Sharon spent New Years Day on a meditative retreat, so I took a meditative hike. My goal was to walk at least 15 miles with backpack in preparation for our upcoming trek on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I ended up walking just over 16 miles on the Panther Point Trail, which skirts the east and south shores of Lake Hancock in western Polk County, Fla.

It was an out-and-back walk, starting at the Marshall Hampton Reserve on Thornhill Road and turning around at the county boat ramp near U.S. 98.

A low fog hung over the region for the first half of the hike. Even after the fog lifted, the day remained mostly cloudy. The temps were 69 at the start, which felt about perfect, and 78 for the last few hours.

Along the walk, I kept encountering wildlife in the trail:

  • There were more alligators than I could possibly count. Most of the trail takes places on causeways or berms between Lake Hunter and smaller bodies of water. On the outbound walk, most of the gators I saw were in the ponds. A few rested at water’s edge, with most of them scooting in the water as they heard me coming. On the way back, when the sun had come out, many more were resting in the sun. Most slipped into the water as I approached, but a few stayed on the trail until I got uncomfortably close.
  • On the southbound trip, two large figures loomed ahead in the fog along the path. They didn’t look quite like people, and as I got closer I realized they were sandhill cranes. On the return trip, I saw three pair of sandhill cranes on different parts of the trail — or maybe the same pair flew over me several times and found new places to hunt for insects along the path.
  • I saw the same group of cows along the path coming and going.
  • On the southbound trip, when it was still quite foggy, I looked to the right and saw hundreds of larger birds roosting in bare trees. I’m not sure what they all were — turkey vultures, anhingas, cormorants.

Here are a few of the photos I took along the way and a video that shows where I saw the various creatures: