Our next stop was to be our first experience in a State Park with our new RV. The trip itself was a short 1.5 hour drive down I-95, which Kal is getting comfortable with so long as the traffic is not heavy. I-95 is a six lane highway all the way from Savannah to Jacksonville, so traffic was no problem. However, the only sites available on line were for back-ins and after seeing some of the state park camping areas I was nervous about backing the RV into a site without any assistance, except for Kal, and missing all of the trees. We pulled into Crooked River State Park be 12:30, which gave us plenty of time to negotiate the site. It turns out that even though you reserve a particular site, you have the choice of any site that is open, ie with no tag on the post. We pulled around the camping ground thinking about a couple of sites that I thought I could back in to, when we came up on a pull through site that was a piece of cake!! It is a beautiful site with numerous longleaf pines overhead and a thick undergrowth of palmetto. With the RV across the front of the site providing a wall, we can’t see any other campers. This is a great change from the narrow pull through sites we had been staying in and we both love it. I am also confident that I would have been able to back the RV into many of the sites since they are well angled to make it easier. The only downside to most state parks is the absence of a sewer connection. We have found that the gray tank can hold a week’s worth of use, however, we have decided to use their showers to make sure. We have also decided to not use the bathroom in the RV so we don’t have to use their dump station before we leave next week, however, I am not sure this is our best decision since it is VERY dark at night walking to the restroom and getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom is NOT convenient! State Parks will generally not have cable TV or WiFi, although we are close enough to Jacksonville that our antennae should work fine, however, this state park has cable. A very nice surprise, except they need to increase their gain, since the reception degrades every evening. I assume this is due to the number of people using their TVs. This is no WiFi, as expected, so we are using our hotspot this week and will need to monitor our usage.
There are a number of National Parks that we want to visit along the Georgia and Florida coast, along with a couple of interesting state parks, so we should be kept busy all week. Since the National Parks are our priority we started the week with exploring Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island near Brunswick, Georgia. Fort Frederica, along with Fort St. Simons on the island were established by James Ogelthorpe in 1736 to provide a line of defensive forts along the coast to protect the new Georgia colony from Spain. At this point in time, Savannah was under the control of trustees in England, rather than the Crown, who were interested in investing in the colony to ensure it’s success. When Ogelthorpe asked for a garrison to protect Savannah from Spain, he was provided with a garrison of British regulars which he supplemented with Scottish highlanders and Indian allies. To supply the fort, colonists were also recruited to build a town outside the fort with its own earthworks and palisades surrounding the new town. The houses and forts were all built using tabby and some bricks and included every profession needed to supply the fort; carpenters, bakers, farmers, etc. In 1742, the Spanish landed troops at Fort St. Simons and Ogelthorpe withdrew his small garrison to Fort Frederica, five miles away. On July 18, 1742 the Spanish were caught in an ambush as they were approaching Fort Frederica, at Bloody Marsh. Even though the Spanish had the superior force, especially after half of Ogelthorpe’s soldiers had abandoned the position to run back to the fort, they ran low on ammunition and withdrew. Although the battle became famous as the Battle of Bloody Marsh, there were very few fatalities. After a few days they Spanish left believing the misinformation that British reinforcements were on the way. After the War of Jenkins Ear ended in 1748 recognizing Georgia as a British colony, so the garrison was disbanded. Without the support of the military, the town began to decline and by 1755 it was mostly abandoned. The National Park Service has done a great job at the National Monument, being able to reestablish the layout of the town in front of the minimal remains of the fort. Much of the fort has been lost to the ocean from erosion and only part of the powder magazine remains. Also part of the soldier barracks outside the fort can be seen. None of the houses remain, however, there has been a lot of archeological research. They have located all of the streets and by locating the foundations of Hawkins-Davison house which had a common wall, allowed correlation with a map of the town to provide the location of the streets and other foundations. Many of these foundations have been excavated and stabilized providing an opportunity to explore much of the town. They also have an audio tour that you take with your phone that was well done and added a lot to the understanding of how the town functioned over its limited life. After visiting the Fort we went off searching for Fort St Simons and Bloody Marsh. We were not able to find Fort St Simons, however, we did find Bloody Marsh. There is a small monument located at the marsh, which we could have found much more easily if we had asked for directions at the Visitor Center since the monument is actually a unit of the National Monument.
