Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Desolation Americana: Forgive us our Trespasses

by Jane

There is a forest in Southeastern Georgia (in the US, not the country of Georgia), located in Appling County, called the Moody Forest. It’s owned jointly by the Nature Conservancy and the State of Georgia. This forest contains the last stand of old growth, virgin, long-leaf pines in the state. It also has two hiking trails. There isn’t much information about Moody Forest available on the internet. My mom and I found the most information here and here, and decided to take a trip to Appling County to visit the Moody Forest. We also thought about checking out the Hatch Nuclear Power Plant, as it’s located there, too, and I have rather an absurd interest in traveling to nuclear power plants. (This one, admittedly, is safer than the Chernobyl reactors, which I visited back in August.)

As the Nature Conservancy site didn't include directions, we copied the following directions from OhRanger.com, and set off for Moody Forest:

From Baxley: Go 7 miles north on U.S. 1. Turn right on Lennox Rd, go 4.2 miles. Turn left on Davis Landing Rd., go 2.3 miles. Turn left on East River Rd., go 0.8 miles to kiosk.

Now, as you see, these directions are very specific. There’s no “approximately two miles” – instead it’s “go 4.2mi.” Unfortunately, at the 4.2 mile mark, there was no Davis Landing Road, or any other road. It was close to a Penny Morris Road, but not exact. We did eventually find Davis Landing – about three miles from its specified location. From there on out, the directions did match what we saw in real life… however, when we finally came to the “kiosk” it was nothing more than a small board with a bit of an overhanging roof, with a clipboard attached to it. The clipboard read ‘Moody Forest Turkey Shoot Sign In.’ Next to this “kiosk” was an open gate. We drove through it, and down the winding, narrow track (which passed through young planted pines – certainly not virgin old growth) until we came to the power-lines (the lines running from the Hatch Plant cut a rather big swath through the countryside down there, as the plant provides a lot of power). Next to the power-lines was a fenced off area (preventing one from driving on) and a sign that said ‘parking’ and nothing else.

Mom: “This is IT???”

Nothing looked like a trail. There were no maps or brochures or informative signs. There certainly weren’t any old growth long-leaf pines. Only young slash pines and power lines.

We decided to drive further down the road. Even though we’d found our “kiosk” on the right at exactly .8mi down East River Road, it really did not seem to be the right place. So, we kept driving down East River Road. We passed numerous areas which were being logged. We also passed the crumbling remains of an old homestead. After eventually deciding that there really wasn’t another kiosk any further down the road, we turned around and decided that, since we were there, we’d explore the remains of the homestead.

The first step in this process was climbing over a locked gate. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, right? Teehee. There was a crumbling old farmhouse (surrounded by poison ivy), a fairly newish barn, and a crumbling old barn. Definitely fun to poke around in and photograph.

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Eventually we climbed back over the gate, got back in the car, and decided to head for the Altamaha River. Davis Landing Road would have a boat landing, surely? Well, the “landing” turned out to be a private fishing community, surrounded by tons of ‘no trespassing’ signs. We drove on in. The community consisted of numerous trailers (in varying states of disrepair) up on stilts. It was incredibly photogenic, but I didn’t take any photos as it looked very much like the sort of place where one might get shot.

Back at the intersection with East River Road, we decided to head east. This merely took us to the Appling County Landfill and a Baptist church with a fairly interesting old cemetery.

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Having explored in all three directions from the intersection, we pretty much gave up, and began heading back the way we came. Heading back down Lennox Rd, no longer concentrating on the search for Davis Landing Rd, we noticed a bright red building and slowed down to check it out. The sign on it read ‘Ten-Mile School 1929-1958.’ We parked the car and got out to take a look. Then, as the gate wasn’t locked so well (forgive us our trespasses?), we wandered on in. And as the building itself wasn’t locked….


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Old Blackboards!

About a quarter mile (or maybe even a little less) down the road from the school was another old homestead, surrounded by brush and obviously abandoned. We pulled over and poked around.
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Then a fellow (late 50s early 60s) rode up on a three-wheeler.
Mom: “Is this your property? We were just taking photos.”

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I always let my mom do the talking when we get caught trespassing. Really.

The guy turned out to be quite nice – and fairly interesting. We talked to him for a good hour. He told us about the house (it had been his grandparents’ house), and about the school (which he had attended for two years before it closed). He told us a little of the history of the Moody Forest and Swamp, and he gave us directions to the Moody Forest which he wasn’t completely sure were correct as he hadn’t been down there in a while, but which went in the opposite direction from the ones mom and I had followed earlier in the day. Also, he was retired from the Hatch Plant – so he gave us directions to it as well. Of course I told him I’d been to Chernobyl, so we discussed nuclear reactors, containment vessels, and the current state of the sarcophagus covering the Chernobyl reactor. Because when you get busted for trespassing by a guy on a three wheeler, these are the things you talk about.

After saying goodbye to this fellow, we set off following his directions. They weren’t entirely accurate (we needed the second intersection with a tree in the center of the road, not the first), but hey! It lead us there. (At the second tree, when we were thinking we were totally lost, we asked two people who were riding past on four wheelers; they told us go left for the Moody Forest Conservation Center, go right and take our first left to get to the river.)

