Take a scenic drive through the Red Hills

July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills

canopy road sign on Old St  Augustine by Doug Alderson

published in Tallahassee Democrat, 12/4/14

Our area has an abundance of scenic canopied roads north and east of Tallahassee through the Red Hills region. Take Centerville Road, for example. Soon after leaving Capital Circle, arching live oaks seem to embrace the road while neighborhoods give way to pastoral horse farms, vintage barns and country churches.

On a recent excursion, I took the historic road and soon merged onto Moccasin Gap Road near the historic landmark of Bradley’s Country Store, founded in 1927, and made my way to the tiny town of Miccosukee. Here is where things got really interesting.

Heading north on Highway 59, I entered plantation country, vast and rolling. More than a century before, cotton fields gave way to pine forests so wealthy northerners could create an ideal environment for quail hunting. I pulled over at the entrance of one plantation because large magnolia trees lined the entrance road. I knew the place was private, but it’s OK to enjoy someone else’s garden, if only for a few moments.

I eventually made my way to Old Magnolia Road, a clay road that is heavily canopied. This didn’t show up on my general map. Where would it lead? As the road cut deeper, the embankments became higher, moss covered and studded with roots, the red clay contrasting with bright greens. My senses became heightened as I anticipated each new bend. My drive had turned into a real adventure.

At the Dueling Oak crossroad, the site of a famous 19th century duel, the road divided around a massive live oak bordered by a low brick wall. This was obviously a deliberate move by someone generations ago and I appreciated their flexibility in leaving the patriarch oak, one that had been growing since before statehood. I learned later that the Old Magnolia Road was once a major route to transport cotton, so it is sometimes referred to as the Cotton Trail.

At the U.S. 90 intersection, I headed east towards the charming historic town of Monticello. Crape myrtles lined the road and made for a highly scenic drive, although a much faster one. I passed nurseries and the vast Lake Miccosukee before entering Monticello and its antebellum homes and thriving downtown. Lunch was in order, so I stopped at one of the town’s excellent cafes before continuing east.

In order to complete a loop drive, I eventually headed south on County Road 275C, passed through the small rail town of Aucilla, and took a right on U.S. 27. I soon passed Robinson’s Pecan House near Lamont. There has been a yellow and orange pecan stand in that vicinity since I was a boy and I was glad to see the industry still thriving.

I passed the abandoned tung oil factory in Capps before turning south onto W.W. Kelley Road at Chaires Crossroads. An immediate right put me on one of the area’s premier canopy roads, Old St. Augustine. This was part of the Old Spanish trail from Pensacola to St. Augustine and it wound past live oak and pine-covered pastoral lands.

My tour ended when I reached Capital Circle and headed for home, but I felt richer for having taken some of the most scenic drives anywhere.

Doug Alderson is the author of several outdoor books, including his latest, “Wild Florida Adventures.” He enjoys hiking and paddling throughout the Red Hills Region.

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