The Summer of Aborted Expeditions

I always dream of living in the pristine wilderness of Pleistocene Georgia about 36,000 years ago–before people with their noisy machines, polluting industries, and aggravating rules and regulations ruined it.  Because this isn’t possible, except in my imagination, I choose to go on vacation to areas that have at least a semblance of wilderness.  But this involves driving and hotels.  I hate driving and staying in fleabag hotels.  There are too many tailgating bastards on the road who pass in no passing zones, and honk their horns, if they deem other drivers as obstacles because they’re only going 10 miles over the speed limit instead of 20.  And most hotels (even expensive fancy ones) are infested with fleas, bedbugs, kids stomping on the floor in the upstairs room at midnight, and couples loudly advertising their all night libidos next door. There is so little wilderness left that it’s depressing how far I have to drive and what I have to endure to reach it. 

On my first wilderness trip this summer I went to Hiawassee, Georgia to visit the Charles Wharton Nature Center.  I couldn’t find the address on the internet but assumed someone in the town would know where it was.  I had emailed the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (they manage the site) two weeks before I left, but they didn’t respond.  Well…nobody in Hiawassee ever heard of the Charles Wharton Nature Center.  I wanted to see it because it was a cove forest that had plants and animals that favor northern affinities–relic populations that were more widespread in the south during the Ice Age.  Instead, I settled for enjoyable trips to Black Rock Mountain State Park and Brasstown Bald which I recounted in blog entries earlier this summer.  Two weeks after I returned home the Georgia Department of Natural Resources finally answered my email, informing me that the Charles Wharton Nature Center was not open to the public.

While driving home through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, I felt sad about leaving the wilderness, so I decided to take a few day trips later in the summer to see some local natural attactions.  My research led me to choose the Yuchi Wildlife Management Area in Burke County about a 35 minute drive from my house.  Satellite photos suggested the presence of open pine savannah, and a birder reported seeing loggerhead shrikes there.  I’ve never seen a shrike and was eager to try to find one.  To avoid the heat we visited in the evening.  Disaster nearly struck at the management area entrance–the dirt road was a sand trap, and my Toyota almost got stuck, the wheels spinning in near futility.  Obviously, 4 wheel drives were the favored vehicle here.  A dead zone in cell phone service, and my disabled wife, a passenger in the car, could have meant spending the night in an uncomfortable situation in the middle of nowhere.  I decided not to risk getting stuck in any sand traps and parked near the entrance far from where I’d seen what looked like open pine savannah on the satellite image.  My daughter and I hiked along the dirt road.  A swarm of sand gnats immediately besieged us.  The constant flitting about eye and ear was so unpleasant our hike was cut short.

Most of the vegetation at the Yuchi Wildlife Management Area consists of loblolly pine, red and black oak saplings, sassafras, persimmon, and broomsedge grass.  It’s ideal habitat for white tail deer.  The area is conveniently located next to Plant Vogtle.  Workers can go straight from the job to hunt in season.  Sand gnats must make it mighty unpleasant until the first frost.

There were lots and lots of deer prints.  The area looks like it was either completely clear cut recently or was abandoned farmland.  I saw no trees older than 20-30 years old.  The land is of such poor quality that the state manages it for wildlife because it’s uneconomical to do anything else with it.  Still, it does support a lot of wildlife.

A very large peanut field borders the Yuchi Wildlife Management Area.  This is part of some ideal habitat for loggerhead shrikes.  Shrikes like open farmland with short young trees and barbed wire fences.  They nest in low trees, find plenty of large insects and mice in the fields, and use the barbed wire to store their prey.  If it wasn’t for the unpleasant gnats, I was going to walk next to this fence and look for grasshoppers, mice, lizards, and snakes that a shrike might have impaled on the barbed wire.

It may not be virgin forest, but old fields can be productive wildlife habitat.

This looks like open pine savannah, but actually it’s a managed dove field.  I heard dozens of mourning doves cooing here.

A few weeks later we went to see the Philip Juras display at the Morris Museum of Art.  Every one of his paintings can be seen at this website– http://www.philipjuras.com/exhibitions/thesouthernfrontier/

It was well worth the visit–admission is free on Sunday afternoons.  There was work by other artists there as well.

I forget who painted this one.  I love paintings of old landscapes.

One of the exits of the Morris Museum of Art leads to the Savannah Riverwalk.  The residential neighborhood across the river was built within the last 20 years.  It used to be beautiful woods.  I think people who live in expensive houses on rivers are stupid.  The next big  flood will wash all those houses away.  Developers should have never been allowed to build there.

