This afternoon we hopped in a flat bottom skiff to explore the Okefenokee Swamp. The park offers swamp tours twice each day, once at 10 AM and again at 2 PM. The tour lasted two hours and it was great. As we explored the swamp, the ranger shared many insights regarding its morphology, history, and biology. As we slowly cruised the lakes and canals of the swamp, we saw turtles sunning themselves of logs, a Barred Owl sitting on a tree limb almost in reach of us, the Great Snowy Egret, the minute Cricket Frog and, of course, lots and lots of alligators.
I took lots of photos, which I will post once we return to the land of better Internet. While in the middle of this 700 square mile swamp, we have very poor Internet coverage. It waxes and wanes, going from no bars to barely 1 bar of strength.
We learned that Okefenokee is a Seminole Indian word which means “land of trembling earth.” They called this vast swamp land “okefenokee” because it is filled with wet peat and the peat shakes and vibrates as one walks upon it.
The swamp receives all of its water from rainfall, getting on the average about 50 inches of rain a year. During years of low rainfall, much of the swamp’s water drains out by flowing down the Suwannee River to the Gulf of Mexico or the St. Mary’s River to the Atlantic. This greatly lowers the areas of swampland covered by standing water and during years of drought results in swamp fires caused by lightning strikes. The fires burn not only the standing trees but also burns the dried-out peat. Peat fires can burn for months as they can tunnel through the peat, following paths of drier peat. While the surface may become moist again from rain, below may be smoldering, only to appear once the surface dries out again. The fire can also return to the surface by burning out the roots of trees and then follow those roots upward to the trunk.
Most of the old stand cypress trees were removed by logging during the first part of the 1900s. Once the large cypress stands were removed, the logging company sold the swampland to the US government in 1937, which turned it into a national wildlife refuge. The cypress trees are coming back, as you will see in the photos that I will be posting and are now just naturally thinned out by the periodic fires that I mentioned above.
It takes centuries for the cypress to reach their full height of about 150 feet. Thus, most of the cypress forests that have returned are only about 50 to 80 feet tall. Nevertheless, they are romantically beautiful with their trunks standing in water and their limbs draped with Spanish Moss.
We followed the meandering waterways that cut through the shadowy cypress forests, many times just drifting in the slow current. This allowed us to get up close to a number of animals as we drifted by. We followed a Great Snowy Egret as he hopped scotched down the waterway, repeatedly flying a short distance and then landing. We finally passed him by as it was standing on his long legs right in front of a huge alligator resting on a log.
We also learned that alligators are opportunistic feeders. They just lie very still, waiting for some animal to wander close by. When the soon-to-be-food is within range, the alligator lunges forward, snapping up its prey with its large, teethy mouth. I captured one huge gator quickly flipping itself away from us as we got within inches of him and will post it so you can see how fast these beasts can move.
We also learned that the swamp is filled with meat-eating plants. These meat-eaters include the Pitcher Plant, the Sun Dew Plant and the Bladderwort Plant. Our ranger dipped his hand into the swamp water and scooped up a handful of Bladderwort to show us up close and personal. Bladderwort’s leaves have small air sacs or bladders in which minute water creatures such as larvae, nematodes, water fleas, protozoa, and small worms are trapped. Each bladder has a small opening through which the tiny animal can enter but cannot escape. Eventually the trapped organisms die and their bodies decompose to be absorbed by the plant.
I am afraid this blog is a bit dry without the pictures I took. However, I am sure you will enjoy the montage I will be putting together and sharing once we have better Internet.
Tomorrow will be a rest day as we enjoy our last day here in the swamp. Well, it will be a rest day for me as Mary Margaret wishes it to be a laundry day. She is clever in how she schedules the laundry days. Most places we stay out do not have a direct hookup to the sewer. Thus, she marshals our grey water production so that she usually does our laundry the day before we leave where we are at. That way, our grey water tank is near full when we leave. On our way out of the park, we pull up to the sewer dump station and empty our grey and black water tanks. Thus, we arrive at our next park with empty tanks. We can usually go about a week to 10 days before we need to empty our tanks.
Tomorrow, we will be heading off to Fort McAllister State Park, located along the shores of the Ogeechee River, just to the south of Savanah, Georgia. It is where General Sherman defeated a Confederate force manning the fort which protected Savanah. This was the last phase of his “March to the Sea”. His forces followed a “scorched earth” policy, destroying military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupting the Confederacy’s economy and its transportation networks. His march is credited with breaking the back of the Confederacy and ultimately led to its defeat.
We will be staying there a week, which we hope will give us enough time to explore that beautiful and historic city.