Category Archives: Tate’s Hell

Paddling to Loop Camp landing, Crooked River, Tate’s Hell – 3-18-2015

The afternoon Florida freshwater turtles presentation at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve was not until 2pm, so we knew we had time for a short paddle from Womack Creek Campground landing on the Ocklockonee River  to Loop Campsite landing on the Crooked River.  We had camped overnight at the Womack Creek Campground and paddled Womack Creek the day before.

At 8;35 AM, we have never paddled the Ocklocknee River when it was so calm.  For three miles on this beautiful blue-sky day, a tinge of coolness, but no wind.  Quiet.  Along the eastern bank of the Ocklockonee, the residents were not outside or were at work. We had the whole river to ourselves.

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We passed the rest house at the Womack Creek campground where Mack recently repainted the sign, so passing boaters could see that this was a public campground.

Wild olive or Devilwood were blooming along the way, along with pinxter azaleas and blackberry.

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At a bend in the Ocklockonee are pilings, remnants of a railway which carried turpentine across the river.  On river right of the Ocklockonee is McIntyre Landing.   The Crooked River is at this junction and continues west (crookedly) until it joins with the New River into the Carrabelle River.   This river has tidal flow from both ends.

At the mouth of the Crooked River is a little island.  This houseboat has been mired on its banks for at least 4 years.

The photo above shows how calm upriver Ocklockonee was from this junction.

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This photo shows the Crooked River at the junction.  The tide was going out, but without wind and with still a crispness in the air, it was an easy paddle to Loop camp site.

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We’ve heard more cardinals in Tate’s Hell recently.

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A mile from the Ocklockonee, Loop camp site appears.   It is one of our favorite places to camp.   Last year while one of us was preparing dinner, the other, sipping tea, saw a big otter pop its head from the exposed roots in the water of a pine tree and quickly swim away.  When the Ocklockonee floods, this campsite can be covered with water.

P1130444Lots of room for tents, an RV or a trailer and lots of room for kids to play.

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And a nice launching area.   When camping here, remember that paddlers who want to use the landing do have a right to do so and also to park their cars along the road.  There is more than enough space in this and other single primitive campsite in Tate’s Hell for several tents.  The rule applies to all Tate’s Hell Campsites:  on the New, on Crooked River, on Ocklockonee River.

On the way out, we received a beautiful farewell.

P1130447Titi are blooming everywhere in Tate’s Hell and beekeepers and bees are busy.

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Dwarf Cypress Forest, Tate’s Hell State Forest – 02-07-2015

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The Ralph G. Kendrick Boardwalk allows one to walk over the Dwarf Cypress Forest.  Ralph G. Kendrick was the father of Franklin County Board of Commissioner’s Chairperson Cheryl Sanders and a longtime forester.  Commissioner Sanders likes to tell of two grey herons who can be seen occasionally at dusk,  crossing the forest — symbols of her dad and her mother, who were devoted to each other and died within months of each other.

There is more than lumber and nails, trees and roots and water — there are histories and memories and symbols of lives lived well in Tate’s Hell.

Sunday morning meditation – on Womack Creek, Tactical Area 3

November 2, 2014.

Blue sky, temperature in the mid-50’s at 10 am, but feeling like mid-40’s.  A bite in the breeze.  No one on the Ochlockonee River as we put-in heading up to Womack Creek.   We were layered; the PFD no longer was enough to warm our torsos.

Once into the main body of Womack, the water calmed — Womack Creek is usually protected from winds, or breezes.   At the confluence, a welcoming mass of vining asters and swamp sunflowers, welcoming the sun.  The tide was out when we put in. P1110254Low tide — looking at Ochlockonee River from Womack Creek.   Later, the tide will cover this muddy barrier (below).

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The asters are still in full bloom, with occasional clumps of swamp sunflowers — their seeds seem to fall in the same locations.   Blooming at the same time they combine to form lovely arrays, occasionally  with red-berried Dahoon, an even more striking display.

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This cold — we were not expecting turtles, and certainly not alligators.   But this little one — just a little longer than a yard stick had first dibs on this sun drenched log. P1110266 But these were only brief interruptions from the calmness of the creek, the trees and shrubs still with leaves, but beginning to prepare for winter.  An arena of change — for us, a chance to meditate on the gifts which nature endows a paddler who enters in quiet and absorbs with ears, eyes, nose to feel the totality of wildness.

