Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good-bye, my lovelies...

No, I'm not quitting the blog any time soon. But this will be the last blog entry containing my good friend - can you guess? Yup, the American alligator.
On this day, Bill and I visited the Savannah NWR (National Wildlife Refuge), which is essentially composed of impounded rice fields from plantations in the 1700s! They had a nice little exhibit at the interpretive center.

No, I didn't photograph this in the field! As obvious as this is just from the photo factors, can you imagine ME letting an ugly old heron EAT one of my cute little baby gators?!!! In front of me?!! Hah! No way!!! Of course, it would probably turn out like the time when I tried to save a mouse from a cat when I was a little girl. Yeah, the mouse got away, but he BIT me first, the little bastard! (cat was none too pleased with me neither...) What a life lesson that was. And while I wouldn't relish having Baby gnaw on me, I would really be upset about Mommy Alligator getting involved! (although Mommy wasn't doing a very good job if ol' Mr. Heron was really having this meal with her around!)

You have to drive a little ways farther to get to the actual rice fields/refuge. And it was another sweltering day, but I'd have to say it was worth it! It was a pretty enough spot, but the few gators we saw were absolutely priceless!

See the dark blob floating there in the middle of that reddish water? Well, of course it's an alligator! This is Carrie behind the camera, remember! (I know, I know. That might not help - I DO take pictures of EVERYTHING!!) But it's amazing how such a big creature can kind of just blend into the larger scene... If he were just hanging out on the side for instance, or were more underwater, like they often are, with just eyes and nostrils/nose bumps sticking out...? Do you think you'd know he/she was there?

I like to think of allligators as icebergs. You often only see a tiny percentage of their whole mass... Most of it's underwater, and just like with the bergs, you probably don't want to get too close...! But unlike that beautiful floating ice, you needn't worry - the gators will come to you! ;)

More dots on sand. Hmm, where did we just see that? Yup, Skidaway. And what were they? Yup, crabolas! And here are another ton of them, and they haven't spotted the looming photographer yet!

One of the pretty, long pools.

And one of my pretty pets, cruising along in the pool...

This gal/fellow was cruising along so fast, I had to keep moving the truck to keep up. Kind of a pain, because in order to get a photo, I had to be taller than the reeds, which meant climbing almost on top of the truck for the photos (or just walk over and climb through them... Hmm... Which do you think you'd do?). So it was stop, park, get out, climb, photograph, get down, get in, drive forward, stop, park,...

This was a different "person" that Bill spotted. I love the reed reflections with him/her. He/she is just barely disturbing the water, not going anywhere too fast.

Across the way (not in the NWR), were fields of water hyacinth.

So there you have it. Hope you've enjoyed all the alligators (and aren't just happy that part's over with!). I sure did. Was always a definite highlight of this trip for me!!!

And so glad to have had the long lens...

Wormsloe: What's in a Name? Worms?!

We visited the Wormsloe Plantation while at Skidaway. The story behind the guy who created Wormsloe (no, no worms involved...), Noble Jones, was pretty amazing. He came over as part of a contingent from England to create a new colony. While most of the colonizing efforts, led by James E. Oglethorpe, were a complete, corrupted, incompetent flop, Jones was the one exception. He came over as a carpenter but served as: "constable, physician, surveyor, Indian agent, soldier, member of the royal council, treasurer, and senior justice of the province." And, it turns out, he could also build and run an indigo, rice, and silk plantation that doubled as a fortress, where he and marines defended the nearby waterways from attack. Gee, amazing how such a character can come shining through, despite utter chaos and disaster! Where is such a person now!!! We could use them to lead our country!!!!!!!!!!!
But, while I was very impressed with Noble Jones, I was not quite as impressed with the current running of this attraction... I walked into the office to pay the entry fees, camera slung over my shoulder - usual garb, don't you know!?! I was IMMEDIATELY told I could not take my camera onto the plantation!!!!!!!! I could not take any photos with it. Apparently, if I had a camera "that cost less than $500" I was less of a threat and could use that to photograph with!!!!!??????!!!!! So much for the honor system!!! I guess they are VERY worried about commercial photography competition there or something. I've NEVER run into that kind of deal before!!!! I've certainly been to places with photography limitations/requirements/fees, but I've never been to a place that just outright told you "no photos with that camera because it costs too much!" You know, even with a damn good, expensive, heavy, bulky camera, you can still take crappy photos!! And in fact, in some ways, it's easier to take worse photos with such a camera! Anyways, this place just made me feel like a criminal for walking through their door!!!!!!!! It was a very yucky and offensive experience!!!!!!!!!!! I did go in and I did take my point and shoot, but I didn't take any good photos, and if Bill hadn't have been there with me expecting to tour this facility, I would NOT have gone in!!!!!!!!!! Creepy.

