2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali AKA Mt. McKinley

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   PHOTOS & SUMMARIES FROM THREE DAY TRIPS
  TO CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19

 
"St. Mary's is the gateway to Cumberland Island, Georgia's largest and southernmost  
barrier island. Here pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches and wide 
marshes whisper the stories of both man and nature. Natives, missionaries,
enslaved African Americans, and wealthy industrialists all walked here."
 
~ official Cumberland Island home page
 
 
During the four months we camped at Eagle Hammock RV Park on Kings Bay Submarine Base near St. Mary's, Georgia this winter I rode the ferry three times to nearby Cumberland Island. It's a national treasure and I learn something new every time I go there.

You can't drive to the island. The only way to get there is by boat -- either your own or the ferry run by a concessionaire for the National Park Service.

It's about a 45-minute trip by ferry and the cost is reasonable. There is a senior discount for the ferry ride ($18) and no fee for park entry if you have a Park Service pass.


"Cumberland Queen" at the island's Sea Camp dock

There is an excellent map of the island on this web page. I'll show sections of it in my descriptions of each of my trips to the island.

TRIP #1:  ICE HOUSE-DUNGENESS-MARSH-BEACH-SEA CAMP LOOP

I went over to the island two times when we wintered in this area in 2012-3 but I didn't go last winter. Soon after we arrived at Kings Bay in November, 2014, I was itching to go again.

Since Jim had never been there, I coaxed him into going with me on a pretty day in December. I showed a few photos from our hike in the December 31 entry, and I'll add some new ones here. Also note that there are a lot of photos from this part of the island in the February 15, 2013 series of four pages if you'd like to see more of them.

This is the CCW route we took from the Ice House Museum dock to the Dungeness Ruins, east on the sand and marsh trails to the Atlantic Ocean beach, north to the Sea Camp trail, and west to the Sea Camp ranger station and dock. Total walking distance was 4.7 miles:

After a quick tour of the old ice house museum, we walked to the Dungeness ruins and around the remaining structures on the estate -- a smaller house, pergola, greenhouse, spring house, and boat dock:

Then we headed toward the beach on a wide sandy path past some buildings used by the Park Service.

I was disappointed that the old rusted cars and farm equipment that were lying along the path to the beach are no longer there. One of the rangers later explained that they were all removed from the island.

Phooey; that's one of the things I wanted Jim to see. Glad I took pics of them two years ago:

 
One of several old rusted vehicles that have been removed because some people
considered them an eyesore; I thought they were an interesting piece of island history.

We walked back a side trail to the little cemetery,

rested at the historical building that houses a museum and restrooms, enjoyed the two boardwalk loops through the marshes and sand dunes with interesting dead, twisted trees, and arrived at the Atlantic Ocean beach:

 

 

We continued another mile-and-a-half north along the ocean at low tide:

We looked for shells but found only a couple small conch shells. I think we just got there too late.

When I've gone out on the first ferry there have been loads of conch shells at both low and high tides because I got out to the beach before other visitors picked up all the good shells. This time we took the second ferry, which doesn't leave until later in the morning.

We noticed a LOT of horseshoe crab shells of all sizes on the beach that day:

 

Later Ranger Pat, who led the 4 PM talk at the Sea Camp ranger station, said scientists don't know why so many of the crabs died. They are lying in clusters because the scientists who came to study the situation sort of piled them up; that didn't happen naturally.

We followed the trail over the dunes to Sea Camp, admired the twisted live oak trees in the campground, and continued to the ranger station.

 

After the 30-minute ranger talk we boarded the ferry. As it approached St. Mary's harbor at 5:30 PM I got some colorful sunset photos over the water:

We saw some interesting critters on the island that day -- two red-headed woodpeckers, lots of sea birds along the ocean, nine of the island's 140-150 wild horses,

and an armadillo. The armadillo was out in the open near the Dungeness ruins and completely still while I took a couple pictures:

Then it scurried away from us. I've seen other armadillos on the island but they were along the roadway or trails, more hidden in the palmettos and more difficult to photograph.

We both had a good time that day. Now Jim knows why I like the island so much.

TRIP #2:  LANDS & LEGACY TOUR

I returned to the island on a sunny Sunday in late January with a reservation for the "Lands & Legacy" van tour of the island north of Sea Camp.

Since you can't take your own vehicle or bike to the island on the ferry, the only way most people see this part of the 20-mile-long island is to take the van tour operated by the Park Service and narrated by a park ranger.

[You can rent an old bike on the island but it's difficult to ride them on the sandy roads. It's also difficult to run on the sandy roads and trails, if you're thinking you could see most of the island that way. The only way to drive a vehicle is to own property there and take it over on a private boat.]


Canopy of live oaks along the main road in the northern half of the island


View from main road toward Cumberland Sound at high tide

I thought the tour was well worth the cost ($12 + $18 for the ferry, both senior rates).

We saw interesting historical, cultural, and natural landmarks. We got out at "The Settlement" at the north end of the island, the Robert Stafford cemetery, an overlook where an old wharf used to be, and Plum Orchard Mansion.


Young feral horse and private airplane near the Robert Stafford plantation and cemetery

Plum Orchard, Dungeness, and Greyfield were three mansions built on the island by the Carnegie family. They were huge summer "cottages" similar to the ones the Vanderbilts and other wealthy families built on the other Georgia barrier islands (St. Simon's, Jekyll, and Sea Island).

After Plum Orchard came under the auspices of the National Park Service, the agency decided to keep it in good repair for tours.

Some of the other buildings on the island that reverted to the park service when their leases expired have been allowed to deteriorate, such as the Dungeness ruins. That mansion was torched by someone about 70 years ago.


One end of the Dungeness ruins; there are two other views in this series.

Part of the land on the island is still in private hands and will probably never revert to the NPS. Most of those homes are well off the roadway so I don't know how big they are.

The most elegant privately owned dwelling that remains is probably Greyfield Inn, owned by a Carnegie heir. For the past 50+ years it has been a private hotel open to overnight, paying guests. It is not included on the park tours.


The main road is often narrow and overgrown in the northern half of the island.

I rode in a comfortable passenger van that held ten people, including the ranger/driver. The park website warns guests that the 30-mile ride is "arduous, over unpaved roads" but it wasn't that bad. The ranger drove slowly over rough spots and through dense vegetation that brushed the sides of the van.

I was glad there weren't any squirming kids on my 5-hour tour. Everyone was in their 50s-70s and well-behaved. < grin >


Can you see the mama horse and colt in the background, past David?

Since the other passengers were in pairs I got to sit in the front seat with David, the ranger. That was great because I had better views, could take more photos as we were riding along, could get in an out of the van more easily at stops, and didn't get nauseous like I might have in the back.

Lands & Legacies Tour continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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