On Wednesday, we decided to take a break from all of the historic sites we had been visiting and explore the natural environment of Cumberland Island National Seashore. Once again, this National Seashore can only be accessed by boat, so we needed to take a ferry to the island, which only leaves at 9 and 11:45 every day. Even though the State Park is only about 10 miles from the Visitor Center on the mainland, we did not want to try and make the 9:00 departure time. Besides the ferry also leaves the island only twice a day, at 10:15 and 4:45. We would either have only an hour on the island or have over 6 hours on the island, which we though was more than we would need. Depending upon what you want to do you could easily spend 6 hours, since it is over 15 miles long, but we decided 4 hours would be enough. We did not have any problem getting tickets, although you would have to have reservations during the summer! The ferry was not full on the trip over, but the trip back was near capacity and this was during the week in early November. Before we boarded the ferry we met Ramona Dear, a professional photographer that was going to the island to take some pictures of the wild horses and other wildlife. Kal and Romona struck up a conversation about photography that lasted all the way to the island. She gave Kal some information about her facebook group for new professional photographers that sounds really interesting. We watched her “stalk” some of the wild horses while we were eating lunch once we got to the island and again ran into her at dinner since we were eating at the same cafe across the street from the Visitor Center once we got back. We had a good time with her and Kal may take her up on her invitation to visit the Gulf Shores National Seashore when we visit the Pensacola area at the end of the month. Back to the island. We thought we would spend time exploring the natural ecosystems on the island and we did take a mile hike along the beach and marveled at the live oak maritime forest in the center of the island, however, the main attraction was the wild horses and historical ruins. The herd of wild horses from the Spanish Colonial Era are almost tame, not caring at all with getting close to them to take pictures. The history on the island begins with James Ogelthorpe establishing forts on both the north and south points of the island at the southernmost defensive forts to protect Savannah from the Spanish. There was also a town to support the forts as we saw at Fort Frederica, however, I am not sure if they have ever found their locations. Most of the island was owned by Nathaniel Greene following the Revolutionary War, where he had plans to build a house and harvest the live oaks for sale to the ship building industries in Europe. I did not know that he had created a huge debt during the Revolutionary War by using his own money to supply his troops. However, he died before he was able to realize his dream and after remarrying, his wife built his dream of Dungeness in 1803. Actually, this was the second Dungeness since Ogelthorpe had built a hunting lodge at the same location that he had called Dungeness. The Greene Dungeness was a four story tabby house that lasted until it was abandoned during the Civil War and burned in 1866. In the 1880s Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew Carnegie, purchased Cumberland Island. His wife Lucy, completed a 59 room mansion after Thomas’ death in 1886 by removing the previous ruins of Dungeness. Cumberland Island became an island resort for the rich and famous being entertained by Carnegie family. Lucy continued to live at Dungeness until her death. The children were unable or uninterested in maintaining the property which was left abandoned until it burned spectacularly in 1959. This fire is really unfortunate, as the ruins of the huge mansion, grounds and other buildings is fantastic and I would have loved to see it intact!! In any case, it is still impressive. They even had a recreation building, that also burned, that had an indoor swimming pool, pool room, gymnasium, and a hunting lodge. Obviously, that building was a small mansion all of its own. Even the remains of the buildings that made up the “village” of workers and servants was impressive since it took over 200 people to maintain the property since the island was self sufficient with farms, ice house, power plant, and herds of cattle. As the children grew up, Lucy built them their own large houses including Greyfield, Plum Orchard, and Stafford Plantation. It is my understanding that only Plum Orchard is still there and we did not get to visit it since it is 7 miles north of the docks on the island. After exploring the ruins of Dungeness we proceeded to the beach where we had a nice mile walk along the ocean. We were not the only ones making the same loop as there was a large group of people walking in the same direction on the beach ahead and behind us. It was a strange sight looking like an exodus of some sort. The water and weather were too cold for swimming or sunbathing, so everyone was just strolling along, all in the same direction. In crossing back across the island the path led through the Sea Camp campground which is in a relatively young stand of live oaks. The crisscrossing of the branches from all the live oak trees was amazing. The campgrounds were also interesting begin cleared areas of sand where each site is “carved” out of the palmettos covering the ground. Following a short ranger presentation about the history of the island we boarded the ferry for the return trip at 4:45. Since it takes about 45 minutes to get back to the mainland, we had a unique opportunity to watch a spectacular sunset through the high clouds without any trees blocking the view. While generally we like to return to the RV by mid-afternoon, the full afternoon on the island was a great experience and having an early dinner in a restaurant didn’t hurt either.
