A Visit to the Wegner Grotto

When Paul and Matilda Wegner emigrated from Germany in 1885, I doubt they envisioned their retirement years building what would later become the Wegner Grotto. It all started in 1929 after Paul retired from owning and operating a Ford garage. Neither Paul nor Matilda had any formal training in the arts, but they definitely had a vision. Their “grassroots art” started on their small farm outside of Cataract, Wisconsin. They were no longer living on the farm full-time, but spent summers there. They began by building a fence around the property. Concrete pillars decorated with thousands of shards of broken glass…

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Little by little, special pieces were added, a prayer garden…

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A birdhouse and other decorations…

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I was bummed the skies were threatening to drench us as we walked along marveling at the artistry. I can only imagine how brilliantly the shards must glint in the bright sunshine. Glass flowers adorn the top of a pillar…

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The grotto began to take on a life of its own. Perhaps the crowning achievement, is the glass church. Paul wanted to represent all “mainline denominations”. And did so in stunning fashion…
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And a peace monument…

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Later he built a replica of their 50th wedding anniversary cake…

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And the very symbol of the country he loved…

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Paul died in 1937 and is buried at a little cemetery just up the road from the grotto. His gravestone, as well as Matilda’s, are a tribute to the beauty he created…

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Other family members’ graves are also decorated with glass shards…

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I wondered where they were able to find so much broken glass. I doubt colored glass was an inexpensive item to own in the early 1930’s. Some of it appeared to be carnival glass, shiny and still lovely, though only a shard…

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Have you ever been moved by “grassroots art”?

Kayaking the Black River

I had big plans for Thursday and was pretty exited when I awoke to beautiful, sunny skies. This was the day I would take the 14.5 mile solo kayak trip from Black River Falls back to Lost Falls Campground. 

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Lost Falls Campground rents canoes, kayaks, SUP (Stand Up Paddleboards) and tubes (doubles, singles and cooler). We shuttle guests to one of 3 different landings and everyone arrives back at the campground, hopefully, having enjoyed their day on the Black River.

Steve outfitted my kayak with a phone mount, now I can take pictures and videos, hands free…

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We’ve had A LOT of rain this spring and the river was moving pretty briskly as I set off. It didn’t take long before all I could hear was the sounds of nature, the river churning and a chorus of birds. The evidence of high water was all around me. Some of the smaller trees were barely above the waterline…

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You can see the wet line on the trees, overnight, the river had gone down at least 18″. Usually there are lots of sandbars to stop at…

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But most were still underwater. It was a lazy paddle for me. I let the river current do most of the work while I steered occasionally and just enjoyed being on the river. I hadn’t seen another sole in hours and was surprised as I came around the bend to see these 2 “people” watching from the bank…

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I chuckled to myself as I floated by, a good reminder, someone is always watching.

The Black River State Forest borders a large stretch of river and offers campsites for paddlers…

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After passing Mason’s landing I came across a tall limestone bluff…

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I could hear the sounds of rushing water so I set off to investigate. I had heard there was a gorge with a waterfall near here so I was hoping I had found it. I was a bit disappointed with the “waterfall”…

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But decided to get out and stretch. As I walked along the banks of the creek, I found lots of white trillium thriving in the shadows…

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The cool water felt good on my feet as I walked along as sun dappled tree stood sentinel over me…

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Back on the river, I saw a slough and decided to check it out. There were lots of turtles sunning themselves on the fallen logs…

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When I reached Hansen’s Landing, I knew I only had 2.5 miles to go…

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I had spent the first 12 miles being lazy, but wanted to make a time lapse video of the trip from Hansen’s Landing, so now it was time to paddle! It took me 28 minutes to reach the shore of Lost Falls Campgound, so the video is only 28 seconds, whew, what a workout…

It was a peaceful, relaxing way to spend the day. I can’t wait to do it again!

Where is your favorite place to kayak?

