On Saturday, we were feeling better and frankly, we’d had enough of hanging out around the RV, so after breakfast we packed some snacks and pointed the Jeep north on Highway 441.
Our destination for the day was the Paynes Prairie State Preserve. They have several hiking trails in different areas of the Prairie Basin, and multiple opportunities for wildlife viewing – including bison and wild Spanish horses, in addition to the normal alligators and various birds.
After a quick tour through the campground (a little too tight for our taste), we headed to the Visitor Center to pick up a map and get some information of the available trails.
The walk from the parking lot to the Visitor Center
We studied the map,
and decided that after a quick walk along the Wacahoota Trail to the Observation Tower, we would head back out to Hwy 441 for the Bolen Bluff Trail and the Ecopassage Boardwalk, and then up to the north entrance for the La Chua Trail. They were the shorter trails, but we were still getting back up to speed, and it was pretty hot on Saturday, so we were OK with shorter hikes.
From the Observation Tower, we had a nice view of the prairie basin,
and a nice glider bench for enjoying the view!
Lots of wide-open space out there! It’s no wonder the bison and wild horses like it . . . but they were keeping themselves scarce . . . no sign of them anywhere! I did spot a bald eagle flying around overhead, but he wouldn’t get close enough for a good photo.
The Wacahoota Trail took us from the tower through the hammock,
past several interesting trees,
and back to the parking lot.
Our next stop was the Bolen Bluff Trail. This was a longer trail, 3 miles when you include the spur trail out to the Observation platform in the prairie basin, but at least the loop portion was in the shade of the hammock.
We thought the warning about “unrestrained wildlife” was a little funny – I guess some people think everything’s a zoo!
WE hadn’t gone too far before we met up with three women coming up from a side trail – they said they had seen the wild horses, so we decided to check it out. We followed the side trail to the edge of the prairie, but didn’t see any horses, so we continued to follow the horse trail through the woods.
Before long, we were rewarded with a sighting of the wild horses.
After watching the horses for a while, we decided they weren’t bothered by us at all, so we continued along their trail through the woods, figuring that we’d eventually meet back up with the main trail at the spur that went into the prairie.
We were right!
It didn’t look too promising that we were going to see any wildlife out there (and we had already seen the horses!), but we walked out to the observation platform anyway.
Tom used his binoculars to look out over the prairie, but didn’t see anything. There was plenty of evidence around, though – piles of horse droppings, and areas where the bison wallow in the sand – but the animals were obviously hanging out somewhere cooler in the middle of the day.
We stayed on the trail to get back to the parking lot.
A short distance further north on 441, we reached the Ecopassage Boardwalk. This is basically a short boardwalk into the prairie that is accessible from the highway.
We stopped for the quick walk, and were rewarded with a little bit of wildlife . . . an alligator under the boardwalk,
and on the walk back
we spotted a bald eagle on the pole alongside the road. I had a hard time focusing in on him, but it’s not too bad a picture.
Here’s another view
We were getting tired by then, but it was still fairly early and the last stop we had planned sounded interesting, so we continued on to the north entrance to the park, and the La Chua Trail.
This is a very popular trail, and the parking lot was full. We got lucky with somebody pulling out just as we drove in.
After a short walk through the live oaks,
under a bridge,
and through a stable that is no longer used, but provides a barrier keeping the horses from leaving the park.
We reached the elevated boardwalk which circled around the Alachua Sink.
There was quite a bit of wildlife in and around the sink – birds,
and more birds.
We continued along the boardwalk,
stopping to watch an anhinga swimming around, catching fish.
A Great Blue Heron was stalking some fish also,
and another Anhinga was drying its’ wings,
totally unconcerned about the gator just a few feet away – a big guy!
The elevated boardwalk ended at the sink, where a couple of wild horses were grazing near the edge of the water,
also oblivious to the gators lounging around the edge of the water.
Some of those gators were really huge!
The horse looks like he’s talking to the egrets.
It was a truly peaceful scene,
From the boardwalk, there is a trail that goes out into the prairie for a mile to Alachua Lake, but it was in full sun, and we were tired. Even the prospect of seeing the bison herd couldn’t entice us to walk another 2 miles!
This was a beautiful area of the park, though, and probably our favorite stop of the day. We were glad we came up to the north entrance.
And we were only a couple miles from our dinner destination!
I had seen a post on facebook last year about the 10 most unique eateries in Florida, and this was one of them . . . and I’ve wanted to get there ever since.
We would have eaten in the bus, but it was already occupied!
So we got a booth inside and ordered a pizza and salad.
Sachel’s is definitely an interesting place . . . and the food is really good!
After our delicious dinner, we walked around outside and took pictures of some of the more interesting displays.
There was an interesting mobile hanging in a tree,
and a very interesting plant under the tree.
If you’re ever in the Gainesville area, you should definitely give Sachel’s Pizza a try – you won’t be sorry!