Thursday, February 24, found us up and on the road about 9:30 AM. Aunt Pat, who is typically a late sleeper, even got up early to visit with us a little bit before we left. So sweet! Our route took us on stale road as far as Thomson, Georgia, but then it was fresh pavement due south. Well, it was new from our map perspective, but I feel certain I’ve driven/ridden on most of those south Georgia roads at one time or another. We passed through Wrens, skirting the edge of Swainsboro and stopped in Soperton for a quick sandwich at Subway and groceries at the Piggly Wiggly. Then we finished up the last leg and rolled into General Coffee State Park near Douglas, Georgia, in time to set up and kick back for a relaxing afternoon. The best chuckle of the day was a sign on the fence beside a gas station in West Green that said:
Dead Rattlesnakes $3.00 a Foot
See Cashier for Details
Must Be 3 Ft or Longer
There wasn’t a chance to turn back and ask the question on our minds, but you know I wanted to. I suspect they were slicing those babies up and deep frying them. Why? Because that’s how it was cooked when I ate rattlesnake at a Rattlesnake Roundup when I was a kid. See! My gastric explorations began at an early age. LOL. It was at an annual festival in South Georgia, and I remember the snake being GOOD! Tasted like chicken. Just kidding. It tasted like snake, but the cooked meat was pretty white, like chicken. Yum! Curious, I looked for a website to buy rattlesnake. Yes, you can get it…for $40 to $70 PER POUND! Wow!!
Friday morning started with a nice, long walk around the park. The recent spate of warm weather had flowers blooming, and our weekend weather was projected to be in the mid- to upper-70s and sunny…too HOT! The park is home to the endangered eastern indigo snake and the threatened gopher tortoise, but we didn’t catch a glimpse of either. The indigo is purported to be a bluish-black color that looks purple in the sun and is the longest native snake in North America, topping out around 9′. Both live in the piney forests of the southeast where the gopher tortoise builds burrows up to 40′ long, which are in turn inhabited by 39 invertebrate and 42 vertebrate species, including the indigo. Due to development, fire prevention methods, and over collection, both species are still in decline.
We headed into town to grab a salad for lunch, then checked out a pretty neat little museum. During WWII, the tiny airport in Douglas, Georgia, was a contract facility known as the 63rd Army Air Force Flight Training School. At that time, similar schools were popping up everywhere, but what makes this one different is that many of the original buildings are still intact, and in fact, in use. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the base is possibly the most unaltered WWII contract flight training base in the country. Jointly managed by the Raymond-Brinkeroff (later Raymond-Richardson) Aviation Company and the Army, the facility trained approximately 7,000 cadets, including Charles J. Loring, Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient. Since 1944, the base has served as a major league spring training camp, housing for local college professors, and office space. Today it is maintained by the 63rd Preservation Society, and a walk across the campus feels like a step back in time. We checked out the WWII Flight Training Museum, housed in original barracks, then walked over to the hangers. Brooks Aviation has a variety of pretty cool planes on display in one and is building a B-17G from scratch in the other one. Pretty amazing! They also had some of the parts of the “Lost Squadron” recovered from under 265′ of ice in Greenland by the crew led by Pat Epps, son of Georgia aviation pioneer Ben T. Epps. (I knew Pat back in my Dekalb-Peachtree controller days as the owner of Epps Aviation, one of the field fixed-base operators. He had a cool DC-3 that he’d fly occasionally.) Turns out that Pat’s brother, Ben Jr., was a flight instructor at this facility. (Interesting note: Eight of Ben Sr.’s nine children became pilots. Along with his Dad, youngest son Pat is honored in the Smithsonian, and both of them plus oldest son Ben Jr. are in the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. What a legacy!) If you are an aviation or WWII buff, you would enjoy this nice little stop.
We decided this past Christmas that we wanted to give experiences, instead of things, to the kids, and this weekend is our trip with Ryan, Alene, Booger Butt, Little Booger, and Cutie Booger. Since they were going to arrive late, we checked into their cabin for them when we got back to the park. Thankfully, Little Booger, who had been feeling puny since Tuesday, was better, and we didn’t have to reschedule. After a dinner of leftovers at Petunia, we hung out over at the cabin until they arrived, then promptly said our goodnights. They were exhausted, and it was well past our bedtime! Plus, we had fun things planned for the morning.