The Devil Is In The Details

Finally, a day off with no chores. No groceries to shop for, no laundry to do. Just a day to go out and have some fun. The weather could have been better, the forecast called for on and off showers and cloudy skies, but that wasn’t going to deter us! After visiting one of our favorite websites, Atlas Obscura, we knew we had to take the 30 minute drive to Sparta, Wisconsin and visit FAST Corporation. FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals, Shapes and Trademarks.

We’ve all seen larger than life advertising or roadside attractions, you know, that 20′ tall strawberry at the fruit stand or the giant cow standing in front of the farm. If you are like me, you’ve probably never given a second thought to where did it come from or who made it? But, chances are, it came from FAST Corp.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I didn’t know where to look first. Acres of fiberglass molds and finished products beckoned me. As we walked around, familiar characters stared back at us under dreary skies…

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Some items where purely decorative, while others were more functional.  It’s easy to picture this hippo water fountain at the zoo, just across from the lion bench where tired parents watch as the kiddos get a drink…

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In my mind, I can hear the squeals of delight as the kiddies come down the water slide…

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As we walked passed the cows…

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The familiar shape Hard Rock Cafe guitars caught our attention…

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FAST Corporation has kept every fiberglass mold they have ever created. After being used, they are taken out back and put in the “graveyard”. Acres and acres of molds await the day they may be called for again. Who knows when someone might need a giant bear…Fast Corporation-2410

Or an elephant…

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How about an ice cream cone…

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What if Chevy needs another boulder?

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Here are some of the other neat molds we saw…

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The mold for the lion bench

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Behind one of the shops, there was a sculpture of 2 boys rough housing, I think this will be used to create the mold. It looked like it was carved out of some type of dense foam…

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There were also finished products, waiting to be shipped…

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If you are ever in Sparta, Wisconsin and find yourself on County Road Q, stop in and visit FAST Corporation! It’s a pretty neat place!

Up next, my first kayak trip on the Black River…

Working in Wisconsin

We loved our time in Georgia, but we had a commitment to keep in Wisconsin. We were expected to arrive the first week of May, so it was time to pack up Waldo and motor on. We drove the 1380 miles in 3 days, not a marathon, but the last day was long.

As we drove through Black River Falls, we got our first look at the town which will be home for the next several months. I love the small town atmosphere and the outdoorsy feel of the area. We drove past farms and fields soaked with the late spring rains. It’s common to see Amish folks with their horse and buggies trotting down the road next to a monster trucks towing 4 wheelers heading for the state forest.

Usually, we find our jobs on the Workers On Wheels website, but this one came via referral from a couple we worked with in Texas. Don and Barb worked here last year and knew our skill set and work ethic would fit in perfectly at Lost Falls Campground. The campground, nestled on the shore of the Black River, has 36 RV sites, 7 cabins and 18 tent sites. My first thought when we turned into the park was “I’m gonna love it  here!!!” Don greeted us with hugs and happy to see you before showing us to our site. Many times, workampers are given not so great sites, shoved out of the way, saving the best ones for paying guests. Not so here! First of all, every site is wonderful. And they are huge, most are at least 35′ wide! Our site comes with a bonus shed for storage…

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Plus the use of the golf cart. Score!

Once settled in, we didn’t waste any time and got right to work. Don knows about my construction background and asked me to take a look at the bathroom floor in one of the cabins. He said it has a “soft spot” near the shower. I bounced on the floor a bit and told the owner, Aaron, this couldn’t be fixed with a band-aid. The floor needed to be pulled out and replaced. Once I assured him the repair could be completed before Memorial Day, he said “Have at it.” Steve removed the toilet and sink while I decided how to best remove the shower. Whoever installed it, didn’t want it ever coming out. Hmmm. Let’s tear out that wall. The next thing I knew, this had become a complete remodel…

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Once I got into it, I knew the vent pipe needed to go in the wall, not a foot out into the floor and all the old horse hair plaster had to go. Yep, that 1950’s ceiling has to come down too.  And what’s with that floor joist cut in 2? Geez, who built this? Replacing the plaster with sheetrock gained almost 5″ of floor space. At this point, Aaron’s wife Shannon was brought in to discuss her ideas on the remodel. I talked her into a new corner shower and a smaller sink. Once everything was decided and ordered, I got to work putting it all back together…