The Riverwalk.  Man, it was 100 degrees when we walked down this.

My last day trip of the summer to Anthony Shoals in the Broad River was a disappointing failure.  Anthony Shoals Road is a forked, one lane, gravel/dirt road.  It’s within a public area–The Broad River Wildlife Management area–but there were private property signs and barbed wire up and down the lane.  I saw dilapidated houses and notices warning people not to trespass, fish, or hunt.  I thought this was strange for state-owned land, the purpose of which is to provide land for hunting, fishing, and birdwatching.  The road was in much better condition than the one in the Yuchi WMA, but still I nervously feared getting stuck.  We were really in the middle of nowhere.  If the car got stuck, my daughter and I could just walk out, but my wheelchair bound wife would have to wait for rescue–a godawful scenario. 

I had scouted the area from satellite photos.  I knew that if we stayed on the left hand side of the fork we would reach a big flat rock where the shoals would be visible for my wife in the car.  The lane led us to a big field and I looked to the right and could see the shoals about 1/2 – 1 mile away and wrongly assumed I was on the wrong fork.  The next day I realized that if only I stayed on the left fork, we would have made it to Anthony Shoals in about 10 minutes.   Instead, I went all the way back to the fork and went down the other one where we found the lane blocked by a fallen tree.   I gave up, thinking the way was blocked–though the next day I understood both led to the Shoals.

As a consolation, we visited a nearby campground on the Broad River.  The campground manager gave me a 20 minute courtesy pass, but between all the no trespassing signs on Anthony Shoals Road and his reminder not to stay longer than 20 minutes and picnic or he’d charge me $18, I felt harrassed my human rules and regulations, even though we were in the middle of nowhere with a population of 5, including us, the campground manager, and his wife.

I only stayed for 10 minutes but saw a great blue heron, 2 egrets, an osprey, a turkey vulture, the bottom carapace to a very large turtle carcass, and a willow tree-covered island.  Because of low batteries, none of the pictures I took remained on the camera’s file. 

The Broad River is remote, rich, and packed with wildlife.  I’ve been kicking myself for over a week for not continuing down the left fork of Anthony Shoals Road.  I only felt worse when I read the following blog about a kayaking club that traveled down the Broad River several times over the last year.

http://garivernetwork.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/let-the-scouting-begin/

This blog author says they saw a family of 5 otters, a beaver lodge, a bald eagle, and a yellow crowned night heron.  Now I’m convinced I missed all that because I didn’t stay on course.  Instead, I got aggravated by a cranky old campground operator,  intimidating no trespassing signs, and my own confusion.

This winter I hope to visit the Moody Nature Reserve and next summer hope to see the Land Between the Lakes.  I hope those trips are more rewarding than a couple of the aborted expeditions I took this summer.

 

A photo from the above mentioned blog of Anthony Shoals and some rare Shoals Spider lillies (Hymenocallis coranari).  I’m still pissed that I missed it when I was probably just 10 minutes away.  But it’s a 2 hour drive from my house and I hate those one lane dirt country roads, so I doubt I’ll ever make the trip again.

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3 Responses to “The Summer of Aborted Expeditions”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    Sorry about your difficulties. I tend to stay away from such sites during the summer months because of the insect problems. The ticks alone are hideous this year, as are the flesh-burrowing chiggers. I recently hiked into the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness not far from here and came out with dozens of ticks on me. I’ve never seen ticks as populous as I’ve seen them this year.

    I know your problems with the rules-enforcers. Petty little people. My wife and I merely drove through a National Forest campground last week to get a look at it for possible use with our travel trailer, and the campground host followed us all along the way in his gas-powered mule, tailgaiting us the entire way. I wanted to back over his sorry ass and leave him there for the bugs.

    You should look into some kind of trailer. A popup or small hardsided travel trailer. My wife and I used to tent camp until a black bear wrecked our campsite at Standing Indian Campground here in NC. It beats staying in fleabag hotels filled with noisy neighbors. Now we only stay in hotels or lodges when we fly to destinations and don’t have our travel trailer with us. There are all kinds of small, light travel trailer available these days, some of them made of fiberglass that add only a couple of miles per gallon to your gasoline bill and which are preferable to (and cheaper) than hotel stays. We use a Casita trailer–the 17-foot one. But they make an even smaller 13-foot model.

  2. James Robert Smith Says:

    My tiny little travel trailer has a TV. I can generally get WiFi at an office or restaurant within driving distance of any campground.

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