BY REX VOGEL
Rex Vogel and his wife Dania are Canadian Snowbirds who have wintered in Southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. They may be contacted at Vontheroad@aol.com.?
Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it?s still current before making your travel plans.
Legend has it: Once your feet touch the sands of Jekyll Island you will always come back.
From Charleston, South Carolina, we drive south on Highway 17 (mostly good; however, little or no shoulder) to I-95; then south on I-95 (fair to very good road) to the Georgia-South Carolina state line and Savannah, Georgia. Then to Brunswick where we stayed at Golden Isles Vacation Park for two days (167 mi/283 km). From this RV park, we explored Brunswick, Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Sea Island.
Brunswich and the Golden Isles
Brunswich and the Golden Isles are located just off I-95, about half way between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, and are reached by Exits 6 through 8. Exit 6 is the best choice for going directly to Jekyll Island, whether you are north or south bound. North bound travelers should also use Exit 6 for quick access to St. Simons Island. Exit 7 provides a straight shot to the historic downtown district of Brunswick. Those southbound with sights set on St. Simon use Exit 8.
Brunswick was founded in 1717 on a peninsula that juts into the Brunswick River. Brunswick is named for Braunsweig, Germany, ancestral home of the Hanover Kings of England, one of whom was George II, grantor of the Charter of Georgia. Brunswick?s streets and squares were laid out before the American Revolution and named for various members of English royalty and nobility. Examples include Prince, Halifax, Gloucester, Norwich, Newcastle, and Hanover.?
Historic Downtown Brunswick boasts a magnificent deep water harbour. Shrimp and crabmeat processing plants are concentrated along Bay Street from Gloucester to Prince Streets. Boats unload shrimp onto the street?s docks in the late afternoon of most weekdays.
Four centuries ago, explorers dubbed Georgia?s coastal islands the ?Golden Isles.? Even though the quest there for the precious yellow metal proved to be in vain, the name stuck. These days, the name Golden Isles primarily refers to a cluster of four barrier islands just east of Brunswick. Barrier islands are so named because they diminish the effect of ocean waves and breezes on the mainland. Their value is particularly evident during the storms, which at times ravage coastal property. The Atlantic nuggets protecting Brunswich are the islands of Jekyll, St. Simons, Little St. Simons, and Sea. Two of them ? St. Simons and Jekyll ? provide excellent outdoor adventure for the family with camping available on the wild and gorgeous Jekyll Island. Sea Island is an exclusive residential area and Little St. Simons Island is awfully expensive to visit.
A causeway bridges the six-mile marshy gap between the mainland and Jekyll Island. Miles of beautiful, white sand beaches are a Jekyll Island trademark?plus 63 holes of championship golf, an indoor/outdoor tennis complex, water fun park, fishing pier, soccer complex, marina, nature center, dining, shopping, and numerous musical events. Upon arriving on the island, you enter a maritime ecosystem protected by state law. A maximum of 35 per cent of the island will ever see development. Sand washed from the north end of Jekyll is deposited on the south end and beautiful dunes parallel the shore here. South Dunes Picnic Area offers easy access to the beach with boardwalks crossing the dunes.??
The southernmost of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island?s proud history began in 1886 when 100 of America?s most wealthy and influential men purchased the island and formed the Jekyll Island Club as their exclusive winter retreat. They built mansion-sized ?cottages? and a grand Clubhouse for their families. Among its members were such powerful and influential men as J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William Rockefeller, and Jay Gould. Dignitaries like Winston Churchill and President McKinley were refused admission. By 1900, the club?s roster represented one-sixth of the world?s wealth. A 1904 edition of Munsey?s Magazine referred to the Jekyll Island Club as ?the richest, the most exclusive, and most inaccessible club in the world.? For 54 years, Club members enjoyed the mild winters and lush beauty of Jekyll Island.
The Club closed in 1942 and five years later Jekyll Island was purchased by the State of Georgia and expanded into a magnificent, affordable getaway with the Jekyll Island Clubhouse restored to its original splendor. The Victorian clubhouse is now an elegant hotel, complementing a 63-hole public golf course, tennis center, water park, and a 20-mile bicycle path. Sightseeing cruises, fishing charters, and dolphin watches depart from Jekyll Island Historic Wharf and the Jekyll Harbor Marina. The 240-acre site is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.
We began our Jekyll Island visit at the Museum Center in the restored Club Stable, across from the Historic District on Stable Road. Here we explored free museum exhibits that tell the story of Jekyll Island from its earliest inhabitants to its restoration and development as a modern tourism destination. The eight-minute videotape, shown in the Center?s theater, illustrates the history of Jekyll Island Club, the restoration of the Historic District, and Jekyll?s modern attractions and amenities. Narrated tram tours of the Historic District begin at the Museum Center on Stable Road, and are offered daily except Christmas and New Years Day. The 90-minute tours include stops at Moss Cottage, Mistletoe Cottage, Indian Mound Cottage, and Dubignon Cottage.?
?The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18-wooded acres on the island?s north end with 199-campsites, from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, water, sewerage, and cable TV. Restrooms, showers, laundry, and a store are located on the grounds.