We went left – and hadn’t gone far at all – when we saw a sign at a driveway that said ‘Nature Conservancy,’ as well as the remaining buildings from the old Moody farm. We were thinking Whew! Finally! as we pulled up to the Nature Conservancy building. There were at least six cars parked next to it. The light was on. The door was locked. Peering in, we saw that lunch was literally on the table. On the back porch, a glass with the dregs of cola sat on the table, next to a pair of sunglasses. A water glass sat on the hood of a State of GA truck. No one was around.

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This was the point where I started feeling like we’d fallen into the Twilight Zone. Or like we were in the beginning of a cheesy horror flick. It was unbelievably eerie. There should have been people bustling about. It looked like they’d just dropped everything and left – although they would’ve had to have left on foot (or perhaps on ATVs), as all their cars and trucks were there. Additionally, even though there had been the one sign stating ‘Nature Conservancy’ there were no other signs, maps, pamphlets, brochures, information…. Nothing. The only reason we knew that the old buildings were part of the old Moody farm were because the man who busted us for trespassing had told us that the old Elizabeth Moody house was located next to the Nature Conservancy office.

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Elizabeth Moody House

We looked for trails. We finally found one – unmarked – behind one of the storage sheds by the office. We walked down it a ways, finding only one or two old pines, a lot of young pines, and some mutant oaks with scary gargantuan shiny leaves. Must be the radiation. Eventually we came to a place where the trail was crossed by a wide swampy stream. We decided to turn around at that point.

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It's shaped like an oak leaf. It has oak bark.... but I have NEVER seen oak leaves that size. Or that shiny. Must be the radiation. Unless, of course, this isn't an oak.


We got back to the car, and I was convinced it wasn’t going to start. Had this been a horror movie, it wouldn’t have. Luckily, it started right up. We decided to get the hell out of there (as it was really starting to creep us out) and head for the river. Take the right fork and then the first left to get to the river… well, you know where that first left was located? Right across from that gate we’d climbed over earlier in the day. We were going in circles. I should mention that the entire are around the old homestead (where we climbed the gate) was being logged. We began to wonder if there really were any virgin old growth longleaf pines, or if they’d all been logged. It would certainly explain the inaccurate directions – keep people away, they’ll never know how we’re making our fortune! Bwahaha!

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Logging...

We were almost to the river when we saw a sign saying ‘River Trail’ and pointing us to the right. A short drive later, we found a parking area, a kiosk, maps, and brochures. Woohoo! If only it weren’t so late in the day. We hadn’t had lunch yet, and neither of us was up to a two mile hike on an empty stomach. We’d have to come back.

We kept on driving towards the river. We eventually found it, but there wasn’t anywhere to park, so we drove on a short ways… only to find a rather hard-to-read sign stating “Leaving Moody Forest” – Really?? We’d yet to see an elderly longleaf pine. Shortly past the sign was an area where I could pull off the road to park. Mom and I got out, planning to walk back to the river so I could get some pictures. However, at this point, another fellow (probably late 50s) rode up on a four wheeler and asked if we were lost. Mom asked told him about what we’d found at the Moody Forest office, and how we’d been looking for the two trails all day and had only just located the River Trail. She asked if he knew how to find the other trail, and of course he did. Better yet, his house was in that direction, so how about we just follow him, and he’d show us where to go. We decided we’d check out the river some other time, and got back in the car to follow him.

He headed right back towards where we’d come from. We decided that if he turned into the Nature Conservancy office area we weren’t going to stop, and were just going to drive off as quickly as possible like a couple of madwomen. Luckily, he drove past the office. Eventually we came to some more homestead remains (according to this fellow, they were of the Wade Moody house), another parking area, and another trailhead with a kiosk, sign, brochures, and maps.

At this point it was definitely too late in the day to do any hiking. We talked to this fellow for a while (he told us about how he used to know Wade and Elizabeth Moody before they died, about drawing water from the well for them – which he warned us not to fall into – and about how the land had become part of the Nature Conservancy. He also assured us that there really were old growth long leaf pines down this trail (Tavia’s Trail), and that the area that was being logged was not part of the land owned by the Nature Conservancy.

After he left, mom and I explored the buildings by the trail head (and found the well, which we didn’t fall into), found the cemetery in which Elizabeth and Wade are buried, and again decided that it was DEFINITELY too late in the day to go hiking.


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Wade Moody House Remains

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Elizabeth Moody and Wade Moody

At this point, we followed the directions from the second man – keep following the road we were on westward, and we’d come to US 1. Really, access to the main area of Moody Forest really is that simple: Drive north from Baxley about 8 miles on US 1. Turn right on East River Road (yes, this was East River Road again). The park is on your right. Period. Easy. Simple. Not like our crazy ass directions to the middle of nowhere.

Instead we went and drove past Plant Hatch. I really wanted to get a picture, but cars on that stretch of US 1 were just flying by, and I didn’t want my little two door Toyota to get pummeled if I tried to slow down and pull off to the side of the road. I did, however, manage to get some nice shots of the amusing no trespassing signs surrounding Plant Hatch. Apparently they don’t forgive trespassers; they shoot them.

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