Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cumberland Island

Two posts back I mentioned going to Cumberland Island as we stayed at a historic hotel in St. Mary's, Georgia.  This is our trip:

We took the morning ferry over to Cumberland Island.  The day was warm as we were still in our streak of days over 90 degrees, days when the heat index was rising over 110.  There was little wind when we boarded the ferry for its 45 minute ride to the southernmost of Georgia’s Sea Islands.  These islands stretch from the Santee River in South Carolina to Amelia Island, which is just across the Florida border.   We snaked our way through the St. Mary’s River and into the Cumberland Sound.  At the mouth of the river, across from the large paper mill on Florida’s Amelia Island, we headed north.  (Why Florida allowed such a thing on one of these beautiful islands is unknown to me.  Thankfully, most of Georgia’s islands are protected. 

As we head north, to starboard is Cumberland Island; off port, somewhat hidden behind another island, is King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base.  The ferry makes a short stop at Dungeness, where a few people planning to stay for the day depart, and then continues on to Sea Camp, where we depart.  Coming into the island, we have a mandatory ranger talk about what we can and can’t do on a National Seashore.  She hands out red film for us to put over our flashlights if we want to walk on the beach at night.  We are coming into turtle hatching season and the young turtles will mistake flashlights for the moon and get lost as they make their way back to the water (we don’t see any turtles).  Then she assigns campsites (there are four of us).  Not knowing anything about the sites, I take one she suggests for being great for hammocks.  Next time I will ask for a campsite closer to the ocean in order to get the maximum breeze.  We hike the half mile to the assigned site, set up camp and then head to the beach.  It’s heavenly. 

There are some twenty miles of beach on Cumberland Island and only a handful of people are out enjoying the sun.  We set up an umbrella to give us some solar protection and spend a leisurely afternoon reading.  I take a couple of dips in the ocean.  The water in the beaches further north in Georgia have low visibility because of the amount of silt coming out from rivers.  But Cumberland Island is larger and the water clearer.   After a couple of hours, we retreat back to our camp, have dinner and then walk back over to the sound for an incredible sunset.   

On our second day on the island, we begin walking north along the beach.  We just missed the sunrise, but enjoy incredible views and watch birds play in the surf.  The shrimp boats are out working early.  We return to the camp under the tangled trees, fix breakfast of oatmeal and perked coffee, before heading back out.

Maritime Forest (live oaks, saw palmetto, pines, holly)

Entrance to Dungeness
We take the river trail down to the Dungeness ruins.  At one time a community was situated around this estate and many of the buildings still stand.  The first house on the site was built by Catherine Greene, the widow of General Nathanael Greene.  Her husband had been granted land on the island as a part of his pay for service during the Revolutionary War.  Interestingly, it was in the Greene home that Henry “Light-horse Harry” Lee, father or Robert E. Lee, died.  He had stopped there on a return trip from the West Indies.  He was sick and nursed by Nathanael Greene’s daughter.  After his death, the naval attachment based in St. Mary’s provided the Revolutionary War hero a military funeral on the island.  The first Dungeness fell into ruin in the middle of the 19th Century.  Even in ruins, the place is incredible.  To have been at this house during its day, when there were large parties and the gardens were in bloom would have been a treat.  While walking around, we keep bumping into wild horses that still inhabit the island.  Two of the horses have found a low live oak to use as a backscratcher and are seemingly pleased with themselves.

Horses and wild turkeys 
Horses scratching their backs

In the 1880s, Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew and also a wealthy industrialist in his own right, brought much of the island.  On the ruins of the first Dungeness, he built a much larger and more elegant home, which he also called Dungeness.  Sadly, he died before he could see the finished home, but his widow and family continued to live in the home until 1925.  The home was abandoned and burned in 1959.  

Laundry Room 

Around the home are houses for servants (which many Park Service employees stay when on the island), a huge laundry, an ice house (ice was sailed down from New England and stored for parties), a boat house, a huge barn and assorted other buildings that helped make life in the 58 room mansion comfortable.  About eight miles north of Dungeness is Plum Orchard Mansion.  It was built for Thomas and Lucy’s son.  It’s open for tours, but we decide not to hike that far (we could have rented bicycles, but decided against it because of the heat).  At the far end of the island is Greyfield Inn, which was built for one of their daughters.  That mansion is still operated by a member of the Carnegie family as a guest lodge.  Nightly Lodging starts at $645, which includes three meals and an afternoon tea.  Most of the island was given to the National Park Service in the early 70s to create Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Dungeness before the fire

