Family, Girls’ Trips, and Coastal Towns (Part 2)

Jekyll Island, GA: Day 2

Day two of our adventure found us in the historic district of Jekyll Island on the north end of the island. My niece wanted to see the nature center, so it was just me and my daughter for the first part of the morning. Nothing was quite opened yet, so we walked around a bit and took some photos.

There were several beautiful old buildings, and it was nice and quiet beside the water. But eventually the hour neared 10am, so we headed back over to the benches in front of the fudge shop. Yes…we were waiting for the fudge shop to open, because one must have some chocolate to begin one’s adventure. As we waited patiently for that door to open, I spied a squirrel in the tree above busily building a nest. He was quite fun to watch, though not quite that easy to capture in picture.

When lunch time rolled around, the rest of the family joined us. They were coming from the turtle center, so we were trying to meet them near there. I, of course, got out the handy-dandy brochure with a map. Apparently, I am no good at reading handy-dandy brochures with maps, because I took us the long way around to go right next door. But, we did eventually find one another. I got a few good photos on the scenic route to the turtle center as well.

Now the trees in this area were perfect for photo ops, so I, totally to the dismay of the younger of our party, delayed lunch for a bit to take photos.

Though I was met with some complaints, I think in the end she enjoyed monkeying around in the trees. In fact, she even made a friend. And in the end, we did make our way to fill our tummies. After lunch, my daughter and I decided that we wanted to see the Sea Turtle Hospital, so we went and visited the recuperating sea turtles before we left.

After this adventure, I took everyone to my favorite place on the island…the Driftwood Beach. It proved to be the perfect place for portrait photography.

I think my models had a bit of fun doing the shoot, and I might have had a little fun too. The only challenge was that it was a bit windy…

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…just a little bit.

I was amazed by the patterns the water had carved into the driftwood, and there was one stump on the beach with some particularly interesting patterns and a little puddle of water standing beneath it. Of course, we all had to dip our toes in the little puddle of water, but I’ll spare you the feet pictures.

Well…maybe I won’t spare you the feet pictures…

I will, however, spare you the photos of me dancing around on the beach. That’s just not pretty. No one wants to see that…except my daughter, who may blackmail with them later in life.

Later in the evening, we returned to the nature viewing area and fishing pier. I did capture a few photos of some of the fishermen’s catches, but seeing as how the photos made me nauseous later (and were only taken at the request of my niece with the somewhat morbid sense of awe)…I’ll not be including them. I did manage a few shots of some noisy gulls and some lovely shots of a couple of brown pelicans…and one little boat-tailed grackle who managed to get his silhouette in the mix.

And the final joy was watching a dolphin play near the pier. This was the second dolphin I had seen on this trip. The first was playing near the beach on our first morning there. With all of the natural wonders to be seen, this is the perfect vacation destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers. I know it is one of my favorite places!

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But don’t go away yet! There are still two more destinations I have to share with you, so stay tuned!

Family, Girls’ Trips, and Coastal Towns (Part 1)

Jekyll Island, GA (Day 1)

Nothing says “Fantastic Spring Break!” like having the privilege of taking your niece on her first trip to the ocean. This year Spring Break was supposed to hold the bittersweet adventure of sending my son off to the Coast Guard, but that adventure was delayed and another began. I called my mother, and by the end of the day, she, my sister, my niece, my daughter and myself were packed and off to the beach. My almost seven year old niece had never been to the ocean before, so her Aunt Athenia was very happy to take her and prepared to take lots and lots of photos. And yes, I do intend to share many of them with you.

Of course, the first photo has to be a child’s first view of the ocean…

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…but she didn’t quite cooperate on the waiting for me part, and she really didn’t want to turn around for a picture either. But as soon as she made her way down to the water, we were in for a solid morning of exploring the beach ecosystem and getting our feet wet in the waves.

It was such a joy searching for sand dollars, crabs, shells, and other beach creatures and watching my niece enjoy the beach with her mother.

We even chased a few birds here and there.

And as for me and my daughter, well we found a few minutes to have a little creative Whovian fun.

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And of course, it is always a joy to watch a teenage girl hang out with her grandmother.

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Later in the day, my beloved family managed to find a furry beach goer to hang out with. Of course, they made friends with the human beach goers as well.

By the time evening rolled around, the youngest two girls of our party needed a Disney fix, so they lounged in the suite while us old folk went for a little walk. And by little walk, I mean something in the range of a 2 to 3 mile hike through the marsh! A certain photographer/blogger forgot that the last time she took the trail she did it by bicycle. That little nature hike was quite a bit longer than memory recalled. It was, however, quite worth the trip.