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It wasn’t all work and no play by any stretch. There were comfortable nights at our firepit…

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And turning Waldo into a birdie buffet…

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Speaking of birds, we had 2 really neat encounters since we’ve been here. First we found an injured Great Horned Owl…

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Sadly, we were unable to rescue it. Our second encounter has been ongoing. A mating pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers has built a nesting cavity in the tree right behind our shed. We’ve watched as the male excavated the nest and have seen a bit of birdie porn so we are hoping for babies in the next 25 days or so…

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One morning, when I was working on the bathroom, Don came in and said he had something to show me and I should grab my camera! While making his rounds by the river, he came across a doe giving birth to twins…

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It was one of the neatest things I have ever seen. The next day, Steve found a baby western painted turtle…

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So dang cute!

When I wasn’t remodeling or taking pictures of local wildlife, I became the official sign painter for the campground…

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Yep, I’m getting paid to be creative too. Speaking of creativity, I got out my Lensball…

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Memorial Day brought lots of guests, all of our RV sites were full, 5 of the cabins were rented and there were quite a few tenters. One of the main reasons people stay here is we rent canoes, kayaks, SUPs and tubes. We shuttle folks to one of 3 landings and they float/paddle back to the campground. We even rent cooler tubes so your float can be complete with beverages! The rentals might be the reason they come to begin with, but I think the awesomeness of the campground and it’s owners and staff are what bring them back time after time!

If you find yourself near Black River Falls, Wisconisn make sure you have a night or two to spend with us at Lost Falls Campground!

Up next, Atlas Obscura come through again!

Horsing Around on Cumberland Island

Since nobody seemed to be a fan of kayaking with alligators, I thought I’d go with something cuter. Our last adventure in Georgia was one I had been waiting for for a very long time. Cumberland Island National Seashore has been on my list of “must visit” places for years. Every time I drove from New Hampshire to Florida I wanted to fit it in but just never could. Since we were already adventuring in Georgia, I would not be denied! Cumberland Island or Bust!

Cumberland is the largest and southern most of Georgia’s barrier islands. We would only have one day to explore and I was determined to make the most of it. We boarded the 9 am ferry in St. Mary’s and began our relaxing 45 minute journey to the island. Our fellow 148 passengers were quite a diverse group. There were cyclists, campers, hikers, fishermen and even a couple getting married.

After disembarking, we started out on the River Trail…

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We stopped near the edge of the sound and watched as the Cumberland Queen II headed back to St. Mary’s…

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The trail ends at the Ice House, this is where we got our first glimpse of the famed wild horses of Cumberland Island…

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Horses were originally brought to the island in the 1700’s. Now, a herd of feral horses resides on the island. They are left to there own device with no help from the National Park Service. Some of the horses we saw seemed a bit thin, but overall looked to be in decent health. And obviously are healthy enough to mate and produce colts. Steve sat down to watch at one of the picnic tables and I noticed how huge the live oak tree next to him was. I had to back up so far to get most of the tree in, you can hardly see him…

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You are warned to keep at least 50′ from the horses, after all, they are wild. But what do you do when you are taking a picture of the beautiful lane, lined with spanish moss laden trees…

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And the horses suddenly decide to cross the road, right where you are standing?

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You do what I did and hide behind a tree! We continued on towards the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion. Since it was nearly noon, we stopped at a picnic area and had our snacks. As I was reading the signs about the wildlife, another group of horses came by. This foal couldn’t have been more than 6 weeks old…

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In 1736 James Oglethorpe built a hunting lodge he called Dungeness. In 1796 Phineas Miller and his wife built a 4 story mansion on the site and named it after the lodge. In 1884 Thomas Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and his wife Lucy bought Dungeness and raised 9 children there. Today all that remains of Dungeness is a sprawling shell …

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There was a time, it looked like this…

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Some of the outbuildings remain, as well as some of the statues…

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There are several other buildings from that era which are still in use. While we were walking around the mansion, I spied another family group of horses. I thought the colt was beautiful and spent lots of time taking pictures of it…

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We were almost done checking out the mansion when an altercation broke out between the horses, I have to tell you, the horses scared me way more than the alligators!!!