While walking around the estate, we came across a small tour being led by a barefoot guy wearing weird clothes and shooting some old gun... ;)
(P.S. I wonder how much that gun cost? Maybe they shouldn't have let him in with that! Only with a cheaper one!!)

I couldn't do this avenue of oaks justice with my little camera or the lighting, etc., but personally I think I got a way better deal at the Afton Villa Gardens in St. Francisville, LA, anyways!!!!!!!!! And I would highly recommend going anywhere else for photography. This place may be good to honor Noble Jones - he was worth it - but that's it.

Skipping over to Skidaway

May 12th - we moved to Skidaway Island State Park. What a great name, eh?! We needed to pick up our mail, general delivery, in Savannah, but we'd already been to Savannah on a previous trip so didn't want to stay in the city itself. And we'd been enjoying the state parks, so we booked this one, a little ways away from Savannah.
Tracky in a box!
This guy loves boxes. Yeah, I know, ALL cats love boxes. But some of Tractor's best friends are boxes! He and boxes were meant to be together. Just wait - you'll see (coming up in a later blog...)!
Check out the lovely trails at this park.
Great walking partners!

Bill and I are so lucky to have such a great family - well, missing two members here, but it's a little hard taking everyone on a walk at once! Plus, those other two can be a bit slow...!

Looking at some of the marshland surrounding Skidaway.

A nice boardwalk to a lookout stand over the marsh.

And what the heck are all these little light-colored dots all over the sand??

Enlarge this, and you'll see what those dots are!! There were TONS of crabs under the boardwalk!! But man are they observant and FAST!!! Guess there lives depend on those qualities - but I congratulate the heron that can capture one of these puppies!!! I had a hard time just getting a picture - guess I'm not very good at the sneaking-up thing, at least not on tiny crabs!?!

Someone special I saw while on a bike ride on one of the trails. Unfortunately for him/her, I saw a slight movement in the bushes. Off my bike, and I was following this poor little snake into the woods. He/She took it well though.

Another cute forest creature! Very good-looking, and talk about blending into one's environment!!

Nice light.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Swamp - By Boat

When I returned to Okeefenokee, I was able to not only go for a boat ride, but I was the only one on the boat - other than the guide, of course. What a beautiful tour! Not the same as being right in/on the water with a kayak or canoe (much more vulnerable feeling!), but still great fun.
Most of the boat ride was down a canal that had been dug long ago (the Suwannee Canal, in an attempt to drain the swamp! Didn't work, as you can see).
But there were other parts...
and other options. Left for "Cooter Lake," and right for "Grand Prairie." It was funny seeing these signs in the water! But a lot of people must paddle here, and some people even camp in the swamp! I guess there are islands and also platforms where you can set up. Hmm, could be an exciting night... And maybe crowded, with all the mosquitos that must be there??

More pitcher plants with their insect-catching "vases" and weird flowers.

And TA-DA!!! There he/she is! Right on cue! Nice when requests are granted like that! Unfortunately, this one wouldn't pose in the right direction for my photos, but it sure was fun to watch this critter in its natural element, just doing gator stuff!

