We arose this morning, the first day of The Crooked Road trip. We had landed in Kingsland, Ga, a pretty little southern town not far from the highway. We are staying for two nights at Country Oaks Campground as a base for exploring the Okefenoke Swamp Park. Like most campgrounds, Country Oaks is dog friendly. We were not, however, allowed to let the dogs have a romp in the field due to the situation identified in this sign
And we thought that gators and snakes were the most dangerous beasts around!
Off in search of an adventure this morning, we left the animals behind in air-conditioned comfort and headed out along the Okefenoke Trail towards Folkston for about 45 miles to visit the park located in the Dixon Memorial Forest. It’s a pretty drive with very little residential neighborhoods to be seen from the road, but there are an amazing amount of Baptist churches. Only Baptist churches mind you; little tiny structures very much in need of paint, locked and quiet on this weekday morning. We could imagine that they rock and roll on Sundays though. Here is a partial list of the congregations that we passed when we started to write them down: New Zion, Deliverance, Freewill Rest, Grace Chapel, Zion Sisters, Missionary, Peoples, Winokur, Deliverance News, Trumpet in Zion, Race Pond, Sand Hill and don’t forget Camp Pickaninny. Yup, really. We figured that there was a church on the average of every three miles on the 45 minute drive this am!
We also went through three counties, Ware, Camden and Charlton and crossed creeks with great names that included Horsepen Creek, Temple Creek, Cooner Creek, Little Spanish and Big Spanish and Cutfish Creek. A highlight was also the Beulah Mobile Home Park No Dogs Allowed (all one sentence) with a pit bull tied on the porch of the office out front.
We finally arrived at the O. Swamp Park and we did find a true adventure. You can read more about this amazing place at www.okeswamp.com if you are interested.
The Okefenoke Swamp is the headwaters for the beautiful Suwannee River. While the Okefenoke Wildlife Refuge is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Park itself is a land lease operated by a non-profit. Many of the workers are volunteers who love this particular environment and the creatures who call it home. It is a bargain way to spend a day at only $14.00 for Seniors and that includes the boardwalk and train ride.
You can ride a train through the perimeter of the swamp, take a boat through a canal that penetrates into the swamp or, for the not-so-faint-of-heart, you can hoof it along the “boardwalk”. We strapped on the hiking boots and headed out, after signing a waiver stating that we understood that no none but our own foolish selves would be responsible for what bit us on this hike. We later learned that gators and snakes routinely climb up onto the walkway to sun themselves.
This hike is a “primitive” hike, meaning that there is no manicured path with roses planted by a gardener with a degree in horticulture. There is no manicured lawn or breezy bench to sit on. What is provided is a very narrow plank boardwalk that rolls and dips and sways in places. Sections of the boardwalk become submerged below the surface of the water, making it no illusion that you are actually walking in the swamp. Arnie’s boots were soaked within the first 400 feet but mine miraculously stayed dry. My socks got wet where the water went over the boots, but the boots kept my feet dry. (That is because one of us was willing to spring for better gear than the other.) There was a steady drizzle of cool rain which was actually welcome as it kept down the bugs and the evaporation helped to cool us.
Knowing what is in the water is a bit unnerving, but we kept up a steady pace, didn’t stop to make ourselves a target and walked as quietly as possible along this very slippery surface. Our biggest fear was not so much what was watching us pass by, but rather, slipping and going off the path into the murky water. There were no handrails, only a thin line of cord at about knee level to use as a guide.
A reward about half way into the hike was an observation tower that allows you to see 300 plus acres of the Reserve. As we arrived at the tower, we had a Chance Encounter with one of the rangers who inquired whether we had seen the Mama gator on our way in. He went into elaborate details about how she recently gave birth to about 60 young in a nest along the trail. He reported that he had gone looking for her recently and could not see her. Stopping to rest for a moment, he noticed that the boardwalk was moving. It suddenly rose up as Mama bumped him from below to let him know her displeasure. He then described exactly where we could see her on the hike back. He concluded terrorizing us by stating that he used to be “stupider” when he was younger…..I guess he meant going out to look for really dangerous creatures???
Going up the tower was fine, but by the time we got down, we were walking on pretty wobbly knees. And now we knew that the only exit was the way we came. We hustled following the ranger the way he had left, hoping to catch up with him for some peace of mind.No such luck; we came to a dead-end on the boardwalk and realized that he had come and gone by boat. No choice for us but to walk back the way we came and hope that one of us did not have to do a Crocodile Dundee imitation to rescue the other. We were now acutely aware that Mama was around. We used to be “stupider” when we were younger too.
All’s well that ends well. Mama was not to be seen and we completed the primitive hike just in time to pop in on Ranger Sharon who was doing a reptile talk. We needed another creepy crawly fix, so we really enjoyed her wonderful talk on snakes, turtles and toads. Sharon was born and breed in the area and her love of the natural world is evident. She shared stories from her Grandfather’s farm that were very entertaining. We liked the one about the Chicken House Bed and Breakfast. Her Grandmother would come out to gather the eggs from the Chicken House some mornings and find a corn snake with a full tummy of fresh eggs curled up under the sitting hen. Sharon also told about stealing her Grandmother’s embroidered pillow cases to go out and gather corn snakes when she was a kid. Her Grandfather paid her fifty cents for each one she caught and then released them in the hay mow to keep down the rats. Now you might be forming a picture in your mind of a Georgia backwoods farm girl, but not so……..Sharon plays the harp too! Thanks, Sharon for reminding us to respect all creatures and remember that each plays an important role in the ecosystem.