Flying Solo and Happy

A lot of animals in nature hunt, travel and live in packs, flocks, herds, or schools. Usually, this a wonder that is meant for your DSLR camera, but I think to see an independent animal is fantastic. It’s almost symbolic of true independence. You leave the nest, and the rest of your life is dependant on you and your choices. Freedom.

I didn’t realize this until I visited Mandarin Park (for the umpteenth time) and I sat on a bench and watched a large white bird (still unsure of the name) take his precious time strolling along the bank of the pond. Naturally, I couldn’t tell his emotions as he may not have any, but he appeared so content with life. Not a worry in the world. He gazed at the semi-clear water and moved on. How nice it must be? His only concern in his world is predators and hunters. Besides that, he had all the time in the world to be… just him.

DSCN0354

I followed him as he continued to go around the pond. He was very cautious of my presence, but he kept on. His twig-like legs tiptoed through the grass. Every now and then he bent his body over and shoved his long beak into the soil to peck at whatever he caught sight of to nibble on. I admired his grace, his lightness.

He was the wonder to me. I thought of him long after I had gotten home. He never meant to set that example or become the symbol of absolute freedom and independence. He simply lived and became everything I wanted. On the ride home, I couldn’t help but wonder how could I distance myself from the things that feel like shackles. I want less worry, fewer clusters, less confinement. I want freedom. His freedom.

Disappointed Preservation at Julington – Durbin Preserve

Great. Just great. Another dead end hiking trail proclaimed as a “natural preserve.” Honestly, what’s being preserved? Grass?

Today I visited the Julington-Durbin Preserve and wasn’t impressed in the least. I don’t know if it was the ninety-nine-degree weather messing with me or what, but I can tell you right now, that is one hike I won’t be taking again. I don’t get what is it about these neighborhood park committees that think dirt, weeds, and tall skinny pine trees are what make a natural preserve. What the hell is being preserved?

 

DSCN0436
Trees and grass…
DSCN0440
more trees… more grass…
DSCN0442
and more trees and grass…
DSCN0450
and more trees and grass…

 

There wasn’t a drop of wildlife running around and to top it off, the preserve is surrounded by brand new shopping malls and gated neighborhoods for the wealthy. Really? They’ve stripped the area of deer, alligators, and birds and want us to believe that they are preserving something. What a great joke…

 

DSCN0446
New fancy homes for the elite.

 

They only wildlife I came across after about a mile of just heat, trees, and burned up grass were the vicious yellow flies. I recently encountered them in Lake City on a hiking trail. They tore my legs up. They bite with purpose, and you have to deal with the aftermath of constant itching and swelling long after you’ve smacked them off your leg. Bug spray? Not a chance. I literally bathed in Off Spray before I started the trail at the preserve and they came at me as if I wasn’t wearing a thing. Thanks to the removal of DEET (common oil ingredient used in bug repellent) in bug sprays, these mother truckers are having a feast on those who are prone to bug bites… like yours truly.

 

YellowFly_01
Photo Credit: 30a blog

 

Little did I know, according to 30a website, these little monsters are out and about in abundance during May and June. Perfect. Be aware that they mostly reside near water like creeks, rivers, and lakes. Thank goodness the entire trail wasn’t all swampy, so I got to escape from them.

It is self-evident that this preserve was designed for wealthy joggers and cyclist living in this fancy neighborhood to have a quiet place to jog and clear their head. It was never intended for the actual preservation of wildlife to build a home and produce offspring. It’s an insult really. I wouldn’t recommend it to any real hikers in search of something fascinating in nature.

DSCN0438

Unless you like wild berries.

Falling Creek Falls

What a long week it has been trying to get my CDL license? Six days a week for eleven hours a day. Exhausting. I knew for a fact for my two days off, I would be getting out of the house and going somewhere. I needed to be lost in some forest or on some nature trail away from civilization. Standing in ninety-eight degree whether watching seventy-three-foot tractor-trailers back into tight alley docks, I was about to blow my own brains out. I made sure I made plans to be far away from anything that resembled mankind.

After discovering that a new nature trail I found was closed permanently, I decided to take to the road. I Googled recommendations and Falling Creek Falls came up. After seeing photos of a waterfall, my mind was made up.