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We continued on to the Dungeness Beach boardwalk…

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I watched as the fiddler crabs defended their territory in the marsh…

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At the end of the boardwalk, sand dunes create a barrier to the interior of the island…

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When we finally reached the beach, it seemed deserted. One of the benefits of limiting the number of visitors to the island each day is you get to see this…

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Unspoiled, salty air bliss. We walked over a mile and a half on the beach and only saw a handful of other people. We did see a horseshoe crab skeleton…

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And one of the few people we did see was kind enough to take this picture for me…

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As we neared Seacamp Beach Campground, I stopped again to marvel at the gnarled live oaks and their spanish moss adornments…

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Our day was nearly over, the 4:45pm ferry would soon take us back to the mainland. Cumberland Island was everything I had imagined and more. We had walked about 6 1/2 miles and taken countless pictures to go through later.

If you’ve been thinking about visiting Cumberland Island, all I can say is DO IT! Hopefully we will return again another time to see the north end of the island.

My friend Dawn, from Random Bits of Trial and Error wrote a lovely post about her adventures on Cumberland Island, read about it here.

Thank you for coming along.

I’m a couple weeks behind, we are currently at our summer job in Wisconsin. I can’t wait to tell you about it!

What are you more afraid of feral horses or alligators?

Kayaking with Aligators

We only had 2 days to explore the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, not nearly enough time considering it covers 630 sq miles. The swamp is only part of the Okefenokee experience, there are also vast wet prairies, pine uplands and cypress forests. This mosaic of habitats makes the Okefenokee a “Wetland of International Importance.” The swamp itself is 38 miles long and 25 miles wide and remains one of the most well preserved and intact freshwater ecosystems in the world.

Day One

We stopped at the visitors center and asked about the 120 miles of water trails. Like hiking trails, they range from easy to difficult. We wanted to plan an easy paddle, maybe 4 or 5 hours in total. A trip to the Cedar Hammock canoe shelter sounded just right.

With the next day’s kayaking plan in place, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. We took the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Drive. The ranger told us to be on the lookout for several species of carnivorous plants and orchids blooming along the borrow ditch. She explained the ditch was created when workers “borrowed” the material to build the road.

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Rose Pogonia
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Butterwort
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Pitcher plant

 

We crossed onto Chesser Island, which was named after the family who settled there in 1858. A short path led us to the homestead…

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It’s hard to imagine what life was like in 1927 when Tom and Iva Chesser built the homestead. The yard was kept free of vegetation to reduce the fire hazard and  to increase the chance of seeing any snakes that might wander by. There are many remnants of family’s life on the island…

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Cane syrup hearth

Our final stop on the Swamp Island Drive was the Chesser Island Boardwalk…

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We kept our eyes open for wildlife. The ranger told us a bobcat had been hanging around the boardwalk, but alas, I had to settle for lizards…

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We climbed the 40-foot Owl’s Roost Tower for a view of Seagrove Lake…

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Day Two

Our first plan was to be at the refuge early, but when I woke up, it was a chilly 63 degrees. I decided I wasn’t in a hurry! It was almost 10am when we arrived warming up quickly. We signed the paddlers’ log, we began our adventure.

We followed the Suwanee Canal for about a mile and a half before finding the entrance to the Cedar Hammock trail. Along the way, I marveled at the reflections in the tannin rich waters…

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We saw a few alligators in the canal. Despite being in a kayak, I did not feel threatened by their presence.  Okefenokee NWR-1990

Although, one surfaced so close to the front of my kayak, I could see it’s eyes but not it’s snoot. A little too close.

We left the motorboats behind when we entered the trail. They had all been courteous, slowing down to no wake speed when they passed, but I was happy to head deeper into the swamp…

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The trail was peaceful, with scores of water lilies blooming along the way…

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At the end of the trail there is an overnight shelter and outhouse.

