During our first visit to Payne’s Prairie back in late January, Eric and I hiked the La Chua Trail. We were warned of numerous large alligators, and I had read that it was a good idea to carry a heavy walking stick to bonk the gators on the head if necessary. Lacking a walking stick, I insisted that we carry our aluminum hiking poles, figuring that was better than nothing. As it turns out, we didn’t see one gator on the entire hike. We did see plenty of bird life, and wanted to return to share the beautiful trail with our friends Judy and John, who were visiting from our hometown in Oregon.
This time, we didn’t bother with hiking poles. That was a big mistake—there were dozens upon dozens of gators, most of them enormous, and some disconcertingly close to the trail. John and Judy are no strangers to wildlife—they lived in Alaska for many years, and have plenty of grizzly stories to tell. But even they had their hackles up as we started this hike. A sign at the beginning of the trail warns hikers to stay 20 feet away from the gators. I don’t know how in the heck we were supposed to do that, given that the trail is only 10 feet wide.
We scuttled along in unison for the first part of the trail, with me frequently yelling out, “Get away from that bank! Don’t lag behind!” After a while, we just relaxed and enjoyed the trail (keeping a watchful eye out) until we reached almost the end, where an enormous gator laid part way in the trail, facing us. At that point, we decided unanimously to turn back. It was only upon our return that we noticed a sign we had missed on the way in. Judy read it out loud: “The gator you have to worry about is the one you never see.” Now that is a disturbing sign.[portfolio_slideshow]