After a surprising day on Cumberland Island, we figured we would try again to visit a National Park devoted to nature at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. I have to admit that the information about Timucuan on the web was confusing. As it turns out Timucuan is a complex of locations northeast of Jacksonville along the coast of National, State, and City property working together for preservation of both ecological and historic locations. In fact, most of the Preserve can only be visited by boat, especially the acres administered by the National Park Service. The GPS unit for Timucuan took us to the Visitor Center for Fort Caroline National Memorial, which turns out to be a unit of Timucuan. There are hiking trails at Fort Caroline that we took advantage of, however, the main attraction of this location is the Fort Caroline. The Visitor Center was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because they did not have any movie about the fort. This is the first National Park we have visited without one. The small museum are a mix of exhibits about the natural environment in the Preserve and the history of Fort Caroline. Fort Caroline is notable because it is the only attempt by France to challenge Spain in the New World. In February of 1562, the French Explorer, Jean Ribault, landed on the May River (now St Johns River) looking for a site to establish a French colony, before continuing on to South Carolina where they built and manned a fort known as Charlesfort. We visited the remains of Charlesfort last year at the Marine base on Paris Island. Two years later, René Goulaine de Laudonnière, who had been Ribault’s second-in-command, returned with 200 colonists to build Fort Caroline on the May River and Jean Ribault joined him with additional soldiers and colonists in June 1565. However, the recently appointed Spanish Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, was had orders to remove the French colony. He found Fort Caroline in September, 1565 and moves south to establish the fort at St. Augustine to provide a base of operations. On September 20, 1565 the Spanish capture Fort Caroline, killing all the men and taking the women and children captive. In 1567, France retaliates by recapturing Fort Caroline and killing all the Spanish. Thus ended France’s only attempt at a colony in Spanish Florida. Since the fort existed for less than 5 years, there has been no archeological evidence of its actual location. Based on maps the National Park Service has created a scaled triangle fort with moat and palisade to provide a visual example at where they fort could have been. Once again we had the joy of exploring an historic site in amongst grade school children enjoying a field trip, right down to a demonstration of a musket firing. BOOM. After lunch we took a hike in the natural area of the Timucuan Preserve that led through some amazing oyster shell middens. We assume we were seeing thousands of years of oyster harvesting by the Timucuan and previous tribes of Indians as the earth along the salt marsh was nothing more than piled oyster shells many feet deep in all directions! We had heard that these middens are common along the coast, but this was the best example we have seen so far. To think how long it would have taken to create these continuous piles of oyster shells is humbling.
On Friday, we returned to the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve to explore another part of the Preserve accessible by car, the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island. Originally over 1000 acres, the Kingsley Plantation was one of the properties owned by Zephaniah Kingsley from 1814 through 1852, his total ownership was over 32,000 acres. On Kingsley Plantation, he grew Sea Island cotton using slave and freeman labor. For those of us that have grown up with the historical accounts of slavery that was used in the plantation south up to the Civil War have learned about the oppressive gang system where slaves worked all day long under the supervision of white overseers. They have done an excellent job at Kingsley Plantation to present a different system that, while still slavery, had the potential to be more humane. Kingsley came from the three tier view of slavery common under the Spanish where slaves from Africa were still viewed as people, more than just property. Instead of the two tier system in English America of slaves (black) and masters (white), the three ties system recognized the wealthy, freemen, and slaves of any color, although all the slaves were black. In addition, they used the task system instead of the gang system. Under the task system, the slaves were given a task each day that, for most of the year, could be completed by early afternoon leaving time for the slaves to grow their own garden crops or crafts for sale and to have time for their families and social life. Slaves also had the opportunity to buy and/or earn freedom for themselves and their family, which meant they could not be sold. Kingsley believed in this combination of incentive and hope along with the threat of punishment to keep the slaves productive and content. His wife was a purchased slave from Africa that he freed and married. Their mixed children were viewed by the community as members of the wealthy tier and held prominent positions in the community. Kingsley also followed his wife’s African traditions and had three other wives with children of each. Slaves could earn their freedom and continue to work on the plantation for wages. However, once Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822 the laws and views of slaves changed and Kingsley moved his wife and children to Haiti to protect them. Today the site of the Kingsley Plantation consists of only about 60 acres covered with trees and consists of the original plantation, that had been enlarged over time, tabby barn, and most of the tabby homes of the slaves. The National Park Service also provides a free audio tour using GPS enabled phones that automatically track your movements and start to play when you approach one of the numbered stops. Although it did not pick up every location, it was an interesting way to gain a good understanding of the life and history of the Kingsley family and most importantly, the slaves of which there is little recorded history. This historical site is well worth the visit, but take advantage of the audio tour as it adds a lot to the experience.
Saturday was a day in the State Park with Kal getting the laundry done and I got started on this blog. We also watched football in the afternoon and evening where we saw Alabama pull out a defeat of Mississippi State and Auburn lose to Georgia. While the Alabama game was fun and exciting, the Auburn game was a disappointment. For some reason, Auburn’s offense took a day off and never got going. Even when we lost the two previous games, our offense was always in a position to win, but not this game. It was disappointing, but life goes on even for football fans.
