Swamp Splash

Hiking the Florida Trail in Big Cypress National Preserve
By Daniel R. Smith
  |  Gorp.com
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Blobs of green and splotches of blue. The sheet of paper looked like the sort of contemporary painting you might see in a modern art exhibit. Or a Rorschach test.

One thing it did not look like was a map, although that's exactly what it was. A topographical map, to be precise — one of several dozen I had purchased when I decided to tackle the 1,100-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail, planning to hike it in sections, a week or two at a time.

Over the past 25 years, I have relied on topo maps to guide me along 3,000 miles of the Continental Divide, as well as hundreds of miles of trailless snow and desert. But I had never before seen a map that looked like this one. State road 94 at the Florida Trail's southern terminus was easy to spot on the map. So was US 41 eight miles to the north, and I-75 another 28 miles beyond that. Other than that, there were almost no identifiable features, human-made or natural. The contour lines were supposedly spaced at five-foot intervals, but even so, there was hardly any indication of any sort of height of land.

The blobs of green indicated swamp, and that's mostly what there was, stretching for miles in every direction. Cutting across the swamp were splotches of blue, which indicated the total absence of dry land. Some of the blue splotches had names like Whiddon Lake, but it was impossible to tell where the lake began and the swamp ended, presumably because the water level fluctuates from season to season. Occasional toponyms appeared, such as Mullet Slough, Bamboo Mound, Lost Prairie, and Thompson Pine Island. Some of them appeared to be small pockets of dry land in a sea of swamp. One or two faint roads appeared — one appropriately named Swamp Buggy Road. The lines indicated that even the roads often disappeared into the swamp and under the water.

Looking at that expanse of blue and green I knew that I was in for something different in Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve, one of North America's most unusual places to hike.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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