It all started while talking to new friends about their life in Georgia on the Ogeechee River, which runs in their back yard, so to speak. She told me about fishing with a 16 foot gator coming up beside the boat. We laughed about the TV show, “Swamp People.” She said she knows those people, she is those people. We were out on their boat in the lowlands of Georgia, off the coast near Savannah, and I was watching the waters for alligators. Yikes!DSC_0653I’ve seen alligators on the golf course in Florida and was always careful if I hit a ball into the woods to just hit another one. I had no interest in searching for anything back there. But this was different. I don’t know why because an alligator is an alligator and all they want is to eat you no matter where you are.

After leaving Savannah, we were driving through rural Georgia, kind of cutting across the state, and saw Okefenokee Swamp on the map. I’ve heard of Okefenokee all my life. It was the site for all the Pogo cartoons and there were those movies where people sank in the quicksand back in the Okefenokee and it’s just fun to say it. In the area where we were was a privately owned park in the national wildlife refuge, so we just cut off the road and went there. Fearing an overly done theme park, we were delighted to find a small park that seemed part of the natural area. We were too late for the boat tour but signed on for the train back into the swamp. Why were we so obsessed with swamps all of a sudden? And here are the signs we were greeted with…DSC_0746

DSC_0734They had a viewing area with some alligators, turtles and river otters. I was happy to see the otters because I love these little guys and we didn’t see any wild ones. As cute as they are, I know they bite. They’d have to if they live in the swamps!

DSC_0742When we left the viewing area, waiting for the train, I turned and saw a big alligator on the sidewalk ahead of us. Really! I don’t know why they bothered to have any in the viewing pen because they were everywhere. The train tour took us on a quick ride through the close swamps and the guide’s talk did nothing but confirm to me that I wasn’t ever going to live in a swamp. I could imagine the Indians back in there laughing at the people trying to get them out. Come and get us, you fools!

There is an incredible beauty to the swamps…if you don’t think about all the things that can kill you. I was being attacked by Yellow Flies even with bug spray. I know anybody who lived in there knew some natural way to keep them away. If the flies don’t get you with disease, there are mosquitoes, quicksand, panthers, snakes, snapping turtles and the alligators to do the job. A swamp was becoming the most dangerous place I could think of…Okefenokee SwampWe were walking through a little village that showed houses and the way the people of the area when some children spotted a gator around the back of the building. I can’t believe I took pictures because I know they can jump and move at 35 mph. This guy just kept smiling bigger and bigger at me. There was a lady with a pole who seemed to know how to get around this area and she kept talking to the gators and chasing them away from the ridiculously innocent tourists…like us.

DSC_0763 - Version 2We decided that was close enough to the wildlife and, with great respect, headed towards the car. While crossing over the little bridge, I spotted this one coming towards me. They say you can tell the size of an alligator by the space between their eyes. 6″=6′ I didn’t stop to measure.


I kept walking and went to the side to take pictures. See the shoe in this shot? That’s how close we were. And the gator kept watching us very intently, probably hoping that lady with the pole wasn’t nearby.DSC_0772We turned for an ethereal view of the swamps before heading east once again.

DSC_0765DSC_0760We had already decided to go through Cajun country in southern Louisiana after we left New Orleans, and we decided to see if there was a swamp tour. There had to be because this is where “Swamp People” had been filmed. We really, REALLY, weren’t there because of that, but it seemed like we had to see the swamps down here after our tour in Georgia. We stayed in Houmas (pronouned HOMA) and looked online for a tour. I picked one that sounded good because it was a private area and no other boats would be there. I KNOW I’m a tourist, but I didn’t think it would be so good with lots of boats in the swamp. We were told to watch for their sign in the sugar cane. It was in the middle of a sugar cane plantation, it turns out.

DSC_0930This was a small operation with boats that reminded me of “The African Queen,” but looked high enough to maybe keep alligators out. My respect for them was growing each day.


DSC_0928Only two of us showed up that day…a bonus. Our Cajun guide had obviously hauled boatloads of tourists from all over the world into his beloved swamps and we were probably a relief to start the beautiful day. This was his place, although he told us you are never out of danger in a swamp. We’d already figured that out. It was just beautiful in this swamp that had not been hunted or fished in over 30 years. I don’t know what will happen to it when the elderly lady who owns it is gone, especially since she has no relatives. He told us the messy commercial strip where we had stayed the night before once looked just like this before they filled it in and concreted it over. Developers fear no critters…

Here are some views of this Louisiana swamp…



DSC_0985We learned about the palmettos that the Indians used to build huts and how the animals lived and the constant dangers to all. L’il John, our guide, showed us nests of 6 week and striped 3 week old baby alligators and we looked for their mothers nearby. One of the mothers showed up, swimming down the river at us at a steady, fast pace. The mothers protect their babies for a couple of years, while the fathers will just eat them.IMG_4033

There were beautiful birds…



and families of river raccoons, much smaller than our forest raccoons at home. They ran to the banks, knowing he would throw bread to them. After all, you do have to show the tourists some critters so they can get their money’s worth! But they were pretty cute…DSC_0950Soon after we started, the most frightening birds showed up, black-headed vultures. They followed us up and down the swamp, swooping in on us, hovering in branches overhead.



DSC_0967At a spot he called Buzzard’s Point, hundreds of them congregated and made the most heinous sounds as we floated by them. Creepy!!!IMG_4036The boats had buckets of meat for the alligators so you could see how they eat and how far up they jump – they can bring 2/3 of their bodies out of the water. I was talked into holding the pole with meat on the hook for a gator, who snapped it off with such force that pole sprang back at me. I just wanted to take pictures. Trust me, they’re not tame or trained. He showed us the hooks they use on television, which he doesn’t like to use to bring them in because making the gators pull on it hurts the gators’ insides. He prefers bringing them up and shooting them, but acknowledges it probably doesn’t make good television.

DSC_1003We headed down this way, looking for a 13 foot female with a large head who lived there, near the pump station that takes the water out of the cane field…we saw her den under the bank…

DSC_0987L’il John saw a 16 foot gator in this direction, but the big guy slunk back into the heavy growth back in there…

DSC_1031At the boundary of this protected area was a sign that was shot up, showing how much the locals want to hunt and fish this property.

DSC_1020Our guide was disappointed that the big gators hid from us today, but we hadn’t planned on all we saw and I later saw a stuffed 13′ gator that reassured me that the ones I had seen were just fine. They were all around us.

Here are the places where alligators live in the United States…


I’m not planning any camping trips in the swamps, but it was fun and educational to get back in there. I’m even recording an episode or two of “Gator Boys.” And the alligator season in Louisiana is open the month of September. There are a million alligators in Louisiana and another million in Florida (along with crocodiles) and no telling how many in the other states. Be careful out there!