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Jennifer Latham on Writing DREAMLAND BURNING

Before the gunfire and flames, there was a hand-stitched dress—fitted and fine—that made Veneice Dunn feel beautiful. On May 31, 1921, she wasn’t thinking about how attacks on black communities had rocked Atlanta, St. Louis, Omaha, and Chicago in recent years. Or about how willing Tulsa law enforcement officials were to turn a blind eye to vigilante “justice.” Or even about Dick Rowland, the young black man arrested in Tulsa that morning on a more-than-questionable charge of “assault” on a white woman. Veneice was a junior at Booker T. Washington High School, and she was thinking about her prom.


But that very afternoon, a white friend of her father’s drove to the Dunn’s home in the thriving black section of Jim Crow-segregated Tulsa called Greenwood. He told them a crowd of angry white men with the makings of a lynch mob had gathered in front of the courthouse where Rowland was imprisoned. There were rumblings the evening’s planned violence wouldn’t stop with a lynching, he said. Greenwood was at risk, and the Dunns should stay with him in the country until the threat passed.


So Veneice packed a small bag, laid the lovely blue gown on her bed, and prayed her prom would go on the next evening as planned.


It didn’t.


By mid-afternoon on June 1, the Dunn’s home had been looted and burned by white rioters, along with twelve hundred other residences and businesses. “America’s Black Wall Street” lay in ashes, and at least three hundred people—most of them black—were dead. Veneice never danced in her gown, and she spent years to come dreading the prospect of seeing it on a white woman downtown.


Even though the Tulsa race riot (which many Tulsans now refer to as a race massacre) was possibly the worst in US history, it left barely a ripple as it disappeared beneath our collective conscience. In fact, I’d lived here nearly three years before I even heard about it. Once I did, though, I needed to know more.


Unfortunately, there aren’t many books on the subject. The ones out there are excellent, but the sad truth is that not much was written about the violence when it occurred, and much of the documentation was destroyed. Those photos and letters and articles that remain take up only a few legal boxes in the University of Tulsa’s archives. Even the June 1 Tulsa Tribune editorial that reportedly called for Dick Rowland’s lynching was physically torn from the Tribune’s own archived copy. To this day, no one knows for sure what it said.


Still, some survivors’ stories live on. A few, like Veneice’s, were published. Others are preserved on audio and video recordings of the survivors themselves. Every one of them will break your heart.


Honestly, my brain is Teflon-coated when it comes to remembering dates and timelines. But the survivors’ stories I found sank in deep and inspired me to write Dreamland Burning. Over four years of research went into it, and yes, Veneice’s dress does make a brief cameo appearance toward the end. But since I knew from the start that it would be wrong to speak for survivors who have already spoken for themselves, my characters are purely fictional. They tell their stories on behalf of those who didn’t survive the riot, as well as those who lived but were never heard. I hope William and Joseph and Ruby speak truth to readers. I hope they make people want to learn more about the riot. And I hope that maybe—possibly—they might even break a few hearts…and mend them right back up again.




Jennifer Latham Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR


Jennifer Latham is an army brat with a soft spot for kids, books, and poorly behaved dogs. She is the author of acclaimed Scarlett Undercover.  Dreamland Burning is Jen’s second novel.  This hard-hitting novel of truth, memory, and history has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal.  Jen lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and two daughters. Visit her website at or on Twitter at @jenandapen.




Dreamland Burning coverABOUT THE BOOK


★ “Unflinching.” –Booklist                    ★ “Masterfully told.” –Kirkus                    ★ “Enthralling.” –School Library Journal


One of the deadliest race riots in US history happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a hot 1921 night when the economically and culturally thriving black community of Greenwood was burned to the ground. Dreamland Burning gives voice to this little-known moment in history, crossing historical fiction with a cold case mystery in a story that makes bold statements about how racial tensions have changed–or haven’t–in nearly 100 years.




Discover even more about the story behind the story,

including the complexities of character voice, plot, and writing historical fiction,

in our LB School Podcast interview with Jennifer Latham here.

A Soundtrack for Walk Away

Walk Away by Sam Hawken

Whenever I’m working up a new book, whether it’s during the concept phase or during outlining, I start making a playlist to go with it. Eventually I start calling it a “soundtrack,” but it’s really only a playlist. I can only imagine how much I’d have to pay in licensing fees to make an honest-to-goodness soundtrack for every book I’ve written or published. But whatever the case, Walk Away is no exception.

The soundtracks never come together in exact order. They start with a seed song or two that capture a specific character or moment. Walk Away started with the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” because I knew the book would climax with a slam-bang action sequence, and when I thought of it “Sabotage” leapt right into my head. Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” followed quickly thereafter, signifying a critical moment toward the end of the book following the action, but you’ll notice it isn’t here. About midway through the editing process on the book, I realized Willie Nelson’s “The Maker” better fit the characters in the scene and the message I wanted to convey. So Dylan was out and Willie was in. I consider that a good trade.

It’s rare that I call out a song in the text itself, but occasionally I want so much for a reader to hear what I hear that I’ll name-check the artist or the title so the scene unspools as I imagine it. Such was the case with the Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba,” which is something of a douchebag anthem, but irresistibly catchy. It seemed like the perfect song to accompany Camaro beating the holy living s— out of someone, and so you’ll find direct reference to it in the book. Sorry for being so pushy.

Many of the songs you’ll find on this playlist become totally obvious in the context of reading the book. They are indicative of a place — like “Going to California,” or “All the Small Things” — or they attach directly to a character. I don’t think anyone can read Walk Away and not realize how George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love” connects to the book’s primary antagonist, Lukas Collier. Similarly, when the playlist opens with Larkin Poe and “Trouble in Mind,” you know that’s Camaro to the bone.

