Lens-Artists #119: Hideaway

For this challenge Ann-Christine has asked us “where or what is our hideaway”. Her description of hideaway says “A Hideaway, is a place to which a person can retreat for safety, privacy, relaxation, to seek seclusion or refuge.”

When I am at home I can hideaway for a few moments by getting out in nature or by reading a book. But for me, a true hideaway is a wilderness area far away from civilization, somewhere with no robo calls, internet, or other interruptions.

Three of my favorite destinations immediately came to mind – the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in south Georgia, Denali National Park in Alaska, and Everglades National Park in Florida. Although these are three unique protected wilderness areas, what they have in common is that they are miles away from civilization and the wildlife is free to roam.

Okefenokee Landscape
Okefenokee Landscape

Of these three areas, the closest to my home is the Okefenokee Swamp. When we get to the end of the 17 mile road from the main highway and arrive at Stephen C. Foster State Park I feel like I am in another world. This image and the one at the top were both taken in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near Fargo, Georgia.

Mount Denali in Denali National Park, Alaska

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.

John Muir
Sunrise in Everglades National Park in Flamingo, Florida

There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Thanks to Ann-Christine for this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #119: Hideaway.

Lens-Artists #108: Sanctuary

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.

Pa-Hay-Otee Overlook in Everglades National Park
Pa-Hay-Otee Overlook in Everglades National Park
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Cypress Trees in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Polychrome Overlook, Denali National Park, Alaska
Polychrome Overlook, Denali National Park, Alaska

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.

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Waiting for Tropical Storm Isaias

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Xenia, thank you for this weeks Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Sanctuary

The Land of Trembling Earth

Okefenokee – “the Land of Trembling Earth”

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.

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.

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.

As we rode through the man made canal into the swamp we spied more young gators on the bank enjoying the warm day.

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Young alligators on the bank

A large gator checked us out as we exited the canal into the swamp.

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Alligator in the Okefenokee

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.

The water winds through ancient cypress trees and water lilies.

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Beautiful day in the Okefenokee

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Cypress Trees in the Okefenokee

 

 

Best Campgrounds of the year – 2016

Welcome to our third annual “Wandering Dawgs best campgrounds of the year” list.

Our 2016 wandering took us on a short trips to Florida, Georgia,  Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

We prefer staying in state and federal parks and this year our top three all fall into one of those categories.

Number 3: Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, Alabama

Early Morning at Tranquility Lake
Tranquility Lake was just a short walk from our campsite

We stopped at Oak Mountain on our way to Mississippi and enjoyed it so much we returned to the same site (A28) on our way back home to Georgia.

Our site was spacious with full hook ups and nothing but woods behind us. This large state park has a golf course, archery range, equestrian camping and horse stables, nature and hiking trails, lake front beach, mountain bike trails, and scenic drives. The road through the park is a popular place for bicyclists. Nearby Pelham and Birmingham have restaurants and shopping.

View from Peavine Falls Road Overlook
View from Peavine Falls Road Overlook

Read more about our stay at First Stop on our Fall Football Road Trip .

 

Number 2: Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Fargo, Georgia

Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?
Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?

We love this place so much we have camped here numerous times in past 10 years. Our most recent trip was in March, 2016.

Just getting to the campground is an adventure. After turning off the highway, seventeen miles of driving through pine forests and palmettos takes you into the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is remote, quiet, and wild.

We camp in one of the large premium pull through sites. It is a short walk or bike ride from the campground to the marina where you can go on a guided tour of the Okefenokee Swamp, rent a boat or canoe, launch your own boat, or take a walk on the nature trail through the swamp. Alligators are often seen around the marina but we’ve never seen one in the campground.

Sophie the Mama Gator
Sophie the Mama Gator

You can read more about our stay at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Number 1: Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida

Ready for Beach Chair Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico
Ready for Beach Chair Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico

Miles of white sugar sand beach in Gulf Islands National Seashore within walking distance from our campsite, an historic fort to explore, a nice campsite, nature trails, beautiful sunsets, fresh seafood, fishing pier, museums and a lighthouse nearby – what’s not to love?

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Read more about our stay at Gulf Islands National Seashore .

Honorable Mention:

  • We returned to Mississippi River State Park in Marianna, Arkansas, our “Best Campground of the Year – 2014“. I left it out of the top three to make room for three new campgrounds
  • Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, White Springs, Florida
  • Eastbank Corps of Engineers  Campground, Bainbridge, Georgia

Where do you think we will wander next year? Stay tuned…

Into the Okefenokee Swamp

Big Cypress trees in the Okefenokee

Cypress trees in the Okefenokee
Cypress trees in the Okefenokee

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.

Sophie the Mama Gator
” Sophie the Mama Gator

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.

It was a beautiful day for kayaking
It was a beautiful day for kayaking

A kayaker goes around the bend deeper into the swamp
A kayaker goes around the bend deeper into the swamp

Which way do we go?
Which way do we go?

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.

Boats had to navigate around this cypress tree
Boats had to navigate around this cypress tree

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.

Huge alligator showing us his teeth
Huge alligator showing us his teeth

Another gator was behind a huge cypress tree.

Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?
Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?

And there were young ones sunning on a log.

Young gators enjoying the sunshine

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.

Egret in the Okefenokee
Egret in the Okefenokee

Snowy Egret in the Okefenokee
Snowy Egret in the Okefenokee

After our incredible few days in the Okefenokee it was time to return back to civilization and the real world.