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.
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.
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.
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.
Before hitting the road, we stopped by the small pond again and found the gators in slightly different positions.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.