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Come paddle and find peace and quiet and beauty.

An October Saturday Paddle – Cash Creek, Tate’s Hell

Come paddle Tate’s Hell — the cosmos, Florida’s state flower, is in full bloom –from put-in, view  a panorama of cosmos gold between sedges and pines.  Also see climbing asters, goldenrod, salt marsh morning glory, swamp lily, cardinal flower,  ratttlesnakemaster, vanillaleaf, dahoon and yaupon holly red berries — wasps, bumblebees, alligators (big ones), lots of sedges, rushes, gnarled cypresses,  long leaf pine — estuary and pinelands.  Gulf fritillary and sulphur butterflies — an October estuary ecosystem vibrant and alive!

The cooler days of October through April temper the sun’s rays.

Put in at Cash Creek Day Use boat launch, off SR 65, head upstream.  The branches will end — you should not get lost.

The first fork:   to the left is High Bluff Creek, to the right is the continuation of Cash Creek.  High Bluff Creek, as does Cash Creek, ends in a narrow swamp creek.

If you take the fork to the right (Cash Creek) and come across the next fork, the fork to the left is an old canal probably cut through pineland by the logging plantation, previous owners of Tate’s Hell lands.   It is straight and narrows to less than the length of most kayaks. Last December, we saw a mother bear and her cub (the cub on a pine tree, learning its climbing skills).   The mother bear quickly alerted her cub when she saw the us.  The cub’s instinct was to climb up the tree.  A sharp rebuke from its mother brought the cub scurrying down the tree and quickly into the palmetto.  A wild bear will avoid human contact; a bear habitualized to humans, e.g. garbage can or campground scavengers, may not.  Feeding wildlife habitualizes them.

(We had just broken camp at Wright Creek in the Apalachicola National Forest and had paddled Owl, Fort Gadsden and Graham creeks,  tributaries of the Apalachicola.  The night before we arrived there,  a camper saw a black bear near his campsite.  The camper shouted — loud noises are usually sufficient to warn off wild bears. This bear ruffed back and went into the woods.  The camp host reports such incidents to the forest service and an effort is made to capture the bear and relocate it away from established campsites. )

On the extension of Cash Creek,  the branch to the right continues into woody swamps and dead ends.

Easy paddling: some tidal influence.

Two portable toilets at put-in.  Bring your own toilet paper.  Covered concrete picnic pavilion with 3 tables.

There is no day use fee in Tate’s Hell, except for Womack Creek Campground which has flush toilets and showers — $2 there.  (A good place to shower, if traveling through).

Photos taken on Saturday, October 25, 2014

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View from put-in. Between the sedges and pines is a huge field of cosmos. Reminded us of that shot in the movie Color Purple where the child is seen romping through pink and lavender cosmos.

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Golden Rod

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A small island of cosmos.

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Paddling in an area where estuary meets the swamp environment — it gives you two experiences.  We think Cash Creek would make for a beautiful full moon paddle, up to the first fork (a little over a mile from put-in). After that there are snags which might not be readily seen in the dark.

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Golden rod and cosmos growing from a spot of soil on a snag in the water.

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Gulf frittillary on cosmos with rattlesnake master cluster in foreground.

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Osprey nest. In the spring the pair of osprey will return to begin a new generation.

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Cardinal flower – attracts insects.

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Cosmos – Florida state flower

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Salt Marsh Morning glory

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Salt marsh morning glory seed pods.

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Swamp lily.

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Dahoon holly berries — feast for migrating birds.

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Vining aster – common fall flower in Tate’s Hell.

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Vanillaleaf

Tate’s Hell – the name

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.”

School Spring Break – Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell State Forest

First we scheduled the primitive camp from Sunday through Tuesday, the beginning of the school spring break.

Then, there was a 100% chance of rain on Sunday.  It actually rained 6 inches on Sunday in Carrabelle.  We’re glad we postponed the trip —  Monday through Wednesday.

