Today is a quiet day. I'm making red beans, andouille sausage and rice - Southern cuisine to honor our location. Rick is watching football playoffs, and I'll watch too when the Patriots come on at 6:00 pm.
But yesterday was an adventure to remember. We toured the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (aka Swamp) with Okefenokee Adventures. Before our tour began, we drove the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Dr. to see the "upland islands" - land dry enough to build a road on. It wound through the loblolly pine and saw palmetto forests, like those we've seen before at Topsail State Park in Florida.
Along the route we saw our first of many alligators. He was an especially big one.
We were the only two people on our four hour boat trip, captained by our guide Jen, a very knowledgable young local woman. She had a lot of stories to tell, and information about what we were seeing. Plus she was really good at maneuvering our boat through some tight spots.
We chose to take a small motorized, covered boat rather than kayak for a couple of reasons. For one thing, we were completely unfamiliar with this kind of water and this environment. We just felt that a swamp was something to respect, and not jump into without knowledge. There's always so much to learn from local guides. Secondly, we wanted to get as deep into the swamp as possible in one afternoon, and we didn't think we'd get that far in our kayaks. So we putted slowly along the Suwanee Canal, from 2:30-6:30, and viewed the sunset before we headed back. As it turned out, there were plenty of paddlers managing the well marked canals and swamp "prairies."
We started seeing alligators almost right away, but the further we went, away from other boaters and into more natural habitat, the more we saw. Jen said there were more than she'd seen in a long time. Maybe it was the unseasonably warm and sunny weather. We must have seen at least 30, big and small, sun bathing and swimming. Here are a few of their beady eyes and smiling faces.
For the most part, they were lying still in the grass or the mud, soaking up the warmth of the late afternoon sun. The big ones especially didn't care about us passing by. They looked pretty secure where they were. Others were gliding along in the water, and would sink down and disappear into the black water as we approached. We startled a few, causing them to thrash around a bit before they disappeared. That was kind of exciting.
Although the gators were the star of the show, the swamp itself was grand. It was a strikingly beautiful day, blue skies with high wispy and swirling clouds reflected in the still, black water. (Yes, this is a picture of a reflection. You'd never believe how black and impenetrable this water is. Perhaps that's why it makes such a perfect mirror.)
The canal was lined with Spanish moss covered cypress, dahoon holly, bay tree, and loblolly pines. "Wait-a-minute" or greenbriar vines covered much of the undergrowth. It's called wait-a-minute because passers-by get caught in it's thorns and have to call out to their fellow travelers to "wait a minute!"
In many places the vegetation was in its dormant winter phase and the surroundings were pretty brown, but still beautiful. At one point we followed what our guide said was an immature great blue heron down the canal.
As sunset neared Jen took us into one of the swamp prairies, or open water dominated by lily pads and floating peat mats. These mats are a stage of land formation in the swamp. Over time the vegetation grows more heavy and eventually the mat becomes a stationary island.
The sun set over the watery prairie...
...and we turned around, for a chilly ride back to the Visitor's Center.
Well. the red beans and rice turned out just OK, and the Patriot's are still playing. Tonight will be the last of three here at the Walkabout Camp and RV Park,
...and tomorrow we head for St. Augustine, FL. See you there!