Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Okefenokee the "Land of Trembling Earth"

We decided to end 2011 at a place we have talked about visiting for quite some time - the Okefenokee.  Marlin Perkins gave us our first glimpse of the alligators, birds and the bouncy, moving ground that is actually layers of peat over the swamp in the 1960's.  We attempted to visit a couple of times before now, once it was raining and so windy that the rain was blowing sideways (not a good time for outdoor activity) and this past summer we were turned away at the gate due to wildfires.

There are areas untouched by fire and some that are already growing back

The Honey Prairie fire was started by lightning in April of 2011 and by October had burned over 309,000 acres.  Fire is a natural event in the swamps and needed to clear overgrowth and allow young cypress trees to get the sunlight they need.   Usually the fires can be controlled and directed, this one was different.  The fire raged and burned deep into the peat layers. Firefighters took months to gain control and unfortunately the fire consumed some of the areas that visitors enjoy - boardwalks, trails and a lookout tower.  There are still areas of the park that are burning and you can see scorched trees along the trails and drives.  Lots of new plants are already growing in and the fire cleared areas so you have an unobstructed view into parts of the swamp and marsh.

Sunset on the Canal

The East Entrance - Suwannee Canal Recreation Area was where we entered the park.  This area has a visitor center, a few hiking trails, scenic drive and Okefenokee Adventures.  The park is a National Wildlife Refuge and charges a nominal gate admission.

The visitor center and Okefenokee Adventures

We started our exploring at the Richard S. Bolt visitor center where the staff was helpful in giving us ideas of what to do and maps of the trails and scenic drive.  There is a movie about the swamp and interactive displays that teach the cycle of the swamp, flora, fauna and conservation efforts.  A small gift shop is at this site.

Make sure to read the warning signs!

Okefenokee Adventures is an on-site commercial provider of guided boat tours, canoe and camping gear rentals, food vendor and a gift shop.  There is a place to launch your boat- just make sure you register your trip with the staff.  We opted for a guided boat tour and were able to join a sunset cruise.  There were earlier cruises which are 90 mins and cost about $18 pp, our cruise was 2 1/2 hrs and was $24 pp.

Nile - our guide made sure we saw lots of wildlife and had time for pictures and questions

One of many gators we saw - I don't think we will canoe or camp out here!

Our boat left while it was still sunny and Nile was our guide.   He told us about the history, wildlife, plants and trees of the area while boating down the canal.  He was great at spotting gators, birds and more.  The group also helped to spot animals hiding in the area.  We boated out onto the marsh and were able to get out of the boat and jump on the ground to feel how it moves.  It was a very interesting experience - like walking on a big, spongy trampoline!

Barred Owl

Sandhill Cranes

At sunset we enjoyed listening to the bird calls and frogs.  By the time we arrived back at the pier it was getting dark.  This was a great end to a fun year of travels!  Our resolution for 2012 - more exploring of course!

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