Monthly Archives: November 2015

Week 12: Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia Island is a barrier island in north Florida just south of the St Marys River. We drove 100 miles south to reach our next campsite at Ft Clinch State Park. As you may have guessed, Ft Clinch is an old fort and is one of Florida’s first state parks (1935).

Florida has done an outstanding job with their state parks. There are 161 state parks and 10 state trails. In comparison, Georgia has around 50. The State of Florida has preserved historical and beachfront lands over the entire state. The parks are reasonably priced at around $30 with water and electric, and they are half price for Florida seniors. They book up early, especially on the weekends. I booked around June and was able to find sites during the week, but not on most weekends.

Fort Clinch State Park is located on the top of Florida’s northernmost barrier island at the site of a Civil War-era fort. It is surrounded by the Amelia River, the St Mary’s River and the Atlantic Ocean. We parked on the river side under a canopy of live oaks dripping in Spanish moss. We could walk to the fort along the water. The fort was named after General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a prominent figure of the Second Seminole War. Construction began in 1867 and it was built at the mouth of the St Mary’s River to protect the natural deep-water port of Fernandina. It is an excellent example of the Third System of Fortifications. Although it was never completed, it still served as a military post during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War II. The fort is well preserved and the rooms in the fort are full of period items.

The Egan Creek runs along the park and is a wildlife preserve. The Egan Creek Greenway was purchased by the city of Fernandina Beach for conservation and passive recreational use. The Greenway was a great place for a hike and wildlife viewing. I was told there were alligators in the creek and that they were very tame. And sure enough we came upon one sunning itself near the edge of the water. Ralph spotted it first and it didn’t move at all when we approached it (at a safe distance). We were told there was an entire family of gators further up the trail. The Greenway is a beautiful place for hiking and biking. A little gem I would never have known about if I hadn’t taken a trolly tour of the area.

Greenway Hiking Trail

Greenway Hiking Trail


Cited on our Greenway hike

Cited on our Greenway hike

My morning walks along the water were full of sea life. There was a pod of dolphins hanging out in the area for the entire time we were camped here. The first morning I was startled by them swimming about 10 yards from the beach. They were so close I could hear them exhaling through their blowholes. It was thrilling! I’ve had the opportunity to swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key and I’ve supported the center for many years. I just love dolphins and the center does excellent work with dolphins,  manatees and seals.

View of morning walks

View of morning walks


Horseshoe Crab found on the beach

Horseshoe Crab found on the beach

I also found a HUGE horseshoe crab lying on it’s back. I turned him over so he could get back to the water. Ralph took a walk later and found him still on the sand so he gave him a ride to the water. I also found a jellyfish one morning. Didn’t touch that sucker! I’ve been stung by one many, many years ago and have never forgotten the feeling. Mr jellyfish was one his own. There is also a fishing pier at the park and it’s a half-mile long. That’s a very long pier!

I went into Fernandina Beach the small town at the top of Amelia Island. The town is pronounced like two women’s names; Fern and Dina and is rich with history. Amelia Island has 4,000 years of recorded history under eight flags. They say, “The French visited, the Spanish developed, the English named, and the Americans tamed. And let’s not forget the natives, the Timucuan Indians.

We went to the Amelia Island Museum of History in the old jail building and had an informative talk by one of the docents. We learned so much about the area. Many of the houses and buildings in Fernandina Beach are listed on the National Register, as is the entire 50-block historic district. I wandered around the town for a couple days and took it all in. I stopped at the Palace Saloon, supposedly the oldest bar in Florida, for a White Cosmo. Delish!

In jail AGAIN!

In jail AGAIN!

Before these historic buildings lined the streets of Fernandina Beach, pirates roamed the town and the island. The likes of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Pierre and Jean LaFite, Calico Jack Rackham, Stede Bonnett and others all called on the relatively safe haven of Fernandina Harbor at some point. Pirate use of the island came to a head in 1817 when the French took control of the harbor.

Amelia Island is a wonderful place to visit and I will be back sometime in the future. I kept thinking, “What a great place this would be to live.”

What's left of a dock

What’s left of a dock


Another beautiful sunset

Another beautiful sunset

Next stop Hanna City Park in Jacksonville Beach.