Then there was a 90% chance of rain on Monday,  especially Monday night.  We scheduled the camp for Tuesday to Wednesday.  It rained 1 inch in Carrabelle on Monday.

Tuesday, the sun came out and we started out on an overnight primitive camp at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site in Tate’s Hell.

But first we went to the confluence of Womack Creek to the Ochlockonee River to see how fast the river was running.   It was moving very fast, but we checked with all paddlers and all decided it was a go.

Then we kept our fingers crossed that the road to Nick’s Road Camp site was not flooded.  It wasn’t — a bit of water we had to cross, but passable.   We were finally going to have a camp/paddle!

We decided to paddle first and let the ground dry out.   When we returned we planned to set up camp.

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First, a GPS lesson.

Off we went:  1 canoe, 1 tandem sit on top, 1 stand up paddle board and 2 sit inside kayaks — a motley flotilla down a flooded Womack Creek.   Destination:  Womack Creek Campground landing.

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Then, the young paddlers wanted to switch boats.

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But not until canoe paddler transferred to SUP.

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And former SUP transfers places with paddler in Sit on Top.

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It’s not quite a simultaneous process.

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Finally all happy in their places and back down the river we go.

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Two sit inside kayaks, one sit-on-top kayak, one stand up paddle board, and one canoe — all accounted for.

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Enroute, another transfer ensued — lie down paddling.

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And what are mothers for, but being there in need….

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Day two:  the river was already high, but overnight it got higher.

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But hey, the paddleboard didn’t go down the river, the water didn’t get up to the tents or the table.   Let’s go paddling before breakfast.

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And after breakfast, take a break from paddling, and play some cards.

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More paddling and exploring upriver.  Finding a constrictor, no, a water moccasin, no a water snake stretched out on a limb upriver — lots of waters means more areas to explore.

Then finally packing to leave — .

Published letter to the editor, Tallahassee Democrat

Thanks for Ms Portman’s story on Tate’s Hell State Forest.

For those parents who may have procrastinated and have found all state parks full, you might consider Tate’s Hell State Forest, 1 1/4 hours from Tallahassee, or Blackwater River State Forest near Crestview.

Tate’s Hell has many primitive camp sites along the New River, Crooked River and Ochlocknee Rivers.   We would recommend for families with little camping experience to start at Womack Creek, which, though classified “primitive” has hot showers and flush toilets.   There are 12 camp sites at Womack Creek, 3 of these may be used by RV’s and trailers, the remaining 9 are tent-only.

For other camping location, we recommend you bring a portable toilet (for the squeamish), available from any camping store, although this is not a requirement.   The fee is $10 per site thoughout Tate’s Hell.  Forestry practices “pack it in, pack it out”, so prepare to handle all your garbage.   Blackwater River State Forest has a few electrical sites which will cost $20, reduced for those over 65 and the disabled.

Except for Womack Creek campground, all the campsites are reservable by calling the Carrabelle Office of Tate’s Hell State Forest.   Try out Womack Creek for a night.   If all goes well, continue on with the next.   March 16 is full moon.   There will be a group of about 50 paddlers spending the night of March 19 paddling their way to the coast, but they usually camp in open areas near the rest house and pavilion.  Provisions and supplies such as propane can be purchased at the stores in Carrabelle, 13 miles on the coast, where golden beaches also welcome those to whom spring break is lying on white sand with an occasional plunge in the Gulf.   Tate’s Hell Forestry occasionally gives 4-5 hour tours of the restoration of the forest.   Ask about it at the Carrabelle office.   If is an excellent tour with knowledgeable forestry guides.

Purchase tents with mesh netting fine enough to keep out no-see-ums.  There is a covered pavilion at Womack Creek campground and Gully Branch in case of rain, so a capacious tent is not needed.   Gully Branch also has vault toilets.

The taxpayers of Franklin County agreed to the state purchase of private timberland to form Tate’s Hell in 1994.  This is 52% of their taxable base.   The lease the users of these forests can do to show our appreciation for the preservation of wild places is to frequent their establishments.

For camping there and paddling, feel free to e-mail us — we could love to see more Florida families enjoy wilderness camping and paddling opportunities which the Florida forests offer.

Ed and Marylyn Feaver