By Rebecca VanGinkel
The Okefenokee Swamp is a very large subtropical swamp that is located in Southeast Georgia, and also in Northeast Florida. My husband, son, and I got a chance to visit it two summers ago, when my husband was working in northern Georgia. We just looked at the map for a place to go for the weekend, and the Okefenokee Swamp immediately caught my husband’s attention. So, we packed up the car and drove south for the weekend.
Our trip didn’t start out to well. When we first arrived at the swamp, there were no cabins open to rent. We were very upset, the cabins were beautiful! The whole place was completely full! We ended up driving back to town to look for a hotel to spend the night. We found one right away, but they were also full. We went across the street to the only gas station in town to ask if they knew any place close that we could stay. An elderly man informed us that he knew a woman who would rent out her trailer for the night. He said it had TV, air conditioning, and anything else you needed! Since it was our only option, we started our short drive over to her place.
When we arrived, a very old woman met us outside in her nightgown. She welcomed us and told us to follow her. There was a very nice camper in her yard, and that was where we expected we were going to stay. Were we ever wrong! She led us to an old trailer house that looked like it was one of the first ever built. It was set on the side of a pond, which she told us to stay away from, since every once in awhile an alligator would take up home in it. We went inside and pulled a mattress into the center of the living room, and went to sleep.
The next morning we got up very early, packed up, and went on our way. We stopped at a roadside cafe, and had a wonderful breakfast. It was a buffet of breakfast foods from down south. We had biscuits and gravy, eggs, collard greens, and grits. It was delicious. Then, we were off to the swamp.
When we arrived, we went into the gift shop and information center, to see what activities we wanted to do. We knew right away that we wanted to rent a boat and drive around the swamp. We were so excited. It was very inexpensive and we didn’t even have to have a guide. We paid for our boat, grabbed our life jackets, and we were on our way to the greatest adventure of our life.
While my husband was driving our little boat, I was reading a brochure on the swamp. I was amazed to find out that the swamp was forty five miles long, and twenty five miles wide. That means it covers six hundred sixty square miles of land! The Okefenokee Swamp water drains into the Gulf of Mexico through to Suwannee River, and into the Atlantic Ocean through the Saint Mary’s River. The swamp contains more than twenty different islands and inhabits many fresh water lakes. The floor of the swamp is made of peat, which is partially decomposed plant matter. In some places, the peat is more than fifteen feet deep.
The Okefenokee Swamp is also home to many different plants and animals, many of which we seen on out boat ride. There are the most beautiful cypress trees, millions of water lilies, brush vines, and Spanish moss. Also living in the swamp, among all the beautiful plants and trees, are deer, raccoons, opossums, and more than fifty different kinds of fish, and many kinds of birds. Our favorite part of the boat ride was getting to see all the alligators! Neither me, nor my husband or son, had ever seen a live alligator out in the wild!
At one point, we saw two guys in a boat fishing. We stopped to watch them fish for awhile, to see if they were going to catch anything. All of a sudden, an alligator came out of the water, very sneakily, and inched its way towards the man’s fishing bait. As soon as the guy seen what was happening, he started reeling in his line, but the alligator was faster than him, and ripped the bait right from the line!
Besides that alligator, we saw four other alligators swimming lazily in the water, and we even seen one baby alligator swimming around. Whenever we would get close to one, they would make a huge splash in the water, and we wouldn’t see them again. They are very good at hiding. Besides alligators, we saw many different kinds of spiders too. We got out in the middle of the swamp to use a bathroom, and there was a spider on the rafters that was about three inches wide. I was so scared that I got back into our boat without using the bathroom. Another interesting thing that we saw was an old abandoned shack that was set up in the middle of the swamp. It was built with really high underneath of it, to keep it from flooding. We asked the man at the information center about it, and he told us that a man had actually lived there more than twenty years back. Maybe he was pulling our leg, but it seemed like a reasonable explanation to us.
We finished our day with a snack from the gift shop, and drove to the closest big city we could find, and stayed in a nice hotel. We have talked about going back to the Okefenokee Swamp often, and we most likely will. The only thing we will do differently this time is to make reservations to stay in one of the cabins. I would recommend you do the same if you plan on visiting, unless you want your trip to start out like mine did! It is a very rugged, beautiful place, where I’m sure anyone would enjoy visiting.