Cumberland Island depot; St. Marys GA
Welcome back to St. Marys, Georgia. St. Marys is known as "The Gateway to Cumberland Island" - among other things.
The above pictured building lies along the waterfront, and houses the National Park Service's welcome center for the island.
This is where you go to get tickets for the ferry that runs across to the island - about a 30 minute ride.
Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia's Golden Isles, sits just north of Amelia Island Florida, separated by the St. Marys River.
The National Park Service has been slowly acquiring property on the island - they now own over half of its 36,000 acres.
Rapidly leaving St. Marys behind, we head out into the Intracoastal Waterway, that stretch of protected inland navigable water that runs from Maine to Miami.
Seagulls follow the boat out for the first mile or so, hoping for an easy meal.
Being on the rear of the top deck affords a good chance to photograph them.
En-route we pass a ferry bringing a large truck back from the island.
There are two piers on the island that the park service will drop you off at - both of them close to the south end of the island. The only way to see much of the island is to either take the park service's tour, which only takes 11 passengers a day in a van around the island, know a local, or plan on about fifty miles of bike riding. It is not realistic to expect to see much in only one day of hiking.
But many come here to hike, and many more come to camp for a while. The park service has three primitive campsites on the island that have fresh water and showers.
But, the whole reason we back-tracked was because we found a guide. Brenda Barber Taylor lived on the island for over twenty years, and these days she returns on a regular basis to take care of a resident's house here.
She keeps this old vehicle by the dock to run back and forth to the property she takes care of - and it is a typical "island" vehicle. It has fiberglass patches where the roof rusted, tires go flat and it needs a periodic jump. But, it costs $ 250 to ferry a car out to the island, and a local sold her the vehicle some years back for $ 300, so she is well ahead on the deal.
Brenda is a talented photographer whose work on Cumberland Island can be seen in homes and shops all around southern Georgia. Here are a few of her shots.
The island has a large population of feral horses, the descendants of horses the Spanish brought here back in the 1500's. The other remnant of the Spanish are the feral pigs - quite a nuisance as they breed quickly and kill a lot of vegetation. They like to dig up and eat the roots of various plants and trees, and leave the rest of the tree to die.
They are fairly territorial, and herds are usually only two to five horses large.
We will explore the ruins shown above tomorrow, along with the history of the island. Today we will just look around a bit and get a feel for it.
This photograph of Brenda's shows cars that the Carnegie's left behind years ago. The National Park Service ended up hauling them off the island - or burying them somewhere - nobody seems to know for sure where they went.
So, now that you are spoiled by Brenda's photos, back to the island. There are miles of dirt roads around the island, and only a few are marked. If you are not from here, it is easy to get lost.
Every half mile or so is a pull-off - just in case you happen to run across someone else driving. In a whole day on the island we only saw two other cars - both park rangers.
Toward the south end of the island, beside the ruins of an old mansion is the island's museum.
The following photo is of the USS Constitution, which it is said was built from lumber harvested on Cumberland Island. The live oak trees are very dense and very hard, making a sturdy ship that was difficult for cannon balls to penetrate.
The museum holds a number of artifacts, including some from the Spanish era on the island. There is a nice time-line that is easily followed, showing the various eras that the island has survived.
An early French visitor drew the above picture depicting what the indigenous peoples camps looked like. The Indians in this area were heavily tattooed, and their camps seem to have had fences to keep deer out of the crops.
There is an old church at the extreme northern end of the island.
This photo was in the museum. I chose to not go to photograph the church as the time seemed better spent in other areas of the island. This is where the Kennedy kid got married to Carolyn Bessette, who was a publicist for Calvin Klein.
They planted some bushes outside the chapel for the wedding, but the locals tore them back out shortly after the entourage left. I was unclear on the reason - my impression was that they were not a specie that grows naturally on the island.
The horses can be seen about the island - they let you get withing fifty or so feet before they start wandering away from you. I got a lot of pictures of horse's butts. I am told that the original gene line has been changed some over the years as local's horses have bred with the wild horses, and some locals set their horses free when they left the island.
The Park Service was threatening to kill off the horses because they eat the Sea Oats on the dunes. But the locals wouldn't hear of it - the sea oats have been doing fine after four hundred years of being eaten by the horses, and the wild horses are part of the charm of the island.
There is a small airplane landing strip, built on what was originally a cotton field and then a golf course.
Road signs are scant, and you have to be alert to see them.
At a dozen or so points there are dirt roads that run out through the dunes to the beach.
This island is one of those that is gaining sand, so the beaches are wide and buffered by a wide section of dunes. Brenda loves beach-combing - she has found four "messages in a bottle" washed up over the years.
Hats wash ashore now and then, and of course there are hundreds of thousands of sea shells. You can see horse-shoe crab shells by the tens of thousands.
If you look close in the distance, you can see the smoke stacks of the paper mills on Fernandina Beach.
It is a rare thing to find a spot where a photograph will show how beautiful the trees right along the shore are. The steady wind off of the ocean bends them all inward in graceful arches.
The salt in the ground and air stunts the growth of the oaks a bit, but they still get the gnarled and twisted branches that were so desirable by shipwrights.
I didn't see much fresh water on the island - here is the tip of a tidal creek that one of the roads crosses.
When they tore down the old bridge and built the new one, it left Brenda in a fix. She lived on one side of the bridge and worked on the other. So, she parked a car on each side of the bridge, and the crane operator would lift her across the creek each day.
All too soon, it is time to return to the inland side of the island and load back onto the ferry. Tomorrow we will take a look at a bit of the history of the island.
Today's "Faces in the crowd" taken on the return ferry trip:
And today's parting shot, seen in a pub window in St. Marys: