Hello from St. Mary's, Georgia.
After 7 weeks, we have finally emerged from Florida and have started to head north. Our first stop is a camp called "Walkabout Camp" in Woodbine, Georgia. It is owned and operated by two young Aussie's and their four young kids. They are building a dream here in the U.S. and so far, based on the fullness of this RV Park, they are on their way. This camp was cool in that it had a salt marsh out back and they had a boardwalk that lead to a nice covered platform that was used for fishing. It was really quite pretty watching the birds and butterflies and the crabby patties meandering from their aquatic homes. Two kids that we met borrowed our fishing stuff and they were lucky enough to even catch a flounder right off that dock. Supposedly there is an alligator that lives in that salt marsh, but we never saw it (thank God. I am kinda alligatored out.)
Our first adventure was out to the Okefenokee swamp. Holy Cow. Talk about creepy! We took a boat ride out into the swamp and I gotta tell you, it was NOT fun for me. Don't get me wrong, the swamp is a beautiful tranquil place as long as you don't focus on the alligators that are laying about all over the place. We boated down this canal that rode on water that was almost black in color. This blackness is caused by the decomposing leaves that hit the water as well as some other naturally existing minerals, but let me just say that I didn't care for it at all. Even the turtle that swam next to our boat was almost completely invisible in the water until it hit the surface. Now this water makes for a nice reflector of the wilderness around it, so for that reason, it was pretty. But did I mention that there were alligators - - EVERYWHERE? Anyway, we tool down this canal and get to what is called a "prarie" in this swamp. I believe they call it a prarie because it actually looks like a grassland with some trees and flowers, etc. In reality, however, it is all this black water with the grasses and flowers that grow on the surface of the water, and under this water, were - - you guessed it - - ALLIGATORS. I know Steve enjoyed our boat ride but all I could think about was that if that small boat we were in had any kind of mechanical failure or, God forbid, tipped over for any reason, I would be lunch in less than a minute. I couldn't wait to get out of that boat and back on land at the dock. The rest of our time in the park was quite nice. We took a drive through the park on the Swamp Island Drive, which took us to the house of the Chesser family. This house and the entire homestead was absolutely charming. The house itself was built in the late 1800s by W. T. Chesser. He, his wife and seven children, lived their most of their lives and provided everything they needed themselves. They grew many types of crops, raised cattle, and sold turpentine and syrup made from sugar cane in order to earn extra income. While visiting this homestead, we met a wonderful couple who were volunteers at the park. They told us about their work-camping lifestyle and this intrigued Steve and I very much. In exchange for 24 hours of work per week, they are given a beautiful campsite that has full hook-ups, propane, firewood, and cable TV. Nice deal and Steve and I may just look into this as a way of supplementing our income while on the road. We won't be doing that for another two years because we have the entire U.S. and Canada to get through before we can stay put in one place for more than a week or two.
One of my favorite things are trains. I have no idea why, but I am especially intrigued by model trains. Anyway, in a town near where we are camping (called Folkston), the two main lines of the CSX railroad come together into one set of tracks which feeds the entire state of Florida. More than seventy trains per day coming into and out of Florida pass through this town, so it is affectionately referred to as the Folkston Funnel. In downtown Folkston, they built a rail platform specifically for trainspotters. The CSX railway communication system is broadcast through a loudspeaker on the platform so you can hear the train engineers and the dispatchers conversations. We sat and watched the trains for a while and chatted with the trainspotters, one of which was a young teenage boy who was quite knowledgeable about the rail cars and engines. We learned that the tracks have defect detectors every twenty miles or so that check for excess heat on the undersides of each car as it passes over an electronic eye. The defect detector then reports the length of the train, the number of axles, and whether or not it has spotted any defects. That was cool to hear. I have no idea why, but that time we spent on the platform was quite enjoyable for me. Check out the Folkston Funnel webcam and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Ok, so back to the interesting stuff. Steve and I tried to do some geocaching in Crooked River State Park but were completely unsuccessful. So we gave up and went on a hike into the woods and saw some really cool stuff. It is interesting here in this part of Georgia to see all the different environments that somehow co-exist together. For example, the Crooked River State Park is bordered by a salt marsh. Just beyond the edges of this salt marsh is a dense hardwood forest. Just beyond that, is a pinewood forest that houses both tropical and evergreen plants and is where the gopher tortoise makes their nests. What a great hike that was!! We learned about "midden soil". Hundreds of years ago the Guale people harvested shellfish from the river and discarded their shells into trash piles, called middens. Over the centuries, these shells have broken down, releasing calcium into the soil. It is because of this calcium release that the soil allows these hardwoods to grow to such huge heights. Close to the shore, we saw a tree whose limbs made the most beautiful, yet queer, pattern. Check out the gallery to see that picture as it is quite remarkable. Anyway, as we got to the end of the hardwoods and to the salt marsh, we glanced to the right and got a shot of the Naval Submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia. We stopped by their on our way home to see if they did any tours, but sadly they didn't. All we got to see was the submarine they had buried out front of the gate, but that was pretty cool.
