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Coastal Georgia: Mother-daughter hit the road again

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A view of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the Tybee Island Lighthouse. (Submitted photo)3 / 14
The Tybee Island Light Station is one of the most intact light stations remaining in North America. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse and tour the grounds. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)4 / 14
The St. Simon's Island Lighthouse is located in the heart of Georgia's Golden Isles. The facility is open for tours, including a climb to the top of the tower.5 / 14
This fisherman uses a raccoon carcass as bait to catch blue crabs from the St. Simon's Island Pier.6 / 14
The Spanish moss-draped Live Oak trees are a common sight along the Georgia coast. The limbs of Live Oak trees go in all directions. A local resident said the trees take 100 years to grow; 100 years to thrive and another 100 years to die. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)7 / 14
The Cockspur Island Lighthouse stands on a narrow strip of land not far from the Fort Pulaski National Monument. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)8 / 14
Julie and Lorna Buntjer stand outside the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.9 / 14
This tree, located on the grounds of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, was filled with beautiful blooms. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)10 / 14
This is a fisherman's catch at the St. Simon's Island Pier ... a mess of blue crabs. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)11 / 14
The azaleas were blooming in Macon, Georgia, where we stopped to attend that city's International Cherry Blossom Festival. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)12 / 14
This image was captured in Savannah's historic district. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)13 / 14
A visit to The Copper Pig in Brunswick, Georgia, allowed us to watch kids fishing for alligators in the restaurant's front yard. The bait of choice -- hot dogs. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)14 / 14

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said “Adventure is worthwhile,” and though I certainly agree, it seems such an understatement. To me, travel is like oxygen — I can’t live without the exploration of something new and exciting.

Long before Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson graced the silver screen in “The Bucket List,” I created a bucket list of my own. It was short, really. In fact, there was just one wish on it — to visit each of America’s 50 states. I’d made it my goal as a young kid, soaking up the summer sun in the yard as airplanes flew overhead and campers traversed down the highway past our farm.

I’m three airplane excursions and one lengthy loop by automobile away from reaching those last seven states — Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Delaware.

A little more than a month ago, on April Fool’s Day, actually, my mom and I set out for a travel adventure. An area tour company offered a bus trip, “Springtime in the South,” featuring the sights of Savannah and coastal Georgia. While I have already been to Georgia, my two days in downtown Atlanta could hardly count as seeing the state.

Besides, the trip included a stop at a lighthouse, and, well, between Christmas and the first week of February, the idea of visiting lighthouses — and smelling flowers in bloom — seemed a wonderful escape from the final weeks of our Minnesota winter.

All aboard

The nice thing about taking a bus trip, for me anyway, is not having to spend hours upon hours behind the wheel, maneuvering through big city traffic and along unfamiliar roads. As our driver passed through Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, I made progress on a needlework project I started at Christmas. I finished the piece on the long journey home, and when that was done, I read a book I’d packed. Talk about a sense of accomplishment! I certainly couldn’t have done it all on a two-week vacation if I’d done all of the driving.

Our fellow passengers (there were 33 in all) hailed from Fulda and Steen in southwest Minnesota, the Iowa Great Lakes region and eastern South Dakota.

Sure, the majority of the riders were seniors, but there was a couple about my age on the trip as well. If I hadn’t known it before, this excursion proved age is just a number. There were some pranksters in our group who acted more like teenagers. (Imagine two nearly 80-year-old women dancing on a motel’s luggage cart … being wheeled around by a 90-something-year-old guy who was also in our contingent!) Oh, the laughs they brought to our journey!

We may have left the Midwest as strangers, but we returned nine short days later as friends. Being a part of a group meant avoiding the feelings of homesickness that often plague me about midway through a long-distance vacation. This time around, I felt like home was as close as the bus passenger sitting behind me.

Macon and Savannah

Watching out the windows as our bus took us farther from the Midwest, we were treated to a gradual increase in greenery — green grass, budding trees, flourishing flowers. The farther south we traveled, the more color we discovered.

We reached Georgia on Sunday, making our first stop in Macon. It was the last day of that city’s International Cherry Blossom Festival. Had strong winds not blown through town a few days prior, the sights would have been even more breathtaking than they were. We stepped off the bus and walked less than half a block before taking in the beauty of blooming azaleas and cherry trees lining the downtown center boulevards.

The festival featured many unique artisans, and I couldn’t resist picking up a few mementos so soon into our visit.

By Monday morning, we were on our way to Savannah and a visit to the historic River Street. Located on the banks of the Savannah River, the street is lined with quaint shops and restaurants in buildings that once housed the city’s impressive cotton gins. While the buildings have new use, River Street has maintained its historical character, complete with its cobblestone road.

With some free time to shop and stop for lunch, my mom and I chose patio seating in front of the River House. The restaurant is located in an 1820s King Cotton Warehouse, but the weather was so nice it demanded we sit outside and enjoy the views there.

Already so close to the ocean, seafood was a must for lunch. Mom chose the fresh shrimp, and I opted for the blue crab cake (I had to at least try something I’d never tried before!)

Crazy thing about our visit to River Street: I’d left my mom at the restaurant waiting for our meals so I could check out a neighboring Christmas shop. On the walk back, some guy called out my name. I turned around to find rural Rushmore farmer Ryan Thier and his wife enjoying a slice of key-lime pie at another restaurant.

