Summer’s merciless heat, humidity, and squadrons of mosquitoes had moved on leaving behind crystal clear, azure skies, dazzling sunshine, and Cote d’Azur temperatures.
It was mid-week in early November and the only sounds in the Okefenokee Swamp were birdsong and the rustle of wind through tall grass. It was the sort of day southerners dream of in August, pray for in September, yearn for in October, and celebrate in November. And if there was ever a day for a hike, this was it.
For most people, the word “swamp” conjures up a dark, creepy, buggy, snakey bog. But in the case of Okefenokee, nothing could be further from the truth. We have Native Americans to thank for its unusual name, which means “Land of the Trembling Earth,” referring to the land’s spongy moss base.
Sitting astride the Georgia/Florida border, it’s one of the largest swamps in the US, and most of the refuge is only accessible by boat. But luckily, much of the flora and fauna can be viewed on a number of easy hikes, or by car or bike.
This dozing alligator was sleeping off his last meal, and in another 3 steps, I would’ve stepped on him. Terri suddenly yelled,
“DO YOU SEE THAT ALLIGATOR??”
Actually, I wasn’t as oblivious as it sounds. As luck would have it, the gator was napping about a foot from a cluster of carnivorous pitcher plants that I was trying to photograph.
The large swamp and most of the surrounding area is very flat, and a few inches of elevation can make a huge difference in the habitat: totally wet, dry, or in between. This pine/palmetto woodland was prairie-like, and had an amazing assortment of flowers and tall grasses.
This attractive, but lethargic butterfly (or moth?) sat perfectly still for a nice shot, which was probably explained by the cooler temps and nearing the end of his season.
Because the area is so flat and marshy, creating roads meant scooping dirt and piling it up to form road beds. These excavations produced “borrow ditches” which now border all the park roads. These roadways are excellent for wildlife viewing because now these canals are full of dark, coffee-colored water, home to fish, turtles, and of course, beaucoup alligators.
We lived in the Southeast US for years and grew accustomed to alligators. We became experts at spotting the difference between a gator and floating log, so these crafty crocodilians didn’t add another level of excitement to kayaking. It was always fun to read about their latest escapades – a big ol’ boy in someone’s pool, a pair sunning themselves on the golf course. But make no mistake, alligators may look like large, sluggish lizards, but in nature they’re wild and hungry, and warning signs should be taken seriously.
A large part of the Okefenokee Swamp’s appeal is its isolation, but it’s only 50 miles northwest of Jacksonville, Florida, so it’s a quick and easy drive to see this unique ecosystem. Summers in this part of the world are brutal, so visiting in the early spring or early winter is the best bet. And BTW, leave your small pets at home.
James & Terri