For the first time ever, I saw a bald eagle in the wild! That alone was worth the hike!

However, many other natural beauties graced our vision along the rest of the hike, and the golden hours of the evening were the perfect time to witness them. As the temperature cool and the sun begins to set, the wildlife either comes out to dine or settles down to sleep (or roost as the case may be). We watched as deer nestled into the marsh grasses or grazed amongst the foliage.

We marveled at snails clinging to the marsh grasses.

And we watched in awe and wonder as the ocean birds flew about the marsh and settled down to roost for the night.

And besides the wildlife, there were beautiful landscapes to behold as well.

And the most amazing scenic landscape of all was the sunset.

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And that beautiful sunset was the end of Day 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned for more!

Adventure in the Florida Keys (Day 7)

Well, the trip to the keys was over, and it was time to head back home. There was one last thing we wanted to do, however.  Just outside of Miami on the way into the Everglades, we stopped at Copper Town for an air-boat ride. The price wasn’t too bad, and we got a nature lesson before heading out on the boat. We were told some interesting facts about alligators and snakes, and a couple of these reptiles were passed around for us to pet.

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After the lesson, we headed across the street for our air-boat tour. If you ever decide to do this get some earplugs. The cotton they give you just doesn’t quite do the trick. Those boats are loud!

Now, I knew alligators were rather plentiful in the Everglades, but I didn’t realize just how plentiful. There are approximately 2.7 million alligators in the Everglades at the last population check (and that’s just the ones 5 feet or longer!).  So, needless to say, there were plenty of alligators to see on our boat trip.

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Aside from the alligators, I got a couple of photos of some native insects like dragonflies, butterflies, and the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper and one really pretty bird called a Purple Gallinule (and some very nice scenic photos as well).

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And that my friends was our last big adventure on the Florida Keys trip. I hope you have enjoyed the photos. Stay tuned for some local adventures coming soon.

Adventure in the Florida Keys (Day 4)

On Day 4 we started off the day looking for the local beach. The closest beach was Sombrero Beach. There was a quaint little park with a strolling path, picnic tables, and a wonderful little playground. The beach was long and skinny with a few clusters of shady palms to camp out under for the day. Like most of the places we encountered during the week, however, the shoreline was thick with seaweed. It is a bit unpleasant to walk over, but once you get to the water everything is good. Other than the seaweed, the beach was very nice and clean. We arrived a bit too late to get the shady spots, so we decided to wander about a bit and explore before heading back to the resort. As we wandered about, we found some fireworks frameworks from the previous weekend’s festivities (4th of July). My husband recognized what they were, because he has helped with the fireworks extravaganza in our hometown a couple of times.

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The beach wasn’t very big, so exploring didn’t take long. Soon we returned to the resort. When we returned, I decided to head over to the lounge chairs on the dock and get a little sun. The iguanas apparently had the same idea, so I snapped a few photos of them while we were all basking in the sun.

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Eventually, my husband came out to join me, and we decided that it was a nice day to be out on the water. Therefore, the search for a place to rent or charter a boat began anew. After scouring the internet for a bit, we finally booked an outing on the Catamaran Echo. It would be a four hour tour with snorkeling and a visit to a shipwreck, so we ate a bite of lunch and headed back to Key West for our boat excursion.

On arriving in Key West, I saw my first Key West chicken, a lovely red rooster who was making quite a fuss.  I snapped a few photos of this guy too.

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After a bit of wandering around and a couple of phone calls, we finally found where on the docks we needed to be. We met our captain,…

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his first mate,…

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and our excursion companions…

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and set off into the great blue.

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The salt spray and wind were a welcome change from the sticky heat. We rode around for quite some time, eyes peeled for signs of dolphins or sea turtles. We passed between sand bars with water birds wading and looking for small fishes and crabs to eat.

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Bubba and Rainbow, the sock monkeys, joined us on this outing. They had a blast riding on the boat and hanging off the sail.

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We went out with two other families. Eventually, the youngest member of our crew spotted the first dolphin. His father was a fellow photographer, so he and I both got cameras ready to photograph these playful cetaceans.

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The pod we encountered was especially friendly, coming right up to the boat, swimming underneath and splashing us. They swam about, jumped out of the water, and put on quite a show. We kept up with them for quite some time, and eventually, another boat took notice and joined us in watching the show.

