Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Palm Bluff Conservation Area


Rumors of a new trail system near my home have been circulating around WVR for the past few weeks. Earlier in the week one of my ultra running mentors posted pictures of his run on those trails and I knew I had to check them out ASAP. Sunday evening I laced up my Merrell Trail Gloves and went looking for the Palm Bluff Conservation Area.

I was surprised by its proximity. It’s located off of Highway 415, just a few miles north of Osteen, less then 10 minutes from my front door. For those not familiar with central Florida, the area between the Atlantic coast development and the Orlando suburbs is a largely untouched wilderness. Some of it is marsh but much of it, like this conservation area, is beautiful pine and hardwood forest.

Palm Bluff has a network of hiking and horse trails and seems to be very popular for horseback riding. I was running fairly late in the evening Sunday, a little after 6:00, and the parking area was still full of horse trailers. I saw two groups of riders in my first half hour on the trail and then had the park to myself for the rest of the evening. I ran the red trail, a 6.1 mile loop accessed by a .5 mile trail blazed in white from the parking lot. This should have yielded a total distance of about 7 miles, emphasis on “should.”

The trails are a combination of jeep, horse and foot trails. The surface is mostly well packed earth but there were a few areas of deep sugary sand that were tedious to run through. I now treat these sections of trail like I would an incline. Trying to run through that sand is exhausting and slow and any forward progress achieved by running is thwarted by the need to stop and pour the sand from my shoes. Running through it is just not worth the energy expenditure so I often walk the worst sections.

With one possible exception, the trails are well marked. Trail blazes (red diamonds) are almost always within site of each other so getting lost would require either intent or inattention. Still, I somehow managed to find my way off the trail not once, but twice. The first time I turned right instead of left at an intersection that was not well represented on the trail map but clearly marked by trail blazes. Unfortunately I was running straight into the setting sun and had to keep my eyes diverted toward the ground so I did not immediately notice that the direction I chose was no longer blazed. The second time was a poorly blazed turn off of a jeep trail onto a smaller foot path. These turns are normally marked by a double blaze. This time I noticed the lack of new blazes almost immediately but when I turned around to look behind me I could still see a red diamond painted on a tree in the distance which led me to believe I was still on track. It turned out that last blaze also marked the turn. I continued on the wrong path and stubbornly refused to turn around even long after I was sure I was running in the wrong direction. When I reached a power line easement that runs through the center of the park I had to admit my error, curse my stubbornness, and retrace my steps.

That's a depth gauge in the middle of the stream bed.
The trail has two stream crossings, one via a bridge and the other a wet crossing. The stream is very low now because we are currently in a drought, but I suspect crossing this stream later in the summer will require a refreshing dip in the cypress tannin stained water.

One unique feature of the trail is an abandoned log cabin. I didn’t have time to really investigate because I was trying to beat the setting sun to the end of the trail. I snapped a few photos and peaked in the windows and could see that there were even some furnishings inside. To be honest, I was partially motivated to move on because I got spooked by site of the cabin in the dimming light which somehow managed to look both decrepit and occupied at the same time. The interior, beyond the immediate vicinity of the windows, was completely hidden in shadow which left the impression that someone, or something, was lurking inside staring back at you.

From the cabin I should have had about a two mile run to return to the parking lot. My second accidental detour off the trail made the distance a little farther. I picked up my pace significantly for the rest of the run concerned that there was not enough contrast between the red blazes and the tree trunks to make them easily visible in the dark. I made it safely back to the access trail and then finally to the parking lot just in the nick of time. It was 8:15 in the evening and according to my Garmin, my 7 mile run had turned in to nearly 9.5.  So how do I account for that extra 2.5 miles?  For the record, I don't get lost.  I wander.

Now THAT was fun!


  1. There's no way I could have NOT investigated that cabin! The creepier the better!

  2. @Ronda - I recall reading some of your spookier exploits. This would have been right up your alley.

  3. Nice write up, two days in a row. I'm not sure what brought me back today, but I'm glad I came back to find this.

  4. Thanks. I'm trying to make up for the downtime last month. I had to get caught up on everything I put on hold training for Croom.