Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010 National Public Lands Day (9/25/2010)

Saturday, September 25, 2010
Once again, public lands (national and state parks) were open with free admission.
Our first and main destination was Fort Matanzas National Monument. The Visitor Center (built by the WPA in 1939)
and Nature Trail are located on the barrier island of Anastasia Island south of St. Augustine. The Matanzas River separates the island from the mainland.
Inland, great Live Oaks towered over the parking lot.
The 0.6-mile nature trail offered a glimpse of a barrier island ecosystem. First we walked through the Coastal Forest or Hammock, with cabbage palm, red bay, magnolia, and live oak trees providing shade for the understory plants such as wax myrtle, saw palmetto, yaupon holly, beauty berry, and grape vines. Five-lined Skinks quickly slipped off the boardwalk ahead of us.
Noticed a Golden Orb Spider off to one side of the trail. This spider is the size of your open hand!
We approached quietly enough to catch a Southern Black Racer on the boardwalk.
The Coastal Scrub lies between the hammock and the dunes. This area of scrub live oak also has saw palmetto, bay and cedar trees, and a few sabal palms, all tangled together with vines. The sandy ground in the scrub is home to gopher tortoises and indigo snakes, both endangered.
In an open area above the boardwalk, several golden orb spiders had woven their webs. Spiders in the sky!
Finally the trail reached the sand dunes covered with grasses like Sea Oats, and vines such as the Beach Morning Glory. Here lives the Anastasia Island Beach Mouse, also endangered, a mouse species found nowhere else except on Anastasia Island. The trail ended at the sandy shore of the Matanzas River.
After a video at the Visitors Center, we had time to explore the river shore.
Wild Oysters?
Fiddler Crabs:
A first view of the unusual fort across the Matanzas River.
You reach the fort by taking the complimentary ferry.
Approachiong Fort Matanzas, located on Rattlesnake Island.
A park ranger accompanied the group of visitors to the fort. Built in 1740 by the Spanish, most of the coquina (local shellstone material) is original.
Earlier in 1740, Governor James Oglethorpe of Georgia and his fleet blocked the entrance to the Matanzas River to lay siege to St. Augustine. The Spanish endured the siege, but immediately began construction on the fort to guard the Matanzas Inlet. It was completed in 1742, when Oglethorpe once again arrived at the inlet. Cannon fire drove away the scouting boats and the warships left. The fort was little used after the Spanish first lost control of Florida, and was already deteriorated when the United States took control in 1819. In 1916 Congress appropriated money to repair the fort, and it was a declared a National Monument in 1924.
Cannons point towards the inlet less than a half mile away.
In its time, the fort was manned by one officer, four soldiers and two gunners, for one month duty tours from St. Augustine.
Fresh water was obtained by collecting rain water.
The soldiers' quarters was a single room with a fireplace at one end.
They must have taken turns sleeping on the four-man bed.
The soldiers spent their time making ammunition or playing checkers?
Their one window had a view of the salt marshes and tidal creeks.
Upstairs, the officer had as much room as all the soldiers below.
Plus a ladder to the rooftop observation deck:
View from the observation deck straight down:
A common architectural feature of Spanish forts throughout the Caribbean is the cylindrical, domed garita or sentry box:
The Spanish flag in the 1740s:
Fort Matanzas:
Ferns growing on the fort wall:
I took a walk around the fort, and disturbed many American Grasshoppers:
Plants of the salt marsh (Red Mangrove?):
We took the ferry back to the Visitors Center, and had a Bald Eagle fly overhead. It circled the fort, noted the people were gone, and settled on the top. Also saw several Ospreys soaring above, and a couple Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins in the river.

The Matanzas River is better known for the 1565 Massacre. The French Huguenots (Protestants) had established Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River on land claimed by the Spanish, and the French used this base to launch attacks on Spanish treasure fleets. The Catholic Spanish were not happy. Jean Ribault arrived with French reinforcements and were chased by Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez. Later Ribault went to attack St. Augustine, but a hurricane wrecked his ships to the south. Meanwhile, the Spanish attacked Fort Caroline when it was undermanned and killed 140 men. Returning to St. Augustine, Menendez learned that 130 shipwrecked Frenchmen were trying to return to Fort Caroline, but were blocked by the inlet. Menendez had all but 16 of them slaughtered. Two weeks later more French shipwreck survivors appeared, including Jean Ribault. A total of 250 French were killed. Since then, the inlet and the river became known as Matanzas, the Spanish word for slaughters or massacres.

Our next and last stop was Fort Mose Historic State Park (also a U.S. National Historic Landmark). There was a 0.3-mile Nature Trail, a boardwalk through the salt marsh.
Cedar Tree and Cordgrass:
Location of Fort Mose was on the treed island seen here. It no longer exists, but artifacts can still be found underground.
Raccoon footprints in the marsh:
The Visitor Center is closed for renovation.
Fort Mose is important in the history of African-Americans. It was the first legally sanctioned settlement for free blacks. For the Spanish, slavery was not a racial issue, and St. Augustine had both enslaved people of African origin and free Africans. Black slaves of British masters in the Carolinas learned they could escape to Spanish Florida, and if they pledged to serve the Spanish Crown and defend Catholicism, they were granted asylum. In 1738, they were granted a plot of land 2 miles north of St. Augustine for their own settlement and fort. The community was named "Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose." The fort was strategic to protect the northern approaches to St. Augustine. In 1740 James Oglethorpe captured Fort Mose, but Menendez re-took it a few weeks later. The fort was not rebuilt until 1752 and the Africans stayed until 1763 when Spain gave up Florida to the British. The people moved to Cuba with the rest of the Spanish citizens of St. Augustine.

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