Live oaks, haints and a Civil War battlefield

The greatest enjoyment from traveling comes in the discovery — new experiences, different cultures and a whole wealth of history. Until I’d visited Savannah, I’d never seen a live oak tree, much less one covered with Spanish moss. They are all over the place in historic Savannah and along Georgia’s Golden Isles.

One of the people in our group, in talking with a local, learned the trees take 100 years to grow, 100 years to thrive and 100 years to die. They aren’t as large as the California redwoods, but their sprawling limbs go every which way.

The trees can be found in each of Savannah’s 22 historic squares, and we visited one near the Owens-Thomas House we toured. The historic home is one of several open to tours in the city, and guides share stories about the haints (ghosts) and what superstitious homeowners did to ward them off. Savannah is known for the many haints that grace its historic homes, and visitors can even take a ghost tour in a rehabbed hearse at dusk.

The second day of our Savannah experience took us to the Fort Pulaski National Monument. This normally wouldn’t be something I’d choose to visit, but on a bus tour filled with people of varied interests, I viewed it as a learning opportunity. Besides, I’m sure there were people on the bus who didn’t care to see a lighthouse, or two, or three. (I know, I can’t believe that, either!)

Anyway, Fort Pulaski was the site of a major battle between Confederate and Union soldiers in early April 1862. The fort is in the shape of a pentagon and is surrounded by a moat. Civil War cannons are still in place on the perimeter of the fort, rooms are recreated into museum-like displays and an adjacent museum offers a 20-minute film about the history of the fort.

It was interesting, and I gathered a lot of reading material to look through one of these days.

The lighthouses

I should mention that when our bus arrived at Fort Pulaski, I had no intention of viewing the fort, and planned to take the 1.5-mile hike around the grounds toward the Cockspur Island Lighthouse. Unfortunately, I could convince no one to accompany me on the walk and, having been warned by our tour guides that alligators often come onto the fort grounds — well, it wasn’t a walk I was willing to risk on my own. (I later learned the alligators usually don’t come inland until May.)

Thus, my picture of the Cockspur Island light was snapped through the bus window as we made our way to Tybee Island and the second lighthouse sighting on our journey.

The Tybee Island Light Station is one of the most intact remaining stations in the United States. The original lighthouse was constructed in 1736, but was swept away by storms just five years later. A second lighthouse remained in place until 1768, when the encroaching Atlantic Ocean began lapping at its sides. The third lighthouse was completed in 1773, and unlike the water woes the first two lights encountered, this one was largely destroyed when Confederate troops set it afire in 1862. The current conical structure with its first-order Fresnel lens has guided ships into the Savannah port since 1867. The light station is open for tours and visitors are welcome to climb the 154-foot tower, step out onto the catwalk and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Atlantic Ocean. My fear of heights kept me grounded, but several in our group made the climb.

A day after our visit to the Tybee Island Lighthouse, my mom and I spent part of our free time on St. Simon’s Island at the St. Simon’s Lighthouse. I took photos to add to my lighthouse scrapbook, and, if time allowed, I thought I’d return to see the museum. Unfortunately a seafood lunch, the lure of seaside shops and an educational visit with a local fisherman on the pier used up our time.

Pier fishing

One of the greatest things about a visit to the Atlantic Coast, I’ve discovered, is taking a walk down the fishing piers. They are found in many of the coastal communities, stretch out high above the water and are always bustling with activity.

At the St. Simon’s Island pier, I watched as a young guy hauled a basket from the water and retrieved the blue crab that had been captured in the basket’s netting.

“Oh, that’s what I had for lunch the other day!” I exclaimed after asking him about the catch.

The crab was a female, filled with eggs, and apparently Georgia law requires fishermen to return them to the sea.

Just as interesting as seeing the crab up close was the hunk of unidentifiable bait tied inside the fisherman’s basket.

“What’s that?’ I asked.

“Coon carcass!” he replied.

“Really? That’s what crabs eat?” I questioned.

“They eat anything!” he told me.

I was feeling a little less enthused about the crab I’d dined on a couple of days prior, but I was captivated, none-the-less, by the bounty of crabs the fisherman had collected.

Georgia on my mind

Our visit to Georgia included numerous other sites, including Jekyll Island, once the summer home to America’s wealthiest families (including the Rockefellers). The island offers a tram tour, which our group experienced, complete with stops at some of the historic homes.

A stop in Brunswick included a visit to The Copper Pig, a BBQ shack featuring alligators out front. For a couple dollars, you can purchase a baggie filled with hot dog chunks, and then attach the treats, one at a time, to a fishing pole. The gators must have been hungry, because they snatched onto the lines and, in some cases, wouldn’t let go.

Aside from the lighthouse visits, my next favorite part of the bus trip was the stop at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta. Had we not been given a strict time limit, I would have easily spent more time reading the history of America’s 39th president. The museum, I thought, was far better than the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., but my all-time favorite is still the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

On our way to and from Georgia, a few other stops had us stretching our legs and experiencing something new. On the way out we visited the Hallmark Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the St. Louis Art Museum; and on the way home we toured Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis.

We returned to southwest Minnesota one week and two days after we left, and by the time we reached Luverne, our bus driver had logged 3,297 miles.

Our memories are many, we have pictures a’plenty and our journey is complete.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

(507) 376-7330
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