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After a while, our captain determined that we needed to head on out to our snorkeling spot. This was my first snorkeling adventure, so the captain helped me get ready and told me what to do. Before long, I was out in the water. It took a few tries for me to get accustomed to breathing through my mouth with the snorkel, but once I got into the rhythm, I was out there snorkeling with the best of them. I saw tropical fishes of all sorts, amazing looking brain coral, plenty of seaweed, and an awesome sunken ship. I swam around for quite some time exploring the ship and watching the fish. The water was a bit rough, however, so occasionally a wave would dump water into my snorkel. The water was super salty! Whenever I began to fear I was drifting too far from my group or the boat, I would lift my head and look around to find everyone. Every once in a while, I would begin to worry that there might be sharks. Thankfully, we never saw any. All went well, and soon I began to grow tired, having not yet recovered from my summer cold, so I swam back to the boat. I watched for a while as the others explored, and after a short while, everyone returned to the boat and we began the ride back.

The ride back was nice, but I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to spend the rest of the trip out there, but sadly, I was not comfortable with that little bathroom down in that hole in the side of the ship. However, I loved the feel of the wind and the splash of the waves.

After returning from our catamaran adventure, we headed for the dessert place my husband wanted to try. It was an interesting place. On arriving, the room we entered was small, quite dark, and seemingly devoid of wait staff. We were quite confused, but we sat down at an unoccupied table.  When a hostess finally appeared from behind a door, we realized that we must have come in through the wrong door. The hostess noticed us, however, and said that it was no problem and sent a waitress our way. We ordered and consumed a creatively prepared dessert while admiring the decor. The most fascinating piece in the room was an ivory grandfather clock with an owl where the clock should have been. After we finished eating, our waitress gave us the grand tour of the establishment and a little history behind it. It was very nice, and each room was very interestingly decorated.

After dessert, we headed back to the resort. And that my friends, was Day 4. Stay tuned for the rest…

Adventure in the Florida Keys (Day 3)

So, I’ve finally finished editing and sorting through the Day 3 photos, so now it’s time to write.

On Day 3 of the Florida Keys adventure, we spent the first part of the morning checking out the resort, as we still were recovering from the long ride. I walked out to the dock overlooking the water and noticed that there was a little lighthouse a couple of properties over.

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Later, after a little Google search, I found out that this little lighthouse was a restaurant.

Then I decided to check out the comfort-quality of the hammocks around the corner while my husband checked out the checkbook-quality of the on-site boat rentals. After frightening off the poor little iguanas with my approach, I found the hammocks to be quite comfortable. The one I chose was stretched between two palm trees, and the sky was perfectly blue.

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My husband and I decided to take pictures of each other across the boat launch.

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After a bit of loafing around and taking more iguana photos…

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…we decided it was as good a day as any to head out to Key West.  In order to get to Key West from Marathon, you have to cross the Seven Mile Bridge, so we did. When we arrived at the opposite end of the bridge, we decided to stop and walk back across on the walking bridge for a little bit. We saw many a fisherman, novice and expert, along the way.

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We stopped every now and again to watch the water for sea-life and photograph some boats and islands in the distance.

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Then it happened! I spotted a ray! Between the pointing and excitedly yelling “Look!” and trying to get my camera ready, I’m afraid my poor husband was confused…until he finally caught sight of it too.

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After spotting the first one, we soon realized there were several of these guys swimming about.  We watched them play and search for food, and I got several decent photos.

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The water is just so clear out there. It’s beautiful, and you can see so much.

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Finally, we moved on from watching the rays, and we encountered a school of long-nosed gar near one of the columns.

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Eventually, we realized that if we were going to make it out to Key West, we would have to mosey on along. The drive to Key West from Marathon takes approximately an hour. With the sight-seeing at the bridge, we finally made it to our destination by lunch. After walking around a bit in the ridiculous heat and humidity, we decided to stop and eat at the Southernmost Beach Cafe. Kudos to the bartender there. He makes a fabulous Mai Thai (I had two). It’s a mostly open air establishment, so the pigeons and gulls frequently decide to dine with the human guests.

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We had a wonderful lunch by the water and a wonderful view of everyone having fun on the beach and water…and even in the air.

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After lunch, we walked out on the dock for a better view of the area.

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We decided to forego the touristy Southernmost Beach Buoy with its long line in the heat. Instead, we decided to venture on to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Now, this destination was definitely on my list of must see places. I don’t think it would have made my husband’s list, but I asked him to come with me, and he gladly accepted the invitation. The moment we stepped in the door, I was in butterfly heaven. We spent quite some time in that hot, humid little greenhouse watching and photographing butterflies and birds, but here I didn’t mind the heat and humidity (though I did find the need to go in search of those refreshing air conditioning vents on occasion). We saw so many beautiful specimens here, so I’ll just share some photos now:

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After pulling me away from butterfly heaven, my husband wanted to go check out a dessert place that he had read about. Unfortunately, it was closed on this particular day, so we decided to head on back to the resort. On the way back, however, we decided to take another detour. As we were driving, I noticed a big white blimp-like balloon in the air.