And this was another cameo appearance, made by another resident. But as soon as you'd see them, they'd disappear below the water! Impossible to know who all was in there, and how many you WEREN'T seeing that were there!!! But the Okeefenokee was a special place I'd like to return to someday and spend more time. Maybe it would rate on YOUR list of favorites as well?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Okeefenokee

Okeefenokee Swamp, the largest black water swamp in North America and one of the largest in the world, haunts and teases, and lures you in with its dark, mysterious beauty. Well, maybe not quite that mysterious. Or maybe so. I don't know. It has been dug up and drained, logged, burned, hidden in, and yet still it survives and can mesmerize! And this place is definitely the stuff of legends! I read accounts of weird lights following people as they drove home from the swamp...?! But there's also plenty of real, validated, fascinating folklore too. Check some of it out here: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-550
And a bit more cultural history here: http://www.sherpaguides.com/georgia/okefenokee_swamp/okefenokee_folk/ And a general info. website - my favorite part was the "weird stuff" - http://www.okefenokee.com/ And finally, for factoids - like the swamp is one giant peat bog, and the Suwannee and St. Mary's rivers originate from it - look here: http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/Okefenokee%20at%20a%20Glance%20webpage.pdf

I ended up driving to the swamp twice, rather a long drive from Crooked River! But the first time, Bill and I went too late in the day so only got in a very short visit before the reserve closed! But, thanks to the truck fiasco, our stay was extended, and I drove back for a more in-depth experience. The pond above is reflecting the pines nicely, but it also is home to at least two alligators that we got to see (and also signs saying "stay back - alligators." No worries! That sort of stuff you don't have to tell me twice!)

The forest had such a neat eerie look to it the one evening Bill and I went...

One of the things I ended up doing on my second visit was a boat ride, but here Bill and I are just checking it out - and getting checked out, by the alligator at center right (enlarge to see our friend - well, he seemed friendly, like "c'mon in, water's warm!").

When I went back, it was a nice, warm, sunny day. I liked the reflections on the little Alligator Pond (so named by yours truly).

One of the attractions on the 9-mile Swamp Island Drive is the Chesser Island Homestead. It is really amazing when you think of what people endured to forge their living in those days... I'm sure most of us modern-day whiners wouldn't have stood a chance!!!! More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesser_Island

Neat shadows.

Pines and palmettos. Just like (and partly in) Florida!

Some pretty flowers along the water-filled roadside ditches.

Another roadside beauty!!! Since I saw a juvenile gator in one of the ditches nearby, I like to think of this one as Mama...?

"She" (??) has been through a bit of rough stuff - see her owies on her throat? But she's still "young and beautiful" in my eyes! (yeah, when's this girl going to get over her alligator obsession anyways?! Never! But sadly enough, the photos of them will end with Georgia...).

On both visits, I didn't leave enough time to truly explore the swamp. Thus, I'm hoping for a third visit! Can you imagine how cool it would be to go for a canoe ride through these snake and alligator-infested waters?!!!! I think it would be fantastic! But you'd want to be sure you didn't have to wiggly a partner in the boat...!
Who knows? We may be back this way someday...

Back to Florida?!

So, what's the deal with this car? Did someone steal our dogs? (and here they are, smiling and and waving good-bye?!?) Did we get a new car? Well, not quite but sort of. I will explain...

Senny was due for her rabies shot, so to avoid the $50 exam fee an office vet would charge, we opted for a cheaper, outdoor clinic. But those are few and far between, esp. in that area! So we ended up in Jacksonville, FL. Turned out we didn't save much money on that outing, but it had nothing to do with the rabies vaccine!

We planned for extra time in Jacksonville, so we could make it a bit of a scenic outing as well. We'd been there once before, years ago, and enjoyed the evening spent walking around town, so thought we'd revisit. So, we did - only Ouray and Seneca joined us for the waterfront tour this time.

Neat sculpture.

Neat fountain.
After our walk, we stopped at a hobby shop where Billy got another radio-controlled toy. Then we lunched at Popeye's (our favorite fried chicken place - it's truly a travesty that there are so few of them in the US, they seem to really only be in the south - Chicago being one of the exceptions!!!! They are SOOOOOOOOOO much better than KFC!!!!!). And then...

