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The two RV Gypsies visited
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse
1200 Lighthouse Road
St. Marks, FL 32355
'850.925.6121
October 10, 2015

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, located 25 miles south of Tallahassee along the Gulf Coast of Florida, is a well-known oasis of natural Florida habitats for wildlife, especially birds. Natural salt marshes, freshwater swamps, pine forests and lakes provide a haven for wildlife and people.

USA map showing location of Florida Florida map showing location of St. Marks

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States. Established in 1931 as a wintering ground for migratory birds, it encompasses 70,000 acres spread between Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor Counties in the state of Florida.

The refuge includes several Gulf of Mexico coastal habitats, such as saltwater marshes, islands, tidal creeks, and the estuaries of seven north Florida rivers. It is home to a diverse range of plant and animal life and also has a long history of human use, including structures such as the St. Marks Lighthouse, the second oldest lighthouse in Florida.

The refuge is a gateway site for the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Florida state sign sign: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

The two RV Gypsies stopped at the large Visitors Center which had maps and brochures to help then enjoy their trip. Inside the Visitors Center there was also a bookstore offering a wide variety of books and merchandise for sale. Next door to the Visitors Center is the Education building offering comfortable meeting facilities in one half of the building and facilities and staff devoted to education in the other half.

The two RV Gypsies walked the Plum Orchard Pond Trail, an easy 1/3 mile trail.

Plum Orchard Pond Observation Deck Plum Orchard Pond Trail sign
view from Plum Orchard Pond Observation Deck view from Plum Orchard Pond Trail sign

The two RV Gypsies enjoyed the Animal Olympics Trail Challenge, which had signs and short physical activities for kids to try to do.

Animal Olympics Challenge Trail sign sign about bats
sign about alligators sign about squirrels

Lee even did a bit of hopping, or at least he attempted to do so.

sign about frogs hopping. Lee Duquette hopping

Below: Lee wasn't too steady standing on one leg, but Karen did just fine.

sign about brids standing on one leg Lee Duquette trying to stand on one leg.
sign about butterflies sign about fish

The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is also home to one of the coveted wintering sites for the endangered Whooping Cranes that are led south by the ultra-light aircraft of Operation Migration. Operation Migration begins training Whooping Crane chicks with the aircraft shortly after birth and continue to the time of migration when they act as surrogate parents leading the birds south and imprinting their first annual migration. However, the two RV Gypsies did not see any Whooping Cranes. In fact, they didn't see a lot of birds, but Lee got one good photo of a bird even though the bird really blended into the background.

bird

The two RV Gypsies enjoyed hiking, bird watching, butterfly watching and viewing the historic St. Marks Lighthouse on beautiful Apalachee Bay.

welcome to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge map and sign

Beautiful cloud reflections

beautful cloud reflections Beautiful cloud reflections
Beautiful cloud reflections marsh area
no crabbing sign Lee Duquette behind the lighthouse
marsh area marsh area
sign about monarch migration

WILDLIFE

monarch butterfly monarch butterfly
monarch butterfly butterflies trying to mate
bee bee

Alligator warning sign. The two RV Gypsies did not see any alligators, but they did get to see a dolphin.

Alligator wanrning sign dolphin
sign about shorebirds
sign about wading birds
sign about a shipwreck in the area sign about Fort Williams
 
lighthouse divider bar

St. Marks Lighthouse

St. Marks Lighthouse notices St. Marks Lighthouse plaque

history bookThe St. Marks Light is the second-oldest light station in Florida. It is located on the east side of the mouth of the St. Marks River on Apalachee Bay.

In the 1820s, the town of St. Marks was considered an important port of entry. The town served as a port for the prosperous planting region of Middle Florida and some counties of South Georgia. Growers hauled their agricultural products down to the port town in wagons by way of an early road which connected the then territorial capital of Tallahassee to the town of St. Marks. Later, this road would be widened and improved upon by the Tallahassee Railroad Company and would become the state's first railroad.

Once the agricultural products reached the new port town, they were loaded aboard boats for shipment to New Orleans and/or St. Augustine. There were, however, problems in navigating both the Apalachee Bay and the St. Marks River. In many places both bay and river were shallow, and it was not too uncommon for boats to run aground and/or get mired in the muddy shallows.

St. Marks Lighthouse sign Karen Duquette at St. Marks Lighthouse

history bookIn 1828, Florida's territorial Governor William Pope Duval wrote a letter to Joseph M. White, a territorial delegate in which he stressed a great need for a lighthouse at the St. Marks location. White wrote a letter to New Hampshire Senator Levi Woodbury, who chaired the Senate Committee on Commerce, reiterating the importance of establishing a light at St. Marks. Eleven days later, the committee issued a report which recognized the town of St. Marks as an official port of entry and recommended the building of a lighthouse in the area. On May 23, 1828, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an act which authorized the construction of a lighthouse at St. Marks and appropriated $6,000 for its construction.

After a survey was completed and a site was chosen for the lighthouse, it was discovered that the initial construction sum of $6,000 would be insufficient. The appropriation was increased to $14,000, and by mid-1829 a contract was signed with Winslow Lewis of Boston for the construction of a tower in the St. Marks area for $11,765. The finished product was not accepted by the Collector of Customs for St. Marks, Mr. Jesse H. Williams, because it had been constructed with hollow walls. Williams felt that the tower should be constructed with solid walls and, therefore, refused to accept the work.

Calvin Knowlton was brought in to rebuild the tower. He oversaw its completion, and in 1831, Williams, satisfied that the light was built according to the contract, accepted the work. That same year saw the tower's whale-oil lamps lit for the first time by Samuel Crosby, who had been appointed the first Keeper of the St. Marks Lighthouse the previous year.

sign about the lighthouse light

The lighthouse is a conical shaped tower, originally 65 feet tall in 1831 and was extended to 73 feet in 1867. The light is 82 feet above sea level. It was not an easy lighthouse to photograph.

St. Marks Lighthouse St. Marks Lighthouse

Survivor of the Civil War: The lighthouse tower was used as a lookout by Confederate forces posted to defend the port of St. Marks. Fort Williams stood near its base. (A sign about Fort Williams was posted on this page a bit earlier.)

St. Marks Lighthouse St. Marks Lighthouse

Although the tower itself is not open to the public, the grounds are a popular spot for sightseeing and picnics. There is an observation platform, historic marker and
trails leading along the coast of Appalachee Bay. There are no restrooms in the area.

St. Marks Lighthouse
St. Marks Lighthouse St. Marks Lighthouse
St. Marks Lighthouse informaition

Leaving the lighthouse area, the two RV Gypsies stopped at Picnic Pond and had a nice picnic lunch with a nice view of the pond.

picnic area
look below

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