Well, we said our good byes to our daughter, son-in-law and grandson in early December, 2021 and headed towards the South Carolina seashore. We were sad to leave but were also itching to get back on the road. Our first stop was Santee Lake State Park in Santee, SC. The park is not far from the interstate so it wasn’t hard to get to. It was kind of strange to be able to see Route 95 in the distance as cars and trucks proceeded in an endless conga line across the bridge. But, the road noise was negligible and the park was peaceful and quiet. There were lots of nice hikes and I especially enjoyed the Cypress trees. We had a lesson in geology when we learned about the large sink holes at the park. Sinkholes can occur when groundwater or an underground stream causes the limestone under the top layers of soil to give away. I didn’t know that.
After a few relaxing days, we headed to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrell’s Inlet, SC. This is a popular park and most sites are filled but everyone was friendly and mostly quiet so things were good. We even got adopted by an Airstream Rally that was happening there. As always, we met nice people and learned more about the area. The beach was beautiful and clean. The variety of birds in the area was breath taking. The marshland where the fresh and salt water met was rich with wildlife.
Next stop was Hunting Island State Park in Hunting Island, SC. This is one of my favorite parks because it had a variety of ecosystems and was quite remote. For the record, we had a nice bonfire here, one of the few we have had in four years!
Crooked River State Park was another great stop in St. Mary’s, Georgia. Here, my appreciation for the vast waterways of our country was deepened. These estuaries are the meeting grounds where salt and fresh water meet. Salt tidal marshes are a part of these estuaries. I was lucky enough to find several large Gopher Tortoises and lots of busy Hermit crabs. The campground was busy with lots of families enjoying the great outdoors. It was also remarkably busy with no see ums!!!
Onward to Lake Griffin State Park in Fruitland Park, Florida. First and foremost, we got to visit Larry’s brother, Paul and Sister-in-law, Bev. It was great to catch up after not having seen them for several years.
We were treated to a boat ride in the canals and lakes around Leesburg and were regaled with a fantastic variety of birds. I learned that the Anhinga are similar to Cormorants but the Anhinga spear their prey whereas Cormorants grab their prey.
Lake Griffith Park is a small park located in a busy urban area near Leesburg. There was a lot of road noise but the sites were private and there were many great walks to go on. Plus, we go to see the state’s second largest Live Oak Tree and that was pretty special.
Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park is an amazing park and I I heartily recommend it. It is in Micanopy, Florida which is near Gainesville. If you want to see bison, wild horses, alligators and a variety of birds, this is the place for you. There is an extensive walking trail network and very little street noise. The night skies are pretty dark with little light pollution. Here’s a slide show of some of the birds we saw there.
We did get close enough to some Bison to hear their grunts but we could not see them. I learned that this area was once the southern most end of the buffalo’s range. The bison in this park were introduced in 1970’s. Here’s the bison’s foot prints in the mud.
Ochlockonee River State Park is in Sopchoppy, Florida. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to pronounce the name of the park. I feel like I am repeating myself here (I am) but this was a beautiful, busy park with lots of birds and wildlife to see along the many trails. The word Ochlockonee means ‘yellow waters’. It’s name comes from the color of the mix of brackish, tidal surge, and fresh water of the river which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
We had a white squirrel near our campsite. We read that the white squirrels were introduced to the area in the1950’s. I wonder why.
We were entertained by the grey squirrels. They weren’t shy at all. And this one made a nice dinner from the wooden handle a collapsible roasting fork that he found!
We hunted and hunted for the endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker but never even saw one let alone get a picture. This is an edit from the first edition of this post thanks to our friends who correctly identified an error. The bird in our first post was actually a red bellied woodpecker. There’s a lesson for me to consider my source! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology supplied the following picture of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. Thank you Laurel and Eric!
Our last stop on the sea coast was in East Pointe, Florida where we we lucky enough to stay with Laurel and Eric, two nice folks whom we had met several years ago in New Mexico. Even the 85 degree weather and 96% humidity was not enough to dampen our enjoyment of the beauty of this area of the Gulf Coast. This area is also referred to as “Florida’s Forgotten Coast”. It was nice to be in a more rural setting. If you are in the area, be sure to check out the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Nature . Again, we learned a lot more about the waterways of the the eastern seaboard.
We spent a day out at St. George Island which has miles of beaches and hikes.
So, it was a nice long and uneventful trip down the coast line. One peaceful day followed the other with sea breezes, big trees and beautiful birds to regale us. By the time we were ready to head west, we were glad to exchange the humidity for some dry air and the busy, happy crowds of beach goers for the silent expanse of the West.
I take away a new and richer appreciation for the waterways of the world. The map below depicts the waterways of the US