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.

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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.

On being flexible

Because it has been hovering around freezing in the mornings and much warmer in the afternoon, I changed up my usual meander schedule. Instead of driving where I want to explore with fresh eyes and energy in the morning, I have decided to stop mid-afternoon and enjoy myself while the sun is high and the air is still warm,  leaving those freezing temps for drive time.

img_7110-qprI was really glad that I did, because after a lovely drive over the mountains anticipating lunch at my favorite rest area on Nickajack Lake and finding it closed (bummer) I had the opportunity to camp at Cloudland Canyon, a beautiful state park in North Georgia near Chattanooga (of choo-choo fame.) On travels this way in the past I have always wanted to at least go for a mid-trip hike but it has always been too windy, wet, or cold (seeing that I have always made this trip in the winter not spring.)

 

Despite it suddenly being an hour later (I am now on Eastern Daylight Time) there was enough time to select a campsite and take a hike. The Waterfalls Trail dropped 350 vertical feet from my campsite into the canyon below. It does this in a a little less than a mile; I think the ranger said something about over 900 manmade steps and that does not count the non-manmade ones!

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The going down was not too bad as I kept stopping to take photos along the way. Yet, there is no getting around that basic rule of the universe — what goes down, must come back up. Now that was a hike to be remembered!

It was late and the sun was no longer shining in the bottom of the canyon but the waterfalls were spectacular. Well worth the effort. I already plan to do it again on the way home, weather permitting of course.

img_7100-qprFor the first time, the night was warm enough to sit outside after dark so I built a campfire, took the last of what I have been snacking on the last few days — grilled chicken, tomato, cheese, and pineapple — threw it all in a pan and feasted on a nice, hot, home cooked meal. Funny how the same foods can taste so different when you add a little ambiance.

I was hoping the morning sun would offer an opportunity to go back to the first of the falls and photograph it again. Though the day broke cold but with a promise of a sunny day, I took my time getting out of my sleeping bag. I started out for a gentle warm up along the rim of the canyon to the observation area. Was I glad I hiked the trail last night because a front came through that dropped the temperature drastically, accompanied with high winds, and even a few snowflakes. Time to hit the road.