Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where the Buffalo Roam

No matter how many times I tried to convince them, my kids never believed that there are bison on Paynes Prairie.  Bison, you say?  In Florida?  You don't believe me either?  Why yes, we do have a rather large herd of bison roaming freely in North Central Florida.  As a matter of fact, hundreds of thousands of bison roamed in Florida until the European settlers and Seminoles hunted them into extinction.  In the 1970's, in an effort to restore a population of bison, a few were brought to Paynes Prairie, and they have pretty much thrived there since.

We have been taking the kids hiking since they could walk.  We have been conditioning them to walk farther and farther, and now they can do up to a respectable 8 miles at a time.  We have known that the farther into the Prairie they could go, the bigger and better the payoff would be.  Still, up until now, they didn't really believe that bison were out there.

It's a special thing to see the bison on Paynes Prairie, even if you see them from afar or from one of the many observations decks built there.  But it is a very unique and extraordinary experience when you not only see one - or a few - on the hiking trail, but you also get to hike with one!

That is exactly the experience my family had.  It was thrilling, exciting, and utterly frightening.  I challenge anyone not to be in awe of a huge, 500+ pound beast staring you in the eye from a mere 15 feet away.  He came out of the brush as we were resting on the trail, and we were forced to follow him out.  Thankfully, he didn't seem to mind too much.

We saw 5 bison on this day on the trail.  This guy was by far the biggest and the most humbling.  Notice that one of his horns is missing.  There was much speculation as to what happened to it.  Fighting for territory?  Fighting for a mate?  Or is he simply just a klutz?

These guys were the cutest.  They were about half the size of Chewy up above.  They were docile enough for me to get about 20 feet from them to take their pictures.  We were told by some fellow hikers that a herd of about 12 had been with them only a few minuted before we got there, and these two guys stayed behind for lunch.

Our experience with the bison taught us that no matter where you are hiking, you aren't alone on the trail.  Whether you seen them or not, there are animals that call home the places that people only casually use.  The forests, the prairies, and the mountains are not ours to use or abuse, and we must respect the trails - and the creatures that we borrow them from.

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