Photos by Branson Carlton
We have heard, and have embellished, ourselves, the story of Cebe Tate, the unfortunate homesteader after whom Tate’s Hell is named.
There was a Cebe Tate. He may have been 45 years old when he encountered his fate.
The year of his encounter with the swamps of what is now known as Tate’s Hell was 1875.
He was raising livestock, some say pigs, and was in pursuit of a panther which had gotten to his livestock. He carried his shotgun and had his dog (s) when he went into the swamp near his home.
There is much variation about the swamp conditions, but depending on time of year (some say spring), he could have been plagued by biting insects, heat and humidity, water moccasins (see photo of cotton mouth, water moccasin above), and lack of good water to drink.
When he left the swamps 7 days later near Carrabelle, he was without gun or dog(s).
One source says he was 25 miles away from his home when he exited the swamp.
There seems to be some consistency in the phrase for which Tate’s Hell is named: “My name is Cebe Tate. And I’ve been through hell.”
For rivers, creeks, campsites, roads and other references in the articles in Tate’s Hell State Forest see: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/27522/521772/TatesHellSF.pdf
This is a forestry brochure for Tate’s Hell. The map is on screen 3. Hit “view” on your toolbar then “rotate” to rotate map. Adjust % (magnification) on PDF top bar to enlarge or minimize. (For computer literate: we are placing these directions for people like us, who grew up on typewriters. Humor us.)
This map does not include a handful of newer campsites, including Pidcock Road camp, which is to the east of Cash Creek Day Use (CC) on the river.
Remember: Tate’s Hell is Florida’s second largest forest with 202,000 acres. Blackwater River State Forest is the larges, with 220,000 acres. This is why we wish to save these forests for the enjoyment and solace which wilderness can provide for future Floridians.
March 26, 2014
Start at Rock Landing (3.5 miles west of loop campsite) on the Crooked River and paddle west.
Rock Landing is about 4 miles from the Ocklockonee River. Crooked River has neither up-river nor down-river, tides come in through Ochlockonee River to the east and from Carrabelle River (New River) on the west. It is an alternate trail of the North Florida Circumnavigational trail. Some paddlers go up two miles on the Ochlockonee to Womack Creek Campground for a hot shower.
Tom Hahn Creek is 1 mile west of Rock Landing. But before that, .4 mile west of Rock Landing, is a smaller .4 mile creek where we saw a yellow headed night heron. There is more variety in plants and shrubs on Tom Hahn Creek, except there may be more open blooming iris and golden club patches on the first short branch.
About .4 of a mile upriver on Tom Hahn Creek the creek forks. The fork to the right is about 1/2 mile long before thickets and low water may deter you. The one on the left is about 1.1 miles log before you encounter real obstacles (there are overhangs and snags in the river toward the end).
Right now on the right branch and the shorter other creek, golden clubs are blooming. There are more blooming native pinxter azaleas on the branch to the left, swamp jessamine, lots of blooming titi shrubs and blackberry blossoms, but we saw no honey bees. Fetterbush were blooming in one large bush on the longer branch.
Expect in a few weeks blue flag iris and spider lilies.
The longer branch is wide at the entrance and narrows about 3/4 miles. We saw more alligators here than any other creek in the last 2 days — 5 alligators.
On the Crooked River, you may have tides against you or the wind or both. Keep to the shoreline and you may escape the full brunt of any wind.
Once leaving Rock Landing there is no easy place for a pit stop. On the Crooked River, the land to the north is Tate’s Hell State Forest, opposite lands are in private ownership.
Tupelo, cypress, pines, Florida maples are some of the trees you will see on the crooked river. On the way back to Loop campsite east of Rock Landing, we stopped for 15 minutes to try to photograph a beautifully golden-capped prothotonary warbler in a shrub. We were unsuccessful. It seemed undeterred by us, but kept itself under tight cover.
We prefer spending more time on water than shuttling from put-in to take-out in our car. Tate’s Hell lets one camp in one site and paddle any number of rivers suitable for a variety of skill levels with or without shuttles. Shuttle distances are not long. (http://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/27522/521772/TatesHellSF.pdf )
Womack Creek, forinstance, provides either a downstream paddle from Nick’s Road campsite (a short about 5 miles by car or bike) to Womack Creek campground — about 4 miles — or a usually easy upstream and back paddle for 8. Crooked river at Loop camp site is about 2 miles from Womack Creek landing, depending on which road one takes.
We have paddled almost all of Tate’s Hell rivers and creeks and will be writing reports on each as we revisit them. Other paddling reports for those planning to paddle the Panhandle and are looking for paddling places is The Green Wave Forum. For the past year and a half the number of reports have slowed down on that site , but the historic reports will still give you put-in and take-out locations (but not current paddle conditions).
We have written reports about the New River from FH 22 east of Sumatra to Tate’s Hell New River campsite 7. From Camp Site 7 downstream, the river is usually open all year round and generally clear of debris because it is also use by jon boats. Jon boat fishermen are usually very considerate of paddlers. These are usually local folks who are out to anchor at their favorite fishing spots and will not be traversing the rivers at great speed. We have gotten good information on good paddling spots from these fishermen.
