groves, but now you ride through traffic until you get past Kissimmee.  The Orange Blossom Trail passes through Davenport Florida, a town that began as Fort Cummings.  Fort Cummings was a military fort built in the 1800s and its' reason for being built, in what was then the middle of nowhere, was to establish a base to communicate with the Seminole Indians as the second Seminole war came to a close.  Today it is a sleepy little town with a strong country feel.  Many old buildings still exist and as so often happens with time, the roads have widened a bit so the buildings all seem very close to the road.

Just south of Davenport, we turn off the Orange Blossom Trail at Haines City and continue south on Hwy 17.  Hwy 17 doesn't get a lot of traffic and it takes you through many orange groves and a few small towns.  One of those small towns is Dundee. The area that is now Dundee was developed by speculators that saw the potential for citrus crops .  One of those that came to the area with citrus dreams was William Shepard of Minneapolis.  Shepard purchased about 14,000 acres of land . He developed not only the citrus groves, but when the railroad came through, he began developing and selling housing lots. Shepard was a visionary, as the area grow to become a major citrus producer.

South of Dundee, Fort Clinch once stood.  Fort Clinch was abandoned after only a few months, but by the mid 1800s it was resettled by its' first permanent settlers.  The settlers were attracted to the area by the plentiful game and fishing.  By the time William Shepard was developing Dundee, the name of the Fort Clinch area was changed to Frostproof.  Although the area is not exactly frost proof, frosts are rare.  With the catchy name and good soil, grove owners moved into the area.  Now the stretch from Dundee all the way to Sebring is packed full of groves.  This time of year the scent is almost unbelievably good!

It must have taken a tremendous amount of work to clear the land for the groves.  As you can see from the photos, the vegetation in the area without groves is very thick and often swampy.  I think, if left alone, the land would reclaim itself and you'd find very little signs of human habitation in just a few years. 
This is a foot path through a section of the Highlands Hammock State Park.  Something that cannot be seen from the pictures and that few non Floridians would know is that Florida is a state with hidden dangers.  The ocean is full of fish and sharks that can and do bite, there are salt water crocs, and swamp living alligators, venomous snakes and spiders.  It seems every type of palm has thorns or leaves can stab and cut.  There is a fantastic beauty about it all, but it had to take hardy men and women to settle the land.

Seconds after I snapped this picture an alligator that I hadn't seen slid quietly into the water just beyond the tree that is to the left of center.  

The swamp has a beauty of its' own and is nearly silent in the day.  It comes alive in the evening with the sounds of frogs and night birds.  
One of the neatest sounding night birds is the Limpkin.  It has a cry that sounds like it should have come from the deepest jungle.  In fact, their call was used in the Tarzan movies that were filmed in the area years ago.


More Swamp

Still more swamp

1000 year old tree

This tree is approximately 1000 years old.  Much of the old growth is gone now, but some still stands.

Road through the hammock

This road and the two below cut through the state park.  There are always campers in the park, but the trails and roads get little use.

The deer flies were bad in a few places and I mentioned to my riding buddy, best friend, and wife, Kim that I'd been shooing one away from my head for the last few minutes and that it had bit me and left a red mark.  She didn't show much sympathy.  Then later in the day as we walked the path below, she stepped on a snake and was bitten.  She is so competitive and always has to show me up...
Anyway, it was a fantastic weekend with plenty of solitude and beauty.

Snake bite alley

The Snake Bite


  1. Great pictures. It looks like such a wonderful place for a ride and a hike. Mind you if I got bit by a snake (once I stopped screaming like a school girl) I am not so sure I'd go back.

    We had a cat who would play catch and release with snakes in the house and man I got pretty good at picking those things up with kitchen tongs to take back outside but they still make me squeamish. It sounds as though Kim is made of sterner stuff.

    Happy riding - and blogging.

    1. Thank you Trobairitz. Appreciate your encouragement. This part of Florida has a unique beauty, we hope to show it off as well as some of our other travels. You are right, Kim is fantastic!