Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park (Blog Hike #410)

Trails: Interpretive and Nature Trails
Hike Location: Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park
Geographic Location: north side of TallahasseeFL
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2012
Overview: A double loop hike through reverting farmland surrounding several ceremonial mounds.

Directions to the trailhead: In Tallahassee, take I-10 to US 27 (exit 199).  Exit and go north on US 27.  Drive US 27 north 1.9 miles to Crowder Road and turn right on Crowder Rd.; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Drive Crowder Rd. 1 mile to Indian Mounds Road and turn right on Indian Mounds Rd.  Indian Mounds Rd. deadends at the park.  Park in the only parking lot.

The hike: Located in a modern residential area northwest of Tallahassee, Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park preserves 4 earthen temple mounds that are part of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.  The mounds date to 1200-1500 A.D. when the village at this location was a political, cultural, and religious center for the region.  Two of the larger mounds lie in plain view adjacent to the park’s picnic area today.
            The park contains some more recent history as well.  The remains of an old grist mill owned and operated by Colonel Robert Butler in the early to mid 1800’s are located in the southern end of the park.  The park itself was formed in 1966.
            The parking area has two trailheads, one on the north end and one on the south end.  The two trail systems never intersect, so you have to hike one complete loop before walking across the parking lot to hike the other.  The southern loop is more interesting because it contains the mill remains, so I recommend starting there and hiking the northern loop if time and energy allow.
Earthen temple mound near picnic area
            A visit to Lake Jackson Mounds should start with a tour of the two earthen temple mounds adjacent to the parking area.  Each mound has a set of wooden steps leading to the top, and the grassy plaza area dotted with Spanish moss-covered trees makes for a scenic setting.  Interpretive signs at a picnic shelter and at a restroom building give more information about the mounds.
Interpretive Trail trailhead
            After touring the mounds, walk to the southern end of the parking area where a brown sign that says “Interpretive Trail” marks the trailhead.  The single track dirt trail heads into the sweetgum, maple, and pine forest with a small stream to the left.  At 0.15 miles, the interpretive trail forks to form its loop.  This description will angle right to hike the loop counterclockwise and use the trail coming across the bridge to the left as the return route.
            The interpretive trail continues through the woods and soon crosses the stream on a small footbridge.  Across the bridge, the trail curves left and climbs slightly to begin walking atop what appears to be an old dike.  A metal interpretive sign talks about steepheads, or small steep-walled ravines that feature a cool, wet micro-climate that differs from that of the surrounding forest.  Several of these steepheads can be seen along the trail here.
            At 0.6 miles, you reach another trail intersection.  The trail heading left is the one that will close the loop, but first angle right and walk a short distance to the remnants of Colonel Butler’s mill.  After viewing the mill remains, walk back to the trail intersection and take the other trail (the one on the right walking in this direction).  A short downhill walk will lead to the bridge you saw before and the end of the loop.  Turn right and retrace your steps back to the parking area.
            The nature trail begins on the other (north) end of the parking area to the left of the park entrance road.  This trailhead is marked by a brown park sign bearing a symbol of a person walking a dog.  The trail parallels the park entrance road for less than 0.1 miles to arrive at an intersection.  Unlike the interpretive trail to the south, the nature trail system offers many overlapping trails, so many routes are possible.  To get away from the road, this description will turn left here and climb gradually.
Topping the hill
            At the top of the small hill, the trail forks to form the loop portion of this hike.  For no reason, this description will continue straight to hike the loop clockwise.  The trail continues west through young pine forest to reach the western park boundary where it turns right to begin heading north.  A trailer park sits across a fence to the left.
            1.3 miles into the hike, a side trail exits right at the edge of a meadow.  Angle softly left to continue the loop.  The trail soon intersects a gas line right-of-way as it climbs gradually.  At the top of the hill, a blue metal disc nailed to a wooden post directs you to turn right and exit the gas line clearing.
Grassy Nature Trail through meadow
            Now heading slightly downhill through young forest, Crowder Road comes into view just over the fence to the left.  After another curve to the right, the trail begins heading south, now with the park entrance road over the fence to the left.  After passing a vehicle gate in the fence and recrossing the gas line clearing, you will have a couple of opportunities to take trails exiting right to get away from the road.  I chose to take the second of these opportunities, but I could just as easily have taken the first or stayed on the trail that parallels the park road.
            The grassy trail climbs slightly to intersect another wide grassy trail, where you should turn left.  The wide trail undulates slightly before, 2.1 miles into the hike, it ends at the entrance to a service area.  This intersection marks the closing of the loop.  A left turn, a gradual descent, and then a right turn on the trail paralleling the park road will return you to the parking area to complete the hike.

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