Holiday Roadtrip 2016 — Day 3 (all)

Posted on March 7, 2017


DECEMBER 18: HEADING SOUTH, OKEFENOKEE SWAMP


< PREVIOUS: ROADTRIP DAY TWO — CHINCOTEAGUE


SC-GA STATELINE: Up early and back on the road, made good time to the Georgia state line …


FOLKSTON, GA: When I exited the highway heading towards the town of Folkston where the access to the swamp was, I had the sensation that I was in a really remote place. There were no gas stations or stores near the highway exit, just a lonely road in the middle of the woods …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The area around the entrance to the swamp was full of tall thin pine trees that seemed more like a forest than what I was expecting to see in a “swamp.” The sky remained grey and threatening…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: A nice graded trail goes through the pine forest, leading to an area that is being cleared…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: I had smelled smoke in the air and found the source, an area of the forest that was being “cleared”…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: I parked the Jeep on the side of the road and went to explore the desolation from the burn…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: A whole section of the forest had been cleared in a kind of slash and burn, similar to what I had seen once before in Ocala where they come in with bulldozers and raze all the trees, then pile them up and burn them in a controlled way. I don’t know if this had been done by the forest managers to help manage the land, or if it was logging people or others who were “clearing” the land to build something…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The bulldozed piles of broken tree trunks and bush, some still smoldering, some seemingly waiting their turn…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: A smoldering pile of wood burns in front of the majestic tall pines that were spared…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: A few saw palmetto plants near the edge of the road survived the slash and burn clearing. Not sure if that was on purpose or by chance, but their bright green color contrasted with the greys and blacks of the scorched earth all around them…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The silouhettes of the tall pines just beyond the scorched earth…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Tall pine trees on the trail, just beyond where they cleared the land …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: A trail through the pine forest, it is unlabelled but clearly a road of some sort…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: I had time to wait before I could go out on the swamp with the boat, so I drove the short interpretive trail loop. It was raining on and off, and the skies were dramatic over the distant trees…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The Swamp Island Drive starts in the woods, though there is something “special” about the light because of the unsettled sky …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The threatening clouds coming in beyond the prairie on the loop drive …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The first “stop” on the drive is this pond in a clearing …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The dark skies open up and a heavy rain begins …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: After observing the pond for along while I finally began to see the alligators that had been there the whole time. It was a lesson in training my eyes to see. I think I have already learned a lot of this lesson in the desert, but here in the swamp environment I am on sensory overload. This little gator was on the “island” in the middle of the pond …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The little alligator on the island in the pond …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: One of the first stops on the interpretive loop was a small pond like area where the brochure said alligators could sometimes be seen. I pulled up to the pond but it was raining so I didn’t get out of the Jeep, but just started taking some photos of the pond, disappointed that I didn’t see any alligators. And as I was looking at the pond water, I realized something was moving and there had been this alligator there all along, just slightly above the water level. I had been looking at him and didn’t even realize he was there between the color and motion of the water in the rain and his stealthy position. So I did some closeup shots playing with the abstract motion of the water and the “hidden” alligator…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Ripples and reflections…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The woodlands are full of saw palmettos that create a thick underlayer that is decidedly tropical in spite of the pine trees that seem more “northern” …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The pine trees are surrounded by a waterway here …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: And I guess that is kind of what defines a “swamp” … this unusual mix of water and land that doesn’t have clear borders. It is not like a marsh, even though that is also a mix of water and land. Somehow this is different, though I don’t technically know why …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: On the looptrail, across from the gator pond there was a ravine full of lily pads. I thought I might see some gators, but just got to photograph the lily pads…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: There was a short hike along a wooden dock-like path built out into the swamp, and despite the threat of more rain, I decided to go out onto it. The hike went through a few different sections of the swampland, and the first part was an area of thick woodlands, the trees draped in spanish moss. This is where I head the owl. It was very otherwordly and the hooting of the owl made it even more so. And in the distance another owl hooted back and I could imagine how haunting it might seem if I were out here alone on my own …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: I was surprised about how “forest-y” the swamp was, as I had expected something more “water-y” but this section was really like a woodland environment …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: In spots it was quite jungle-like thick, and seemed like it could almost be menacing if I wasn’t hiking on a wildlife refuge trail. At first I had thought the boardwalk was kind of silly and tourist-y for a hike, but when I got into this thick wooded area that was so lush and overgrown, I could understand the necessity for a boardwalk for safety and just the ability to walk through here without a machete …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: On the boardwalk trail in the thick part of the woods the spanish moss was everywhere…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The thick woodlands where I hear the owl hooting …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Spanish moss is everywhere in the thickest part of the woods, I am guessing this is some kind of what they call an “oak hammock” … in any case it is different from the pines that were at the edge of the swamp …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The haunting silouheuttes of the swamplands …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Beyond the thick woodlands the swamp opened up into what they call “prairie” which is kind of an open lowland with lots of bush, but not much in the way of trees …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The prairie is where there had been a wildfire and the trees never grew back …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Its hard to tell where land and water separate …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: I am glad to be doing this hike on a clear boardwalk rather than through that swampy bush. When I first heard the hike was on a boardwalk I almost didn’t bother doing it, because I thought it would be boring and tame, but here I can understand why they need a boardwalk to cross this …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: This is the only way to actually see the swamp apart from going out on it via boat, which is what I had planned next …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: I went out on the swamp with a local guide, Jen, who grew up in the area and had been running boats on the swamp since she was 15. She had studies forestry and wanted to work with the Forest Service, but in the meantime she was guiding. She really knew a lot about the region and the conservation issues and seemed to genuinely care about protecting and preserving the uniqueness of this special place…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Seeing the swamp from the “inside,” that is down in the water, gives another perspective, as we head deeper into it than I could on foot…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As we made our way out into the swamp we saw people in canoes and kayaks, which I was surprised about, since I thought it would be dangerous with the alligators and other things in the water. But Jen said that it wasn’t and that the gators don’t bother the people. She told me that there was the possibility of canoeing out to overnight “platforms” on the islands in the swamp and camping out under the stars and that you didn’t even need a guide to do it, the waters were really well marked…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: It seemed like a good idea and I think I will come back and try this next time. We were in a motorized boat, and the water levels were very low, so we had to be sure to not get stuck on the peat at the bottom of the swamp. Jen said it could get all caught up in the motor so sometimes we needed to keep moving…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As we passed the paddlers said they had seen quite a lot of wildlife…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The paddlers were looking at this gator in the grass…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As we started to make our way down the trail with the boat, the swamp land opened up a bit and we could see some sky and reflections in the water…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: There was a lot of spanish moss everywhere, even along the water’s edge. And here it was tangled up with roots of cypress trees almost looking like something in a cave rather than something in water…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Strands of spanish moss in silhouette against the soft focus reflections behind…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As we made our way through the swamp waters, we saw more alligators along the banks. Jen said they were coming out now to get some sun since it had been overcast most of the day and the last rays of the sun were just coming out now. She explained that the cold blooded animals needed the sun to warm up, and if it was too cold they were kind of in a stupor half hibernating. It was also why they seemed so lethargic. At first they seemed scary but as we saw more of them and they did not act aggressively, it was easier to relax and just observe them…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Jen had an interesting perspective on them, as she was so familiar with them and this environment. She explained that especially the small ones were not very “high” on the food chain and were often eaten by the birds, and it was only when they reached a certain size that they became more “safe” from predators. She pointed out this one who was kind of posing, but who was unaware of a bird of prey not far from him, and said even one as large as this could be victim to some of the larger birds…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: We saw several blue herons, and I was able to get this great closeup photo of this one. Most of the others moved way too fast for me to get a photo with the small camera…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: There was an owl almost posing in this tree, and we were able to get very close to make some photos. It was unusual for me to get to see an owl, though I had heard the ones earlier in the other part of the swamp, I had not been able to see them…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The late afternoon light was beautiful and the swamp seemed surreal…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As the sun got lower in the sky the lighting effects on the swamp were transformative…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: It almost became abstract, the silohuettes against the contrasting sky reflected in the swamp looks like audio waves…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Heron on the shore not far from the little alligator. Jen mentioned that these birds could eat baby alligators, and were one of their predators. I thought it strange that a bird could eat an alligator, as in my mind birds were fragile creatures and alligators were hard and dangerous, but I was learning that was not so clear cut…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As we travelled deeper into the swamp, a fog hung on the water in the distance and was almost impossible to photograph…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Some kind of large bird seemed to almost be hiding in the fog, and the swamp looked dark and foreboding…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: We turned off into this clearing in between the trees to a place where the whole swamp opened up…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: It was like an intersection of different “roads” in different directions and a wide open vista to watch the sunset…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: In the cove, we stopped to watch the sunset, surrounded by lily pads and alligators (you can see the profile of one in silouhette in the middle of the photo, just poking its head above water…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The gators around the boat just sat calmly in the water, and Jen said that they were not aggressive except around mating season. And it is true we were very close to them and they did not bother the boat. They just watched us watching them, and floated quietly, heads barely above water…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: We played a bit of a guessing game of “how many gators can you see” as there were a lot more than we thought at first, lurking just under the water. They were in and under the lily pads, their heads mixed in with the foliage. Here you can see them just peeking out …


