This morning I headed out on a Western-style beach ride on Jekyll Island. One of Georgia's Golden Isles, Jekyll has a lot of history and natural beauty. I rode out to Driftwood Beach on Pretty Boy, a Paint horse who seemed to have gotten into the pace of island life.
I would classify the riding on Jekyll as pleasure riding. I wouldn't travel to the island specifically to ride, because it is a nose-to-tail riding place, but the island has a nice combination of history and nature, so if you are a beginner or looking for a peaceful beach ride, this is your ticket. It is mainly a walk/trot ride, so those looking for a fast paced adventure will want to look elsewhere.
That said, it's a fantastic way to check out Driftwood beach. Jekyll Island's beaches are simply beautiful, and we were excited to capture them on film.
The beach ride leaves from a place called Clam Creek. The horses must be trailered in. As with any new riding experience, you want to convey your skill level and past experience to whomever is in charge before you mount. I was matched up with Pretty Boy and was sure to ask how he liked to be ridden, how much contact I should give with the reins, any special quirks that he may have, etc.
Pretty Boy likes a loose rein and needs a little nudging once in a while, as he can be pretty slow. We headed out through the wooded trails en route to Driftwood Beach. Ten minutes later we crossed a small bridge and headed onto the hauntingly beautiful beach.
Driftwood beach is a prime example of the erosion that is trans- forming Georgia's islands. The ecosystems on these barrier islands are constantly changing. We rode though giant limbs and branches of live oaks and ancient pine trees left over from a maritime forest. The way the limbs stick haphazardly out of the sand brings some visitors to call Driftwood Beach "skeleton beach."
The sun was shining brightly, and I looked out in the ocean to spot St. Simon's Island across the water, where the lodge that I stayed the other night sits along the water. The Golden Isles are all in close proximity; meaning island hopping for a day trip to see the sights on another island is totally feasible and inexpensive.
In addition to having a rich history as a winter vacation destination for powerful families such as the Vanderbilts, Morgans and Pulitzers, Jekyll Island is also known as a natural oasis. The island is now owned by the state of Georgia, which has declared that no more than 65% of the island can be developed. This leaves plenty of wilderness for birds, plants and other wildlife and allows for we humans to
"get lost" in nature.
After the ride, we headed to a nearby freshwater pond, where a flock of wood storks was nesting in a nearby tree. Egrets were also across the pond. I was on the lookout for the alligators, which make their home throughout the island, as well as snakes and ticks as our group trudged through the wooded trails. I'm happy to report that I encountered none of the above.
After seeing some more of the island's natural wonders, we headed into the historic district. In the 1930s, Jekyll became the exclusive winter destination for powerful tycoons who enjoyed hunting on the island and exploring it on horseback. The island had a private club called the Jekyll Island Club, which is now a hotel. In order to experience its historic 93 fireplaces, wide verandas and high ceilings meant to give guests the overall feeling of grandeur, we spent one night at the hotel and enjoyed exploring.
The historic district is in a constant state of restoration. The island has 12 of the 15 original cottages that members built in the early 1900s. A couple of these historic buildings are open to the public. We toured DuBignon Cottage, which was the original Jekyll Island Club while the much grander one was in the process of being built.
I sat on the porch for a while and picked John Hunter's brain. John is the museum director and has a wealth of knowledge about the island's colorful history. There was a time when people would travel to the island by land, air or sea, hopping on their private jets and yachts to experience the island's exclusive natural beauty. Today Jekyll is open to anyone who wants to pay the $3 entrance fee and drive over the causeway that takes you here.
When I can combine history, nature and riding in one place like on Jekyll, I'm there. AND, I'm here now, about to sleep in the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and dream about what it must have been like on Jekyll during the Guilded Age. At least for one night.