Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island still retains most of its natural state. Once a playground for the wealthy Carnegie’s, today is protected as a national seashore. Access to the island is by boat and the only means of transportation on Cumberland Island is by foot and/or bike unless one is taking the Lands and Legacies Tour in which case the National Park Service provides van transportation for.
At this time of year the NPS ferry leaves the St. Marys dock twice daily, 9 AM and 11:45 AM. Departure times from Cumberland Island back to the main land are at 10:15 AM, 2:45 PM and 4:45 PM. In the Winter season, Dec.1-Feb.28, the 2:45 PM return is omitted. There are no services on the island other than five conveniently placed restrooms and drinking water refill stations. Everything must be brought in with you and everything, including trash, must be taken out when you depart.
Primitive camping is permitted in 5 separate locations, a permit is required. At 2 of the camps, modern restroom facilities are provided, along with water filling stations and cold showers. A bit rugged for most people but the quiet serenity and natural beauty of the island are worth every bit of the effort, inconvenience and discomfort one might suffer for a day or two. We would consider camping out here ourselves if one, Tucker were allowed, and two, we still had the pup tent and “roughing it” camping equipment we’d need to bring along.
Since the NPS doesn’t allow pets on board the ferry, we chose to limit our visit to the island to 3 hours. Allowing for the added time that the NPS asks for prior to departure and for our travel time, we felt leaving Tucker alone at the rig for 5 hours was the maximum we could ask of him to “hold it.” This short visit ruled out the Lands and Legacies Tour for us as that requires the majority of the day. Our time frame limited us to either the Dungeness Ruins or the beach. I left the decision up to Don. If you know Don you know exactly which one he chose.
THE BEACH of course!
We disembarked the ferry at the Sea Camp dock, the one closest to the seashore and made the half mile walk toward the beach. This half mile is on the most alluring trail we’ve ever walked. Beautiful old Live Oaks with their numerous gnarly branches twisting out in every direction, their treetops spreading broadly and thickly above us, hung with Spanish moss and the trail littered thickly with fallen leaves masking the sound of our footfalls upon the path. We hardly breathed, not wanting to break the silence that engulfed us. We had this beautiful enchanting place all to ourselves. Then all at once the landscape changes. The trees and Palmetto palms give way to huge ocean sand dunes covered with tall grasses, sea oats and beach primrose. We follow a boardwalk across the protected dunes to the ocean beyond. The Atlantic is full of action. The waves keep a constant steady pace, rolling in, dark and cold. We see only 3 other people here with us and they are way off in the distance.
We discover all manner of sea items washed up by the waves where the high tide line exists. The sand is littered with whelks, Angel Wings, scallops and conchs. There are horseshoe crab shells, crab claws, driftwood and Sea Grapes. We even see stingrays that were beached and left to die and a multitude of oceans debris that I don’t know the names of.
Don introduces the Sanibel Stoop to Cumberland Island on his quest for the biggest, prettiest seashell he can find. He focuses on finding conch shells but I can’t resist the Angel Wings. We both lose track of the time.
I finally think to glance at my watch, OH NO!!! Our departure time is 2:45 PM and the park rangers have requested we be at the dock 15 minutes ahead of time. We estimate we spent 15-20 minutes on the trail walking over to the beach. We have 15 minutes to make our way back up the shoreline, over the boardwalk, walk the half mile back to the dock and board the boat. Forget about being there 15 minutes early. What a pair we made, Don fast walking because he can’t run since having had his knee replacement, and me with my tender ankle trying to keep up. We make it with not a minute to spare. My ankle is complaining and now my bum knee is chiming in. (I tore a ligament in my right knee 4 years ago. An MRI I had done at the time showed it couldn’t be repaired. Every so often it likes to reminds me it’s torn.)
Back at camp I sit with right knee and ankle elevated, ice on both and Ibuprofen in my system. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for an idyllic afternoon outing.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid……………………