I've been looking for a chance to get out to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Georgia. The drizzling rain in Jacksonville and forecast for more rain looked promising for some overcast conditions so I took a chance and headed towards the West Entrance to the park near Fargo GA. It was a good 2+ hour drive out I-10 and then north on 441, connecting with 177. My last visit to the swamp was back in the early 80's and can't say I remember much except that we couldn't restart our outboard engine on the boat rental (a story for another day), so I really had no expectations about the trip.
The rain started coming down hard as I headed west as I had a sinking feeling that this was going to be a bust. Once I passed Macclenny FL the rain let up. Driving in rural FL on the back roads is an experience. I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I regrettably passed an old abandoned gas station that would have made a great shot. What is it that keeps you from stopping? There were 2 other great photo ops that I passed. Maybe we are too self-conscious of stopping the car, getting set up, and taking the shot. Or maybe we don't value our instincts. On some occasions I create excuses about how the shot would be lousy only to avoid that guilt of not stopping. I don't know what it is but it's the courage to get the shot is something I need to work on. Stopping to shoot or being in a situation which is potentially uncomfortable to shoot makes the successful capture sweeter.
My first stop was at the boat launch off Suwanee River Sill. There is a nice stand of cypress trees on the far side a a canal, complete with sleeping gators. I was there for quite sometime before I saw another photographer. I then proceeded to the end of 177 where the concession facilities and boat rentals are. From the size of the parking lots I could see that this is a busy place in height of the season. Lots of campsites too. I took a guided boat tour which took us along Billy's Lake. I can see renting a small boat next time to do some exploring and to get some peace and quiet. There is something about the guided tours that completely distracts from the ambiance of the place.
What I find disheartening about visiting some National Parks is learning about the history of the areas. Our entire history seems to be fraught with stories about the displacement of Native Americans and exploitation of natural resources. The Okefenokee is no different...in 1899 the Hebard Cypress Company purchased the land from the state of GA and systematically removed 431 million board feet of cypress timber, harvesting giant magnificent trees that were hundreds of years old. It's not that they removed some trees but they literally raped the land, building a railroad to haul the trees out and leaving the area to waste after they were done. It's good that we have at least some of these lands under responsible supervision. In the name of progress, in the name of jobs, in the name of the public "good" we did (and continue to do) some terrible things.
After the boat tour that lasts about an hour I walked along the Trembling Earth Nature Trail which includes a 2100 ft boardwalk into a cypress grove. Then I headed out and stopped a few times on the road as the sun was setting. The mosquitoes come out as soon as the sun went down. I'm eager to visit the east side of the park. I have a feeling it is more geared to hiking and nature observation than recreation. Perhaps on the next overcast day.
Click here for my Okefenokee gallery.