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We were both curious, so my husband took a detour down Blimp Road to find it. We followed the road until we reached the ocean. There was an officer parked at the end of the street, so my husband decided to ask him about the curiosity in the sky while I took a few photos.

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Apparently, the blimp served as something like a giant windsock for low-flying aircraft. It worked together with the equipment on the island, and all of these things were, from the stories told to the officer anyway, things left over from the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis…radar, tracking, and such.

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He did tell us that we could wade into the water from the boat launch, however, and go for a swim. He said it was all public land out there. We weren’t quite prepared for swimming, but we did wade into the clear refreshing water a bit, though. It was just enough to cool off and make the rest of the day nice.

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After cooling off in the water, we hopped back in the car and decided to check out a little more of the island before heading back. We found that the residents out that way weren’t too keen on visitors with all of the NO TRESPASSING signs and BEWARE OF DOGS signs (too many tourists being disrespectful I suppose…or maybe theft problems…either way, can’t blame them).  I did manage to get a few pictures in a marshy-type area though.

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Eventually, we made our way back to the resort and headed for the tiki bar to watch the sunset. We found that sunset was somewhat of a daily celebration in the keys, and everyday at the tiki bar, they fired a cannon when the sun touched the water (well, a replica canon anyway with a 10-gauge shot). On this particular evening, the sunset was spectacular!

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And that was our adventure for our first full day in the Keys. Stay tuned for the rest!

Adventure in the Florida Keys (Days 1 and 2)

The Florida Keys…this past week I took my first trip there. It’s the furthest south you can go in the United States. I’ve seen many an article, heard many a story, and seen many a picture of this magical place, so needless to say, I was quite excited to visit for myself.

I had a bit of a rocky start, however. Before we even packed for the trip, I was struck ill with some sort of respiratory virus…coughing, sneezing, congestion, the whole nine yards. Not the norm for summer, mind you, so it was rather a damper for the spirits. I was determined to make the trip, however, so I stocked up on cold medicine and took care of myself the few days before leaving. I’m still not completely well, but it didn’t stop me from having a fun trip.

We took the 12-hour plus drive down in two stretches. The first day we drove half-way down to Wimauma, Florida and stayed in my in-laws’ cabin. The cabin was cute and a nice place to lay our heads for the evening.

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Even the sock monkeys were glad for a reprieve from the drive, and they even found a sock horse friend along the way.

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We woke up early the next morning and headed straight for a Starbucks for coffee and wi-fi. I wanted to get my July 4th blog posted before beginning the Florida Keys adventure. Starbucks did not disappoint, and within an hour and a half or so, my blog was posted, my caffeine levels were adequate, and we were ready to begin the adventure.

Before we got going, however, we decided that we would check out a couple of the timeshares our Bluegreen ownership had to offer. Resort Sixty-Six in Holmes Beach and Via Roma in Bradenton were on the way (sort of), so we plotted a course.

Upon arriving at Resort Sixty-Six, we were greeted with a lovely view. It is a small resort right on the beach, a bit tucked away and somewhat secluded. The beautiful, clean white sand stretched to the ocean, and the beach was beckoning with lounge chairs waiting for guests. Since we weren’t actually staying there, however, we didn’t heed the call of the waves. We did step out onto the sand for a minute or two however. There was a small area with a park bench and some adirondack chairs where we were greeted “Good morning” by some of the locals…local gulls that is. These little guys were out combing the beach for breakfast, and apparently, they were quite accustomed to the attention of guests and walked up rather close to us. I think they may have even been posing for the photos I took.

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After leaving Resort Sixty-Six, we set our bearings for Via Roma. Here we were greeted with another quaint resort and sandy white gulf beaches. We were also blessed with a beautiful sight. A rainbow stretched right over the warm gulf waters. I took several photos of this marvelous morning vision.

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After leaving there, we charted a course to Marathon. We chose to avoid the slightly quicker route down the interstate in favor of a more scenic route through the Everglades. I was hoping to get photos of wildlife and scenic landscapes. What we encountered instead were storms. Thunder, rain, lightning, and winds led the way. In some areas, we could hardly even see.

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We did survive, though, and after the storms passed, we stopped at an air boat tour place to get prices in case the weather was good for a tour on the way home.

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As my husband went to inquire about prices, I saw my first alligator in the wild. He was floating along by the dock, and I snapped a few photos of him. Of course, he was only the first of many to be seen on this trip.

