As we headed north from St. George Island, we drove through the Apalachicola National Forest and we could see where they had been doing controlled burns a couple of days earlier (we had seen the smoke from St. George Island). Torreya SP is named after an almost extinct coniferous tree named Torreya. There was originally 500-600 of these trees in the park but hurricane Michael (details in prior blog) massively impacted this park. They lost approximately 8 out of every 10 trees in the park and the Torreya’s estimate is down to 300 trees! Even though the hurricane was in October 2018 many of the hiking trails are still closed. The ranger was telling us that the large unstable upper limbs of the snapped off trees are very difficult to clear. They estimate it will take another $500,000 to clear the rest of the trails.
Our first full day here was a Sunday and they have an old plantation house, Gregory House, where they have a volunteer who does guided tours of the house in period costume, so we decided to walk over to do that. Prior to the tour we had time to see a few examples of the rare Torreya trees and we did a small nature trail that showed where the Hammock Landing Battery was located. Even on this short trail you could see the tremendous damage from Michael. The Battery was used in 1863 by the Confederate troops to prevent Union ships from coming up the Apalachicola River to attack Columbus Georgia. There were 6 Gun Emplacements and three Powder Magazines. They dug the hill side out to form the battery as it was a very strategic location on a bend in the river and high enough up that they had a good angle to shoot the cannons on the Union ships. The battery was abandoned when the civil war ended in 1865.
The Gregory House was built around 1849 but was originally across the river at Ocheesee Landing. Jason Gregory had a successful plantation business and he took advantage of the good location at the landing to provide services for the many steam ships that operated on the Apalachicola River. After the civil war abolished slavery, he could no longer make a go of the business and eventually the building was sold for $200 to cover taxes owing. One of his daughters eventually bought it back but it was abandoned after she died in 1935. A logging company wanted to log Ocheesee Landing so they donated the land where the current SP is located and coordinated with the State to have the CCC dismantle the house and move it across the river to it’s current location on the bluff (from 1935-1938). The amazing thing to me was that not only did the house survive with the 248 kph winds from the hurricane (with just a few broken windows) but the wooden shingles on the roof stayed intact. Most of the other SP buildings had their roofs replaced. They really knew how to build things back then.
Our guide for the tour was dressed in clothes circa 1850’s and she had an incredible knowledge of that time period. She walked us through each room in the house and gave us background on all the furniture pieces. What was on display was from the same time period but was not actually in the house originally as Jason Gregory had sold most of his furniture when he was trying to make a go of it after the Civil War. We started in the office room where they had a display of the common activities of the day, candle making, turpentining, and palmetto weaving. Next we went to the parlour, the sitting room, and dining room on the main floor. On the second floor there were a couple of other bedrooms with amazing quilts and woodwork on the beds and dressers. I also got a shot of the wooden shingles on the roof of the external kitchen building. We really enjoyed the tour as the guide was so knowledgeable and so passionate about the pieces in the house.
One of the really bizarre things about Torreya SP is that the park was in the Eastern time zone and across the Apalachicola River it was the Central time zone. The issue this caused was that our Smartphones and my smartwatch were getting an AT&T tower from across the river, so it was difficult to know what time it really was. The further difficulty was that every once in awhile the smartphone would connect to the T-Mobile tower which was in the Eastern time zone so it would switch times! It was like the Chicago song called “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is”. The only clock we could rely on was the stereo receiver in the RV as it stayed on Eastern time. They even had a sign on one of the trails to tell you not to rely on your smartphone😉
The following day we did a 6 km hike to a very cool bridge that was built by the CCC when they were creating the park. Apparently, this had been the main access road for the park in those early days. They had also built a rock wall along the side of the road and culverts under the road to redirect the water so it wouldn’t damage the road. After doing this short trail we walked along the road to see the start of the Rock Bluff trail we wanted to do the next day. We were hoping to use our MTB’s on it, but they had a sign saying no bikes. Back at the campground we asked the ranger about it and he said they didn’t allow MTB’s on any of their trails due the danger of hanging trees from the hurricane. The original CCC barracks from 1935 was still being used as the park office and they had some historical photos on the walls.
For our last day in the park we hiked down the road to the Rock Bluff trail (about 8 kms). The first part was like a logging road which led to primitive campsite #1 that overlooked the Apalachicola River. On the way back we took the turn onto the single-track trail that went through the rock canyon and we were really glad we did that as it was spectacular. You had the contrast of the red rocks with the green vegetation and the blue sky. It would have been difficult to ride the MTB’s through this section. Hopefully someday we’ll come back to this park after they have reopened all the trails so we can see other sections of the park.
We made a stop in Marianna for some shopping so decided to have lunch at San Marcos Mexican Grill. It reminded us a lot of our favourite Mexican restaurant in Owen Sound Casero Kitchen Table. We both had Shrimp dishes for the main and finished off with a big edible bowl of fried ice cream for dessert. We checked in at Falling Waters SP and even though we had a big pull through site it was really unlevel so we had to use our blocks on both sets of wheels on the passenger side. The following day we did the short 3.5 km loop from the campground past Falling Waters Lake to Falling Waters waterfall. The lake was actually manmade as a dam for Branch Creek so they could control the flow of water going over the waterfall. Along the boardwalk they had the capped oil well from 1919, which was one of the first in Florida, where they drilled to a depth of 4912’ but never found enough oil of commercial value. Next we saw Florida’s highest waterfall at 73’. The really cool thing about it is that it flows into a 100’ deep 20’ wide cylindrical sinkhole! At the bottom the water flows into a cave system. The rock is porous limestone and the walls are lined with ferns. Even though the water flow was not that strong it was a very impressive geological feature.
The best way to show this waterfall was through a video: Falling Waters Video
The following day it rained most of the day, so it was an indoor blogging day and then on our last full day at the park we did the loop trail again plus a little extra to make 4.5 kms. We were very glad we came to the park, but we certainly didn’t need 4 nights here as the trail system was so short. This is the disadvantage of needing to book in advance instead of going with the flow.