Steve and I went into St. Mary's one day to check out that town. So cute and supposedly the second oldest town in the U.S. I am not sure I buy this but there are several buildings there that are dated from the late 1700s and early 1800s. The town is on the St. Mary's River and is quite quaint and boasts an absolutely gorgeous riverfront park. This riverfront park is going to be the location for the shooting of an episode of "Royal Pains" next Tuesday through Thursday. Sadly, Steve and I aren't going to be here then or we'd try to get a part as an extra. While in town, we visited the Submarine Museum. That was pretty cool as it had a ton of submarine equipment and memorabilia, but the museum itself or its organization was hard to follow as it was not organized by year or by war, which made it hard to find a particular theme to the exhibits. But it was only $5 and well worth it. I did learn that the largest submarine was 700 feet long and was commissioned in 1997 (or at least, that's as far as the museum information went so it may be outdated). Still interesting, though.
While driving around one day, Steve and I happened upon an old, abandoned church and its accompanying cemetery and we thought we'd take a gander. Having lived in Abingdon, VA for some time, I am intrigued by old cemeteries and Abingdon has one of the country's oldest (hence, my hesitation at buying St. Mary's boast of being the second oldest town in the U.S.) Anyway, Steve took some black and white shots that are especially cool. What was interesting to see is that the cemetery is still being used today. There were several new graves there in addition to some that dated back to the early 1800s. The older tombstones were from one particular family, as is common with these church-related cemeteries. The other adventure we had that was "in town" so to speak was the car show we went to in Kingsland, Georgia. First, before I get to the cars, this town won a contest that Oprah Winfrey sponsored in which she tried to determine where in the U.S. she could find "Love City". This city was voted #1 because of the way the people within the city take care of each other and give back to improve the lives of everyone in the community. The episode that talks about Kingsland, GA is supposed to air sometime this summer, but I forgot to ask which channel it would be on or which show (if it's Oprah's OWN channel). Anyway, we had a great time at the car show. There as live music and barbeque as well as some awesome cars. My favorite was the 1953 Chevy Pickup that had a 5-window design. The owner, David Culpepper, is a Korean War veteran (as is my dad) so we struck up a conversation with him and learned about his truck. He spent 9 years restoring this vehicle and did 92% of the work himself. He was rather proud of this truck as he should be, and we voted for it as our show favorite.
Our last adventure while here in southeast Georgia was a day at Cumberland Island National Seashore. To get there, you have to take a boat from St. Mary's which was fun. On the way out, we saw a dolphin jumping through the wake of our boat. Totally cool and I wish we could have gotten pictures of that but they move too quickly for that. Anyway, on the way out, one of the submarines from the Naval Base passed right in front of our ferry. TOTALLY COOL! I have never ever seen a submarine outside of one dry-docked in Chicago so it was completely beyond words to see this thing sail by in the water. Quite impressive, I must say. It was being escorted by a large tug boat and two gun boats which sported machine guns both fore and aft. Sweet!!!!
Ok, back to Cumberland Island. This island is now part of the National Parks system but that wasn't always the case. Originally this island was owned by the Carnegie family (all 36,000+ acres) and served as their winter retreat. They built a magnificent home that was called Dungeness, the ruins of which remain on the island today. I say ruins because in 1959 the house burned to the ground and was not rebuilt by the Carnegies. There were several other buildings that made up the Dungeness compound and we enjoyed wandering around these sites and imaging what it must have been like to have so much money and to live that lifestyle. One of the unique aspects of this island is that it has more than 100 wild horses that roam around freely. They are not tame, at all, so we stayed clear of them and did not try to pet them or feed them anything. There are also wild hogs, deer, and a ton of other animals who make this island their home. Steve and I then decided to walk to the beach from the Dungeness ruins. It was a nice walk until we hit the sand dunes. Have you ever tried to walk over sand dunes. I'm not talking about hard-packed sand, but very fine and loose sand that doesn't really allow for much footing. Let me tell you, it's exhausting. After much panting and sweating, we arrived at the beach and it was worth the sandy ordeal. The surf was very nice to watch and we got a nice view of some naval helicopters on maneuvers overhead. I wish I could have flown my kite on that beach because it was perfect for that activity. But after tredging through the dunes both on the way there and back (it was a mile of walking on that sand, by the way), I was happy we weren't lugging the big kite with us. Steve and I were so tired after we crossed back over the dunes it was by sheer will itself that we made it back to the boat dock. My feet were KILLING me.
So we're sitting there waiting for the boat to come pick us up and what comes down the intercoastal waterway was the submarine. This time it passed right by us and we could just about reach out and touch it. As it made its way down the channel to the naval base, submariners started emerging from the hull of the ship. There must have been about a dozen of them riding on top of the submarine, which was really cool to see. We then boarded the ferry and headed back to St. Mary's and watched these people skydive and parachute down as we meandered down the St. Mary's river. What a great day and we lived to tell about the sand dune journey.
Ok, that's it for this week. We are off to Savannah tomorrow. I have a knitting class at the Michael's in town and I am very excited about it. We are staying at Skidaway Island State Park while in the Savannah area and also plan to visit Paula Deen's restaurant, "The Lady and Sons" so I will report back on how much butter was in my meal (you know she's famous for her butter content).
Later gator (and if I never seen another again as long as I live, I'm okay with that). : )