Florida Day Seven: A Frosty First Hike To Lucky Hammock And The Old Aerojet Road
I awoke early on Monday morning in Florida City. I wanted to watch the sunrise and then hike on the old Aerojet Highway and visit Lucky Hammock. This would be my first hike on the Aerojet Highway. I had hiked along the the Aerojet Canal last year. This wide canal was built to transport massive rocket engines, too large to transport by land, from the large Aerojet manufacturing facility to the Cape Canaveral , via the canal and Atlantic Ocean during the space race of the 1960’s. The Aerojet Highway was the land road to the huge Aerojet facility, which was closed and abandoned many years ago.
I was glad I bought a hoodie at the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. It was a frosty 41 degrees when I left my hotel in Florida City. I bundled up with a few layers of tee shirts and drove to the entrance to the road a few miles before the entrance to the Everglades National Park.
The skies were clear but it was cold when I began my hike as the sun rose in the southeastern sky.
The trail is really just a wide paved road that was used to access the Aerojet Facility. It at first passed through some agricultural areas and fields. I believe, if it weren’t so cold there could have been a lot of birds seen here. But it was cold and the only birds I heard, I didn’t see any, were northern cardinals and gray catbirds. Like in the Dagny Johnson State Park in Key Largo, they were close to the ground and making a lot of noise. As I noted then, I don’t think they liked the cold.
After s short distance, about a half mile the trail passed Lucky Hammock. I had learned that, in this hardwood hammock, over 300 species of birds have been sighted. Not on this cold morning, the only bird I seen , on my walk around the hammock, was a northern mocking bird. It was a good sign since this is one of my favorite birds and a favorite of my late father too.
There were some flowers blooming in the hammock including these tropical milkweed flowers and
And, I am always happy to see mushrooms on my hikes. This is a cinnabar-red polypore I found growing on a some decaying wood.
As I continued to walk on the old roadway, I saw a few turkey vultures and
black vultures spreading their wings in the early morning sun.
I was in panther country, and I was told of sightings in this area, however, any hope to see this elusive animal, or any other mammal was dashed when I heard a strange loud sound coming toward me on the trail. I soon learned it was this kid on a skateboard, making enough noise to wake up the entire Everglades. It was 7:30 in the morning. I now guess he was probably skating the 3 1/2 miles to the ruins of the abandoned Aerojet Facility. I was not happy to see him and his noisy skateboard.
The road or trail soon left the hardwood hammock and came to a canal on one side of the trail and open fields on the other. I was glad to walk along the open field since it allowed the welcome rays of the sun warm me up.
This red-shouldered hawk was also enjoying the sun shine perched high in this tree
I soon saw an osprey perched on a dead branch,
and a great egret, both probably searching for fish in the canal below.
For about a mile the road/trail entered a woodland with smaller trees, I recognized poison wood and coco plums but there were a lot more species I couldn’t identify.
The trail continued on through some wetlands that included a lot of bald cypress trees. I love seeing these trees in the everglades.
There were now observation decks overlooking the canal. Near one I found this memorial. I am thinking, and hoping it was the resting area for someone’s pet.
There were a few birds active now in this area, I saw this flycatcher, but I am not positive of the species,
this beautiful black-crowned night heron,
As the trail approached the old Aerojet facility fields opened along the road.
I approached the abandoned facility and did see no trespassing signs. I usually always respect these signs. But I saw many photos posted online of the ruins,
and I knew many folks frequent these old buildings.
It was a reflective walk. The brightest minds in our Nation worked in these buildings. It must have been a bustling place in the 1960’s and very secure.
I roamed the many buildings, now all covered with graffiti.
thinking about the space race,
and how I was absolutely glued to the television watching the coverage of the Apollo launches to the moon. Such vivid memories. It seemed like yesterday.
Now it appears this is a big hangout for the local younger generation as evidenced by their artwork or graffiti. I was impressed. It is almost a four mile hike to get here. They had to either hike, bike or skateboard to get out to this remote site. I wondered where the young skateboarder was. I am sure he met up with friends somewhere on this vast site.
I took many photos of the graffiti and many more can be seen by following this link to a gallery on my blog website with more photos of the old Aerojet facility. Florida Day Seven: Everglades Lucky Hammock hike January 16 2023.
I had walked through the facility and came to another canal on the far end, here I saw quite birds, including a few anhinga or snake birds in some trees above the canal
a little blue heron,
and these birds I am familiar with from the woodlands back home in Pennsylvania, few yellow-rumped warblers,
I began my long 3 1/2 mile hike back to the entrance seeing many of the same birds I had seen earlier on my hike.
I took a slow hike, enjoying the scenery and observing the many flowers growing along the canal including, these delicate flowers growing in the waters of the canal, American bladderworts,
and eastern purple bladderwort flowers,,
and these flowers growing along the banks of the canal, low rattlebox flowers,
and the common beggartick flowers which are found everywhere in the Keys and Everglades.
The Florida sun warmed the cold morning air and a few butterflies flowers were now active and attracted to the flowers including this white peacock butterfly
and the familiar monarch butterfly.
Walking along the canal I also saw this critter, on the other side. It answered my own question of whether there were alligators in this canal. I continued my hike along the canal, but I was a little more careful now.
As I neared the end of my hike I saw a pair of kingfishers flying over the canals,
and. as I approached the parking lot at the trailhead I saw these turkey vultures on the trail, with their wings spread. They , for some reason. made me think of the scene in the Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf said to the Balrog, “You shall not pass”. Well anyway the vultures flew off, I passed and ended my 8 mile hike. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos of the birds I saw on my hike Florida Day Seven: Everglades Lucky Hammock hike birds January 16 2023.
It was near noon now, and I was hungry, so I returned top the Farmers Market for a hearty breakfast, and spent the afternoon editing photos and actually relaxing at the pool in bright sunshine but still cool Florida air. Here is a link to a gallery with more photos of my hike Florida Day Seven Everglades Lucky Hammock January 16 2023.
I had already hiked 8 miles, and was a little tired, in my younger days I could easily have hiked another 8 miles, but I am not young anymore. But I was in Florida, and there is a lot of cool stuff to see , so late in the afternoon, I decided to return to the Lucky Hammock to look for some.
Once again I was surprised to find no one out here. It may have been the cool weather, but I still wondered why the local folks weren’t enjoying these beautiful natural trails. I didn’t see much on my 1 mile hike. Just some more pretty flowers, including these Mexican primrose -willow flowers, and
some camphorweed flowers in addition to the flowers I saw on my morning hike.
And there were not a lot of birds in Lucky Hammock, but the ones I did see were pretty, this yellow-throated warbler.
and this white-eyed vireo, a new lifer for me!! I am glad I decided to take this evening hike.
I also was treated to another spectacular Florida sunset. It was a great way to end another wonderful day in Florida. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from my sunset hike Florida Day Seven Everglades Lucky Hammock sunset January 16 2023
I finished my one mile hike, and drove, of course, to the Farmer’s Market.
I had hiked almost 10 miles and I was hungry. I had some New England clam chowder to start my dinner,
then some fried grouper, mashed potatoes and fried cabbage for my main course,
and then an apple cobbler with ice cream. Another delicious meal it was. I was exhausted, and after editing some photos, was ready to sleep, looking forward to my drive to Flamingo in the morning. I love the Everglades.
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills