This week, our guest host Xenia of Tranature has chosen Sanctuary for our challenge. She reminds us that “Sanctuary can be found and created in a garden, a park, a field of wild flowers and by the sea …… watching wildlife, listening to birdsong …… along the forest trails and in the mountains.” She has asked us to show where we find it or how we create our calm and healing.
America’s National Parks and Wildlife Refuges are national treasures and wonderful places to find sanctuary.
Closer to home, I can find my sanctuary watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean on one of Georgia’s barrier islands (image at the top of the page), walking on the beach, or watching the birds and butterflies in my backyard butterfly garden.
What better way to begin our winter southern adventure than a stop in one of our favorite state parks, Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
Much of the swamp is covered with thick peat deposits. The early Native Americans named the area Okefenokee which means “land of trembling earth” because they felt the movement of the peat beneath their feet as they walked.
There were deer in the campground every day. One day we took a walk on the boardwalk nature trail near the marina and watched an egret searching for food.
We always enjoy going out in a boat to explore the swamp. On our last visit we enjoyed our ranger guided boat tour so much we decided to go on another tour. While waiting for the tour to begin we wandered around the boat ramp and discovered Mama gator Sophie lounging by the ramp with some of her babies hanging out nearby.
Mama Sophie by the boat ramp with her babies nearby
As we rode through the man made canal into the swamp we spied more young gators on the bank enjoying the warm day.
A large gator checked us out as we exited the canal into the swamp.
After a few days of cloudy skies and chilly days the sun was starting to warm things up. The warmer weather brought out plenty of wildlife.
Cormorant in the Okefenokee
Alligator in the Okefenokee
Alligators enjoying some warm weather
Turtle in the swamp
Hanging out in the Okefenokee
The water winds through ancient cypress trees and water lilies.
Wood storks, egrets, and herons build their nests every spring in the trees of Woody Pond at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Located in Georgia just a few miles from I 95 in between Savannah and Brunswick, it is a great day trip from our home.
Wood storks were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1984. After almost 30 years of conservation efforts to increase the wood stork population, their status was upgraded to Threatened in June, 2014.
A path along the dike beside Woody Pond provides a great place to view the birds. The wood storks and egrets shared the trees.
Many of the wood storks were working on their nests. None of their eggs had hatched yet.
As I took photos, Henry used the spotting scope and pointed out a mother egret with chicks that I would have never seen. The nests were a long way from where we were so the picture isn’t the best but it gives you an idea of the size of the baby egret.
In the shallow water at the edge of the pond a tri-colored heron entertained us as he searched for food.
Tri colored heron
Tri Colored Heron gets his catch
After leaving the refuge we stopped at the Smallest Church in America to take a look and do a little geocaching.
An arsonist burned this church in November, 2015. The church is being rebuilt through the efforts of volunteers and the work is almost complete.
Smallest Church in America, Townsend, Georgia
Smallest Church in America
Smallest Church in America
Smallest Church in America
After finding the geocache hidden near the church we headed for home.
We enjoyed walking around the marina and going on the nature trail at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge but we wanted to be in a boat to really experience the swamp. On one of our visits a few years ago we rented a canoe to paddle into the swamp and another time we rented a boat to venture even farther into the swamp. On our most recent trip in early spring we decided to take a ranger guided boat tour.
As we glided through the man made canal our guide pointed out the baby alligators and their mother Sophie who was keeping a close watch on her babies. Her mate Zeke was no where to be found.
As the boat exited the canal we entered the big water of Billy’s Lake where we were about six miles from the headwaters of the Suwanee River. The water here gets up to six feet deep, much deeper than the average depth of two feet.
It was a beautiful day to be on the water and we saw a few other people out on the water.
Our guide took us through the narrow waterway toward Minnie’s Lake. In some places the water was barely wide enough for the 24 foot Carolina Skiff. As we ventured farther into the swamp it was as if we had stepped back in time to a prehistoric age. We were miles from civilization in this incredibly wild place.
It is estimated that the alligator population in the swamp is about 20,000. We saw quite a few as we went along. It was mating season and I wondered if this gator was trying to attract a mate.
Another gator was behind a huge cypress tree.
And there were young ones sunning on a log.
There are many species of wildlife besides alligators. While we didn’t see any raccoons, opossums, turtles, or bears, we did see a few birds out searching for food.
After our incredible few days in the Okefenokee it was time to return back to civilization and the real world.
On St. Patrick’s Day we left Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, Florida and drove about 50 miles to another park named after the famous composer. At the end of the road 17 miles from the nearest highway, Stephen C. Foster State Park in Fargo, Georgia is located in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge .
This is one of our favorite Georgia state parks and one we have returned to over and over through the years. There is just something I love about being surrounded by nature miles away from civilization.
The Okefenokee Swamp is one of North America’s most unspoiled natural wilderness areas. According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge web page, “the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has 353,981 acres of National Wilderness Area within the refuge boundaries. In addition, the refuge is a Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR Convention – 1971) because it is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems.”
Indians who once lived in the area called it Okefenokee which roughly translated means “Land of Trembling Water.” The headwaters of the Suwanee River is located in the Okefenokee Swamp.
Going out in a boat is a great way to see the swamp but there is also plenty to see from land. All the photos in this post were taken as we walked around the campground, marina and on the Trembling Earth Nature Trail which starts at the marina. One section of the trail is a boardwalk through the swamp. This huge gator was sunning on a log beside the boardwalk.
The only man made waterway in the park is this canal which leads to the open water of the Okefenokee Swamp.
The canal runs beside the road and alligators are frequently seen sunning themselves on the bank or chilling in the water.
One of the other campers told me about baby alligators beside the road so off we went in search of baby gators.
Besides alligators, many other animals make their home in the Okefenokee.
Coming up in my next post – a ranger guided boat tour into the Okefenokee.