For the Columbus Day weekend we had a trip planned to Cumberland Island, GA. Fresh off finishing the Ken Burns’ National Park Series I was ready to see some preservation in action. I went to Cumberland Island expecting to find no cars, no people, and wild horses; a semi-tropical setting in prime season.
We drove down to Blythe Island State Park on Saturday with a stop in Savannah for lunch. This trip followed a weekend in the mountains of Boone and so I was not ready for the heat that south GA still possesses in October. Temperatures hovered close to 90 most of the time we were there. We slept in tents; a euphemism for sweat torture chamber. Regardless of the heat we still purchased firewood and built a fire to stand around. The threat of storms kept the rain flies on our tents and made it hotter. Luckily though we didn’t get any rain while were out there. I’d much rather deal with the heat than be stuck in the rain all the time.
To get to Cumberland you take a small ferry for about 40 minutes from the small town of St. Mary’s. The ferry ride was one of my favorite parts of the trip. While we were on it, the sun was out, the wind is blowing in your face and the scenery is nice. I took some time to contemplate the nature around me (save the chemical plant silhouette in the distance) and compare it to the mountains. The coast always seems much more delicate to me, like it has so many more moving parts. That also makes it seem more dynamic. The mountains seem like they are forever unchanged. The views also have differential impacts. In the mountains one can get to great vistas and see the expanse of the landscape as well as stand at the edge or base of a cliff and feel how small you are. On the coast you only get the expansive views that go on forever and make you feel so small in time. I think a lot of naturalists write about each morning in a natural place feels like the first morning; the morning of creation. Like every thing in that place was like it had always been. For me looking out on the ocean and watching the waves gives me that feeling.
Nonetheless, most of my time on Cumberland Island was spent wishing I was in the mountains. I was surprised that there are still occupied residences on the island, and that the horses weren’t out running on the beach like something out of black beauty. It didn’t help that the rangers on the island give you a run down of everything that can go wrong on Cumberland Island before you head off into the backcountry. We had planned to head in about 7 miles to Yankee Paradise but found out it was occupied and went to the closer (4 miles) Stafford Beach camping area. The spot was very cool. Tons of old live oaks, plenty of room to spread out and keep the kitchen away from the tents, close to the beach, and it even had bathrooms.
The ticks and bugs were still pretty bad but we didn’t have any problems with raccoons or mice or gators or snakes or horses or armadillos. The beach was great and in fact my favorite part was heading there in the morning to watch the sunrise and spending time playing in the tidepools.
I’m not sure if I’ll head back to Cumberland right away but maybe someday I will revisit the place. I think for now the next barrier islands I try to see will be off North Carolina and maybe we can make a stop by some mountains while we’re up there.