Lighthouses

Take a good look at these lighthouse photos. What do you notice?

Having visited many lighthouses in many locations, I have noticed that each is unique — each a different height, made of different materials, with different paint patterns — but not being a navigator, the real purpose of each light’s unique style and paint job never really crossed my mind.

Tybee Island Lighthouse station signWhen I visited the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, near Savannah, Georgia, I learned the real and really quite obvious reason for those unique patterns — called a day mark, they are a way to identify which lighthouse is which when you see them by day.

Tybee Island offers a rare opportunity to view a working lighthouse and see how the keeper, his assistants, and their families lived from the late 1700s until the light was automated well into the 20th century.

Climb the 178 steps to the top and think about doing that several times a day to keep the oil lamp burning. Look into the 1st order Fresnel lens (large enough for 4 people to stand inside) which magnifies the light of a single 1000 watt bulb and focuses it into a beam that can be seen 18 miles out to sea.

From the outdoor observation deck at the top, you get a good view of the Fort Screven battery, below, built as a protection for nearby Savannah,as well as the beach, ocean, and nearby coastal cities.

Fort Screven battery from top of Tybee Island lighthouseDon’t leave without lunch at the North Beach Bar and Grill between the lighthouse and the beach. The smells emanating from the kitchen make your mouth water and the coastal Americana decor is a delightful beach break.

Jekyll but no Hyde

A few miles up the road from St. Augustine, the landscape changes from endless miles of sandy beaches to wilder salt marshes, estuaries, and individual barrier islands. No longer do beach cities and development extend to the waves lapping at the shore.

The Atlantic coast of Georgia (USA) is filled with inlets, outlets, and barrier islands. It is a magical place of winding estuaries and tall marsh grasses that glow in the sun lending the nickname, the Golden Isles. Due to bad weather and limited time to meander and explore, I had to make like a dragonfly and zip through this area, lightly touching down from time to time. Here are a few of the highlights.

img_8314-qprSt. George Island (can you see the English connection in that name?) is the site of the Kinglsey Plantation, a national historic site depicting life on a Southern plantation. Since the idea of Southern plantations has a negative connotation, due to the Civil War, I recommend visiting and learning more about this era of American history.

The part the history books don’t tell is that under Spanish rule, slavery was outlawed. (In fact, Ft. Mose, just north of St. Augustine, was a settlement of Africans – freemen and former slaves.) But, when the British and later the Americans took over, land owners were actively recruited but were not granted tracts of  land to work agriculturally unless they had a certain number of slaves for every acre. Yeah, I know, shocking isn’t it?

Jekyll Island, once the winter playground of the rich and famous, this island is home to “cottages” built by people with names like JP Morgan, Vanderbilt, Goodyear, and Pulitzer that are bigger than the houses, even McMansions, of most people today. A group of these millionaires, bought the island from the family of the original plantation owner and created an exclusive club for the rich and famous. Many historic moments occurred here such as the first meeting of the Federal Reserve and the first transcontinental telephone call.

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Today, anyone, for a small fee, can drive to the island, tour the historic district and get a sense of the opulence of the Victorian era. You can rent a cottage or a room in the turn of the 20th century inn, or if just a day tripper, wander through the public rooms viewing vintage photographs, grab a bite in the Bistro, or dine in luxury in the historic dining room. Rent a bicycle and pedal through the historic area; head to the beach and on your way you will discover ruins of the original plantation house, the old cemetery and enjoy scenic vistas and byways.

img_8345-qprBe sure to stop at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center where nestlings are monitored and injured sea turtles are rescued, rehabilitated, and if possible, released back into the wild. There is a nice interactive exhibit hall with live animals. Your admission fees support the work they do to preserve these magnificent creatures, some of whom are threatened and endangered.

Skidaway Island is the home of a large state park that provides access to the salt marshes and estuaries. The campground is located on a large hammock on the intercoastal waterway, a brackish water river system that extends most of the way down the eastern seaboard, separating the mainland from the barrier islands, offshore, which serve to protect the land mass from storm surges.

