S2E5 Paynes Prarie Preserve State Park

20140222-104525.jpg This will be a short report about a short visit to Paynes Praire Preserve State Park just a few miles south of Gainesville, Fl. Gainesville is just about exactly half-way between the kids in Enterprise and Sue’s parents in Port Charlotte so it’s a good stopping point to break the nine hour drive into two more comfortable pieces.

We arrived about 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, set up the trailer and went for a walk around the campground and down a short paved trail to a picnic spot on a little inland lake. Then showers and dinner outdoors. This is the first day all winter when it has been warm enough to enjoy the evening outside and sleep with all the trailer windows open.

The open windows reminded us just how convenient this place is to I75, as in the quiet of the night we could hear the distant drone of freeway traffic just a couple of miles away.

This part of Florida has many springs that flow up out of the ground then sometimes disappear a few miles later. Also many sink holes where water runs into the vast limestone aquifer that spans much of northern Florida. Paynes Prarie’s main feature is a 25 square mile swamp/prarie/lake bed that actually has a bath tub drain in the middle. The Alachua sink drains this huge table-flat basin and provides habitat for hundreds of species of birds and other animals. Apparently it has a sizable alligator population as well.

There is a 3 mile (round trip) hike along a boardwalk and raised earthen dyke that takes you out into the prarie and ends at the sink. We had hoped to take do this hike Friday morning but by the time we got going it was thundering off and on with intermittent showers.

Instead we opted for a quick stop at a viewing platform along the highway. This picture taken from the shoulder of the road looking east:


And one from the end of the platform looking back toward the west:


And finally a panorama that tries but fails to capture the flatness and vastness of this place:


We still had a couple of hours before we had to set sail south so we drove into the historic area of downtown Gainesville and then walked a bit looking for an interesting place to have lunch. Todd and Amanda cooked us a Puerto Rican dinner Wednesday night so we chose a Puerto Rican restaurant for lunch. Emiliano’s Cafe turned out great, it had a lot of Carribean and veg items. We took a table outside under an expansive awning but were chased in by a rain storm. Even after a leisurely 90 minute lunch it was still raining hard but we had to go. I ran a block and then walked three more blocks to retrieve the car. It was nice to be able to dry off and change clothes in the trailer before returning to pick up Sue.

We are at Sue’s folks now for four days and then will be looking for someplace new to camp. I installed a new 12 volt refrigerator last week so now we can camp for two or three days off-the-grid. We may try a nearby state forest with primitive camping.


13 thoughts on “S2E5 Paynes Prarie Preserve State Park

  1. Alligators? A sizable population??? I am happy it was raining! Dennis, thanks for not letting me down and including a food report. Don’t we just love it when our kids cook for us and when we find a great restaurant with wonderful veg! Way to go on the fridge as well. Keep having fun, big hug to Sue from me. Geo and I have ten more days on Isla before heading home. We missed not having our two friends with us this year, and still have wonderful memories of 2013, thanks! Peace, Di

  2. Craig and I visited the park last May, it is awesome! And yes, there were lots of alligators and many different birds, also a herd of wild horses. That is too bad about the weather while you were there, hopefully it will be better farther south.

    • Hi Jean. Good to hear from you. We are definitely going back to PPP on our way back to Al in late March. I really want to take the La Chua trail out to the “drain”

  3. Just yesterday, Mike Connell had a good article in the Port Huron Times Herald on the state parks of Florida. He loves them as much as both you and Sue do, it seems. You might enjoy reading his piece; he writes so well. He encountered some alligators as he “sailed” along in his inflatable kayak. Your food experiences are always interesting. The other day we had a Cuban meal here at home: Cuban rice (made with olive oil and plenty garlic topped with fried eggs and accompanied by fried plantain. Yummy.

    Miss you both.

    • Hi Veronica. Thanks for the tip about the PHTH story. I just read it. The gator picture that is the lead for our Myakka River post was taken standing on the bridge Mr. Connell mentions. He also visited the Apachicola National Forest; when we drove through there last year it reminded me of the UP. Endless miles of pine forest where you might drive ten miles with encountering another car.

      There is a stunning natural enviornment here in FL that is spiritually a million miles away from beachfront condos and theme parks. We are camping tomorrow at a state forest where the sites are 300′ wide and a mile deep, this six miles from the beachfront condos. Cost = $10/night!

  4. Hello! Thanks for your newsy post. I enjoy hearing about your travels through nature! See you both when the days are longer and the nights are warmer. Colleen 🙂

  5. A downside to moving back to Seattle – we are definitely not in a convenient stopping point for your Florida trips anymore. I almost stepped on a tiny alligator the first time we were on the La Chua trail. I turned a corner while looking at something else and it was just sitting there on the path. It quickly ran down the hill away from the trail, but let out a squeal that really made me hope its mom or dad wasn’t nearby. It is a very neat trail and I think it would be really different this time of year when there is more water. We hiked closer to the summer and it was very hot and dry. I hope the weather on your return trip is more cooperative.

    • Hi Shannon, we thought downtown Gainesville was pretty cool when you and Chris took us there a couple of years ago and were glad we found it again last week. We are going back to Paynes Praire in mid-March and plan to do the La Chua trail then, weather permitting.

      Seattle is pretty cool too.

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