Fall and cooler weather is here, and you know what that means? No, not football-hiking! Of course, there is football, too, but in between your favorite games, hiking opportunities abound in the Tallahassee/Big Bend region. And this time of year is perfect for long strolls since pesky bugs are taking a long siesta.
One of my favorite places to hike is the Leon Sinks Geological Area, part of the Apalachicola National Forest. It's only a few miles south of Tallahassee off Highway 319, and it boasts dry and wet sinkholes, upland longleaf pine forests, and shady hardwood hammocks and swamps. Fisher Creek runs through part of the area, playing a game of peek-a-boo with the surface as it drops underground and resurfaces again several times. There's even a small shelf cave that conjures up images of early people using it as a shelter.
Leon Sinks is clean and well-maintained since full-time volunteer caretakers live on-site. There are restrooms and picnic tables and about six miles of marked trails-well worth the three dollar entrance fee per vehicle.
Hammock Sink and Big Dismal are highlights along the loop hiking trail, serving as deep windows into the Floridan Aquifer. A connection to Wakulla Springs (ten miles away) was discovered in 2007, and by 2010, cave divers had mapped 28 miles of underwater passageways.
Hammock Sink, named for the magnolia-dominated forest hammocks surrounding it, is a study in emerald water and leafy reflections. And nothing in this region has the sheer drop of Big Dismal. A ring of fern-covered cliffs lead 50 feet to dark water that is more than 80 feet deep! Why the big drop? The sinkhole formed on top of a high sand hill, so the groundwater is a good ways down. Water is constantly falling or dripping into the sink, making for sweet music.
Big Dismal is just one of many wonders found along the Leon Sinks loop trail. So when you feel that invigorating fall air, drive or bike out to Leon Sinks and find out for yourself!
For a map and more information on the Leon Sinks Geological Area, log onto http://www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/regions/panhandleeast/trails/leon_sinks.htm.