An hour later I finally arrive, and to my disappointment, the creek was dried up. There was no waterfall but a trickle. I honestly could have screamed.

 

Falling-Creek-Falls-690x462

What I saw on Google. (FloridaHikes.com)

DSCN0393

What I actually got when I arrived.

The lack of water was quite understandable because Florida has been short on rain. It hasn’t rained in about three weeks so I suppose I could understand, but I was so looking forward to sitting on the bench next to a waterfall and letting nature take me to another place. The view was lovely, so at least I know it will be worth visiting after a few rain storms.

On a better note, at least I got to see some wildlife.

DSCN0376DSCN0384DSCN0389

My stomach was upset from some food I ate the day before, but I wasn’t going to let it destroy my one real chance from getting away from everything. The building stress from trying to achieve my CDL license has sent me to a dark place. There is nothing like a moment alone in the woods with my music, Nikon, and adventurous spirit to help me bounce back to a better place.

 

 

Basin of Lake City

I’ve only visited Lake City once in the past… oooh… maybe 29 years. From my last visit, I confess it was quite dry and dull. The city looked like it had seen better days once upon a time. On my recent visit yesterday, the streets still seemed as dry and lifeless as it had the last time I visited. Often when I thought of Lake city, I would think of a lively small town where a large lake sat at the center of its location. The lake would be the gem of the city where everyone goes to have parties, weddings, reunions, and cookouts. Nope. The more I drove through downtown and the neighborhoods, the more I felt for the young adults who tell themselves every day how much they can’t wait to leave Lake City.

While driving to no particular destination in the hope of something that would make me want to whip out my anxious Canon, a large body of water caught my eye. Finally! After many u-turns from street to street, I finally found the best place to gaze at the gem of Lake City, the Ichetucknee Basin. The area wasn’t much to deal with, but it had the best view thanks to a single dock that stretched out onto the Basin. The pier allowed you to see how the Basin twist and turned in the distance.

DSCN0432

If it weren’t so hot, I could have stayed all day. The water is still and created a mirror effect on the sky. Because of the water’s semi clarity, I was able to look at all the species of fish below.

Lastly, I was on a mission to collect images of florae for my new Instagram project. I managed to collect a few helpful samples, and then I was on my way. Unfortunately for Lake City, It will be quite some time before I show my face again. Coming from a large city, Jacksonville, a small town would have to really put on a show to keep my interest.

DSCN0412

Maybe next time.

Morning on Red Mountain

My trip to Atlanta about two months ago was all about adventure and wilderness. The very sight of the mountains makes me feel like I am soaring. Every day on my 4-day trip, I would wake up before dawn, gas up my car and fight Atlanta’s God awful morning traffic to get onto the roads I needed to reach the mountains in North Georgia.

 

hike
Day 3 Hiking

Usually, the night before I would research nearby State Parks with impressive views. I fell upon Red Mountain State Park one night. I glanced over the specs of the park, including things to do and see. After surveying the stunning photography, I was sold and couldn’t wait to put my Nikon to work.

The drive up wasn’t so bad (besides more traffic.) I knew I was getting close as the highway began to take a dip and the sides elevated upward. You literally had to lean forward against your windshield to see the top. I don’t have these kinds of wonders in flat-land Florida so you can imagine the look on my face seeing trees ascend upward toward the heavens.

Besides the GPS barking at me at where to go, I could tell I was close to Red Mountain by the constant winding road upward. About five miles before my actual destination, the scenic view of the Red Top Mountain Fishing Jetty forced me to pull over.

DSCN0074

DSCN0072DSCN0076

I couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time. The sun made its way above the mountain top and illuminated the entire Allatoona Creek and the Bethany Bridge. Sunrise is my favorite time of day because of the idea of a new day and new adventure. Sunrise in Red Mountain definitely provided me with the feel of a new adventure and the thrill of exploration.

After the view, I carried on into the mountain and discovered why it was called Red Mountain. Literally no matter where you looked, there were hues of reds and browns everywhere. The bark of the trees and the trillions of red fall leaves painted that entire mountain red. It was shocking and stunning at the same time.

I finally parked and was ready to get my hiking on. Unfortunately, nearly every hiking path was flooded from the previous month’s heavy rainfall. I was forced to leave and venture off to another State Park. At least the memory of the sun shining like pure gold over the mountain would forever remain with me.