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: We hadn’t seem them at first, but now we were seeing alligators everywhere in the lily pads floating on top of the swamp…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: This alligator was hanging out among the lily pads, just poking its head above water, as if to “see” what was going on up on the surface…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: A gator watches calmly from the lilies…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The whole swamp becomes golden as the sun prepares to set…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The sunset transforms everything…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The dark mud colored swamp has become a river of gold…

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OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The swamp looks grey and swampy in this direction…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The gator in the lilies is watching…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The sky turns pink…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Looking in a different direction, the swamp looked eerie and haunting and very swamp-like…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The unsettled sky provided a spectacular sunset over the swamp with dramatic reds and yellows in a swirl that reminded me of a van gogh painting…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The sunset was transitioning from the red of the late afternoon to the blue of the night…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Blues and purples…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The sky and water turned purple for a few moments…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: In the other direction the swamp looks dark and unwelcoming…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: The sun had gone completely down and everything became a beautiful shade of blue…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: Last light on the swamp as we pull away…


OKEFENOKEE SWAMP, GA: As night fall approached we made our way back towards base on the waterway and I tried to make a few photos with my phone but the came out grainy like this one, yet there is something in it that captured the ephemeral feeling of the swamp…


> NEXT: ROADTRIP DAY XX — CHIRSTMAS EVE IN OCALA NATIONAL FOREST


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