Saturday found Mr. Wonderful (MW) and me up and out early. The kids would sleep a bit later, but there was a morning charity run planned for the campground side of the park, and they were blocking off roads. Not wanting to get stuck, we headed over to Chick-fil-A in Douglas where we had a little breakfast and I tackled some tax work. Later we met the kids at the cabin and headed out together. Since their car was the only one that fit us all, MW enjoyed being chauffeured for a change. Our first stop was lunch in Waycross, Georgia, at Highway 55, a basic burger and shake diner that the kids love. Then it was on to the star attraction for the day…Alligators!!
There are some people who have lived in Georgia for their entire lives and are completely unaware that almost 700 square miles in the southern part of the state are covered by the largest blackwater swamp in the country. Once a hunting ground for the Creek, a rough homesteading area for settlers, a refuge for the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War, and a tree-harvesting area for several lumber companies, this beautiful but daunting habitat became the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in 1937. In the middle of the park sits Stephen C. Foster State Park, which we will talk about later. Our destination for the day was at the north end, just outside of Waycross.
We arrived at the Okefenokee Swamp Park a little after noon and spent the next few hours browsing in the gift shop, taking the train and boat tours, checking out a swamper’s homestead, and learning about alligators, snakes, tortoises, and turtles. Interesting note: Did you know that alligators grow about a foot a year for the first five years? After that, the rate slows drastically and can be as little as an inch a year. They average out at about 14′ and 790 lbs, but the largest ever recorded was 19.2′! That’s a LOT of DINOSAUR!! (Yes, they’ve been around that long.) The weather was just a smidge too warm, but otherwise, it was a perfect afternoon. I have very fond memories of visiting the Okefenokee as a kid, and it was fun to share it with the kids and boogers. If you plan to attend, their busiest time is spring. Unless you love heat and humidity, you will want to avoid a summer visit. Plus, the biting flies and mosquitos might just carry you off. (Although the latter can’t reproduce in the blackwater swamp, they always find places!) Gators don’t truly hibernate, but they do become inactive and stay below the surface or in burrows except for quick gulps of air during colder weather, too. It was an unusually warm February day with bright sunshine for our visit, which brought a few of the wild ones to the surface. We even saw snakes sunning themselves at the dock.
After seeing all there was to see, we headed back to the park to get started on dinner. MW grilled steaks and hot dogs over the fire, which we had with sweet potatoes and Caesar salad. (Turns out that most of the kids don’t like sweet potatoes. Oops!) Booger Butt smack-talked Alene and me through a game of Sequence, and we all had a nice, relaxing evening. MW and I were exhausted, but it had been a fun day.
Sunday morning we fixed a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, Neese’s sausage, bacon, and pancakes for the whole crew. It was a beautiful morning, and we sat out around the picnic table after breakfast gabbing and playing Phase 10, except for Cutie Booger and Little Booger, who preferred the nearby playground. In the early afternoon we reluctantly said goodbye to all of my babies (always will be) so they could get back home and prepare for the coming week. We have such a good time whenever we get together, and I’m always sad to see them go.
Later in the afternoon, MW decided that it was going to be an ice cream for supper day, so we headed over to Space Cow Creamery in Douglas. Made-to-order iced cream…what a cool concept! The process starts with cream pumped into a metal mixing bowl. Next flavors to be mixed in are added…chocolate, strawberry, cinnamon, etc. The concoction is then doused with a good shot of liquid nitrogen, which freezes it immediately. Finally, they add other toppings to finish off the treat. I was fascinated. Open for a little over a year, owner Anahi Davis said it was a God thing. She had worked in finance for many years, and really wanting a change, she was thinking about an ice cream shop. (The only other options in town are Dairy Queen and Sonic, both mostly plain soft serve.) A couple of months later her sister Laura Magana brought up the same idea. Two minds can’t be wrong, right?! After doing some research into the processes available to make the delicious concoction, Space Cow was born. Judging by the crowd there the day we went, it is quite a success. Check it out if you are within striking distance of Douglas, Georgia. Oh, and I had chocolate ice cream with brownie bits and cherries. OMGosh!!!
