We made our way to Waycross, Georgia just in time for dinner. After checking into our hotel, we visited Hog N Bones for some grub. The food and service were very good. I was happy with our choice.
We woke early the next morning to start our drive to Folkston, and the eastern entrance of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Preserve. The Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross is not part of the wildlife preserve. To see the “real” swamp, you need to visit the eastern or western entrances.
There is a $5 charge to access the swamp for seven days. This is a preserve, not a park. It is run by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It might seem minor but there is something about it that feels different from a national or state park.
Knowing that rain was coming, we sat off on the eight-mile driving loop. We soon encountered a small pond and our first gators.
Visitors are asked to keep at least 20 feet away from the alligators. There are no fences.
This juvenile gator was chirping as he enjoyed his morning swim. Between the sprinkles and his frenzied swimming, it was a bit difficult to get a good photo. This was one of those experiences that makes for better memories than photos.
We got back in the car and continued along the path. The rain was chucking down by time we reached the Chesser Island Homestead. This traditional home illustrates the swamper’s way of life. Constructed of yellow pine, the house was built in 1927 for about $200. Tom and Iva Chesser raised their seven children in this house. They left and moved to Folkston in 1958.
There is no vegetation in the yard. This helped the Chesser family spot any snakes that slithered through their property. It also helped prevent a fire that could have been caused by lightening striking a large tree.
A rocking chair and porch swing welcome visitors to the home.
The home was simple, airy, and somehow larger than you would expect. The house grew as the family did so there are windows in between rooms and half walls.
The family made syrup from sugar cane.
This is for making syrup, not hot-tubbing.
After we toured the homestead, we made the mistake of starting out along the woodland path to the boardwalk. This was my idea and I felt horrible because Mr. McB was devoured by bugs. He was wearing DEET but they still launched an aggressive attack. We hauled butt back to the car and took off toward the boardwalk. By this point, the rain was steady but not too heavy.
With the rain, we had the boardwalk to ourselves. For a long time, we just saw vegetation and upended trees. After a bit, I heard what I thought was the distant rumbling of a boat motor but we soon realized that this was the call-and-answer grumbling of two gators. While we were waiting out a particularly heavy shower, I spotted this.
Holy Moses! It was a growling, grumbling gator on the move.
We stayed in the shelter for quite some time as we tried to find him. For a while, we were sure that a log floating under the boardwalk was his snout but finally, I spotted him on the other side.
Squee!!! He was just there beside the boardwalk. After a few tentative sorties out of the shelter to snap his picture, we realized he wanted to sleep and wasn’t interested in us. We were soon on our way down the boardwalk again.
The boardwalk ends at the tall observation tower. You get a great view of the swamp at the top. It is so peaceful there.
This is a happy man who is too high in the air to be eaten by swamp bugs.
By time we walked back, the gator had moved back to the other side of the boardwalk to continue his napping.
We eventually made our way back to the car. We saw a heron eating a small fish and an alligator watching the whole affair. I was driving but Mr. McB has some great photos of this.
Before hitting the road, we stopped by the small pond again and found the gators in slightly different positions.
The little fella decided to stop swimming for an afternoon nap.
We decided to visit the train platform at the Folkston Funnel before making our way back to Waycross. Most of the rail traffic going to and from Florida passes through Folkston. With a train zipping by every 15-20 minutes, some people might complain but the people of Folkston built a nice viewing platform, with fans and WiFi, and made it a social gathering place. The train traffic was slower than normal during our visit. After about 35 minutes, we spotted this beauty.
If you go to Folkston, try the small German cafe beside the tracks. Their funnel frankfurter and hot German potato salad are delicious. The owners are very nice too.
After the train, we were directed to Whistling Dixie for an ice cream shop. Miss Dixie also owns railside lodging in the Folkston area. She asked about our day and we enjoyed a few laughs before getting back in the car again.
Before making it back to Waycross, we took a little detour to see the Laura Walker State Park. It was buggy and we were tired but there were some good photos to be had. Look at this Carolina anole enjoying an afternoon snack.
We saw some interesting sites along the woodland trail.
There was also a pygmy rattlesnake but he quickly moved out of our way.
Thankfully, we didn’t know he was a pygmy rattlesnake until we got home.
That night, we grabbed some topical Benedryl and other soothing medications for Michael’s many bites. I discovered the seasonal carrot cake M&M’s. We fell asleep watching a 48 Hours murder mystery about a woman’s suspicious death which was originally blamed on her husband. New evidence suggests that an owl might have played a role in her death.
The next morning we were back at the swamp for a boat tour. With time to kill, we made a quick trip around the driving path.
Good morning gators…
We boarded the boat and headed down the narrow canal behind these kayakers.
The captain answered questions and pointed out interesting plants and animals. He took us close to gators but also carefully pulled the boat way when they really started to hiss.
It seemed that most of the gators were not on my side of the boat.
This gator, who didn’t feel the need to hiss, was on my side.
We saw a red shouldered hawk’s nest. Later we would see both a young hawk and a frighteningly fast adult hawk.
We made our way to the grand prairie where there is plenty of plant life. These are golden clubs. The plant is also called “never wet” because the stalks do not get wet. You can dunk them under the water but it simply wicks away. The makers of high-end rain gear are studying the plant in hopes of improving their product.
As we entered the canal again, a curtain of Spanish moss blew open to reveal a majestic barn owl. I was just about to mention this to the guide when I remembered the 48 Hours episode and my ornithophobia kicked into high gear. I kept my mouth closed and we kept moving back toward the dock.
This little turtle is the last bit of wildlife that we encountered.
We were soon back in the car and taking the back roads home. Since it was after noon before we started, we did not have the luxury of making many stops on the way home. By time we reached the house, both Mr. McB and I were very thankful to stretch our legs and move around.
It was a great trip. I was very impressed by the way the preserve was laid out. The driving loop made it easy to see the natural areas. The boardwalk is great and very accessible for those with disabilities. They would not be able to use the observation tower but you can see quite a bit before reaching the tower.
I would definitely recommend Okefenokee to anyone with an interest in wildlife. I would also recommend a mix of planned and spontaneous activities like we enjoyed.