The New River from camp site 7 downstream is subject to tides and is much wider than the upstream. There are a few on river campsites on both river right and left. Beyond Gully Branch (with several sites, vault toilets, and a constant water source which is not potable), Pope’s Place is a good take-out place on the east side of the river. Downstream of Gully Branch the river widens and will be more influenced by adverse winds. Surrounding land is upland mainly pine forests, but there are stands of Atlantic White Cedar and deciduous trees along the river. During hunting season, this area is hunted.
Whiskey George and Deep Creek have also been reported on. These are on the west side of Tate’s Hell, closer to Hway 65 and Eastpoint. We have not yet camped in any of the west-side sites. We had reserved Pidcock Road campsite in January, but didn’t show because of predicted temperatures in the high teens. Deep Creek has a campsite right on river, but access to that campsite by river may be difficult when Deep Creek is low. Like all Tate’s Hell campsites on water, all are reachable by car. These sites have no water, toilet facilities but have a fire pit and picnic table and possibly a stand-up grill.
Cash Creek is another paddling spot on the west side and just a short drive off hway 65 with a covered picnic area and vault toilets. It is estuarine for about 1 mile upstream and we do not recommend it during the summer unless you are a heat-lover. Upstream beyond that the creek narrows and has a mix of hardwood and swamp brush and will provide shade. There are large alligators on that creek if you want to get a photo of them — they are skittish of humans, as they should be, and will splash into the water first chance they know you are there. Unless you want to photograph them, we suggest you occasionally tap your boat with your paddle before you go around a turn to warn the sunning alligators around the corner that you are there — a surprised alligator, particularly a large one, can create a big splash and can startle you. This is good advice to give to fledgling paddlers in your group.
For those who want to do a multi-day paddle, one can paddle from Log Cabin campsite on the northeast corner of Tate’s Hell on the Ocklockonee River to Womack Creek campground for lunch (or rest stop, flush toilets) to the Crooked River on river right (about 2 miles downstream of Womack Creek landing) to Loop campsite or Rock Landing (about 3.5 miles from Loop Campsite with 3 campsites and vault toilet). The next overnight might be Campsite 2 or 1 on the opposite side of the Crooked River and the final day go under the Hway 67 bridge (which may require a portage across hway 67 if the river is running very high) to Pope’s Place (upriver New River) or to Trout Creek (landing not too far from confluence with New) which is about a mile below Pope’s Place. You can camp at Pope’s Place also. You can also paddle upstream to Gully Branch (with vault toilet and campsites) to any of the campsites on the New River. Or, you can take any segment for a shorter overnight paddle. Unless indicated, all campsites are primitive (no water, no toilet facilities, usually a standing grill, fire pit and picnic table.)
On the east and middle campsites there is quiet from motorized noises, except the occasional boat motor. This is not a military maneuvering area and commercial airplanes are too high to let their sounds intrude on your nature moments. There may be a civilian small plane or two, but rarely. We heard more jet sounds at Voyageur’s National Park in Minnesota than we do in Tate’s Hell. On the west side of Tate’s Hell, around 10:30am and 2:30pm military jets do maneuvers in the Apalachicola National Forest and the sounds carry over.
There are any number of creeks one can explore from the following campsites: Womack Creek campground (Womack Creek 8 miles up and back); between Loop campsite and Rock Landing (Brandy Creek, about 1-1.5 miles down and back); west of Rock Landing (two branches, one less than half a mile west — a short, small creek with shrubs and brushes under canopies of larger mixed swamp trees — and further west about a mile west of Rock Landing, Tom Hahn Creek with 2 branches — the one on the left larger and twice as long –1.1 to .5 miles one way), off hway 67 west (Pine-log creek, depending on tide 1/2 to 1 mile one way, small creek, lots of wildlife and birds and for such a small creek lots of flowering plants.)
Tate’s Hell has only one hiking trail off hway 98 (coastal road), the Coastal trail which runs just east of Eastpoint and west of Carrabelle with two parking areas. It has beautiful stands of lush native lavender lupine which usually bloom in April. Watch out for pygmy rattlesnakes on the path — they like to sun there. Birds seem to like that trail, also.
There are any number of sand packed roads for bicycling in Tate’s Hell, particularly between Hway 65 and 67. In this section, some of the roads have been filled with gravel at the low spots to allow for natural water flow and after several days of rain may have as much as a foot or more of water coursing from one side to the other. Tate’s Hell is being restored to its historic role as watershed of the Apalachicola River, that is, unless other uses which impact the land adversely are allowed.
A week’s family or friends’ nature-based outing? You betcha!
We had company when we drove in to launch our kayaks to do our weekly observations on Womack Creek. A pair of campers in camp site 1 with their pontoon boat.
A bit cool, but the sun was out and using the dead canes for a bed to sun on was a water snake. When one does close-ups on Womack Creek, don’t be startled by a snake on a branch nearby — they are harmless and will slither away, unless, they are still cold as this snake was.
another, curled up.