General Coffee State Park is very nice. Located just outside of Douglas, Georgia, and about an hour north of Waycross and the Okefenokee Swamp Park, its 1,511 acres sit along both sides of the Seventeen Mile River, surrounded by piney forest and cypress swamp. (There are separate entrances on each side of the river.) The park hosts a Heritage Farm with log cabins, a corn crib, a tobacco barn, and a cane mill. There are also barnyard animals and other exhibits. Home to the rare Gopher Tortoise and Indigo Snake, there are over 4 miles of hiking and 9 miles of equestrian trails to search for them on. Other amenities include a 4-acre fishing lake, boat rentals, camp store, several picnic shelters and tables, a pool, playgrounds, and an amphitheater. Lodging options include six cottages of various sizes, pioneer and equestrian camping areas, and the main campground. The latter is divided into two loops with a total of 50 sites, all with electric (some 50-amp, some 30-amp), water, picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. Almost all of the gravel sites are pull-through, generally laid out well, and level. Both loops have bathhouses. The one in Loop #1 needed some work, but they are in the process of building a new one now. It was very peaceful, with the campground loops near the end of the road and away from the activity areas. We would definitely go again. For this stay in February 2022, we paid $143.24 for 4 nights, which included a $5 entrance fee. The cabins were also very reasonable.
Monday morning dawned grey with predictions of rain. We decided to chance it and, on our way to our next stop, went to Stephen C. Foster State Park in the center of the swamp. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is so big (402,000 acres) that it took us about an hour and 45 minutes to get there from the north end. Finally there, we rented a johnboat and headed into the swamp. It was very chilly and misty, and my hands were freezing, but it was COOL! Sadly, the cold kept the alligators below the surface, but there was plenty of beautiful scenery to take in. We weren’t just wandering around willy nilly, though. There are clear pathways with signs and arrows on trees to keep you from getting lost, and they will come looking for you if you don’t show back up in a timely manner. We spent about 2 hours cruising around, and really could have stayed longer. People think of the swamp as dark, murky, and dangerous, and I’m sure it can be…after all, they estimate that 12,000 of the country’s largest reptiles live there…but, it is also very beautiful. The state park offers camping, cabins, and other amenities, but we only went into the camp store. Should you plan to stay there, be aware that it is very remote. On the cool plus side, though…it is an International Dark Sky Park!
Back in Brutus, we warmed up and headed to Fargo, Georgia, to grab a bit of lunch. No joy…nothing open…so we turned southeast on GA-94, passed through a tiny corner of Florida, and hit GA-23 up to Folkston where we found a Dairy Queen. (Despite Covid restrictions being generally lifted, we still find a lot of places closed or just open at a drive-thru due to staffing issues. They keep reporting all of these numbers that make you think everything is hunky dory, yet there aren’t enough people to keep businesses open. It’s not a local problem, but everywhere. Several places have said they either can’t find people to work or, if they do manage to hire, they don’t stay. None of this is adding up, and it’s very disconcerting.) Back in the car we continued north on US-301 (famous for the old speed trap in Ludowici – there was even a song about it) to Nahunta, then made it over to our home for the next few days, Blythe Island Regional Park, around 2 PM. While MW was checking us in, I noticed a couple of large rabbits hanging out in the edge of the woods. Then I saw a woman feeding another rabbit, and as we drove to our site, more. Very unusual. After getting set up, I made a quick run over to Bed, Bath & Beyond in Brunswick to pick up a vacuum I had ordered, then scope out a laundromat. After that, I looped through downtown by 1523 Reynolds, where my Grandparent’s house used to be. It was sad to see the parking lot that replaced the house where we spent every Thanksgiving, plus numerous other vacations, until I was in my 30s. Man, I’ve got some good memories from there! At one point we had a drummer, three guitarists, and Granddaddy’s harmonica, plus a bunch of us kids singing IN THE KITCHEN! Every time I hear John Denver’s “Country Roads”, I go right back there.
