Sunday, November 1, 2009

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

If you enjoy hiking and want close up encounters with real wildlife, then Paynes Prairie is just the place. This was our first visit here. We wanted to check the place out as a possible spot for a future camping trip. We went to the visitor center for a little information about the trails, and to get a view of the prairie from the observation tower. It is a spectacular view. After that, we went to a picnic area and grilled some burgers while enjoying the sight of two bald eagles circling just over the tree tops, occasionally landing long enough to admire them and get a quick photo. There were of course many other feathered friends around, hawks, woodpeckers, sparrows, wrens, cardinals and many others.

There are several trails to choose from, paved and unpaved to the more challenging Cones Dike Trail. We chose to walk the Cones Dike Trail along the prairie. We were informed and warned, there was no place to stop and sit, no water, and we may come across wild animals, so be careful. Well, that's exactly what we were hoping for and just what we got. We took about a 6 mile hike along the prairie and had close up encounters with at least a dozen baby gators sunning themselves and several sandhill cranes out for an afternoon stroll. Matt spotted a bobcat peeking out from the brush, who quickly made his exit. We came upon some wild horses, one of which was a young colt. They were grazing just off the path, and eventually came out and crossed in front of us. They didn't seem to mind us being there at all, so long as we kept our distance. At one point, the colt started trotting towards us and the other horses were very quick to surround him and protect him from curious strangers. We had hoped to see bison which have been spotted on the prairie, but unfortunately, there were none to be found today. As we walked the last bit of the trail back up toward the visitor center, through a wooded area, we spotted several deer. It's such a thrill to see them in their natural habitat. They were absolutely beautiful; I only wish they hadn't been moving so quickly so we could have gotten a picture. Driving home, there was an almost full moon. It was a beautiful sight, seeing the moon light up the sky over the prairie. What a perfect end to a perfect day.