Waiting out the Snowbirds in Georgia – Cumberland Island National Seashore

Getting campsite reservations in Florida on short notice before April when the RV snowbirds have cleared out is nearly impossible. We found the state parks full and county parks are mostly non-reservable. We are not usually fans of expensive RV resorts with more neighborhood than nature. We’ve never RV’d in Florida but it seems RVers are lingering longer than usual, maybe it’s because the Northern states are still experiencing lots of heavy winter weather.

Our goal is to see the Florida Keys and visit family and friends on the way through. The earliest reservations we can get in the Keys is April 1st. With campgrounds pretty full in the interim, our work-around is to hang out in Georgia for a couple of weeks to let the RVers migrate back North. Georgia seems so far away from Florida but remember, we are on the East coast where states are pretty close together compared to the West.

Waycross Georgia – Laura S. Walker State Park

Trees line the highway in Waycross Georgia

Our site at Laura S. Walker State Park

Bruce found another great park for our 3-night stay February 21st and it was only about 4 hours from Cedar Key, on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Laura S. Walker State Park in Georgia had beautiful sites, some right on the water, and set in tall pine trees. The park has a large number of sportsmen’s cabins along the reservoir. The cabins are large, looking more like houses than cabins and they all have satellite dishes!

A Brake Light Fix

Bruce found and fixed an elusive RV brake light issue that had been plaguing us since before September.  The turn signals and center brake lights worked but the side brake lights didn’t. Despite paying Cummins a chunk of money to try to fix it in September during annual service, they couldn’t find it in a reasonable amount of time. We didn’t want to pay them any more for the labor to track it down. Since we rarely drive the RV without the tow car attached, we relied on the tow-car brake lights to provide reasonable safety on the road.

Tracing the wiring diagrams from beginning to end, Bruce discovered a bad brake relay in the cab and he temporarily replaced it with an unused relay for for a tag axle that our rig doesn’t have. Bruce felt great when he provided feedback to Cummins and they offered to discount our next service!  Those circuit schematic training classes from a job as a CT Scanner Service Engineer forty years ago came in handy!

Our First Kayaking Since 2017

Our last kayaking adventure was at the start of our full-time travel in 2016 when our son Ian first became sick. We paddled around in Newport Back Bay, California that December then stored the kayaks in Tempe when his illness got worse and became transplant surgery.

Carrying the kayaks this trip, we encountered lots of paddling opportunities but this was the first place where the weather and the water conditions motivated us to get the kayaks into the water.

I was a little apprehensive when I saw the alligator warning sign at the kayak launch but Bruce convinced me that they are more afraid of us and will swim away.  It didn’t matter much because we didn’t see any wildlife on our paddle but got some good exercise and explored the park from the water. A local woman told us how the alligators are fine until mating season in May when they get really aggressive. Charging boats, rolling around in the water and fighting each other are common.  I made a note in my journal: “where not to be in May” – at least not in a kayak on the water.

Okefenokee Swamp Park, a commercial operation right down the road from the state park entrance seemed like a tourist trap.  But, we heard that the boat tour is pretty good there with lots of animal sightings so it might be something to check on next time, along with a visit to the Okefenokee Swamp Wildlife Refuge nearby.

A great way to enjoy the first RV trip into Georgia!

St. Marys Georgia – Crooked River State Park

Large, beautifully wooded, pull-through sites in Crooked River State Park near stores and services in the fairly large city of St. Marys was a great place to spend 5 days starting February 24th.

We hiked on palmetto and tree lined jungle trails but found the boardwalk trail closed. It looked like the boardwalk had been in an earthquake, the way it was buckled and twisted, however, it was likely due to flooding from Hurricane Michael last October. Its weird that the soil on the paths is more sand and shell remnants than dirt.

Old Town St. Marys

Cute little shops in old town St. Marys, were packed full of unique stuff, although we had to cross over road construction on nearly all of the main streets. Stamped the National Park Passport Book at the Cumberland Island National Seashore visitor center and got a preview of how the trip to the island works.  A stroll along the waterfront park worked up an appetite for a fresh seafood lunch at a quaint restaurant.

A sugar mill ruins site near the park has really good views of ‘tabby’ construction. And the very old gorgeous trees are an added bonus.

Courtesy of Wikipedia: Tabby is a type of concrete made by burning oyster shells to create lime, then mixing it with water, sand, ash and broken oyster shells. Tabby was used by early Spanish settlers in present-day North Carolina and Florida, then by English colonists primarily in coastal South Carolina and Georgia.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

The National Seashore is located 45 minutes by boat on Cumberland Island. A fun walk-on ferry boat ride and a tour of the island where I saw my first alligator and armadillo, was a perfect way to spend our last day in Georgia (for now)! It was definitely worth the price of the optional tour to see more of this wild island.

I was delighted by the animals: armadillo, storks, heron, wild horses, small deer, beautiful displays of turkey, and of course, the alligator plus much more. The road is rough in places and bones of animals can be seen here and there in the jungle. The park doesn’t manage, provide veterinary care or feed any of the animals so it’s much like a US safari to drive around in the tour van. I was wishing the van had an open top for photos along the road though. Our tour guide teased me a little for following armadillo around trying to get a photo. They are busy little critters and locals consider them more of a nuisance. Biting knats were out in force during the whole day for ambiance. Staying covered up isn’t very comfortable on a warm day, I can’t imagine being here in the hot summer.

The island has been home to many Carnegie family members, some descendants of which are still residents. One of the mansions available to park visitors to tour, Plum Orchard, has been maintained and the other, Dungeness, is in ruins.  Plum Orchard was built in 1898 in Georgian Revival style.  Many of the details inside Plum Orchard house made me nostalgic for my grandparents 1922 house in the beautiful Laurelhurst neighborhood of Portland Oregon which had similar features on a much smaller scale. The alligator and first armadillos were on the grounds of Plum Orchard where we stopped to eat the picnic lunch that we had brought along.  

Our tour included a visit to The First African Baptist Church that was originally built in 1898 by the island’s African American residents who weathered emancipation. The church became well-known as the place where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in September 1996.

We didn’t make it to the beach at this National Seashore figuring that we can visit the beach in the future instead of taking the tour. And, the tour takes up the entire day unless you skip the visit to Dungeness. This house was much grander in size and boasted multiple buildings just for the nearly 300 servants that it took to keep the place going! An osprey was nesting at the top of the ruins and lots of armadillos were running about.  It’s sad to see such magnificent buildings in ruins.

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