 

Visiting St. Marks Lighthouse

I have visited every lighthouse within don’t-need-a-hotel driving distance. So I’ve been lining up vacation plans so that I can stay overnight somewhere and visit more lighthouses. When I found out that Tallahassee, Florida had a lighthouse, I was too excited. It was only a two-hour drive from me, it was perfect for a day out.

Honestly, I thought Interstate 10 West had too many trees to count. That interstate had nothing on the backwoods of Tallahassee. I drove past more trees than I thought existed in Florida. Either way, once I got past all of them and FINALLY arrived, I was told by a ranger that the lighthouse lies in between the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area. That explained the endless trees.

Screen Shot 2019-05-12 at 2.37.46 PM
So many trees…

From researching the lighthouse online, I figured, from a review on TripAdvisor.com, we would have to hike to the lighthouse. Bloody hell, Jacksonville was already eighty-nine degrees, Tallahassee was going to be at least ninety-two. I was determined to see this lighthouse, so I said to hell with it. I haven’t hiked since my trip to Atlanta months beforehand so I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. On arrival, I find out, there is a single road that I could take to drive straight up to it. Thank God.

Down the single road, I made many stops to get out and look at the projects of the “refuge.” It appeared that the only thing being preserved were fish and strange flowering weeds. Luckily, I got to see a couple of alligators, a bird that clucks like a chicken, and a scorpion.

DSCN0339DSCN0357

I finally got to the lighthouse, and it was perfect. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go inside and climb to the top due to damages. Looking at it from the outside sufficed. It was quiet and the view of the Apalachee Bay gave us a scenic view of the Gulf of Mexico. The area around the lighthouse was mostly surrounded by water so there wasn’t much else you could do besides sunbathing and swimming if you really wanted to.

DSCN0346

DSCN0345

IMG_9130

I was glad to check off another lighthouse from my listen. Despite how quick the visit was, I enjoyed visiting the landmark. It serves as another piece of important history in the making of our country. At one point St. Mark’s lighthouse meant the world to someone in an era. Just to be alive and able to be near it was all I would ever need to take back with me when I return home. Me buying a postcard from the visitor center on the way out didn’t hurt either.

 

 

Cumberland Island’s Hike to Paradise

My friend had just bought the newest Canon EOS Rebel camera on the market in hopes to vamp up a new interest in professional photography. She asked me to go to Cumberland Island with her so I could show her all the cool spots to take photos. Since I’ve already been to the island twice before, I’d say I was the perfect guide for her. We got up early and made it to the dock in time for the ferry ride. From the moment my friend and I stepped off the forty-five-minute ferry onto the uncivilized, wild shores of Cumberland Island, the clock was on, and paradise was only a two-hour hike away.

River Trail

After stepping off of the ferry, we immediately started on the River Trail, which leads all the way down the shore. The trail is narrow with large spider webs stretched from one ancient tree to the next. Different species of vines took over the show. They draped and wrapped around anything that grew out of the ground. If it weren’t for the cloudless sky and the sun beaming through the trees, the thickness of the vines would have made the trail look like nighttime. We didn’t run into any snakes, but it is warned to keep an eye out. Our eyes danced around in our heads until they started spinning on their own. Through the trees, we caught glimpses of the river we recently sailed on, but it always looked different from the trail. The waves appeared calmer, and we didn’t have the view of the destructive coastal erosion creating an eyesore. Near the end of the trail, we finally reached an overlook, and my friend was able to finally put her new camera to use.

Museum Pit Stop

The museum of the island’s artifacts and treasures was stored in an old resident’s home. Artifacts locked in glass cases lined the walls with factual posters next to them detailing the life on the island. Near one of the exit doors was a rather odd step that everyone tripped over. I tried to warn my friend beforehand, but it was too late. I tripped over that same step the first time I visited. In a sense, it was a right of passage for her. She was officially a native on the island. After a few photographs of the old trinkets, we filled our water bottles and moved on.

The Ranger Road

This is by far the loneliness, most uninteresting part of the hike. The road was nicely cut and paved with sand. It was the road all the Ranger and work trucks used to get around the island with ease. The road was about a half mile long with nothing but trees as a company. My friends and I used this time to talk about anything we could come up with like work gossip, home drama, or dreams we had the previous night.

