An Exploration of Cumberland Island

First Impressions
Page 2 of 6   |  

Having learned my backpacking skills in the Appalachians, I find this experience unique. Thirty-five pounds of gear doesn't feel as heavy when the trails are soft and flat — there isn't a single rock to stumble over, and the rare hill climbs happen only when we reach the dune line. Discovering a cross trail over the dunes, we work our way over the undulating sand hills to our first glimpse of the Atlantic. To the north, the beach stretches on to infinity, silent, desolate, peaceful. Only the pounding of the surf and the screech of sea gulls intrude. To the south, reminders of civilization fade to dots on the horizon. It's my first step on the Georgia coast since childhood, and it's as I remember it — sand soft like talcum powder, decorated with conchs, moon shells, jingle shells, clams, littered with the remains of giant horseshoe crabs. At the high tide line, starfish lay splayed in patterns of purple and pink, dying, drying, in the warmth of the sun.

If you've ever seen an armadillo up close, you'll understand what an unusual creature it is — plated like a miniature rhino, with a pig-snouted nose and perky ears. On Cumberland Island, I saw my fill of armadillo. Truffling through leaves. Snuffling under palmettos. Hordes of armadillo, crashing through camp, bold and unafraid. Good thing they only eat grubs!

I'm eager to see the wild horses. In our camp in Yankee Paradise, set deep in a tangle of lush palmetto scrub and live oaks, we saw plenty of signs — scuffed ground, fresh manure. Walking down the trails is like an obstacle course at times, trying to avoid the droppings. Hours after breaking camp, we're walking up the main road — a one-lane sand track shaded by elderly live oaks, their trunks a green tangle of resurrection ferns — when Judy motions me to stop.

A chestnut-brown horse stands just off the road, browsing the fountain tail grass, the wild descendent of a train car full of horses that Thomas Carnegie set loose on the island in the 1920s. It lifts its regal head in curiosity and tosses its mane.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »