The last day of our vacation, hubby and I made our way north over the Florida/Georgia border to another small, sleepy town hollowed out on the St. Mary's river. From here we boarded a ferry boat over to Cumberland Island... the only way to get to the island is by boat. Virtually uninhabited by humans for its entire history, there are clues from Indian inhabitants and then Spanish soldiers and missionairies who lived there in the mid-1500's.
The soft grassy marshes so familiar in this part of the country come into view first as we approach our destination from St. Mary's.
With their wealth of nutrients the marshes support large populations of fish, shellfish, plants, and birdlife.
The island is now managed by the National Park Service and seeks to keep the land as untouched by humans as possible.
Horses donated by the Carnegie's roam the entire island. They are grass-eating feral horses and because they are not fed, watered, or medicated by the park service only the strong survive.
We were warned not to feed or try to pet any of the families of horses we might come across while visiting. The stallions keep members of other families at bay by marking out their territories.
Wild turkeys were a common sight along with armadillos (which I have an aversion to since they commonly dig up and destroy plantlife here in my garden).
There was a time when Thomas and Lucy Carnegie built a 28,000 square foot mansion in the mid 1880's. This is the remains of what was their winter home. When it burned down in 1959, it had not been occupied for many years. Lots of interesting facts about how this family was self- sustaining on this private island when they acquired 90% ownership of it. They had running water, an indoor built-in swimming pool, they grew all their own food, and maintained lush gardens on several acres. Of course they had over 200 servants that worked for them and lived in supporting buildings. Most of these buildings are gone now with only a few remaining that the park service occupies for various maintenance facilities.
Not many of the original structures have been restored but the wash building for some reason still has the equipment that was used by the families' servants.
Hundreds of live oaks that have been standing for hundreds of years occupy much of the wooded area. We walked for over 3 miles once we landed. It was nice to have the shade of so many beautiful trees.
Speaking of walking. This is the magnificently wooded trail that leads to the Atlantic beach side of the island. I imagine this is much like what my own neighborhood here at Hoe & Shovel might have looked like so many years ago before homes and roads were carved out. These types of trees and palmettos are what canopy so many yards on our street.
Opening up from the darkness of that forested walk we emerged onto the brightness of the beach. The change was just that sudden. The white sand dunes were tall and then low and horse tracks and deer tracks trailed through them.
Miles and miles of practically unoccupied Atlantic shoreline. I'm not a shell collector. But the tide was out so we couldn't help but pick up some very large and unique shells as we walked along to the sound of lapping waters and gulls feeding along the shore.
Starfish left behind on the sand after the tide went out. This one still wiggly, we urged it back to deeper waters.
Always fascinated with dragon flies, I noticed this quite large one, perched on the grass of the dunes as we were exiting the walkway from the beach.
On the boat ride back to the mainland after almost six hours of traversing this beautifully natural place, we were treated to more of nature's display and habitat of various birds. This huge flock decided to leave their roosting position in the snags and limbs on a small island visible as we passed. Literally hundreds of them gathered to fly in somewhat of a formation over the open waters as if signaled by an unseen call and as if they knew exactly where they were heading.
At first I thought they were wood storks but I'm fairly certain they are white Ibis. If anyone knows for sure, I'd love to hear from you.
The day was a highlight for us. We were outside all day with hardly a soul around us most of the time. We had packed a picnic lunch that we ate in the cool breeze on the river side of the island while watching the wild horses saunter passed us on the shoreline. We took the trails least used to explore the woodsy areas of the island and then ended up on the beach. Because the park service doesn't offer any food or drinks we were responsible to carry on whatever we thought we might need while there. It was just lots of fun and dare I say romantic.
The little river town was adorable too. We walked around to see the restored 1800's homes and ate on an open-porch restaurant overlooking the river. We tend to wonder outloud if we like these kinds of towns so much because we don't live in one or would we like to live in one because we like them so much. :-) We don't know the answer to that one yet. So for now, we'll keep visiting and we'll keep talking about it.