Dungeness Ruins

The Ranger Road led us straight through the stone gates of the Dungeness Ruins. A massive mansion owned by the Carnegie family. Most of the mansion had been swept away, but the stronger parts of the home stood tall. My friend couldn’t get enough photos of the red and grey brick home. No one is actually allowed to explore the ruins in depth, but it is safe to say we got more than our fill from the outside. We studied the old courtyard and the vine-covered walls along the outside of the mansion. We stood in the grand back yard that overlooked the river. The grounds were decorated with wild horses. They went about their day as they walked in packs grazing and traveling. There was a large old stone fountain dead in the center of the yard. It wasn’t hard to believe that Carnegie’s really lived the good life on this island. In fact, my friend said, “It must have been nice to have the entire island to yourself.” Our minds raced with excitement and wonder. As we carried on our hike, we got to see the stables where they once kept the horses, their vegetable garden and the slave quarters.

Carnegie Grave

My friend considers herself a little dark and Goth-like, so it made sense why she considered Carnegie’s graveyard “peaceful.” I found it creepy thank to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The more we stood over the ancient graves, and their half washed away tombstones, the more I felt like a hand would burst up through the dirt. A white stone fence with an old black iron fence for the entrance surrounded the small grave. An adjacent grave connected the two. The second smaller grave had four small tombstones; we assumed they were the graves of children or a dog.

The Boardwalk

The boardwalk was always my favorite part of the hike. The scenery of tall grass with streams linked to the river snaking through. In the distance, you could see the pearl white sails of sailboats floating by. Heron would tiptoe through the shallow water for something to snack on. Hawks circle above waiting for anything interesting to happen. My friend and I took a five-minute break to rest our feet before the hardest part of the trail would come. We took in the vast swampy area with gratefulness. Though climate change is affecting our world as a whole, it was nice to see nature thriving for another day.

The Dunes

The dunes were so awful on my first trip; I never made it to the beach. They were the only way to the beach unless you were camping and had your own access. The dunes were like a desert. The sand was piping hot from the sun beating down on it since sunrise.  They weren’t like normal dunes we’d get at the beach. No, you would need actual hiking sticks to get over them. I had on hiking boots with deep tread, which helped to climb the awful hills, but my friend had on basic tennis shoes. I could see her struggle, but she was determined to make it to the end, so she pushed on. It was a relief once we finally got over them.

Pick Your Hike

After the dunes came a choice between two trails to take to get to paradise. One of the trails had more dunes sand and a hike through a trail lined with hollow bushes and cacti on either side, or a boardwalk that cut through more thick vegetation. After the hike over the dunes, the answer was clear. My friend and I took the boardwalk. There wasn’t much to see on the boardwalk beside a great amount of more vines, trees, and bees.

More Dunes

After the boardwalk, there was one final climb over more sand dunes. The ground was flat this time, so we didn’t mind the difficult stroll. We looked out in the distance, and it seems sand, cacti, and prickly trees went on for miles. The sky had very little clouds in it, so we had no shade to help us. My friend’s back began to turn red as a lobster. We trekked on for a few minutes more until the wind blew filling our noses with the smell of salt and ocean. One push over a small dune and there it was, Paradise.

Paradise

We finally made it, two hours later. Paradise. The Atlantic Ocean never looked more majestic. Seagulls hovered overhead squawking and communicating about the newcomers on the beach loaded with “dinner.” My friend and I tossed aside our hiking gear, hopped out of our shoes and ran straight for the water. The water was colder than Alaska, but when your feet are aching and burning from the hike, you could care less. We laughed at our desperation for relief. We looked both ways down the lonely beach. Only a handful of people and not the usual crowdedness we usually get at the beach back at home. It was Heaven, our Heaven. We ate lunch and made up life stories for everyone who walked passed us. As more people began to flood the beach, we decided to head back. We made it to Paradise at long last, and now it was time to return home with our aching feet, our photos, and our memories.

 

Grass and Sweet Sunshine

During another long hike on Cumberland Island, my friend and I finally made it to the grand yard of the Dungeness ruins. This area was were the horses preferred to feed on the grass. We tried to get closer and closer to take full advantage of our camera’s zooms. They paid us no mind but we could tell they stayed on their P’s and Q’s about our whereabouts.