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We decided after this stop to drive into Miami since we were almost there. I must say, Miami did not please this nature-loving girl. It had all the elements of big-city life, good and bad. We finally decided to get out of there as quickly as possible, which ended up being at a snail’s pace with city traffic. Before long, however, we were on our way down the main highway through the keys.

Two hours later, we checked in to our resort, The Hammocks at Marathon. Everyone there was super sweet, especially the nice lady who jump started our car after we left the lights on. Apparently, we never turned the lights off after the storms in the Everglades….ooops. The resort was lovely, and I finally figured out how to navigate the hallways by the end of the trip. When we entered our room, I headed straight for the balcony to see the view. The view was breathtaking. I did not, however, get a photo of this breathtaking view on the first day, because when I looked down to the sand, there were iguanas! I had never seen these guys in the wild either, so needless to say I was fascinated. I got several pictures of them.

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So that was our roadtrip to the Keys. Stay tuned for the rest of the adventure. And here is the dreaded….To Be Continued….


Beach Therapy

Sometimes life gets a little overwhelming. There’s so much drama, and everyone seems to need something. And between the stress, tension, and the extreme heat as of late, this Mama felt the need to get away for a few hours. Thankfully, Jekyll Island is just a few hours away and a perfect 24-hour getaway destination…perfect for this girl anyway. This beautiful nature-friendly island is home to pelicans, sea-turtles, deer, raccoon, various forms of sea life, and much more. It is the perfect place for someone who loves the ocean, nature, and photography. It is also the perfect place to let the wind and waves cleanse the soul. Beach therapy is a wonderful thing to calm the nerves and help you face the realities of life.

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We headed out on our beach therapy trip Tuesday afternoon and arrived at the island early that evening. At high-tide on Jekyll, the beaches completely disappear, so it’s always a good idea to know your tide schedules before heading out for a walk. We placed our shoes up high on the rocks and headed out for an evening stroll. High-tide was at around 9:30 pm, so we had time for a good walk before the beach disappeared. Now, somehow we managed to be on the island at the high-tide times of the day for this trip. On a previous trip a few years ago, we were there for several days, and at low-tide you can walk out nearly half a mile into the water and only be knee-deep. During those times, you can see all sorts of sea-life just below the surface of the water. You can literally find hundreds of sand dollars sliding about in the clear parts of the water. This trip, however, did not disappoint. We came across sand dollars, crabs, and sea gulls galore.

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There were no clouds this particular evening, so the sunset was not the most eye-catching, but lovely nonetheless.

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The sunrise the next morning, however, was nothing short of spectacular. We headed out just before sunrise to the northernmost point of the island. The driftwood on this end of the island is usually quite beautiful, but this year there didn’t seem to be as much of it as usual.

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We did catch sight of some deer nosing around the driftwood looking for a bite to eat. The photo wasn’t very clear, but you get the idea.

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The sea gulls were out in droves, feasting on crabs and fish, a couple of other photographers were out catching the early shots, and a few early-risers were out walking and looking for signs of wildlife.

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After wandering about for a bit, I caught sight of the first peak of the sun over the horizon. It is amazing to watch the sunrise. Every time I see a sunrise, I am amazed at just how quickly it happens. My tripod was ready, so I got the camera set and began the shoot. Within just a few minutes, the sun emerged from the water at the edge of the horizon. It flowed up like lava from a lava lamp, beautiful oranges melting and emerging from the blue water and forming a big orange ball in the indigo sky. Just as the sun separated from the horizon, a shrimp-boat powered along the edge of the horizon right in front of the sun.

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As I watched the ships on this particular trip, I realized why people long ago thought that one could sail right off the edge of the world. The ships seem to just ride along the edge of a shelf, and one could easily imagine them just tipping right off into oblivion. However, we know that the world curves on, so instead of fearing the unknown, we can instead wonder what it is they see sitting at the edge of where our sight can peer no further. Do they see miles and miles of water? Do they see other ships at the edge of their vision limits? Do they see other islands we cannot see? What is out there where they fish and journey? One day, perhaps I can venture out on a cruise ship and see what they see, but until then, I shall sit and imagine.

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After photographing that beautiful sunrise, we headed into the marsh for a little while hoping to see some wildlife hunting for breakfast. We found a few little critters.

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I found this little wasp in the midst of an early morning grooming session.

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When the sun had fully risen, and the light was growing brighter, we quickly realized we were becoming quite hungry. We headed back to our hotel and had a typical continental breakfast, packed up our belongings, checked out, and headed to the other end of the island for a little while.

The first thing I noticed on this end of the island was a myriad of dead fish on the beaches. I’m not sure if they were left over breakfast or escapees from the nets of the fishing boats. Whatever they were from, they attracted the birds.

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