Main Road that runs the length of the island
Sunset with approaching storm
After we toured the ruins of Dungeness, we hike back to our camp, have lunch and then head to the beach for another wonderful afternoon of sitting under an umbrella and enjoying the sound of the surf.  The wind comes up, so it doesn’t feel as hot as the day before.  However, the wind dies around sunset, which we again watched from the marsh side.  It appears we might get a thunderstorm and there’s some spectular lightning in the distance, but the shore breeze keeps the storms inland.  Without the wind, it’s another hot humid night of sleeping on top of the sheet.  In the early morning, I’m awaken by something rustling and making a racket in our campsite.  I wonder if I had left the door open to the food box that the park service provides, but upon looking realize it’s just an armadillo.  Those animals are as graceful as a Sherman tank.  At dinner the evening before, we saw a whole family of raccoons make their way through the camp (which is why they have food boxes mounted on poles), but they didn’t bother us.
Looking south at sunrise (toward paper mill on Amelia Island)

Thanks to the armadillo, we’re up well before sunrise on our final day on the island.  We take a long hike at sunrise, then return to camp to fix breakfast (oatmeal and perked coffee).  Then we pack everything and hike to the dock in time for the 10:30 AM boat to the mainland.  I will return to this island as there is so much more to see. 

Traveling tip:  If you go to the island and stay at sea camp (which is only a half-mile walk), you can rent carts to haul stuff.  Others came with coolers and stuff.  Although there are no stores on the island, you can buy ice from the ferry (which comes to the island four times a day during the summer).  They also sell snacks and sodas.  We chose to hike in, but did have folding beach chairs strapped to our packs and an umbrella, which added a lot of weight but was worth it for spending hours on the beach.   

Have you been to Cumberland Island?  Would you be interested?    

Friday, September 09, 2016

An Encounter with Hermine

As its beginning to be light
The call came at 5:30 AM, an obnoxious buzzer from the 911 app on my phone.  Yesterday, the pager system went down, which is a bummer as the storm approaches.  I crawl out of bed, step into the bathroom and look at the phone.  I can’t read a thing, so I find my glasses.  It’s not a fire, but a public service call.  Someone has a tree on their roof.  I no longer rush, but dress listening to the rain and wind.  The storm isn’t supposed to be here until later this afternoon, but we’re definitely in a storm band from Hermine.  When the rain abates for a moment, I can hear distant thunder.  Grabbing some snacks as I don’t know how long I’ll be, I put on my raincoat and head out.  Without the pager, which allows you to hear radio traffic from the trucks, I’m unsure what I’m heading into. 

There are now two calls, one on Village Green Circle and another on Hunting Lane, both on the north end of the island.  I drive through the dark, down streets covered with Spanish moss, leaves and needles, but no real obstacles.  That all changes as I enter the Marshwood section of the island, that changes.  I dodge limbs and then pull to a stop behind the firetruck.  In front of us is a mass of trees in the middle of the road.  Ben and Shawn, who had stayed at the station overnight, brought out Engine 9 and are among the debris along with a couple of workers from the association.  Together, we worked to clear the road.  I haul limbs to the side and hold a flashlight for Ben who has the chainsaw.  It’s slow going.  After a bit of hard work, without making much headway, one of the workers for the association suggests that it would be a good idea to get out the backhoe.  We agree!  It would make things easier. 
On Hunting, as the sky lightens
We continue to cut and haul for the next fifteen or so minutes, but soon he’s back.  Instead of a digging arm, he’s put on claws that allows him to effortlessly grab logs and move them aside.  We walk along the backhoe so that we can cut logs that are too long for him to handle.  In ten or fifteen minutes, we have a path through the down trees and are able to make it to Hunting Lane.  We find a couple with two trees on their home.  “What took you so long, they ask?”  There isn’t really anything we can do and the trees look unstable.  Looking around, I see other trees that are broken.  One is a live oak about four feet in diameter with a crack at its base.  It’s leaning toward their neighbor’s house.  I go over and see a light on in the back (the entire island has underground utilities so electricity has stayed on despite an obvious tornado.  In his backyard, I realize he’s lost part of a porch.  I tell him about the other tree, but he doesn’t seem too worried and says he’ll stay in the far end of his house.  As we head back to the truck, I realize that it’s getting a little lighter.  Also, the rain has stopped.  We look around and can’t believe the devastation.  We head over to where a truck and crew from the station at the north end of the island are working.  Move devastation. This wasn’t supposed to be a bad storm.
The only home I saw that lost a roof
A natural area, notice the twisted pines

For the rest of the morning, we’re constantly being called out to help clear a fallen tree from a road or to help someone get their vehicle out of a garage that’s blocked.  One house has a gas lantern by the street, which has been knocked out by a fallen tree.  Gas is coming out and the woman of the house sacred her house might blow up.  I assure her she’s okay and eventually find the shut off valve for the lantern.  Other homes with major damage have no one at home and we cut the power and gas just in case.   Sadly, one of the homes destroyed was my secretary’s and her husband.  They told of how scary it was to have the skylights sucked out as the storm passed over. 
A stray tree on a house outside of tornado area
Our last storm related call is around 1 PM.  The eye has already passed us and the rain has abated.  At home, I check the gage and we’ve received 3.41 inches of rain in the past twenty-four hours.  Combined with yesterday’s 1.65 inches, we’ve received a little over five inches in two days.   After a dry summer, we can use the water.  Thankfully, there are only small branches, pine cones and leaves down at my house.  Labor Day will be a day of laboring for many of us on the island as we clean up from the storm. 

