Friday, March 11, 2016

Crooked River State Park

Crooked River State Park, like so many Georgia parks, is lovingly designed with spacious campsites, well maintained facilities and sensible reservation policies. Near the lovely village of St Mary's and the launch point for a visit to Cumberland Island NS, it has been a regular stop for us.


Daytrip to Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Waiting for the "Queen" to board for the 45 minute ferry ride to the island.

There were the was breezy all day and the bugs were NO problem. Is that suspenders AND belt, headnet AND bug spray..?


...and today's prize for inappropriate footwear goes to....the fashionista with the Huge handbag AND the lavishly stylish messenger bag.

On earlier trips, we counted ourselves fortunate to see two, maybe three, of the wild horses. Today we were greeted by a small herd right at the ferry landing --and BONUS, a new foal just minutes old. We watched for nearly a hour until Patty was sure he/she was wandering about unsteadily and had located lunch.





...for everyone.


















The long and convoluted story of Cumberland is fascinating and ties together so many threads of our history. It is a tale best told quietly on a walk among the ruins and landmarks, along tree shaded told by a native, a scholar, an old school ranger with a gift for engaging tourist and historian alike. We have had this experience and relished it. So it was doubly disappointing to find it replaced by cell phone recordings of dry, lifeless WiKi intoned by a bored automaton.

Soulless administrative decisions aside, the beauty of this place cannot be so easily diminished.


There are the big views..


The LONG walks looking for, not finding, shells...



A pleasant stroll through the quietest, most artfully shaded campground we've seen and a little fun "...washing that man right out of my hair.."



And finally, a little time in the rockers at Sea Camp porch waiting for the "Queen" and exchanging tales with new friends.


Our new friend Carol joined us at Lang's Seafood for a laugh-filled dinner with sunset over the marsh and capped a lovely day.


Sunday, March 6, 2016


Savage peat fires burned nearly ALL of the Okefenokee in 2007 and returned again to burn the Pine Island Campground in 2011. When we visited in 2012, the campground was only new-sown grass. Today the palmetto and low swamp shrubs screen each campsite nicely and there is greenery among the standing dead tree trunks in the rest of the swamp.


Water has returned and, with it, the whole Ecosystem is rebuilding.

Residents are happy. Migrants are stopping by and

Spring is on its way...

Our short visit was reassuring...

...even IF we were greeted by the SAME WARNING that has plagued our last few stops...


We walked the "Trembling Earth" boardwalk several times, watching clouds of White Ibis moving about. Plans to rebuild the portions that burned are in the promise stage. Along the footpath skirting the campground, we sighted a Swallow-tailed Kite -- a rare treat for us, but a regular customer here.

We marvel at each small change for its demonstration of the strength and resilience of all living things. We know we will never see the return of the big cypress hammocks but hope to return and find more steps lead that way.


Friday, March 4, 2016



It has been a pleasant five (make that six) days here at Paynes Prairie among the usual suspects -- Alligators (big ones), Wading birds (they had better be big for us to identify them), Eagles and Osprey, Wild Spanish Horses, and rumors of Bison and Whooping Cranes -- all this in a 21,000 Acre wet prairie just South of Gainesville Florida. The prairie is far larger than the preserve -- I-75 and hwy 441 both cross it -- and creatures move freely around. In times of drought, it is a magnet and when it is wet, you will sight birds everywhere.


The CONES DIKE TRAIL traces the Southeastern edges along wide graveled footpaths which gave us early morning views of Eagles, Osprey and Vultures circling in the thermals. Patty sighted two eagles, talons entangled, spinning toward the watery surface, breaking free just in time to nonchalantly climb again. Sometimes the trail is an expanse of sun-hardened muck hoof prints, and other times a grassy, shaded path beside spring fed gator holes.








THE NORTH ENTRANCE approaches the La Chua Sink which drains the prairie. At times the far side of the sink and the waterway leading to it are covered with HUGE GATORS, but times are good here on the Prairie; there is lots of water and the gators can disperse. All the common wading birds are easy to spot here, but you had better watch where you step.



We realize now how fortunate we were on an earlier visit when the state-wide drought brought literally thousands of Sandhill Cranes to the Prairie. We watched in awe as they circled overhead, raising an awful/ joyful racket preparing to leave for the North. This year we saw only two Sandhills flying close formation over the highway, probably local birds with their own private little wet spot somewhere near.


Florida is blessed with many smooth paved rail to trail conversions. Because the topography is seldom challenging, they are nearly all straight as a die. But what's this?












The sixteen mile trail eventually does straighten, but after affording some great overlooks back into the Prairie...





... And glimpses at a number of trail side natural places where other delights await.

This is a great trail to just idle along, stopping for a short hike to a Cypress swamp or watch the fishermen along Lockloosa Creek.

Each afternoon we had a wonderful late lunch at our new favorite Pizza place --BLAZE. There wonderfully personable young folks help dottering old folks create their own pizza from a huge array of fresh quality ingredients. If that sounds pretty ordinary, please believe us, it's not!

Patty has declared it the "best ever" and is looking for stock. Al agrees and hopes they will remember HIS name when we return, 'cause by the third time they remember hers.


The last day of our visit we discovered SWEETWATER WETLANDS PARK on the Northern edge of the Prairie. Frankly, we thought it might be a waterslide attraction, but when we heard three miles of boardwalks and easy paths, we were in. This is a natural water filtration area. Treated water and runoff from the city of Gainesville flows through a series of settling basins and the "enhancement pools" convert nitrites to vegetation, food for a whole chain of creatures and clean water to recharge the Acquifer. As creators of all that upstream waste and the alpha critter with binoculars, we get to enjoy boardwalks and grassy pond sides filled with gators and birds of all kinds, flocks (I'm telling you 6-8 Osprey at a time) fishing and a pair Eagles content to swoop in periodically and take their lunch. It was glorious!



And everywhere there are Live Oaks... My Honey, she LOVES her some Live Oaks.

...but, like your humble author, Live Oaks seldom photograph well.













This is our favorite picture of the trip. This little guy has staked out a log in the Sweetwater and looking for a meal to grow on. His little needle sharp teeth are about a match for a passing Dragonfly right now, but if he keeps his spot we'll look him up next time.

Oh yes, about that extra sixth day... As we were pulling across the prairie on I-75 this morning, the back side window EXPLODED. After all these years of yelling "Taking Fire" at loud noises, neither of us has the presence of mind to do anything but check tire gauges and look for road debris. Still a mystery, but one that will be repaired by mid morning tomorrow. The campground folks were kind enough to let us back in and stay the night in the "overflow". Another star-filled night on the Prairie, but a shorter stay at Okeefenokee starting tomorrow.