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Week 11: Savannah, Georgia

We drove 125 miles south from Charleston to the Skidaway Island State Park just south of Savannah. After you enter the park there is a 3.5 mile drive under an arch of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. It looked like the motorhome was too high to make it under the canopy, but it wasn’t. The trees are trimmed to allow a clearnace of 14 feet. We need 12 feet in order not to scrap the top. It was a  beautiful drive. This was another park where they let you drive through and find your own spot, hang your receipt and park it. Hiking trails in the park take you through marshes, live oaks, cabbage palmettos and pines. It rained for two days and of course, 100% humidity. I don’t have to use moisturizer here. It’s like living in a rain forest! Quite a change from home.

Three and a half mile tree lined drive into the campground

Three and a half mile tree lined drive into the campground

My morning walk was through the swampland looking for alligators and then it opened  to the savannahs. Each morning walk is different. I love it! And it was National Sandwich Day and Subway had two for one on sandwiches. We took advantage of that!

The savannah

The savannah

I went into Savannah for the day and visited:

Jepson Center (art museum)

Owens-Thomas House (house built in 1819 designed by William Jay of Bath, England)

Owens-Thompson House

Owens-Thompson House

Telfair Academy (historic house with a museum)

Forsyth Park (large city park in the historic district with a beautiful fountain)

Forsyth Park Fountain

Forsyth Park Fountain

Colonial Park Cemetery (burying ground from 1750 -1853, became a park in 1896)

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Most of the city squares (Savannah was founded in 1722 by James Oglethorpe and he laid out the city with many squares that were intended to provide colonists space for military exercises. Now they are beautiful parks in the city)

George Washington Statue

George Washington Statue

Leopold’s Ice Cream (best ice cream in the area)

Jones Street (historic street with houses occupied by the well-to-do; where the phrase “keeping up with the Jones” originated)

Jones Street - Keeping up with the Jones

Jones Street – Keeping up with the Jones


Steps covered in vines

Steps covered in vines


Wrought Iron Work

Wrought Iron Work

River Street (the area along the Savannah Front River)

River Street

River Street


Memorial for Mariners

Memorial for Mariners

Cathedral of St John the Baptist Catholic Church (built from 1873 – 1896)

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Alligator Soul (great place for dinner)

Bonaventure Cemetery

We toured this very old cemetery made famous by the book and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  In 1867 John Muir began his Thousand Mile Walk to Florida and the Gulf.  In October he sojourned for six days and nights in the Bonaventure cemetery, sleeping upon graves overnight, this being the safest and cheapest accommodation that he could find while he waited for money to be expressed from home. It has several notable burials including Johnny Mercer (co-founder of Capital Records and composer), Edythe Chapman (silent film actress), James Neil (actor).  It is an erringly beautiful cemetery.

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Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski is a Third System of coastal fortifications developed during the first half of the 19th century and is characterized by greater structural durability than earlier forts. Nearly all of the 30+ Third System forts built after 1816 still exist. We visited a few of those forts. Fort Pulaski and Fort Clinch are two of the best preserved.

However well-built Fort Pulaski was the quick fall of it during the Civil War surprised and shocked the world. Fort Pulaski was considered the “most spectacular harbor defense structures in the United States.” Many considered the 7.5 foot solid brick walls with massive masonry piers unbreachable. All previous military experience had taught that beyond 700 yards smoothbore cannons and mortars would have little chance to break through heavy masonry walls, beyond 1,000 yards no chance at all. With the nearest Union battery on Tybee Island, more than one mile away, Fort Pulaski felt secure. What they didn’t know was that the Union had developed “rifled guns/cannons” which were more accurate and could go longer distances. After one battle that damaged part of the fort, Col Charles Olmstead surrendered. Bad for him, good for us. The fort is completely intact and can be toured. Very interesting place for both Ralph and I.

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski


Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski


Fort Pulaski preparations for Veteran's Day

Fort Pulaski preparations for Veteran’s Day

The next day Ralph and I toured Pin Point, the home of Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice (don’t get me started on this guy) and an historic shrimp and oyster factory. Pin Point is a rural settlement founded by freed slaves after the American Civil War. It is predominantly African American with a group of Gullah speakers. The historic creole language of the Low Country was drawn from West African languages. Most residents of Pin Point worked in the shrimp and oyster “factory” in the area. We toured the little factory and museum. It was a very interesting stop.

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Wormsloe State Historic Site is colonial estate founded in 1736 by an early colonist, Noble Jones (1702-1775). There is a ruin of his first tabby construction house. The house took six years to build and required mixing more than 8,000 bushels each of lime, sand, oyster shells and water to make tabby. Large shell middens left behind by Native Americans were mined for oyster shells, some of which were heated in kilns to produce lime-rich ash. The wet tabby was poured into wooden molds to dry and then the mold was removed and moved up the wall, ready to take more tabby. Tabby provides a very strong and long lasting building material, as evidenced by the ruin left today. Unfortunately I cannot find the photos from Wormsloe.