Driving through the tornado area after a fire call
This was later in the morning after the street had been cleared
A few days later, the National Weather Service published a bulletin on the storm.  It was an EF-1 tornado which developed over Romerly Marsha and moved westward for 1.3 miles, or about half way across the island.  The maximum winds were only 110 miles per hour, which while doing a number on trees didn’t flatten any houses.  The storm, at its largest, was 350 yards wide.  Although there were a number of trees down on the rest of the island, most of the major damage to homes were in the tornado’s path.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Riverview Hotel

Life continues at a frantic pace.  Labor Day is going to be just that, laboring as I have a messy yard after Tropical Storm Hermine came through here on Friday morning.  That turned out to be a busy day that started way too early as we (Volunteer Fire Department) were called out early.  A tornado struck the north end of our island and damaged a number of homes and blocked many roads with a tangled mess of live oaks.  More about that later.  Here is a post I started Thursday night.

I’d scheduled a few days R&R after dropping my daughter off at college.  My plan was to spend a couple of nights on Cumberland Island, enjoying the beach (more about that in another post), but I needed a place to stay the night before heading over to the island.  As the Cumberland Island ferry leaves from St. Mary’s GA (a town just north of the Florida border), I checked for local establishments.  There are a lot of rooms in the St. Mary’s area, especially out near Interstate 95, but in the old town there were several B&Bs and an old hotel, The Riverview, that was celebrating 100 years of business (and 90 years in the same family).  Their lists of guests included Rockefellers, Carnegies (the family once owned most of Cumberland Island) and Willard Scott.  I knew that was the place.  I have a thing for old hotels.

Notice the cat
The cat was yawning, and isn't fierce at all!
The Riverview Hotel looks like an old hotel from out west, except that instead of using adobe, they used tabby construction.  Tabby is a cement made from oyster shells and sand.  The building has a veranda out front, from which one could look out on the harbor and the St. Mary’s River and look over to Amelia Island, Florida.  It was also a place where certain guests went to smoke, but more about that later.  The rooms are all upstairs, the first floor consist of the office in the middle and a saloon on the north end and a restaurant on the south side.  Inside, at the registration desk sitting on the sign-in booklet is a friendly black cat (I never did sign in).  When we arrived there were no one at the front gate and a note that said to see the bartender as they’d taken the dog for a walk.  The office area wasn’t air conditioned and was extremely hot at the end of a day that approached the century mark (100 degrees F) with extremely high humidity.  The bartender was friendly and got us our keys.  We were in the Willard Scott room.  We were told we’d want to turn on the air conditioner and cool the room (no kidding!).  We went up and dropped our bags, turned on the AC, then went down to the dining room where we stood waiting for a table.  There was only one server and she was engaged in a deep conversation with the only table with patrons.  We waited and waited and decided we didn’t need to give our business to someone who didn’t even acknowledge us.  We headed to the saloon.  We learned they shared menus and the place was lively.  The bartender was over immediately to get us drinks and give us a menu.  I had a wonderful blacken grouper sandwich.
Upstairs  hallway (beautiful but hot)

We sat at the bar and talked to other patrons (a couple from Beaufort, South Carolina who regularly visits) and a couple of locals.  The beer was cold and the prices reasonable.  An hour or so later, we were back to the room.  The room was just beginning to cool off.  We watched a little of the closing of the Olympics, but went to bed early.  I’d been a long day and we needed to be up early in the morning to catch the ferry to Cumberland Island.  The ferry terminal was across the street.
The next morning, I went out and wrote in my journal on the veranda.  Even though the sun was just coming up, it was hot and sticky.  Another guy came out on the veranda and spent the time talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette.  I realized then why the room which was non-smoking smelled like smoke.  He stood right in front of our air conditioner unit and it was sucking in his exhaust.   The hotel had a light breakfast (cereal, fruit, pastries and coffee), which fueled us for our trip to Cumberland Island. 
The ferry to Cumberland Island

 I wouldn’t recommend this hotel for everyone, but if you like old places, you might like it.  I’d take it any day over the cookie cutter hotels along the interstate.  The room was clean.  I wish they could have cooled the room a bit before we arrived.  Also, the air conditioner unit was loud.  I would stay again, but probably not in the summer.  Also, I wouldn’t pay the extra fifteen dollars for the veranda room as it doesn’t really matter.  The room didn’t have a door onto the veranda and all patrons have access to it (though a sitting room).  Furthermore, not being on the veranda would mean that you wouldn’t have to deal with cigarette smoke being drawn into the room.  I’d enjoy spending time exploring St. Mary’s as well as returning to Cumberland Island, so maybe one day I’ll return.