The Rangers on the island warn us about the horses. They are untamed on the island for decades and won’t understand our compassion for their sweet souls. We are advised to stay far away and use our zoom feature to get the images we want. They go so far as to give us an example of a woman who decided to walk up on a horse. Of course, the horse was startled and kicked her. She ended up being air-lifted off the island. No one knows what happened to her, but it was enough to drop complete understanding to the rest of us. Granted, we’d test our luck but we don’t get too crazy.

DSCN0016

There’s something amazing about watching a horse that’s never known the life of stables,  horse shows and riding crops being smacked against their bottoms. They appear so carefree and at peace. They graze with their ponies and they could care less what the world is like off the island. They are born, they live and die on the island. It’s amazing. You look at them and you couldn’t even fathom the peace and freedom they have in their lives. There are no predators waiting to hunt them. From an adult’s perspective, there are no bills to pay. Ha. Ha. Lucky them.

The best part about watching them is you get your own sense of peace and freedom. The happiness you get when you see them live so free. You almost wish you could see every horse be that way. In fact, when I see those ridiculous horse carriage rides tourist love so much in the city, it pisses me off. After you’ve seen what freedom looks like for a horse, it’s hard to imagine them any other way, in the grass and sweet sunshine.

Sweetwater Creek, My Paradise

I finally made it back to Atlanta. O, how I miss this motherland. All I could think about were the mountains and the rushing rivers. I couldn’t wait to be a part of Georgia’s natural beauty. I prematurely researched the parks I planned to visit and studied the photos with anticipation. I just couldn’t wait to get there.

The best part about the hotel that I stay at is the fact that the gorgeous Sweetwater Creek State Park is literally around the corner. I figured for a $5 entrance fee, I’d treat it like I do the parks back home. If I want to just spend an afternoon sunbathing before a great lake, I’d just hop in the car and go around the corner. If I’m up for a little strenuous hike, I’d pay to get into the other part of the park and take a stroll through the hidden hills of Georgia.

DSCN0016DSCN0020DSCN0064

Growing up in Florida, I’m used to flatlands, bridges, and streams. When I visit Georgia and see a hill, I jump around like a dog who knows they are headed to the park. What is it about elevated landscapes that seem to have me on such a high? What is it about the sight of a mountain that makes me feel like I’m flying? What is it about rushing rivers that create a surge of energy in me?

Sweetwater Creek is my getaway; my paradise. As I continue to explore other parks and their wonders, I will always come back to Sweetwater Creek because it is a treasure like no other. Well, at least until I really get to traveling around and see the beauty of my planet.

The Great Patience

I seriously believe that the quote, “patience is a virtue,” came from someone studying animals in their natural habitat. I learned this lesson first hand on the beach in Cumberland Island. Imagine you taking the two-hour hike just to get to the empty, lonely beach. You have walked through forests riddled with mosquitos, dance around easily-spooked wild horses, trudged over high sand dunes and through an endless trail of fan palms.

I finally make it to the beach. I am excited because there isn’t a single soul there unlike the crowded beaches back in my hometown. There was the great Atlantic stretched out in front of me. No trash littering the shore. Not a cloud in the sky to interupt the sun’s rays. I can do whatever I want and have all the peace and silence I need. Well, until I whipped out a lunchable…

trav5

I failed to remember the wonderous seabirds. The birds with a bottomless appetite for anything they can get their peckers on. It started with maybe two or three in the distance scanning the shore for food, but as soon as I whipped my ham and cheese snack from my backpack, it was like a radar went off. They started hopping closer to me but distant enough to take off if I came at them. I thought nothing of it. I peeled off the seal to dig in, and suddenly two or three sea birds became ten or twenty. They surveyed me with watchful eyes. I did the same.

They sat with the greatest of patience for a crumb despite their pressing hunger. I stayed on alert too scared to make any crazy moves in case they became impatient. I was ready for one of them to bellow out, “Get her!” and the entire flock would dive towards me and I’d go screaming for help, but no one would hear me hence the uninhabitable beach.

To satisfy my own nerves and to prevent mob attack, I threw a cracker as far away from me as I could get it. I scarfed down the rest of it as I watch thirty birds fight each other for a piece of the cracker.

One major lesson came from it all, never underestimate the patience of nature.