Travel: The Great Dismal Swamp

I’ve only had this van for a few months now and yet I find myself traveling ALL the time. As I sit here sorting and backing up hundreds of pictures from quick trips, I face the reality that I wouldn’t have visited a quarter of these places without that van. It’s a friggin magic carpet. An excuse to take a long weekend or drive out three hours after work and start a campfire, instead of driving back home. I’m getting to the point that my time is split 50/50 at home vs the van. The freedom of saying, “Eh, screw it. Let’s drive to Philly,” or “Hey, feel like South Kakalaki,” AND MEANING IT, is amazing. Not having to worry about a hotel or driving too late or waiting for a flight or any other stupid little thing associated with travel is legit refreshing.

One place that I’d long wanted to visit was the Great Dismal Swamp. Of the places

20171221_111748 Dismal Swamp Welcome Station
Entrance to the Dismal Swamp Refuge

managed by the NPS/FWA, this one doesn’t have so many reviews. The ones that are available say the same things:

  1. It really is dismal
  2. The bugs will kill your soul
  3. It’s creepier than a cemetery on a moonless night. Or something.

#3 is true. The videos from this trip mostly involve me waxing poetic about my definite demise. The place is LONESOME. It is no surprise many used it as an escape route on the underground railroad. More than that, whole communities of runaway slaves lived fulltime in the countless acres of the swamp. Researchers admit to never having found all of the towns and settlements.

20171221_124820 Lake Drummond
Lake Drummond, a massive body of water in the Dismal Swamp

Making it to the Dismal Swamp promised the (relative) freedom of the North, without being so separated from family in the south. Swamps in Florida and Louisiana offered similar protections. Slave hunting dogs came in and didn’t get out.

20171221_131233 Green again
Bears and Stories Are Waiting…

The other threats of the Dismal Swamp are just as real today. Bears live among the trees, ticks and mosquitoes would love a taste of you, and there’s the odd bobcat, who will see you long before you see him.

Even with the marked paths, you feel lost and wholly overwhelmed by the place. It is a beautiful experience, but please plan your visit. Humidity would be intolerable most

20171221_123521 Swamp
At points, the forest opens into wide spaces, before swallowing you whole again.

times of the year. Ditto for the blood draining mosquitoes and, generally speaking, anti-bug/low-humidity time is also bears-sleeping-and-not-walking-around time. My advice is to shoot for November – early March.

For those fellow nerds who have the National Park Service Passport, there are THREE stamps available at the Headquarters.

There really is so much more to say about the Dismal Swamp, but as a historian, I know I can be too wordy. If you have any questions about the swamp or its role as a refuge for displaced persons, drop them below!


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