Spring weather usually comes to coastal Georgia in late February. Summers are long and hot, but ocean breezes moderate the heat and humidity. Delightful temperatures and clear days with relatively low humidity mark fall. Winters are brief and mild with daytime highs suitable for outdoor activities.
Laughing gulls, Ring-billed gulls, and Herring gulls are abundant in the Golden Isles year round, although they look different in the summer and the winter and the young birds look different from the adults. There are also other gulls that stop here on a regular basis. Bonapart gulls are a winter bird and Greater and Lesser Black-backed gulls are found from late summer through the winter and spring months. Complicating matters, Laughing gulls go through five different plumages from young bird to adult, Ring-billed gulls at least seven, and Herring gulls at least ten. Also, there are transitional times when these different birds are molting from one plumage to another. Some visitors spend their birding time just studying gulls because they are so challenging.
Accessible from Brunswich by the five-mile-long F.J. Torras Causeway, St. Simons is the largest of the Golden Isles. Spaniards named the island ?San Simeon? in the 1500s. St. Simons Island, tucked between a sweeping saltwater marsh and the ocean, is the size of Manhattan. Those who don?t fall for its beaches or pristine golf courses lose their hearts to the beautiful Marshes of Glynn.?
The majestic trees that dominate St. Simons and the rest of Coastal Georgia are live oaks. Their natural curves and dense wood made them the choice for construction of eighteenth-century warships. The most famous of all, the U.S.S. Constitution (known as Old Ironsides), was made from St. Simons? timber.
Frederica was established on the west coast of St. Simons in 1736.. There, on a bend in the south branch of the Altamaha River known as ?Devil?s Elbow,? the British found a strategic vantage point. Today, Fort Frederica is a national monument consisting of two units: the townsite off Frederica Road, and the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, six miles south on Demere Road.?
St. Simons Island offers a wide range of pastimes for all ages and interests, from beach and water activities to biking, playing golf and tennis, and horseback riding. On the south end of the island is The Village, a tourist complex that offers an array of shops, restaurants, a fishing pier, and beach access. The centrepiece of the area is the historic St. Simons Lighthouse, one of only five remaining in Georgia. Now automated, its beacon continues to penetrate 18 miles (29 km) into the maritime darkness. Both the lightkeeper?s residence and the lighthouse are open to the public. Ascend the tower?s 129 spiraling steps and you will get a bird?s-eye view of the island.
More than 15 miles (24 km) of paved trails wind beneath the live oaks, leading to all of St. Simon?s highlights as well as the mainland. Bicycle rentals are available at a number of locations.?
The smallest Golden Isle is Sea Island. Though connected to St. Simons Island and the mainland by a span of bridges and a causeway, Sea Island remains a world apart. Heralded since its establishment in 1928 by auto magnate Howard Coffin, this lush resort and residential paradise offers a taste of the very best of resorting life. In the primarily upscale residential area on the south end of the island is the world class (read that as $$$) Mobile 5-star Cloister Hotel. World-class service, accommodations, and activities are available, including golf, tennis, spa, skeet, horseback riding, and vintage yachts. Sea Island accommodations also include the Sea Island Cottage colony, privately owned homes, and manicured grounds that make Sea Island Drive one of the most beautiful streets in America. Highly developed, Sea Island offers few recreational opportunities for the non-resident visitor who even has to ask the price of a room.??
Barbecue has become so popular in the South; it?s considered a cultural icon. Barbecue in the south almost always means pork. A shoulder section or ribs are slow roasted and the meat is pulled off in chunks or shreds. Sauces that ?make? the barbecue vary from the thin, pale, hot sauce to the thick, dark red, somewhat sweet sauce, made from catsup, mustard, vinegar, onions, spices, and sugar.?
French hunters or buccaneers gave the term, ?barbecue,? to the new world, says the World Book Encyclopedia. A whole animal, from, ?whiskers to tail,? would be roasted over a hickory wood fire on a gridiron made of green stakes. The French words ?barbe? for whiskers and ?queue? for tail became barbecue.?
Despite modern gas and electric grills, Georgia connoisseurs still think the best tasting barbecue is roasted in a pit over a hickory wood fire, and served fresh cut and hot from the pit. ?Barbecue Places? are found in many small towns in Georgia. We visited one such place called the Ga. Pig.
The Ga. Pig looked like a real dump. It is located in a wooden frame building reminiscent of pioneer times, which is easy to miss when driving from the Brunswick area because it is almost hidden in a wooded setting just off the highway. The perfume of oak and hickory smoke greeted us at the parking lot. After making our way up the broken steps to the front door, we found long wooden picnic tables and benches, and a huge fireplace with a tremendous iron grill (called the brick oven) that took up almost a whole wall. The inside was like stepping back in American history with smoked hams hanging from the bark-covered log rafters of the ceiling. The Ga. Pig serves barbecue ribs, chip barbecue, and barbecue sandwiches that are cooked over a fire of oak and hickory logs in the brick oven. Order the barbecued pork sandwich!?