And just around the corner and everywhere there was a log or branch to perch on….
Paddling back, we heard a screeching and caterwauling like we’ve never heard on the creek before. Both of our heads turned around looking for the source of the sounds. The one with better hearing saw two racoons mating on a large branch parallel to the river surface. As we approached, they parted and quickly scrambled down the tree and disappeared into the palmettos. Earlier we had seen a single racoon on a log in a short branch near the campground. Keep your foodstuff high or in the car when camping.
And in the narrower creeks of the branches, one will undoubtedly see these long jawed spiders. They are harmless.
With the river down from flood stage, you can actually see the swamp buttercups.
The Walters viburnum on the lower 2/3’s of the river and parsley hawthorne throughout are in their peak.
And pinxter azaleas with their scent.
And orange cross vine flowers, competing for your eyes — “look up, look up” to see them blooming. And yellow swamp jessamine, lower down beginning to bloom in clusters throughout the creek.
And soon, fringe trees or grandpa greybeard, will be festooned with their flowers moving with the breezes.
When we took out, another tent was seen and two campers/bicyclists were setting up camp.
We’ve always wanted to camp here, a cosy (but large site) right on the Crooked River, far away from the main traffic of the forest roads, yet less than 2 miles from the Womack Creek Campground if one wanted to get a hot shower.
We had paddled over 10 miles on Womack Creek, doing our weekly spring observation field work. There were two sites at the Womack Creek campground filled — we were glad to see that people are finding out what a lovely place it is to camp. But we had reserved this site (850-697-3734 – Carrabelle Tate’s Hell Forestry) — it is one of the most popular sites in Tate’s Hell — and we had it for one night.
It was predicted to get to the low 40’s, something which we could tolerate in our 40 degree stated, actual 50 degree, sleeping bags, but we brought along our 20 degree bag, just in case to use as a quilt — a luxury when car camping, not possible when kayak/camping. We were hoping to do a 15 mile paddle the next day with headwinds expected on the paddle back. We needed to get a good night’s rest.
We had brought along some of the heavy pine wood which a previous camper at Womack Creek had given us — we had used our scroungy pine logs and saved his. We found out that it was heavy because it was green, and it took some coaxing and adding of pine cones, leaves & pine needles and dead branches to get the fire going. Fortunately we had an ax with us and we split the logs so it would burn better. In two hours we had a nice fire going, but we saved enough logs to have for the morning fire — 40 degrees can be cold right out of a warm sack.
Twilight at camp is always a nice time and coming in earlier to set up camp so one can relax at that time is one of the pleasures of being outdoors. Facing the river, enjoying our hot drinks around the fire, one of us surveyed the trees across the river, enjoying the spring colors. The other, fortunately was looking at the river. A curious otter, fat and larger than any he had seen, popped his/her head out, didn’t like what he/she saw and gracefully dove under water. The only part of the otter the tree-viewer saw was its back and glistening tail.
The wind brought chill, but the fire, once it got going, was sufficient to keep us there until 10. These campfire sessions for two, when all good talk is exhausted, led us to start reading Shakespeare, which plays were but faint memories. We did Julius Caesar last March at St. George Island Campsite, Romeo and Juliet in February, can’t remember which campground, we got bogged down on King Lear — probably not a good play for campfire reading — and Macbeth on October 31 at Florida State Caverns campground. Hamlet was in the pouches of one of our car seats, ready for reading.
But it was a perfect night for taking in the whole of the place, a crescent moon just over the trees in the south, then a single star and then more as the night progressed. No one was around, no boats on the river, no cars on the road, no sounds except the crackling of the fire.
Everything which would have been attractive to critters was put in the car for the night — the thin sliver of a moon leaving behind a starry sky for us to sleep under.
But after the morning fire burned down, we set off for the day’s paddle to a low incoming tide.
By Chambers (11) and Atticus (9)
During the first part of our spring break we went primitive camping in Tate’s Hell State Forest. We were invited by our two friends, Ed and Marylyn. We had a wonderful time and got to experience the great outdoors in a big way! There are a few things that two city kids like us feel really glad to have had a chance to experience. One very interesting thing was all the beautiful wildlife we saw as we were paddling down the Womack Creek. We saw the cutest little turtles as they lopped off the logs floating nearby. Another cool thing to see were all the wild azaleas that were light pink and star shaped, very different than the ones we have in our neighborhood at home. Finally, we saw beautiful birds like cardinals, herons, and finches flitting around from tree to tree. Late at night while in the tents, we heard lots of screech owls. Oh, wait, we can’t leave out the brown water snake camouflaged in a tree!
There were also a lot of things we did at the camp like putting up all our tents and building a fire. We did our best to leave no trace that we were ever there. Marylyn even cleaned up other people’s trash that was left in the woods. I can remember how much fun it was to sit around the camp fire in our PJ’s roasting marshmallows and listening to our friends’ ghost stories. Overall Tate’s Hell was a great experience and tons of fun, so it should be called Tate’s Heaven!!!