When people hear that I’ve been hiking in all 50 states, they often ask what’s the best place I’ve ever hiked. Impossible to say, but a quick, inarguable answer is the Grand Canyon. Recently, somebody asked me what’s the worst place. Easy: Leon Sinks, just south of Tallahasse, Florida.
Don’t get me wrong; Leon Sinks is an amazing place. This is Karst Country: the underlying carbonate limestone formed by ancient coral reefs is easily dissolved by groundwater, creating one of the world’s most extensive underwater cave systems. More than 28 miles of surveyed cave passages snake through the sink-hole riddled ground under Leon Sinks Geologic Area. I’m no scuba diver, so I hiked the two loops 5.5 miles through the park, marveling at the numerous blue hole cave entrances.
The trail was easy, the early fall weather pleasant, the woods lovely, the bright blue sinkholes fascinating and I didn’t run into any alligators. So what was the problem? Thousands upon thousands of these:
I have never seen so many spiders in my life! Now, I actually like spiders. I loved crossing paths with tarantulas in New Mexico. In college, I wrote a paper on the evolution of spider webs and I’ve had a lot of respect for “Charlotte’s” ever since. But I could not handle the sheer numbers of shockingly huge spiders at Leon Sinks. I rarely lose my cool, but I lost it thoroughly on this hike.
Golden silk orbweaver spiders are actually pretty harmless. They don’t usually bite and if they do the worst case scenario is an itchy, ouchy bite no worse than a bee sting. But just look at those things! They are huge. Any spider large enough to have easily visible mouth parts is too big for me.
The first half of the hike on the more popular loop trail was fine. Enough people hike that trail that the spiders don’t really get time to weave their large, intricate webs across the path. Here’s a tracking tip for you: if there are spider webs across a trail, nobody has gone that way in several hours.
When I set off on the second loop I quickly discovered that nobody had hiked that way in awhile: orbweaver webs everywhere! Getting caught in one of those sticky tangles was bad enough, but the idea of one of the giant spiders in my hair or on my face was more than I could handle.
Here’s how stubborn I am: I didn’t turn back. I picked up a stick and hiked with it held in front of me, knocking down webs as I went. I made it all the way around the loop, at one point with half a dozen orbweavers crawling on my spider stick. Leon Sinks may be an amazing geologic wonder, but I won’t be hiking that horrifying loop ever again!
I’ll take alligators over orbweavers any day! Click here to read about my introduction to alligator wrestling!