The Gulf Coast of Florida offered us much more than we expected. Interesting trails, mostly perfect weather and a great beachside seafood restaurant right across the street from our campsite. As the morning rain began, Reg hitched up the trailer while I battened down the inside…it was time to move on.
Our reservation at Fountainbleu State Park on the banks of Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana was made without thought to the season. Mardi Gras and the events of the Carnival were in full swing just across the lake in New Orleans. “What fun,” I said. “What crowds,” Reg replied.
In the end we decided to forgo all the hoopla across the lake and simple enjoy the evening festivities Mother Nature offered. Yes, we were party poopers.
Our AllTrails app has become our go-to tool for finding hikes when traveling. Once downloaded, the app works offline and can be a big help sorting out confusing trail signs and terrain.
It will also record miles, elevation and length of time walked, so if one of us remembers, we allow AllTrails to record our progress. This also keeps Reg honest as he tallies our hiking mileage on this trip.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, in Florida, has over 15 miles of trails, so we packed our lunches and set off to explore. As you can see, we only walked half of them, but I like to think we walked the pretty half.
Often we choose to do some Urban hiking and again, AllTrails led us to a unique Gulf Coast neighborhood not far from our RV site. We began our walk in the beautiful Watercolor neighborhood, a pristine resort community of large, and very expensive homes built surprisingly close together. A raised boardwalk took us around a couple small ponds and out to the banks of Western Lake. We looped around, crossing the water a couple times, eventually arriving at Seaside where we found tables and chairs scattered around a grassy amphitheater. Perfect for lunch and people-watching.
We arrived at Laura S. Walker State Park for a 3-night stay on a warm, sunny afternoon. Our campsite was large, the lake was within sight and hiking trails promised to keep us entertained…then the rain began. Hard rain. Dumping rain. Never-ending rain.
The first night it rained hard…all night long. It rained hard all the next day and night. Our last morning offered a tenuous break in the weather so we grabbed umbrellas and zipped over to the nearby Okefenokee Swamp Park to have a look around. Not knowing what to expect, Reg bought the coveted “E ticket” so we could see and do it all…boat ride, train ride, nature show and all the other displays scattered throughout the park.
We saw just two other guests while at the park but they left early. We had our boat and captain all to ourselves. She was a wealth of information concerning the 438,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp. Peat, at the bottom of the swamp, gives the water a brown color resulting in vivid reflections. It’s the largest black water swamp in North America. Indigenous people inhabited the Okefenokee in periods of Georgia prehistory. These days, visitors might see wading birds, amphibians, deer, Florida black bears and everything in between…and of course alligators.
After all the warnings posted throughout the past couple weeks, we were pretty excited to see our first real, live alligator in the wild. Our guide estimated this one to be about 8 feet long and noted it was sporting a yellow identification tag. Resident gators are all tagged and named. When we returned to the dock, we learned we’d met Sweetie.
The sky opened up again just as we boarded the Lady Suwannee train car for a short trip along the tracks. Again, we were the only riders but tour conductor kept up a steady stream of information as if she had a full train of passengers. We were impressed.
Old Roy lived in the Okefenokee Swamp for almost 20 of his 90 years. When he died of old age in 1972 he measured 12’ 10” long and weighed about 650 pounds. Roy had a reputation of attacking fishing boats and helping himself to strings of fish so he certainly made himself at home. He remains on display at the park, in a building named after him, where visitors are encouraged to touch and take photos…and so we did!
Some of you might remember the syndicated newspaper comic strip Pogo, published from 1948-1975. It was set in the Okefenokee Swamp and featured a menagerie of creator Walt Kelly’s colorful, animal characters. The park hosts a small tribute to both creator and characters.
When I saw this Swamp Girl movie poster, I thought it had to be one of those campy 1950s B-movies. After a little research I found that it was released in November of 1971, after a June premiere in Waycross, Georgia…the out-of-the-way town neighboring Okefenokee Swamp and just up the road from our campsite. Never mind that it scores a lowly 20% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Sometimes there’s just no accounting for taste!
Construction of Fort Pulaski, a massive five-sided fort built to protect the city and port of Savannah, began in 1829. Named for Casimir Pulaski, a Revolutionary War commander, the fort was ranked one of the “most spectacular harbor defense structures” in the United States during the Civil War years.
The government rented enslaved people from nearby plantations to build Fort Pulaski. The wall towers are 22 feet high inside and the walls average between five and eleven feet thick. It’s estimated that 25 million bricks, handmade locally by enslaved men, women and children, were used when it was completed in 1847. A close look reveals some bricks carry their fingerprints.
In 1862, the Confederate-held fort fell to Union soldiers. The north then formed a blockade that cut off the South’s ability to export cotton and other goods via the Savannah port…all part of the plan to weaken the southern economy and win the war.
The site was declared a National Monument in 1924.
Before leaving, we walked the two-mile round trip on the Lighthouse Overlook Trail. At the end was a view of Georgia’s smallest lighthouse. It ceased operation as a beacon in 1909, but was relit for historical purposes in 2007.
For all you movie buffs, I have one more fun fact to share. It seems Fort Pulaski has a bit of a starring role in scenes from the B-movie Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Pop some corn, it looks like a good one!
Dating back to 1736, Tybee Island Light Station is Georgia’s oldest and tallest (at 145 feet) lighthouse. Although it’s been rebuilt several times, it has continually guided mariners for over 270 years. Visitors are invited, or perhaps challenged, to climb the 178 circular steps that lead to a 360-degree view from the top platform.
