The refuge covers 630 square miles in southeast Georgia. The swamp is even larger with parts in both Georgia and Florida. We paid our $5 daily admission fee and headed to the visitor center. There is an adventure outfitter where you can rent canoes or kayaks or sign up to take a 90 minute guided boat tour. It was pretty hot, so we opted for the guided tour where we wouldn't have to work hard and would hear all about what we were seeing.
While we waited for the tour, we looked around in the visitor center and watched their movie. The movie had beautiful photography, but very little narration. It would have been much better if they had talked about the refuge. I thought this shirt was pretty clever.
The swamp is the head water of two rivers, the St. Marys which is the border of Florida and Georgia and the Suwannee River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico (we were at that end over 250 river miles away last week.)
We boarded the boat and headed out into the 11 mile Suwannee Canal which was dug in the 1890s. A developer had the idea to dig the canal to drain the swamp for logging and farming. He ran out of money and abandoned the project, but the canal remains and is used by boaters to get out into the swamp. We saw dozens of alligators all along the canal. This guy was right in front of the boat. As the boat got closer, he just sank out of view.
This one was posing very nicely for us.
There was a large fire in the swamp in 2011. It was quite obvious where the fire ended and we entered this eerie looking area. We learned that Spanish Moss is not from Spain, nor is it a moss. It is an air plant growing on the cypress trees.
Our guide gave us lots of information as we slowly made our way along the canal. Then, he took us into a swamp prairie/pond area. We saw lots of birds, more alligators and many plants. This great blue heron had just caught a snake. Eeewww!
I managed to catch this egret in flight.
The swamp is a peat swamp where huge islands of peat sometimes come to the surface and actually form mounds where plants and even trees begin to grow. The lily pads were just beginning to bloom. There were also interesting looking plants called Golden Club or Never Wets, as the locals call them. The yellow stem is actually the flower. Water just rolls off the leaves; hence the local name.
There were lots of birds in this part of the swamp, egrets and ibis.
We thoroughly enjoyed our boat tour, but our day wasn't done. We drove along Swamp Island Drive. We saw evidence of the Longleaf Pine Restoration Project. These trees once covered 90 million acres in the southeast, fewer than 3 million acres remain.
We stopped at the Chesser Island Homestead. The Chesser family settled on a small island in the swamp in the mid-1800s. The homestead that is open to the public was built in 1927 using yellow pine and cypress wood. They grew sugar cane and processed it right on the property to make money. They also grew their own food, had livestock, and beehives. Electricity was never brought to the island while they lived there, but they had a propane refrigerator and gasoline washing machine. I'm always amazed how industrious people of old were.
Our next stop was the Chesser Island Boardwalk and Owls Roost Tower. The old boardwalk burned during the fire, so a very nice new .75 mile boardwalk has been built. It goes through the swamp to the 40 foot Owls Roost Tower, where you can get a great view of the swamp.
Seagrove Lake was behind the tower.
You can see a small black spot near the bottom center of the picture above. Upon closer inspection, it was an anhinga with some turtles next to it. Just above it was a large alligator.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Okefenokee Swamp. There is a state park with camping available, but we didn't get a chance to check that out.
On Wednesday we drove into Jacksonville to do some exploring. We drove through a historic area called Riverside/Avondale, but weren't all that impressed. The houses were old, but not as grand as we've seen in many other historic cities.
We stopped at Friendship Fountain along the St. Johns River in downtown. The fountain was huge and beautiful. It is lit at night, and I'm sure is even prettier then.
Across the river was a tourist area called Jacksonville Landing with shops and restaurants. There is also a river walk over there. We found the River City Brewing Company so stopped for a sampler for Kevin and a hard cider for me.
We've been in Florida Since December 31st, and today we leave the state. Our winter in Florida was great, but I don't think we'll spend another winter here for several reasons. It was very hard to make reservations at many RV parks in southern Florida, the prices were very high, RV parks were tight and small, sand fleas attacked Kevin a couple of times, and it was hotter and more humid than we like. Temperatures this winter were above average in Florida, so I'm sure other years are not as hot and humid as we experienced. I know there are many people who love wintering in Florida, and that's great for them. We just prefer Arizona. That doesn't mean we won't be back for shorter visits. That's the nice part of being mobile. Never say never!
Today we head to Jasper, Georgia for a week. We plan to explore Savannah for sure. I'm sure I'll find other places to see as well.
Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!