I LOVED Savannah and will certainly return sometime in the future.

Next stop Amelia Island, Florida.

 

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Week Ten: Charleston, NC

I’ve been looking forward to visiting Charleston  the entire trip. Several years back I visited Charleston for three days. While I was working in Washington DC I flew to Charleston and drove up to Myrtle Beach to meet up with my friend Dianne and her family. Three days in Charleston was only a teaser and I’ve longed to return. Finally the time was here. I love the vibe of the area and the way they have preserved the architectural history. When the colonists settled Charleston in 1680 (yes, you read that right, 1680) an urban development plan called the Grand Model established an orderly grid of streets. It’s easy to find your way around.

Charleston is known as The Holy City because there are so many churches.   Most very historic and beautiful.  Here’s a few examples.

St Phillips Church Started in 1681

St Phillips Church Started in 1681

EAM Episcopal Church - site of the shootings by Dillon Roof

EAM Episcopal Church – site of the shootings by Dillon Roof

Pink church with black iron

Pink church with black iron

We camped at James Island County Park about 10 miles south of Charleston for five days. It was a very nice park with large sites, nicely separated by trees. Live oaks with Spanish moss covered the entire park. It’s a very large county park with the nicest dog park I’ve encountered. It was huge, had a side for big dogs and a side for small dogs and both sides had a small beach and lake the dogs could romp in. One day there was a dog agility competition that entertained me for a while on my walk. With our camping pass we could also visit and park free at the two other country parks in the area. On one of the few sunny days we had, we drove out to Folly Beach and spent the afternoon on the beach. It was wonderful. I learned that in 1934 George Gershwin stayed in Folly Beach for a summer. He absorbed the joyous music of church revivals and tones of Gullah spirituals, which became the musical score for Porgy and Bess. More about the Gullah a little later.

Folly Beach

Folly Beach

Folly Beach

Folly Beach

We took Uber into Charleston from James Island. We went straight to the Visitor Center and signed up for a mini-bus tour of the historic city. This helped me get the lay of the land and determine what I wanted to visit on my own over the next few days. We make it a practice to go to the Visitor Center when we first arrive. The people in the centers are knowledgeable and very helpful with their recommendations on what to see. And taking an organized tour provides an overview and the history of the area. We had the tour bus driver drop us off at Fleet Landing for a delicious dinner before taking Uber back to the campground. When we pulled into the park it was dark and Christmas lights were on EVERYWHERE! I noticed the park folks were installing Christmas lights here and there, but I had no idea how elaborate the lighting was. I thought “Wow, this is really early for Christmas lights; it isn’t even Halloween yet!” I was going to come back the next night and take photos, but, alas, no lights were on. On my walk the next morning I talked to one of the installers and he told me we got lucky. They test the lights on Thursday nights and then make appropriate repairs. The show doesn’t start until Nov 13. And lucky we were! The lights were really something. He said it takes them 2.5 months to install all the lights and it is a BIG money maker for the county.

Starting Christmas Decorations

Starting Christmas Decorations

On Halloween I went to the Low County Bistro for dinner and the Dock Street Theatre for Little Shop of Horrors. The play was fantastic! I’d forgotten the plot. They brought the “plant” in from New York where the play ran for several years on Broadway. It was the perfect thing to do on Halloween.

Little Shop of Horrors at the Dock Street Theatre

Little Shop of Horrors at the Dock Street Theatre

The next day we went to the Charleston Museum, which is the oldest in the country.

Charleston Museum

Charleston Museum

We walked through the Public Market and had southern BBQ at Queology. We also returned to Waterfront Park. There was no Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks because a hurricane blew it all away.

Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park

Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park

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I spent a lot of time walking around the historic part of the city and soaked in the beautiful buildings, gardens and public spaces.

Old Slave Mart Musem

Old Slave Mart Museum

George Washington Statue

George Washington Statue

Cemetery

Cemetery

Marion Square

Marion Square

John C Calhoun Statue 7th VP of US 1825-1832

John C Calhoun Statue
7th VP of US 1825-1832

We had a wonderful time in Charleston and I would have been sad to leave if I hadn’t been so excited to visit Savannah, our next stop.

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