Friday, January 28, 2011

Cloudland Canyon State Park

A Southern Winter Wonderland - Read the full story
Adventure Journal - Entry Date: January 2011
The first morning of this adventure to Cloudland Canyon State Park welcomed us with a chilly 20-degree
air temperature, and a frozen water source. I thought I'd conquered the frozen-hose problem with heated tape (cable), but this time, the spigot was the victim. A minute or two with the blow-dryer solved the problem. 

After the kids indulged in a couple of lazy hours in the warm camper, everyone finally emerged with layers of clothing: long-johns, jeans, sweats, gloves, trapper hats, and walking sticks. We were prepared!

The air was cool, but we were blessed with warm sunshine. We first wanted to show the kids the canyon from above. It had been a long time since our last visit, so the twins didn't remember it very well. We walked a short distance North from the campground to the "Point", an overlook that provides an awe-inspiring view of Sitton's Gulch, Daniel's Creek, and many miles Northward to Tennessee. Note: Parents and owners of small pets BEWARE! There are a couple of places at this overlook where it would be very easy to fall. Keep an eye on young ones at all times.

Next, we hiked down the massive steel and wooden staircases leading into the Southeastern end of the canyon. The descent was easy and safe, even with fresh snow on the surface of the boards. The steel steps are slip-free, and the boardwalks were easily navigable. The icicles clinging to the cliffs resembled glass organ pipes on cold gray walls of stone. Very surreal. I took dozens of pictures on the "trip" down (pardon the pun). The sights were something Rebecca and I will remember forever, and I think the kids will too.

The scene at the first set of waterfalls was magical. The mist from the crashing water had crystallized on everything surrounding the pool at the base. These images don't begin to capture the sunlight and the colors of the canyon. The rocks, the trees, the logs, everything had a sheet of ice. The kids would have been happy to stay there playing and exploring all day. But it was cold in the shadows of the canyon, and we had more to see. From here, we doubled back to the point to go right to exit, or to go left to seet the second set of falls. Decision time...

After staring down the seemingly endless sets of stairways descending to the second waterfall, some of the Tribe decided to take a rest before heading out of the canyon. Others, myself included, decided to bite the bullet and trek the additional distance to see the sites at the bottom. I have mixed emotions about the choice I made. It was just 3/10 of a mile, but it was mostly steps. Whew! Climbing out was going to be a job. I photographed the second waterfall as well as the footbridge crossing Daniel's creek before heading out of the canyon. More pictures and the full story...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Silver Springs, a Southern Tradition

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: December 2010

As a kid growing up in Georgia, my family vacationed just once a year for maybe three or four days, usually in Panama City or Fort Walton Beach, Florida (AKA: the Redneck Riviera). But I'll always remember that one Summer in the mid '70's that Mom and Dad took my best buddy and me on an awesome trip to Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp and several destinations in North Florida. Best I remember, we didn't do much exploring on that trip, but I remember visiting Silver Springs very well. So, 35 years later, I decided my kids needed to experience the same treat, and they did.

When we first arrived, I didn't recognize the park. It was beautiful, yes, but there is a lot more parking than before. Silver Springs had apparently expanded considerably, but it looked very nice. We approached the ticket office and inquired about admission. Now, as a Southerner with four kids, and being a little cheap (as many Southerners with four children are), I wasn't expecting to pay nearly $180.00 for my family to enter Silver Springs. It certainly wasn't that expensive when I was a kid. However, as the day passed, and the people were so great, and the animals were so unique, and the sights were so amazing, I began to consider cost vs benefit. I compared the cost of a nice dinner for six to a day's worth of entertainment and education, and decided it was probably money well spent. More...

For more pictures and details about Silver Springs, visit their  dedicated page.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canoeing with the Manatee of Salt Springs

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: December 2010

Santa brought the Richardson Tribe canoes this year, so we decided a Southbound trip was in order. The goal was to seek warmer weather, but a sudden cold front moved in and threatened to dampen our spirits. Sorry Mother Nature, it takes a lot more than snow and frigid weather to deter the Richardson Tribe. We came prepared to make the most of the Ocala National Forest, and we feel like we succeeded.

Our first impression of the Salt Springs Recreation area was the "Run", a marina located on the small lake formed by the spring. We used the salt Springs Run marina for two days because of convenient parking, easy water access, a nice picnic area, and convenient restrooms.

The first day was our maiden voyage for the canoes, and Rebecca and the kids were a little nervous. On one hand, we were comforted by the fact that the water was a balmy 72 degrees, on the other hand, we were also aware that alligators love the warmth of the springs too. It didn't take long for everyone to become a little more at ease, and we started spotting the wildlife. The water is crystal clear, so we could see the fish swimming beneath us. We could occasionally see the manatee surfacing across the still water.