“Piece of cake,” we thought, so we got our tickets and started up. It was a heart-pumping climb, one that caused some huffing and puffing. Up top, looking out over the island I confessed that my legs were really tired. Reg responded, rather sheepishly, that he stopped to rest on several of the landings between flights of stairs. Even carryoncouple has their bad days!
We were encouraged to check out Tybee Island by sons Andrew, once there for a company meetup, and Chris, who visited on one of his cross-country jaunts. Both had fond memories of time on the island.
We made our way back down the lighthouse stairs, wandered around town and found a picnic table out on the wharf where we unpacked our lunch. The day was fairly overcast and a little chilly so we didn’t linger.
I was fascinated by the storm surge post. The ocean is well beyond the palm trees, so it’s hard to imagine why anyone would try to “ride out” a hurricane.
We called it a day after lunch, but I have to admit the memory of our lighthouse climb remained. For days our thighs were in misery. Sharp, stabbing pains reminded us that we have work to do if we hope to conquer any challenges in our future.
We survived a wild week in an untamed wilderness known as Savage Island. The deer ran with abandon, the raccoons thought they owned the place and the squirrels were relentless in their efforts to steal our Happy Hour hors d’oeuvres.
The campground is located at the end of a long, straight road within the boundaries of Georgia’s Fort McAllister State Park. Surrounded by marshlands, numerous waterways and the Ogeechee River, the park is home to one of the best preserved Confederate earthwork fortifications. We put off the decision to tour the fort. Neither of us were eager to wander alongside the ghosts of another reconstructed Civil War battlefield, but curiosity got the better of us.
Despite all the fortifications, on December 13, 1864, Fort McAllister fell – the final victim of General Sherman’s famous March to Sea. While the Civil War came to an end soon after, the battlefields live on throughout the southern states. It would take a lifetime to explore them all.
Once home to a rambling rice plantation, 2500+ acre Huntington Beach State Park transformed into a beautiful seaside getaway when the when the state of South Carolina took over in 1960. Our week here was filled with exploration; walking the sandy beach, hiking through the woodlands and searching the marshes for a glimpse of the dreaded alligator.
The park is also home to Atalaya Castle, built as an escape from the cold winter months by successful businessman Archer Huntington and his renowned, sculptor wife Anna Hyatt Huntington. Soon after the couple purchased the land in 1930, work began on the castle and the adjacent Brookgreen Gardens. The 30-room home was built around two courtyards, separated by a central corridor. For a small fee, curious folks, like us, can tour the interior, a few outbuildings and a small historical display.
Brookgreen Gardens is part botanical gardens and part indoor/outdoor sculpture garden. We were lucky to catch the Rodin exhibit featuring many of his bronze works.
Fortunately for you all, my camera battery died, otherwise I’d probably have even more photos to share. Here are just a few of the 2700 sculptures, by 425 artists, displayed among the grounds.
This may be the most beautiful state park we’ve ever stayed in…certainly one of the top five. However, we have miles to go and many more places to see before we’re home. Where to next?
Not quite barefoot weather, but with the Atlantic Ocean in our backyard, we couldn’t resist beginning our week’s stay at Huntington Beach State Park with a nice long walk. We gawked at all the waterfront “cottages” just out of reach (usually) of the high tide line, although there must have been a recent storm with rough seas. Many of the private deck stairs had been, or were in the process of being rebuilt.
The day was gloomy, but we set our sites on exploring the National Historic Landmark known as the Gateway to the West. The Gateway Arch stands on the banks of the Mississippi River and towers 630 feet over the city of St. Louis, Missouri. It’s the world’s tallest arch and Missouri’s tallest accessible building.
The arch stands as a monument to the United States’ 19th century westward expansion. The Missouri-based routes, the Oregon, Mormon and California trails together are known as the Emigrant Trails. It’s estimated that between 350,000 and 500,000 men, women and children traveled west between 1843 and 1869 on these three trails.
The museum at the arch covers over 200 years of westward expansion history and is free for all visitors. We had purchased tram tickets, so we saved the museum for after our ride to the top.
Arch construction began in 1963 and was completed in 1965. As a nod to the times, we were asked to stand on this spot of far-out looking Love Bug daisies while we watched a short video. Neither Reg nor I had any idea what to expect as we waited for the tram. Heeding the warning not to bump our heads climbing through the four-foot steel-framed door, we were off on our rickety ride.
We had our five-seater tram pod all to ourselves. Looking through the door window, it appeared that there was just enough room to squeeze between the walls. The four-minute ascent was over right about the time I began to worry about the “what ifs.” What if we get stuck…how will we ever get out of here? What if the cable snaps? When was the last safety inspection?
Ducking out of our tram pod, we climbed a few steps to the top of the arch. Looking out to the west the view took in the city of St. Louis. The green dome you see in the first slide show photo (above) is the Old Courthouse, the site of the Dred Scott case, first brought to trial in 1847. To the east, in the third photo, the Mississippi River creates the border between Missouri and Illinois.
Soon our time was up and we headed back down the stairs to catch our ride to the bottom. Shouts from above directed us to stand on the yellow bars, allowing incoming passengers to disembark. A speedy three-minute ride down returned us to where we began. After a look through the museum, it was time for coffee and a snack.
Today we picked up Minnie, our little vacation home on wheels. After 10 days on the road, we are more than happy to to leave hotel life behind.
Reg directed the truck toward the blue sky and we were off.
It took awhile to clean and organize our space, but we’re already feeling pretty much at home. Reg and I have always battled over the thermostat, so while the wind howled outside, I bundled up to keep warm. Reg poured a cold drink and celebrated our return to traveling with Minnie, anticipating the adventures that await.