Well, and then,...nothing. Truck wouldn't start. Remember Austin? That was the last place the truck did exactly the same thing (nothing), only it was in a McDonald's parking lot (yeah, sorry Mom - too much health food, I know!), after hours on a weekend. This time it was at least daylight, but it was Mother's Day (and I hadn't even gotten to call my mom yet!) and a Sunday! So, obviously, that last place (Revolution Motors - so much for their good ratings!!) hadn't fixed the problem (despite the high price tag!!). And here we were, stuck in the same situation - having to get a tow truck and a rental car and a ride to the airport since that would be the only place with rental car offices open on a Sunday... Not to mention the juggling back and forth, since we were staying in Georgia...! Grrrrrr............!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Good News? Bill insisted on the work being done by a Ford dealership (even though the one in Encinitas, CA, was terrible and couldn't find the problem after having the truck for almost a whole week!), and the Jacksonville dealership found the problem!!!! Apparently there's an "inertia switch" whose function is to shut off gas to the engine if there's been a collision (or something like that). Well either the switch was broken or somehow thought it had been sort of triggered, sometimes...?? Anyways, they got us up and running, and we haven't had problems with that since, so thank you guys!!! And, with the help of a little red rental car, Senny got her booster shot after all!!

Crooked River State Park

On May 7th, we migrated to this wonderful state park in the southeastern-most part of Georgia, in the small town of St. Mary's.
As well as fireflies and armadillos, you can find wild pigs at this park - where else, but at the bird feeders (just like everyone else)!
The piggies really aren't supposed to be here. I don't think they're native, and I'm afraid they are probably considered harmful for native environments in general, but they are awfully cute. Probably even cuter (if you ask me) than the birds that didn't show up...
A cool boat off of St. Mary's.

In front of one of the two or three (OK, there might've been a couple more but not many!) tourist shops in St. Mary's. (yes, the kitties were taking us on a scenic tour around town)

We had to park on the other side...

Poor little Tracky got too hot and tired. Time for a "Daddy Carry."

One cool dude. Looks kinda gangsta, dudn't he?!

Park tortoise-type.

One of the nice piers at the park.

Nearby were the early 1800s ruins of the "Tabby Sugar Works of John Houstoun McIntosh." To me, hidden in the moss-cloaked forest, with only occasional rays of sunlight, the ruins took on a more mysterious air and felt like an even more ancient ruin of civilization...

I mean, doesn't this feel Mayan to you?

And the tabby part? That was an old-fashioned type of concrete using oyster shells. You use what you got a lot of, right?! I guess its usage was pretty prevalent in SC and GA.

Dad and daughter out riding. Now that's what I'm talking about - family time! Making good memories, making good people. Can never be too much of that.

OK, see the reddish dot in the middle? Yeah, well it's part of a neato woodpecker (OK, Bob - what kind???), but I didn't have my long lens on, so this is what you get! But click to enlarge, and you might actually be able to see the darn thing!

One of the best parts of this park was its trails - great for our little bike!!

Bambi likes BBQ??

Well yes, apparently! This little deer was not at all afraid of humans. Gee, I wonder why?! Something tells me quite a few folks have allowed her to partake a few too many times... Very cute, but not very natural. If she gets too used to human food, what does she do when the campers go home? Or when she gets a stingy camping crowd who subscribe to the idea that wild animals should be eating wild food?! (hmm, what a strange notion, eh?!) This is the same human behavior that gets other poor critters - like bears and alligators - killed. They get too habituated, become threatening to the holders of the goodies, and then get eliminated by park service (usually under the auspices of being "relocated," but that usually means KILLED when you ask them to get more specific...). And that is most definitely NOT cute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Their lives aren't worth a measly photo op!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (and that's ME saying that!!!)

I'm happy to report that while I did take advantage of the photographic moment, and the campers did enjoy this girl's company, none of us fed her. But, as you saw in the Sam Houston Jones State Park photos, this is pretty common practice in many areas. And while it may not directly harm the deer, it did lead to the "removal" of an alligator from Crooked River!! :(

The End

(well, for now...)