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Backpacker Magazine – May 2009

Three Trips to Natural Wonders

Discover the world's oldest tree, America's biggest cavern, and Florida's largest herd of wild horses on these three treks.

by: Tim Shisler

New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern (David Muench)
New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern (David Muench)

Florida's Wild Cracker Horses
See the heirs of Ponce de Leon's Spanish herd.

The Wonder
In 1521, Spanish explorers introduced horses to Florida. Today, you can see their ancestors–a herd of 20-odd horses–just 10 miles south of Gainesville, on Paynes Prairie, a 21,000-acre natural preserve. The horse's name derives from the crack of the whip brandished by Florida cowboys. Feral bands formed after the Spanish abandoned their horses to make room on their ships for treasure. Once used to herd cattle and pull buggies, the last descendants of these stout, strong Spanish mustangs are now protected on the preserve. They stick to Cone's Dike and Bolten Bluff, the best grazing in the preserve and a hangout for wild bison, alligators, and more than 270 species of birds.

The Way
Horses are roamers, but locals say that crackers reliably appear just about anywhere along Cone's Dike Trail, an 8.2-mile out-and-back. From the visitor center, head .25 mile up the Jackson's Gap Trail to merge onto Cone's Dike. It zigzags across the preserve's wide-open, reedy, and marshy southeastern edge. floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie




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Ronin
Jul 02, 2012

You would actually be seeing the original horses' "descendents" today, as opposed to the "ancestors" mentioned in the article.

Guy
Jun 28, 2012

The world oldest tree is a Norway Spruce in Sweden. It dates back 9550 to right after the last ice age.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080414-oldest-tree_2.html

Dusty
Jun 28, 2012

We have Bristlecone Pines in Northern Nevada as well. I know they are 3000+ years old, but 4800..........wow!

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Aug 12, 2010

Carlsbad Cavern is a wonder to be seen.
Are the bats still there in the summer? We were there in Jan. and did not see any bats.

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I visited this last summer (8/2010) and it was amazing! I would love to go again. I was just in awe over the beauty. We took the guided tour and self guided tour, so fun and learned something new!

JASON
Mar 18, 2010

Visited Carlsbad when I lived in New Mexico, what a great place, a must see, amazing!!!!!!!

Now living in Gainesville, FL, I have seen the Cracker horses at Paynes Prairie many times. Last time they were at the vistior center. Saw them the time before and other times on the Bolen Bluff trail.

Get out and enjoy the outdoors and maybe we will cross paths sometime. Be safe.

Mike
Dec 20, 2009

We live in Gainesville and have seen this herd. They are quite elusive, but worth the effort to find them. Add to the horses the bison on the prairie, and you never know what you will find on this little natural oddity in central Florida.

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Jul 02, 2009

My husband & I are from NC and we visited Carlsbad in 2002 - it was absolutely wonderful and beyond words to explain the natural beauty. Great place to visit and great area to explore go to White Sands monument in Alamogorda when you get done at Carlsbad stunning!!!

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