It wasn't long before we spotted some manatee very nearby. A young pup, probably 800+ lbs, was curious about a pontoon boat very near to us. I used my new waterproof Pentax camera to snap a shot or two. He then swam over to me, slowly raised his massive head out of the water, and just sat there looking at me. I confess*, I reached down and touched his head, and he slowly slipped back under. He seemed curious about a rope dangling from the rear of Rebecca's canoe. He surfaced and began nudging it with his nose causing the rear of the canoe to slowly rise up. Rebecca excitedly said "Row! Row Lee Thomas"! We saw the manatee several more times that day, but I was never able to get a better picture above or below the water.

After a full day of paddling, we moved our camp from the RV Park across the street to the campground at the Recreation Area. The sites are much larger, much more like camping in a state park. Sure, there's no cable, but who needs cable when there's a fire ring. For a change of pace, we visited St .Augustine the next day.

The second full day at the spring was our last day in the area, so we packed-up the camper, checked out of he campground and moved everything to the Marina. There were a lot more people there on this day (New Years Eve), but there is plenty of parking, so we had room for the RV, Jeep, and trailer.Once we had the canoes launched, we enjoyed another beautiful warm day searching for (and seeing) the manatee, fish, and innumerable birds that grace the lagoon. We paddled up into a little cove where large turtles were sunning themselves on logs. We were told that an alligator sometimes likes to sun himself on the shore there, but we never saw a single reptile the entire time we were there. There is a hawk that hangs-out at the marina, and we were able to watch it closely. Only the knowledge that I had to load and drive kept this from being a perfectly relaxing afternoon.

Around 3:30pm, we reluctantly loaded the canoes on the Jeep, then loaded the Jeep on the trailer for our journey North to Crooked River State Park near Saint Marys, Georgia. It was there that we would bring in the new year, just us, a family of six curious people in an RV we call Homer.

*Note- There are laws against "harassment" of manatees. These include swimming after (chasing), riding, poking, and feeding. The term "harass" is very subjective, and I'm sure some people would consider touching a manatee "harassment", even if the animal swims up to you and begs for attention. The rules posted at the marina say touching with one hand is acceptable, but not two. That would constitute "riding". Therefore, I think it must be ok to touch the head of a manatee that surfaces by your canoe. Between you and me, it was a very neat experience.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cumberland Island, a Crown Jewel of Georgia

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: 1/1/11 (January 1, 2011)

Cumberland Island is one of Georgia's crown jewels. Its considered one of the nation's most pristine and well preserved barrier islands. The Tribe has seen TV shows, books, and calendars featuring the live oaks, Spanish moss, and wild horses of Cumberland Island. How could we resist?

So, as a Christmas present, we (Mommy and Daddy) gave the kids a Southbound adventure. Cumberland Island was but one stop on this week-long adventure, but it certainly was one of the best destinations of the trip.

After celebrating New Year's Eve and getting a good night's sleep at Crooked River State Park in St. Marys, we headed for he dock to catch the Cumberland Princess ferry. The 9am ferry allows for a relatively full day on the island, and that was our intent. Although we had studied Cumberland Island-related websites, we weren't exactly sure what to expect. We knew to bring our own food, so each of the kids wore their backpack containing lunch, snacks, and water. That turned out to be a very good idea.

When we arrived on the island, we first visited the Ice House museum (attached to the restrooms). This small but well insulated building reveals some unique history of the island, The ranger gave a very informative lecture on the history of the island going back over 250 years. She was very knowledgeable, and I wish we could enjoy a long evening by the campfire learning from her.

From there, it was a short walk to the ruins of Dungeness, a Winter home (mansion) built by the Carnegie family that burned in 1959, Incredibly, what seemed to interest the Tribe the most were the armadillos, Armadillos are not native to the Southeast. Most we have seen in recent years have been dead on the side of he road. They have invaded Cumberland, and they're quite used to humans. At the Dungeness ruins, we had a very close and exciting encounter with an armadillo that thought we were one of his own kind.

From Dungeness, we walked to the beach. The beach is deep (wide) and completely untouched by commercial development. The pictures tell the story. We found lots of very nice shells, but no sharks teeth. About half a mile up the beach, we discovered a large injured bird on the beach, and that made us eager to hasten our hike to the camping dock's ranger station to report the injured bird. When possible, they will try to rehabilitate sick and injured wildlife.

When we finally reached the National Parks campground, we weren't prepared for the beauty. Live oak and palmetto create an Eden-like tropical environment the likes of which we have never witnessed. This may very well be the most beautiful campground we have ever seen, Its enough to tempt the Tribe to try roughing it a night or two in a tent. This time of year, it would be bearable.

After a short visit with some fellow travelers at the campground dock, we hiked the river trail back to the dock where we originally landed. In all, we probably walked around 2.5 miles, and the kids never complained about their backpacks. While waiting for the ferry to return us to the mainland, we watched wild horses and armadillos rummage for food while we rummaged for sharks teeth along the rarely traveled road.

Cumberland Island is a paradise virtually unspoiled by man. If you want to visit for the day, its a day you will never forget. If you want to stay overnight, it can be very inexpensive, or require a second mortgage depending on you standards. Would I return? No doubt. Something this unspoiled so close to home is a treasure for sure.


For lots more pictures and better descriptions of the amenities, please visit Cumberland Island's dedicated page on the PB&J Adventures website!