Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2010 Fort Clinch State Park (5/11/2010)

A quick wedding to satisfy Navy bureaucracy resulted in hosting several strangers in our home, but also being able to see old friends.
Kent went to college with Herb, and our families were friends in Rumford, RI. The occasion of Herb and Kristin's oldest daughter's wedding during a weekend of Mother's Day and The Players golf tournament meant a shortage of hotel rooms, so we provided rooms for some of the wedding guests. Although Kristin and younger daughter Katie had to return to India, Herb was able to stay on a few days. We had dinner on Monday at the Blue Bamboo with Herb and older daughter Jenny, whose new husband JP stayed home to study for an exam.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Today Jenny, Herb and Tamiko drove up to Amelia Island via the Mayport ferry. Except for the occasional palm trees, the sand dunes could have been at Cape Cod, MA - where we have hiked together before.
We drove as close as we could to the Amelia Island Lighthouse, which is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. The lighthouse was originally built in 1820 at the southern tip of Cumberland Island across the St. Mary's River from Amelia Island, as that was the southernmost point of the U.S. while Amelia Island was held by Spain. In 1838 the Cumberland Island Lighthouse was dismantled and reconstructed on the highest point of Amelia Island.
Jenny and JP had already been hiking in Fort Clinch State Park, so Jenny guided us to the trailhead at the Fort's parking lot. The drive into the park was through a tunnel of live oak branches covered with Spanish moss. We walked nearly a mile on the shared off-road biking trail and hiking trail. Then followed the Magnolia and Willow Pond hiking trails around a series fresh water ponds, many with duckweed covering the surfaces.
Jenny and JP had successful wildlife sightings, but today at first all we saw was a cardinal. Then we saw the muddy path of an alligator off to one side of the trail.
An alligator footprint:
Jenny & Herb:
Several yards farther, we saw some flattened grasses. So this alligator had shared a part of the trail with us!
The trail was posted with signs naming and describing the trees and plants. The live oaks were particularly gnarly and huge! Here Herb is dwarfed by a live oak branch (as he stands behind a saw palmetto!).
He and Jenny proceeded to climb this tree!
A fallen live oak:
Jenny heard a soft swooshing sound; and spotted a snake crawling (fortunately away from us!) towards the edge of the pond, only a few feet from us. It was that mottled black color that I associate with water moccasins, and its head was triangular in shape. It was no more than two feet long and went about 6 inches into the water. Later, after studying a snake book at home, I would have to say it was a Florida (Banded) Water Snake, because every snake seems to have a triangular head, and this one had the banded look. It was also more uniform in width, not having that fat flat look of venomous snakes. And it did not have the white facial stripes of a water moccasin. But, gee, it did have that dull matte look instead of a shine...
We think we did both named trails and the High Water Bypass. As we backtracked towards the exit, Herb caught sight of a baby alligator while watching a dragonfly and seeing it land on a surface that wasn't exactly a log!
Later I found two baby alligators facing each other on a log further across the pond.
Leaning red cypress tree supported by its branches:
Before heading home, we drove through the town of Fernandina Beach to the Intracoastal side.
We tried to figure out the eight countries that gave Amelia Island the nickname of the "Isle of Eight Flags." Jenny called JP to google the answer, and we were disappointed to learn that some of the flags were not of official countries! Nevertheless, Amelia Island is the only U.S location to have been in the possession of eight different entities.
Of course, the native Timucuans were here first, but French Huguenot Jean Ribault planted the first flag in 1562. The Spanish arrived to slaughter the Huguenots, and in 1573 they established a mission on the island. British raids lead to the abandonment of the missions here, and the British squatted on the island and named it for King George II's daughter. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ceded Florida to Great Britain. The Second Treaty of Paris in 1783 gave Florida back to Spain. (Spain is counted only as one of the eight flags.)
Now history gets murky. In 1812, insurgents calling themselves the "Patriots of Amelia Island" seized the island and raised a Patriot flag. They replaced it with a U.S flag. But Spain regained control in 1813 and erected a fort on the island. In 1817, a Scottish-born soldier of fortune, Gregor MacGregor, seized the fort and claimed the island for the "Green Cross." Spain forced MacGregor's withdrawal, but couldn't regain complete control because of American irregulars (not sure what that means!). The irregulars joined French-born pirate Louis Aury, who claimed the island on behalf of Mexico. (And now I know why pirates are so prominent in Fernandina Beach!)
The U.S. Navy drove out Aury in 1817, and held the island in trust for Spain. In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States. Florida became a state in 1845. Later the U. S. started building Fort Clinch, but did not complete it. Florida seceded in 1861 to join the Confederate States of America. In 1862, Union forces raised the U. S. flag on the island.
Jenny noticed at the Fort Clinch gift shop that the Confederate flag is still popular!

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