Underrated Joys on the Conservation

In a society where we are in need of constant entertainment, one would believe hiking through a natural conservation is a waste of time. In truth, these conservations don’t offer much. Maybe a few benches, a winding trail leading nowhere, and if you’re lucky, some view of a lake. Are you bored yet?

As dull as they may appear, they are critical to have in our ever-evolving environment. I will admit in the beginning stages of my traveling, conservations and preserves bored me to death. I decided that if it wasn’t a state park, I didn’t care for it much. As a person who admires open-mindedness and an adventurous spirit, I knew I needed to find joy in such places. Surprisingly, I have.

At first sight, the natural conservation at Sister’s Creek in Jacksonville, Florida, looks like a barren wasteland. Honestly, throw in some large bones and a few boulders, and it could become a spitting image of an Elephant Graveyard. There aren’t any trails to hike, just a long road with patches of crushed rocks and shells as parking areas to observe. With my tiny notebook in hand and eagerness to explore, I open my senses to the elements and take in what I can. Just because the low tide exposed the land to the heat of the Florida sun didn’t mean it was safe to walk across. It’s an illusion until you begin to trek across it and your feet sink fast into water-soaked sand. I haven’t played hopscotch in years, but I pulled out my old skills to get back to the creek’s edge.

Now with limited space to explore, I had to make do with what I had. I stood still and used my senses to explore for me. Big White Egrets flew low over the marshy area, searching for somewhere else to enjoy the loneliness of the land. They were smart enough to keep away from people like me. The low tide exposed a ton of oyster clusters. Now and then, you would see one spit water into the air. One oyster does it. Then others follow—sort of like doing the wave. Tiny fish swim in collective swimming patterns in the shallow water. What a show they put on going around in synchronized circles together? An old tree with peeling bark hovers over the depleted creek. Years of moving water caused erosion which exposed most of its roots. I found a sharp-drill conch shell beneath those roots. Lucky me! I tried to find another, but no success.

My favorite part was the tiny sand fiddler crabs. The mating season must be high because every male with their oversized claw danced for the group’s females. It was hilarious to see the small female crab snaking through the crowd. The males wave their giant claw in the air and bounce on their legs to catch her attention. I once read that when a female becomes interested in a male, he pounds his claw on the ground near his burrow. She goes into the hole, he follows, plugs up the hole, and returns to her to mate. How romantic, right? To watch this funny courtship dance, you have to stand perfectly still. Fiddler crabs are super scary. The slightest movement and they hurry into their holes. Once they feel it is safe, they come out of the holes and dance again.

ECO Magazine, fiddler crab waving his giant claw to attract a mate.

These conservations may not provide the most fun that a state park may provide, but they serve a tremendous purpose. If we want to continue to see the dancing crabs, graceful Egrets, and synchronized fish, we must take the steps necessary to protect their home and environment because once they are gone, they’re gone for good.

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.

 

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What I saw on Google. (FloridaHikes.com)

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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.

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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.

 

 

Cumberland Island Horses, Feral and Free

What is it like to live in the arms of nature with no one to answer to and to be protected from all the predators of the wild? Ask the feral horses of Cumberland Island of the coast of St. Mary’s Georgia.

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I have visited Cumberland Island twice and it amazes me to see horses that answer to themselves and roam around in the wild as they should be. Cumberland Island is only partially developed but mostly abandoned. The horses can roam anywhere from the grass fields at the center of the island to the beautiful beaches surrounding the island.

Before visitors can visit the island (by ferry only), they are required to attend a short orientation about the rules of the island which including taking unauthorized artifacts from the island and staying far away from the feral horses and wild turkeys.

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The horses stay on the island their entire lives unless removed for specific purposes. During the summer seasons you can see all the new ponies coming out with their mothers. It’s also mating season so the male horses will be more active than usual as they try to find their true loves.

The horses favorite areas to graze and socialize in would be the massive lawns of the Dungeness ruins. If your soul purpose to visit the island is to see these beauties, go straight for the ruins, this is where you will find most of them. Other’s will be exploring in abandoned parts of the island.

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Dungeness Ruins

These horses have spent generations on the island and probably wouldn’t prefer it any other way. If you visit, take your photos, marvel at their magnificence but keep your distance. They love their home, let’s let them continue to love it. For a more in-depth insight and education to the horse on the island, visit Cumberland Island’s official page on the National Park Service website.