On Tuesday I broke the usual pattern and headed out early to do chores at Golden Isles Laundry. It had been 10 days since I washed at Mom’s, and the underwear situation was getting dire. First stop, though, was a quick drive through at Panera Bread for a bagel. The laundromat was located right across Altama Avenue from Stafford Avenue, where I spent a lot of time as a child visiting Aunt Helen’s crew. My Mom’s Uncle DJ lived in a place up on the corner, too. Lots of memories in this town. With the chore complete, I headed back to Petunia. On the way I stopped to get a pic of the old Brunswick Pulp and Paper plant, which is now owned by Georgia-Pacific. There are two things about that plant that were constants in my young life: 1) My grandfather worked there forever, and 2) Depending on wind direction, you could smell that place all over Brunswick, and it was awful! Of course, it never bothered Granddaddy.
It was time to get out and explore, so MW and I started with a late lunch at Marshside Grill where he went for oysters and I had the shrimp. Yum! The place has a great view across the marsh, too, and a nice patio to enjoy it. After lunch we headed over to St. Simons Island to look around a bit, first going to Neptune Park. Everything has changed since the last time I was there, but it is still somehow familiar. We walked around a bit, and I was happy to see the familiar giant live oak trees, although now they are so old that some are propped up with posts. The park is the location of the English Fort St. Simons, which was built in 1738 to guard the entrance to the Frederica River and access to Fort Frederica. Spanish soldiers demolished the fort in 1742, and nothing remains now but a plaque. The current lighthouse was built in 1872 to replace the one destroyed in the Civil War. It was converted from oil lamp to electricity in 1934 and automated in the mid-1950s, so there hasn’t been a resident keeper since then. It is now owned by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, and there is a museum in the keeper’s house that is chock full of information about the island and the roles it has played over time.
Next we went grave hunting to find one of my favorite writers. Nestled among live oaks, Spanish moss, and azaleas, you will never find a more beautiful setting than Christ Episcopal Church. The congregation was established in 1736 as a mission of the Church of England, and the first services in the chapel (then located at nearby Fort Frederica) were conducted by Reverend Charles Wesley. Have you heard that name before? He was the writer of more than 150 hymns including “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”. In 1758, the congregation, then called St. James, became one of the eight original parishes established. After the American Revolution, it became part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the newly minted United States. Christ Church was incorporated in 1808 and given a plot of land on which the original church was built in 1820. Sadly, that one was almost completely destroyed during the Civil War. The current building was built in 1884. Some of those trees were probably planted at the same time almost 140 years ago. The church was open today, so we were lucky enough to see the inside, too.
MW and I looked for quite a while for the grave, finally splitting up. Photos on FindaGrave were more than 20 years old and before her friend died, so it was a little different. While he was searching on one side, I ran into two couples wandering around and asked if they were locals or visiting. Turned out they were visiting, but knew where the grave I was hunting was. One of the men was originally from this area and had shown it to his wife. We started talking and the woman was originally from Macon where her family lived near my first husband’s mother’s place on Wesleyan Circle. Cool. They said they were down for a pastor’s convention over on Jekyll Island and had come to St. Simons for the day. So, of course, I asked where their church was. “A tiny little town along the South Carolina line that you’ve probably never heard of…Lincolnton, Georgia.” WHAT!!?? You guys remember where I was last week, right? Turns out, the two men, Lanis Lewis and Terry Bonds, are Co-Pastors at the First Assembly of God in Lincolnton and were enjoying the islands with their wives, Teri Lewis and Joy Bonds. We started talking about family, and add another crazy fact…Teri Lewis worked at the bank with my daughter-in-law Alene until she retired at the end of 2021. They know my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ken Mays and a lot of other family. In fact, as we talked about our relatives, one of the guys said, “If you keep talking, we are going to be related!” LOL. What a crazy coincidence. It’s made even crazier by the fact that it has happened before. Those of you who read regularly may remember that I ran into a lady in a gift shop in Yellowstone from Lincolnton, too. I wonder what those odds are. Maybe I should have bought a lottery ticket that day!!
