Fall days have finally arrived, and the cool, breezy weather is such a welcome change from the humid summer heat. With a teen and tween moving in different directions most days, my husband and I were amazed to find everyone in agreement to go on a family hike to Leon Sinks Geological Area on an especially beautiful Saturday morning.
We put on our hiking boots and tennis shoes, tossed a few snacks in a backpack, filled up our water bottles, and headed out.
About 30 minutes later we arrived at the park a few miles south of Tallahassee and were greeted by a friendly campground host who explained the park fee was $5 per car and warned us that the boardwalks and overlooks were closed due to disrepair. This discouraged us a little, but we parked and rambled out of the car, making a quick stop at the bathrooms that were luckily well-maintained, and then met up at the map of the park.
We gazed at the large map and decided to hike the north section of the trail and cut across the circle to make a 3-mile hike that went by most of the sinks. We started our hike in a long leaf pine forest and the reddish-brown needles rained down on the path making it soft to walk on as well as decorating all the plants below them with needles standing upright, like tinsel on a Christmas tree.
The pines towered over us, opening our view of the forest to take in the trunks and wire grass on the ground below, with a smattering of small baby pine trees that the kids said looked like “Cousin It” with a mop of green needles on top. We saw an occasional butterfly flutter across the trail, or a grasshopper bouncing about, and the vibrant blue sky and clear sunny day made everything around us look sparkling and bright.
We breathed in the clean, warm, pine infused effervescence drifting up from the path, and felt energized and alive. We bounded up the trail, following the blue markers on the trees and eventually the forest thickened, and the trail became narrow and winding with more roots jutting out of the path.
We noticed new plants and mushrooms, the green, furry moss that covered rocks we passed, and that the air took on a new, lush scent. “Can you guys smell that?” I asked, taking in deep breaths and savoring them. “It smells so green!”
We stopped to read a sign that told how the geology in this area is called “karst” because under the land there is a layer of limestone that has been eroded by water over the years. That is why we have so many geological features like wet and dry sinkholes, natural bridges, and even a disappearing stream that can be seen on this hike.
Soon we came to another sign marking our first stop: Hammock Sink. We saw water sparkling through the forest and hurried closer to get a better look. The overlook did indeed have rotten boards so we held on to the trees and worked our way to a bit of a ledge that gave us a good view of the bright aqua pond opening up around us. Wow! The sink was ringed by golden trees whose fall leaves were fluttering down and landing on the surface, creating a magical feeling.
We were all taken by the quiet beauty of this place and one of the kids said it looked like something right out of a movie. I had to agree. “Check out those fish!” the other one yelled, and sure enough, down below you could see silver flashes from fish swimming around logs in the clear water.
I imagined other animals coming here for a cool drink. Then I pictured the Native American tribes who once called this place home, and felt somehow connected to them all.
We reluctantly headed back to the trail, knowing it was time to get moving and that Big Dismal sink was still to come. We passed many dry sinks that just looked like hills in the woods to us, but the sign posts helped point them out. We winded through an area where palmettos covered the forest floor, and hiked down to other places where dogwoods grew. Each area seemed a little bit different.
Soon, we came upon Big Dismal sink, and were stunned at the sheer size and drop down to the water. At 130 feet deep, the cylindrical sink is the largest in the area and the dark water gave it a mysterious feeling.
What is under there? We went down a steep trail to get a closer look because the extensive boardwalks were closed, and I reminded everyone to “be careful!” as I calculated the extreme drop and grew increasingly nervous that my sometimes clumsy kids were so close to the edge. “We’re fine MOM,” I was told. They were clearly loving this adventure, so I kept quiet and prayed no one tripped.
We could hear water trickling below and saw small waterfalls dribbling out of the walls that rose above the sink. We wished the boardwalks were open so we could walk around the perimeter safely to get a better look of this impressive place. Walking back up to the trail, my husband spotted a small rat snake curled up in a beam of sun, motionless. We watched it for a while and then headed back to the trail to see what came next.
We made our way from sink to sink, reading the signs and getting a first-hand geology lesson. Duckweed sink was a small puddle covered with the tiny, chartreuse water plants, creating a bright spot in the forest.
Lost Stream was a brown, meandering stream that disappeared underground into the aquifer. The sites were well marked and the trail was simple to navigate, and the kids were happy and interested, evidenced by no devices coming out except to take pictures.
It took us around two hours to hike the 3 mile loop because we stopped so much, taking it all in. Soon we were back on the long leaf pine trail, with white sand peeking out under the needles, and we knew we were close to the end. I felt so lucky to live here as we shared our favorite parts of the hike, and it was clear the kids really enjoyed themselves.
My husband and I smiled at each other — parenting win! There is so much to explore in our area, so grab your family and friends and hit the trails. You’ll be glad you did.
Cara Fleischer is a Creation Care leader at Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church and a Liaison for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Join her Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/mommafly/. Email her at mommafly1 @yahoo.com.