It’s a strange sort of place, an anomaly. Something of the proverbial “Lost World.” A place frozen in time.
Here geology, topography, botany and zoology have a sense of humor. They are practical jokesters. First thought: North Florida? No way.
But here it is. The map and GPS don’t lie. The coordinates are accurate. A few miles north of Bristol and a wee hop south of Chattahoochee. North Florida through and through.
The visitor isn’t astounded at first. He dons his pack, laces his hikers, fills his canteen and strides off through sandhill and scrub country. Rare environments; fast disappearing, but typical, familiar. It’s the gradual descent into the first ravine that takes him aback. Sandhill and scrub giving way to what? Appalachian cove forest? Sure looks like it. Again the passing thought: North Florida? Can’t be.
This place has a name, Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Six thousand acres of uniqueness thoughtfully set aside and saved by the Nature Conservancy. Thank heaven. It now belongs to the ages, as is, one of the last great places on earth.
Eons ago, creeping Ice Age glaciers crawled inexorably southward through what is now North America, carving deep scars into portions of coastal plain landscape and bringing with them flora from cooler climes and higher elevations. Upon their eventual retreat, these ice “rivers” left behind the seeds and spores and even the soil in which these organisms could take root and grow. In what seems like calculated fashion, the land rose up and the streams began sculpting a natural masterpiece.
Springs bubbled from the earth, giving birth to clear trickling streams that carved the deep ravines. The Apalachicola River, the master sculptor, twisted and turned, slowly but surely wearing away the land layer by layer. The river’s handiwork is evidenced by steep, precarious bluffs, high-country terrain in a land otherwise inundated by lowland swamp and coastal plain pine forest. The bluffs are brittle. They succumb to the river’s manipulation and drop away. When shall they next do that? Tomorrow? A hundred years from now? Within the next few minutes? It’s something a visitor here thinks about as he stands at bluff’s edge. He can’t help it. It’s a long way down.
There’s a pathway, the Garden of Eden Trail. An ambitious name, but apt in many ways. Traversing it affects one much like a religious experience. The feeling’s the same no matter how often one explores here. The oneness of the place is awesome, almost overwhelming. It creates a dilemma, actually. What does the naturalist do here? Does he study the birds, the mammals, the reptiles and amphibians? Does he concentrate on the plant life alone? Does he spend his time contemplating the geological wonder, the topographical weirdness? Do one or the other or all and he’s bound to miss something. No matter. It’s a never-ending excuse to come back. Again and again.
A trek here is not a walk in the park. The bluffs and ravines refuse to make it easy. Tree roots impede one’s step. Slopes are slick with dewfall or recent rain. At best the heart must be sound. Each outing is a gauge of physical fitness. Even the sturdiest must pause for respite. Still, stopping in mid-climb or mid-descent to catch one’s breath does not deter. The hiker is merely reminded that what’s worth doing is worth the effort. He is also reminded that here is a road less traveled, a trail few traverse more than once. Those who return are dedicated lovers, persistent suitors. It is good to be counted in their number.
There are many great natural places on earth that lure me. Too many, in fact, to name. Many are remote, far removed. All are wonderful. How strange it seems sometimes to think I “discovered” this one so late in life, this other-worldly piece of Earth I should have trod years ago.
Ah, but the old adage is true. It is indeed better late than never. And how fortunate am I. A mere two-hour’s drive brings me here. What awaits me today? A new butterfly? A wildflower not yet seen? That elusive warbler I seek for my birding life list? Perhaps even a brief glimpse of an elusive Florida black bear?
That’s the real lure after all. One simply never knows, no matter how often he comes. Won’t you join me here sometime?
Come on. The bluff beckons.
Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kormegay at firstname.lastname@example.org