These barrier islands afford opportunities to enjoy unspoiled beaches, paddle quiet backwaters and estuaries, hike, bird watch, and get away from it all in many ways. I could spend months or years exploring them all, but alas I do not have the time. I look forward to another opportunity to travel this way, stay longer and explore deeper.

“Toto, we’re not at the beach anymore”

Blue Bear needs a directionI followed the signs toward Myrtle Beach but somewhere around Charleston have to take a left turn.

As I leave the ocean and  beach behind, I will miss the smell of the salt air, the cry of the sea birds, and most of all the beauty of the sunrise accompanied by the music of the waves, whether soothing or stormy.

The interior of our country is filled with beautiful, majestic, serene, and exciting places and I enjoy all the variety, yet being at the ocean shore at sunrise is pretty hard to beat (though the shores of  the Great Lakes come close.)

The salt marshes of Georgia, the antebellum vibe of Charleston, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Smokey Mountain National Park await. Adventure on.

 

 

Jumpin’ Jellies

Stormy here today.

When storms churn the surf, the beach is often nearly devoid of creatures of the human variety. Yet there is always wildlife aplenty — the usual assortment of shorebirds skittering along, pelicans swooping low over the waves, and the heron patiently plying the surf for a meal. The sand is dotted with holes, large and small, harboring clams and crabs. And after a big storm jellies (aka jelly fish – which they are not – fish that is) get washed ashore and litter the sand like transparent deflated balloons.

After a recent storm, Portuguese Man-o-War lay on the beach like clear snack bags filled with deep blue liquid. The Portuguese Man-o-War looks like a jelly, but according to National Geographic they are actually a colony of organisms that float on the currents and deliver a powerful sting that can paralyze and kill small fish.

img_7642-qprWatch out for their tentacles; even when lying dead on the beach they can still deliver a painful sting to the unwary beach walker. And sometimes, they may still be alive hoping to catch an errant wave back out to sea.

Crabby

Crab at Cocoa Beach, FloridaWhen you enter the beach there is often evidence of a colony of crabs under the sand. Usually all you see is their holes, large and small. I managed to catch this one just as it scrambled back inside to hide.

The next morning there was the shell of a sea urchin outside its door. Do you think it is in its hole saying, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing?”

Sea urchin lunch outside crab hole, Cocoa Beach, FloridaHere is what they look like topside.

Ghost crab, Cocoa Beach, Florida

Canaveral National Seashore

As I mentioned in the last post, acres and acres of the land around  NASA’s Kennedy Space Center not needed for space agency business is preserved partly as a wildlife preserve (Merritt Island) and partly as a wild, natural seashore (Canaveral National Seashore.)

I spent most of a day, walking trails, visiting historical locations, and getting coated in the salt spray from storm tossed waves. I even got rained on but it was well worth it. Another national treasure just waiting to be explored.

Here are a few images for you to enjoy. More on the historical locations another time.

If you are near Florida’s Space Coast, be sure to take some time to take a walk on the wild side.

By the way, all this was happening while they launched a SpaceX rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Blue Bear at Merritt Island National Wildlife RefugeAnyone who knows me knows that getting out into the wide open spaces to view the beauty of an unspoiled landscape and the creatures that call it home is a passion.

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, FloridaAfter leaving Cocoa Beach, where my only real escape from the chaos of that over-developed tourist community was the beach in the early morning, I headed to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore. This large expanse of Florida estuary, salt marsh, mud flats, and hammocks, literally in the shadow of the NASA vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center, provide breeding grounds and refuge for many threatened and endangered species.

I would love to hike, bike, or kayak in this area but since it was mid-afternoon before I got there I had to be content with what I could see quickly, mostly from my car. The National Park Service accommodates this need (and provides those who cannot or do not want to get out of the car) with the Black Point Wildlife Drive — a 7-mile drive that winds through spectacularly unspoiled Florida scenery. Take a video tour here.

Here are a few creatures I met along the way.

Next scenes from Canaveral National Seashore.