Enjoy that sinking feeling along Aucilla Sinks

January 19th, 2016 by Red Hills

hiker on Aucilla Sinks trail by Karly Zelznak

by Doug Alderson.  Published in Tallahassee Democrat 1/14/16

The 19th century young adult novelist Kirk Munroe certainly knew about the mysterious Aucilla Sinks when he wrote “Wakulla” in 1885.

He accurately described the unique area where the Aucilla River dips underground for several miles and emerges for short stretches in a series of dark sinks and shelf caves: “They are sudden and sometimes very deep depressions or breaks in the surface of the ground, caused by the wearing away of the limestone beneath it by underground currents or rivers. In most of these holes standing water or great depth is found, and sometimes swiftly running water. …Many of these sinks are very dangerous, as they open so abruptly that a person might walk into one of them on a dark night before he was aware of its presence.”

The Aucilla Sinks area is situated above U.S. 98, between the lower and middle portions of the Aucilla River, about 35 miles southeast of Tallahassee. Much of it lies within the protected reaches of the 50,471-acre Aucilla Wildlife Management Area and the main trailhead is off Goose Pasture Road, a half mile south from where the main river has swirled underground.

Once heading south on the Florida National Scenic Trail, it soon becomes apparent that the river is playing peek-a-boo with the surface in the form of small and large sinkholes, most of which have current. Roots of cypress and other trees knot around moss-covered limestone boulders and steep banks. Surface features are reflected on the mirror-like surface of tannin waters.

Most of the sinks have names: Chocolate, New, Mosquito Slap, Hurry Up, Kitchen, Long Suffering, Watts, Frink, Sunshine, Long, Break-down, Roadside, Overflow and Silver Blaze Tree. In Munroe’s “Wakulla,” a boy falls into one of the sinks at night and is carried underground, only managing to survive by breathing air pockets at the top of the caves.

“He found that he could touch bottom most of the time, though every now and then he had to swim for greater or less distances, but he was always carried swiftly onward. He tried to keep his hands extended in front of him as much as possible, to protect himself from projecting rocks, but several times his head and shoulders struck heavily against them.” Eventually, the boy pops up in someone’s natural well and is rescued, one reason why the book is a work of fiction!

Walking the orange-blazed Aucilla Sinks trail during the daytime is a safe proposition, and wooden foot-bridges span low areas. You still have to be alert, however. On one occasion, while fishing for bream along the Aucilla Sinks with my father, we startled a five-foot diamondback rattlesnake. It had been lying quietly beneath a palmetto bush. The snake rattled but never coiled and slowly crawled away when we retreated.

Each season features different wildlife. Soaring swallow-tailed kites are often seen during spring and summer, while bald eagles can be spotted in winter. Deer, turkey and black bear find the hardwood hammocks of the Aucilla Sinks region to their liking. Bream and catfish are often caught in the sinks.

Plants have their seasons, too. Purple violets blanket the forest floor in early spring. Blue and purple flag irises can be found in wet areas along with brilliant red cardinal flowers. Springtime brings an array of colors to the trees as they leaf out in various shades of bright green, along with the reds of swamp maple and redbud. Fall along the Aucilla River and Sinks can remind visitors of northern states as hardwoods trees are resplendent in yellow and orange leaves, and cypress needles turn gold.

Whatever season you choose, a visit to the Aucilla Sinks is an opportunity to touch wild Florida at its best.

Doug Alderson is the author of several award-winning outdoor books and magazine articles. To learn more, log onto www.dougalderson.net.

If You Go

To reach the Aucilla Sinks Trail from the Tallahassee region, drive east on U.S. 98 and cross the Aucilla River Bridge. Travel two miles and turn left onto Powell Hammock Road. Head north for 4.3 miles, then turn left onto Goose Pasture Road and follow one mile to trailhead on left. You can see most of the sinks by walking a couple of miles from Goose Pasture Road and turning around, or you can drop a car at Powell Hammock Road at the Florida Trail connection for a one way trip of about 3.5 miles.

To learn more, log onto the Florida Trail Association’s Apalachee Chapter website. The area is also open for hunting and fishing. Hunters, hikers and bank fishermen should wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons. Learn more about the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area and recreation opportunities. Hiking during winter is an ideal time since ticks are other biting bugs are usually dormant.

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