Tate’s Hell

It’s is actually a large state forest, 200,000 acres—although much of what we’ve seen is pine plantations, which doesn’t feel very forest-like to me because the trees are in rows.

Still, the sense of isolation is strong here because Tate’s Hell is in the middle of the Apalachicola National Forest, which puts us smack dab in the largest forest in the South. Once I wrapped my head around the homogenous treescape and sandy, scrub underbrush, I find it quite beautiful.

What’s with the Name?

This sign sums it up.

We entered this part of Florida pretty uninformed. When we made the reservation we saw there were 50 campsites but with just three available, and we thought, “Yuck, a standard, crowded campground. But let’s see.”

As we drove along the long, straight, dirt road with rows of pines on either side of us, mile after mile into isolation, it seemed impossible that 50 RVs had done the same and were ahead of us; we even had to recheck the reservation to be sure there was an electric hook-up.

Once we got to the sign that designated our area, Womack Creek, we were the only ones around.

This place does have 50 campsites, but only three of them have electricity, and that’s why only three showed as available when we booked (we’d checked hook-ups in the criteria list).

There had been one lone tent out here, out of sight of us near the river, but she cleared out this morning ahead of the rain that Zeta is sending our way. So, now, except for our gregarious camp hosts, we have this whole forest to ourselves.

Womack Creek

The campground is named for a nearby creek that feeds into Ochlockonee River, a long windy river into the Gulf that all these bayous also feed into.

We’ve been keeping our eye on Hurricane Zeta and not venturing out far, so yesterday we just carried our chairs over to the river and watched it for a while, guessing if the big splashes we heard in the water were fish jumping or alligators.

In my usual overly careful way, I was aware that we’d set ourselves not in the designated picnic area but over in the woods a bit where we had a better view of the river. And what with a No Alcohol sign nearby plus a cute little warning sign to leave the gopher tortoise alone, I figured maybe we were in a regulated area and might be visited by the park host any minute and asked to move.

It’s true, one member of the park-host couple came by, but we saw her approach by coming up the river in her fishing boat. She tied that to a tree, then ambled over to us with cigarette in mouth and beer in hand, plus her two dogs, Rebel and Hook (off leash, of course)—to welcome us. This is rural Florida, after all.

We had a light-hearted, colorful conversation about her and her husband retiring and starting out as camp hosts here in a forest they love, but the last big hurricane wiped out their bricks-and-sticks home in Georgia and flattened the trees on their hunting land up there, so now they’re here for good, seemingly.

Just like the lady who makes tamales a little west on this same shoreline, our host Linda wants to travel in an RV in retirement, but her husband loves being a camp host. He walks these dirt roads several times a day with the two dogs and enjoys helping the park staff with upkeep. Linda fishes five days a week while Glen works the park land. (Her fishing goal is 30 catfish and brim every week, 10 for them on Friday night and 20 for the dogs. The big dog Hook won’t eat brim so she tries to keep more catfish to be sure he gets enough. His hips are going bad, bless his heart.)

There was a lot of, “We’re fixing to decide on how long to stay” and “I gave that guy hell because I was needin’ to get down the road to go fishin’!” In one story she referred to herself as “the girl” when in another story she said she’s 65 years old. All while smoking out the side of her mouth and drinking Miller Light in a can. She had only three fish biting that day. Southern women, I love them.

When I told her I’m from Virginia, she said with a smile,“You’re lucky no one’s called you a Yankee yet.”

Wildlife Here

Linda told us about the alligator that lives around the bend on Womack Creek, that it’s grown several feet the last two years. I’d like to get down there in the kayaks after this storm, but maybe I’m not alligator-savvy enough; Tracy probably thinks we should kayak in the other direction.

Tracy’s seen a snake (a photo is on his computer; I’ll add it here later) and plenty of insects, including this huge grasshopper critter that doesn’t seem to fly.

It’s hard to show how big it is, so I thought I’d hold it in my hand for the photo. But I’d have to cup it carefully and use my whole hand to do it, and it was jumpy and I didn’t want to smush it, so no dice with the good shot. Believe me, it’s the size of my palm, at least.

Inside Time Planned

Today Zeta will dump a little rain on us and there may be wind, so we’re planning on heading inside for a few hours, when we’ll plan where we go next.

That’s good timing for my sprained ankle, which is still swollen. I want it to be well enough before we leave here so I can help get the kayaks off the truck and so I can bicycle down these long dirt roads and look for alligators in the bayous off to the side.

Oops, right when I typed that, the rain started, hard. Luckily, our electric was just restored so we can run the ac; it’s 80 degrees today, with high humidity even when there is no rain.

Okay, off to plan. You guys stay safe, and please vote!

12 thoughts to “Tate’s Hell”

  1. Hey Shelly, the campground looks phenomenal. I hope you guys are safe and sound, I heard Zeta hit hard in the south! Get better from your sprained ankle! Xox

    1. Hey Arlem! Zeta totally missed us. Thanks for the kind wishes – and keep posting those boxing videos! ♥️ Charlie

  2. Cycling would be great for your ankle. I love how light it is in the Airstream even when there’s a storm, I guess all those windows are bothe a blessing and a curse depending on the weather!

  3. Great story on the southern woman. Being a yank, I appreciate their colorful language and the fact that they are always “fixin’ ” to do something, a lot of which has to do with food. Glad you are safe from the storm and that the ankle is mending.