 

Wild on Cumberland Island

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Fishing boat docked during heavy fog advisory in St. Mary’s Georgia 

Visiting the ole undeveloped seashore again was a great Christmas present indeed. The first time I went, I was very new to the island, so I wore out quickly and panicked at getting lost. I was ready this time. I had the trail mapped in my head. I remembered the shortcuts I would use to save time to get to the areas I didn’t get to see the last time, including the beach. I packed my new hiking backpack (which was sooo very helpful), my Nikon and determination and we were Georgia bound.

The first time I visited the island, I was everywhere with my idea on what to take pictures of, but this time I already had categorized what I needed and wanted to take collect for my blog. I ended up with nearly 120 images. Of course, the hard work would come later when I have to dissect each photo to make sure it was perfect. My categories included the Dungeness ruins, the wild horses, and the beach. My destination was that beach. I wasn’t leaving until I saw that shoreline.

Due to the fog, the wild horses seem to have up and disappeared. I had already been walking for two hours through the wilderness, hiking trails and boardwalks and still haven’t seen a single horse. It’s not like they were kept in barns and released during certain times of the day. They were untamed, the Rangers supervising the island allowed these horses to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. It wasn’t until the sun had fully peaked out of the heavy fog when one or two finally walked across the Dungeness grounds.

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One of the oldest horses on the island. Untamed their entire lives.

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One of my favorite parts of the entire trail across the island was the boardwalk. The last time I visited, it was low tide, and I got to see a raccoon go down on the shore and steal whatever seafood he could get his hands on while he could. This time I got to see this metallic Blue Heron sitting on the boardwalk rail. I tried my best to be as quiet as I could to get close to him. Even though the zoom on my Nikon was fantastic, I suppose for the thrill, I just wanted to get close as I could to it. It didn’t work, of course, his eye remained glued to me from the moment I stepped onto the boards. I wasn’t within three feet before he took flight. I watched as he made a giant u-turn in the sky and landed back on the same rail but several more feet away. I tested my luck again. I took two steps before he just said screw it, and took off across the salt marsh.

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After coming off the boardwalk, I encountered the worst part of the island, miles of beach sand. To make matters worse, it wasn’t flat like the average beach shore; there were tall dunes everywhere. If you wanted to get anywhere other than back where you came from, you had to suck it up and climb the dunes. The only good that seems to come from thirty minutes of trudging through sand was the view at the top of one of the dunes. You could see for miles off the island itself. At least it put a smile on my face until something flew over my head with the wingspan that could stretch from one end of the island to the other. I suppose I wasn’t the only one admiring the view. Later I learned that these significant spies were Black and Turkey Vultures. I wasn’t big on bird-watching, but I must admit these birds carried a sort of dominance that would give you chills. Now and then they would take fly and circle around the sky at the same time keeping their eye on me. They had to be guarding something. I quickly decided to quit whining about the tough beach sand and get myself somewhere out of sight of their nesting home.

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After crawling across mountains of sand dunes, I finally came to a sign that said beach ahead. First I had to cross over a small boardwalk that loomed over algae-filled ponds. Once I got off the board, there was a single trail surrounded by leafless bushes that eventually led out to the beach. There’s something amazing about being the only person on the beach. For miles in both direction was nothing but sand, waves, seabirds and open air. I felt like I was the only person on the entire island and it was exhilarating.  The tide was low, so the seabirds were hard at work with feeding and bathing. I took off my hiking boots and dug my feet into the sand. I set up camp next to the group of seabirds. Very bad idea. The second I popped out a Lunchable to eat, every eye was on me. One brave bird landed two feet away from me, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. I quickly scarfed down my Lunchable, but that did no good. They were convinced I had more food somewhere and followed me down the beach.

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The last time I visited Cumberland Island, I saw two fawns that seem to have been abandoned by their mom. They remain hid in the large bamboo area out of site. They often came out together to play and eat but they never strayed far from the bamboo.

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Two fawns staying alert while remaining close to the bamboo, July 2017 

On my recent visit I wondered if the two I saw coming towards me were the same two I saw months ago. It would make sense, they don’t have many predators after them. The only threat are alligators. Visitors are not allowed to bring any hunting gear of any kind on the island.

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Two deer grazing, December 2017

Cumberland Island is still as wild and beautiful as I saw it the last time. There is much more island to explore. At first, I was nervous about the idea of camping on the island, but now it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I can only imagine what it would look like after the sun goes down and the sky fills with stars, and the only sound you hear is the crashing of waves against a shore that has been untouched by man.