Wild Horses

I’ve written before about how the US is a land of plenty.  Most of us have our basic needs met, so there are means left over to preserve and appreciate our human history and natural environment.  Today, we spent the day in hushed awe of our surroundings, and in grateful appreciation of the fact that we – and generations after us — get to enjoy them.  The place that inspires these feelings is Cumberland Island, Georgia.

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Calypso anchored behind Cumberland Island, Georgia.

After a 60+ mile run from St. Augustine up the ICW in wet, chilly weather, we were just happy to get the anchor down yesterday and enjoy a dinner of conch chowder and johnnycake (yes, I still have Bahamian  conch in the freezer…).  But this morning, though it was chilly, the skies were clear and we’d had a full night of rest before exploring the southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands.

Like many coastal locations along this US east coast, Cumberland Island has changed hands repeatedly, and been the location of military strongholds.  Ultimately, parts of it were purchased by wealthy families (Revolutionary war heroes and robber barons) to serve as sites for mansions.   Those fell into disrepair and the island came under the umbrella of the National Park Service.

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The ruins of Dungeness, a mansion built by a Carnegie on the ruins of another mansion built by a Revolutionary war general.

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More picturesque ruins.

Those rich guys knew a good thing when they saw it.  The island is spectacularly, romantically, lyrically, poetically, stunningly (OK – running out of adverbs here….) BEAUTIFUL.  That is, if you’re a sucker for that kind of alley-of-Spanish-moss-draped-oaks kind of beautiful.

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Live oaks towering over palms.

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At left, one of the many alleys of oaks; on the right, Rick enjoying one of the trails.

But it’s not just that kind of beautiful.  I personally love the beauty of a coastal salt marsh, and the way it changes with every tide.

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With rivers of tea-colored water running through plough mud and cordgrass, it’s an environment that is outwardly placid yet teeming with secret, hidden life.

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Teeny-tiny crabs (those are blades of grass, by way of comparison) scurrying busily around.

Feral horses have the run of the island, and unlike dolphins and manatees, these trick ponies stand still for photos.  Just don’t step on one of their many offerings on the trails.

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The horses are everywhere.

And, finally, yes, there is a beach.  A good 17 miles worth.  It’s a typical sea island beach bordered with dunes and sea oats, giving way to a wide, flat, hard expanse of sand.

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Ghostly driftwood trees lean away from the wind.

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Beach grass and dunes give way to the beach.

The 6-foot tidal range means the beach is even huger at low tide.  If bikes were allowed on the beach here, it would be perfect for riding along.

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The wind and sea etch patterns in the sand.  And yes, there are horses.

We didn’t bike, but walked and walked and collected shells.

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I found one!

A ferry brings in visitors from the “mainland,” and us cruising folk can just anchor off the dinghy dock, so there are quite a few people coming in every day.  (Even though there are virtually no services on the island, it does seem to be quite popular for camping.)  Yet the huge expanses of the island, and its lush vegetation, seemed to shelter us in our own private cocoon.  This is one national park that we have done right.

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