Sunday was going to be out last day at Crooked River and we had the choice of two state park. Fort King George is a Revolutionary War fort in Darien, Georgia and Fort Clinch, a Civil War fort in Fernandina Beach, Florida. We decided on Fort Clinch, since it is a brick and mason fort that did not see any action during the Civil War and should be in good condition. They have done some reconstruction in the fort, but since it was not shot at during the war it is in surprising good shape. It is different then Fort Pulaski which was a massive fort with multiple levels for cannon. Fort Clinch is only a single level with cannon placed on an earthen wall set inside the brick walls, which are called detached walls for this reason. Cannon were also placed on the five bastions at the corners. The fort was not completed at the beginning of the Civil War and was captured by the Union army when the Confederates withdrew and consolidated its armies in 1862. The Union army worked on the fort during the war, but never fully completed it. For instance, the officers quarters are marked out on the ground but never built. It was manned again during the threat of the Spanish-American War but was garrisoned for only a couple of months. They have done a good job with period furniture, tools, and supplies in most of the buildings and on the first weekend of each month, volunteers in period uniforms and clothing populate the fort for visitors. We were too late for November, but still enjoyed exploring the fort. While not a must see, I would still recommend a visit for anyone interested in seeing an intact fort with some reconstruction from the late 1800s.
Monday was supposed to be our travel day to Torreya State Park near Tallahassee, Florida. It was going to be a stressful drive for two reasons. First, it was going to take at least 4 hours, one of our longer trips and second the weather forecast was for severe storms heading our way. When we got up in the morning they had already had tornadoes in the area we were traveling to and we were going to have to drive through it. However, when we went to put in the slides, the big slide holding the refrigerator, stove, and entertainment center was not working correctly. The right side was coming in, but the left side was stuck. It eventually came lose, but it was still not working. Looking at it, we discovered the push bar had broken lose from the slide!! Well, it was obvious we were not going anywhere on Monday and had our first experience with dealing with repairs on the road. We called our Roadside Assistance program with Good Sam’s and they were able to find us a repair shop that would be able to make it to the state park before 12. Noon came and went and the weather turned nasty. We were under a severe thunderstorm warning until 1:30 and we took off for the concrete block restroom in the heavy wind and rain when we went under a tornado warning at 1:15 lasting until 1:45. It was a nervous time, but we did not see any tornado, only heavy rain and lighting along with strong wind gusts. No damage, but also no repairman. We understood that with the weather and reports of traffic problems due to the storms on the major highways around Jacksonville, there was going to be delays. We waited patiently all day for the repairman from Gator Haters to show with the slide out part of the way out and nothing hooked up. He finally arrived after 6, which is after dark and there are no street lights (or any other lights) in the state park! He obviously was not going to accomplish anything but take a look at the problem. We had sent pictures to Peterson Industries that make the Excel and they sent their recommendations for repairs which was going to involve welding the arm back on to the slide. I am really disappointed to learn that the slides are totally dependent on a couple of spot welds to pull the slides into the body!! It doesn’t seem to me this would be strong enough and it had obviously failed. In any case we were stuck at Crooked River State Park for at least another night.
Tuesday was spent in the State Park waiting on the guy from Gater Hater to show up and fix our slide out. Not much to do so I spent the time catching up on the blog. Kal finally called Gater Hater around 4 in the afternoon, only to find out that they were working on finding some one who could weld the pieces back together. So we stayed another night at the State Park. Following the storms the day before, we were under a hard freeze warning Tuesday night. We switched the propane over to the full tank to be sure we did not run out of propane in the middle of the night and disconnected the water. We learned that by leaving the vent off and windows closed, we stayed very warm in the RV. I no longer have any concern about subfreezing temperatures (at least down to 28 degrees).
On Friday, the guy from Gater Hater showed up at 9 in his Pepsi maintenance truck. It turns out he is a one man repair shop, working two jobs (the other being a Pepsi maintenance man), and raising 3 girls that he is mighty proud of! He got the parts off the RV in less than half hour and was off to the welder. He was back in about an hour and had the RV put back together in less than another hour. While talking with him I found out that for him this was a major repair and he probably would not have taken the job if he had known more about the problem, but he felt he had already stranded us long enough and decided to take the job. I am glad we did, as I am convinced the RV is now better than new, at least with regard to the slide out. We owed him for 3 hours of labor, however, he did not have the ability to create an invoice with him. Unfortunately, we needed the invoice to submit to Peterson Industries for reimbursement and he understood. I hate not paying him since he certainly needs the money and had earned it. It was really no problem for us to stay another three nights in the State Park. Kal got to know Linnie fairly well since she had to go each day to extend our stay. While the State Park was fairly full over the weekend, there were only a couple of RVs during the week. Finally, it was time to head to the Torreya State Park near Tallahassee, Florida.