After being pointed in the right direction, we finally found the grave I was searching for…Eugenia Price, one of my favorite writers. Her focus was on the south, and she was a master at intertwining fact and fiction to suck you in to a wonderful story and teach you a little bit, too. She wrote several series about South Georgia including St. Simons and Savannah, which piqued the interest of this native Georgia girl. Originally from Charleston, West Virginia, she was already an accomplished writer when, at the age of 46, she visited St. Simons Island and saw the tombstone of the Reverend Anson Dodge. That trip changed her life in two ways: 1) She became curious about the history of the good Reverend, Christ Church, and the area, which was the beginning of an acclaimed historical fiction career, and 2) she fell in love with the island, and 4 years later made it her permanent home. She died in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1996, and is buried not too far from the grave that started it all. Many years ago someone in my family told me that Nanny (my great grandmother) knew her socially. I can’t figure out who told me, but I’m choosing to believe she did. Thanks to Aunt Pat Houser, I do know that Nanny did have a signed copy of “The Beloved Invader”.
Finished with the hunt, we headed off of the island and back to Petunia, stopping for a few things at Walgreens on the way.
Wednesday we headed over to Brunswick to check out the downtown area, which has been revived since the last time I was there and is very nice. We had lunch at Fox’s Downtown, a pizza joint with several other things, too. Everything was very good; my Italian Bake Crustini stole the show, though.
After lunch we headed back over to Blythe Island to hang out with Aunt Helen (Mom’s older sister), Uncle Tom, and Cousin Magine for a bit. It’s been a few years, so I was happy we could get together. When I was a kid, we spent quite a bit of time with Aunt Helen. Mom brought us to Brunswick several times a year, and Helen brought her crowd (kids Susan, Allen, Bill, and Robin plus her nephew Tim while he was living with them) to our house, too. There are lots of terrific memories of Mom, Helen, and us kids climbing into the station wagon and hitting the road for a camping trip or just to “find some sunshine” after being stuck in the house for several rainy days. What a handful, but man, lots of happy times. On this day the South Georgia gnats were VERY annoying despite bug spray, but we had a good visit, nonetheless.
Later, MW and I took a nice walk around the park, where I ran into one of the hosts who gave me the rabbit lowdown. About 3 or 4 years ago, a camp host had two rabbits that she didn’t want, so she let them loose in the park. The phrase “reproduce like rabbits” is not an exaggeration, and within a couple of years there were over 200 rabbits living among the campers. Everyone, including the campground owner, loved them, but devastation followed. About 2 years ago several hawks located the rabbit smorgasbord. Within just a few weeks the rabbit population was culled to 20-30 total! That’s when the owner took action. Rabbit hutches were built, and rabbits who are clearly nesting in preparation for birth are brought in to have babies there. Then the babies are protected until they are old enough to release. I don’t know what the population is now, but there are quite a few roaming the park. I saw several people feeding them carrots.
Blythe Island Regional Park is very nice, and as established, the rabbits are adorable! Located just across the Turtle River west of Brunswick, it is convenient to all of the Brunswick area, the Golden Isles (St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll, and Sea) and Cumberland Island, Fort Frederica National Monument, plus plenty of golf, beaches, restaurants, shopping, etc. If you want to explore farther afield, Historic Savannah, Georgia, is about an hour north on I-95 and Jacksonville, Florida, is about an hour south. The park is much larger than I expected and has quite a bit to offer. Roads through the campground are dirt, as are the sites, but there are concrete pads placed so you don’t step out of your trailer into sand. Site options include both 56 50-amp, full-hookup sites, 41 30-amp, full-hookup sites, all with cable tv, picnic tables, and fire rings. Some sites can be rented on a monthly basis, too. There are multiple bathrooms in the park, and two bathhouse in the RV campground. There is also a separate, primitive campground with 24 sites. Amenities include a swimming beach on the lake, both fresh and salt water fishing, boat ramp, 3-ton boat hoist, dockage, bait sales, propane sales, boat, kayak, and paddle board rentals, picnic areas and pavilions, fishing pier, and biking and hiking trails. We could hear both the pulp mill and highway noise, but it wasn’t terrible. We would definitely stay there again, although being from South Georgia, I would avoid the heat and bugs of summer. For this stay in March 2022, we paid $144.06 for 3 nights.
Whew, that’s another big one done. Next up…Alabama and more family. See you on the path.
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