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I got out to stretch and watch the alligator swimming by…

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As we were leaving, I noticed a baby alligator among the lily pads…

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Steve took the lead on the way back to the canal. I wonder if he saw this guy…

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I loved every minute of our paddle! From the anhinga…

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To the turtle…

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It was amazing!

Would you kayak with the alligators? Do  you think we’re nuts?

Bare Bones Beauty

We are heading to Wisconsin to work for the summer, but needed a few adventures first. There are quite a few places on the Georgia coast that have been on my “must see” list for, literally, years. We stayed at Walkabout Camp and RV, just south of Woodbine, Ga because 1) it is a Passport America park, saving us 50%, and 2) it is centrally located to so many great places.

Jekyll Island has been a destination for more than 3500 years. The Muskogian Tribes hunted and fished there, the Spanish and the English fought over it and the richest men in American played there. In 1886 it was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club.

Munsey’s Magazine called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world. . . .” For those who represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth at the turn of the century, the Jekyll Island Club became an exclusive retreat. Families with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Baker built the elegant Clubhouse and “cottages” in Victorian architectural styles. Read more history here

While the history is incredible, our destination was Driftwood Beach. Since it came so highly recommended by several people, I didn’t do any research before we went. What I pictured and what we found were worlds apart. I had conjured up images of little pieces of sun bleached wood scattered over the beach, brought in by the tide. Isn’t that what driftwood is? What we found can only be called a tree graveyard.

Near the north end of the island is a small parking area and a path leading to the beach. Walking along, I stopped to photograph a dead tree. I’ve always loved the bare bones beauty of skeletal trees. Their up-reaching branches naked for all to see…

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When we reached the beach, I was shocked by what we found…

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Skeletal trees, some standing, some fallen in tangled masses, littered the beach. I later learned this is due to the fact the north end of the island is slowly eroding. The uncharacteristically small waves have enough strength to carry grains of sand, but not enough to carry the mighty oaks and gnarly pines out to sea. What was once the tree line, is now the beach. Since trees can’t live in the salt water, they die, leaving behind twisted sculptures…

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It was low tide when we arrived, but it was easy to see how far up the beach the water would be in a few hours. Several of the stumps were covered in barnacles…

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And hiding in the hollows of many of the logs were critters waiting for the tides to return…

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I was pleasantly surprised by how few people were on the beach, perhaps because tourist season hasn’t really begun yet. Between the lack of people and the otherworldly appearance of the trees, the beach has a lonely, haunted feeling…

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When the returning shrimp trawlers appeared on the horizon, they could have been easily mistaken for winged leviathans coming to reclaim the beach…

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There were a few people scattered along the beach. Some getting their morning exercise…

While others were planning a relaxing afternoon…

Along with the scattered tree, hundreds of washed up cannonball jellyfish lay dead or dying on the beach. I found a great website which allowed me to identify it and let me know what other jellyfish one could expect on Jekyll Island…

Not everything was dead, sign of life could also be seen, like the tiny common spider crab that scared the bejezzas out of me when I almost stepped on it…

And the nesting area for the Wilson’s plovers…

And atop a surviving (for now) oak , a woodpecker found some lunch…

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The incoming tide swallowed the beach while sun baked seaweed waited to be drenched again…

And shorebirds scrambled for a last minute meal…

Across the inlet, the St. Simon’s lighthouse stands sentinel over the tides…

Walking back to the trailhead, I was mesmerized by the patterns of the tangled roots, imagining all sorts of images…

Steve was kind enough to go back to the parking lot and get my lensball before we walked on the southern end of the beach…

The main difference heading south is all the rocks strewn on the beach…

When we ran out of trails, we returned to the Jeep to continue our drive around the island. If we had more time, we might have stopped at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or taken the tram through the historic district, but it was time to call it a day. Jekyll Island offered me one last photo op as we headed back to Waldo, a raccoon scurried into the marsh as we passed…

We really enjoyed our time on the island and have the picture to prove it…