I chose some songs because they spoke the same language as Walk Away. Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” is a sorrowful tale of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, and Walk Away addresses this issue head-on. The victimized woman in “Better Man” has a far less salvific fate than Camaro’s sister, Annabel, but we can hope. And when you hear Tracy Chapman lament in “At This Point in My Life,” you know you’re hearing the interior voice of Camaro more clearly than she would ever allow. It is in these and many ways that I prime myself to tell the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it. If there’s an emotion to strike, sometimes there’s need of a boost to get there.

Of all the songs on the playlist, though, I think the one that communicates a sense of hope better than anything is the closing track from Everclear, “Santa Monica.” In Walk Away, Camaro goes through a serious grinder, not only physically, but emotionally. “Santa Monica” talks about coming into your own in a way you haven’t before, and I like to think the final moments of Walk Away convey that to the reader.

Enjoy listening once you’ve read. Tell me what you think.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Three Billy Goats Gruff coverThe Three Billy Goats Gruff

By Jerry Pinkney

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Animals, Folk Tales/Fairy Tales/Classics: Animals, Personal Development: Conflict Resolution, Adventure: Monsters

Grades: Pre-K-3rd


Jerry Pinkney puts his indelible stamp on another beloved folktale in the same vein as the Caldecott Medal-winning The Lion & the Mouse and the highly acclaimed The Tortoise & the Hare and The Grasshopper & the Ants.


When the three billy goats Gruff are hungry, they see bountiful grass to eat across an old bridge. But the bridge is home to a terrible troll, who is peckish himself, and looking for a tasty morsel to gobble up. In his interpretation of the timeless tale, Jerry Pinkney shows there’s little good to come from greed–but in the end, redemption for even the most trollish bully is possible. A dramatic gatefold heightens the climax of this brilliant rendition.



★ “Pinkney’s creative interpretation adds drama and a touch of morality to this well-known tale… Beautiful, exciting, and memorable retelling.” —Booklist


★ “This will be a sterling introduction to a classic for young kids—the human kind. An excellent and informative note explains Pinkney’s adaptation choices, and the closing endpaper gives a peek at the new goat-friendly troll. ” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


★ “Pinkney’s graceful note invites readers to ponder issues of forgiveness, redemption, and peaceful coexistence in a terrific tale well-suited to family and group read-alouds.” —Kirkus


★ “Pinkney is generous with his gifts; his paintings are splendid, nuanced, and unfailingly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly


★ “With a seasoned storyteller’s ear for language and an extraordinary mastery of his medium, this wise and gentle bookmaker helps readers see that cleverness, community, and confrontation all have a time and place in dealing with a bully. Sure to become a storytime staple.” —School Library Journal



2017 ALA Award Winners & Honors




Sound of Silence cover
The Sound of Silence
Horrible Bear
Thunder Boy Jr. cover
Thunder Boy Jr.
The Secret Keepers cover
The Secret Keepers
When the Sea Turned to Silver cover
When the Sea Turned to Silver
The Wild Robot Escapes
The Wild Robot


Every Exquisite Thing cover
Every Exquisite Thing
Girl in the Blue Coat
Girl in the Blue Coat
Not If I See You First

Cycling Tucson in Winter

It’s wintertime in the desert, and the fashion here in Tucson is all about form-fitting lycra shorts and bike helmets. Everywhere you look there’s a serious gang of roadies kitted out and gliding across the desert on bikes that cost more than your first car.

A cyclist riding in Tucson Mountain Park. Photo © Tim Hull.
A cyclist riding in Tucson Mountain Park. Photo © Tim Hull.

While professional and elite cyclists flock to Tucson for the mild temps and mostly cloudless blue skies when it’s freezing elsewhere, they also come for the pain and the anguish. This rugged Sonoran Desert valley, hemmed in by towering mountains and jagged hills, is an ideal proving-ground for those looking to show off their roadworthiness.

Tucson is home to a renowned group-ride called the “The Shoot Out.” According to a profile in Bicycling, you might find yourself riding next to a well-known pro—at least for a few seconds. Organized by Fairwheel Bikes, the sixty-mile ride makes a loop of Tucson’s desert edges every Saturday morning (check the website for current start times), passing by the world-famous Mission San Xavier del Bac and through the copper mining districts south of the city. But this is no leisurely tour of the region’s popular sights. The succinct warning on Fairwheel’s website says it all: “Expect a very large group, 100+ riders and very fast pace.” For those not yet prepared for pro-level intensity, a slower group leaves 15 minutes before the main pack.

If you’re more comfortable riding in small groups than you are jostling in the peloton, the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association organizes rides for cyclists of all levels and even hosts overnight cycling trips around southern Arizona. And of course you can always ride on your own, a lone road warrior, fighting the urge to stop and kick back in the winter sunshine.

Regardless of your riding preferences, make sure you try at least one of these popular winter rides through Tucson’s beautiful and unique desert landscape.

West of the City

The paved roads of Tucson Mountain Park (8451 West McCain Loop, 520/724-5000) pass by rocky mountains studded with tall and many-armed saguaros. Rides here usually end with a punishing climb up over Gates Pass, but the sweeping view of the desert at the top makes up for the pain in your legs. With a bit of repetition, it’s easy to put together a 50+ mile ride here.

Tucson’s Eastern Edge

Saguaro National Park Rincon Mountain District (3693 S Old Spanish Rd., 520/733-5153, $5 weekly pass for cyclists) features the popular Cactus Forest Loop Drive, an eight-mile paved loop through an enchanting saguaro forest with plenty of inclines.

The Loop

With more than a 100 miles completed, Tucson’s ambitious bike route known as The Loop is the place to be for cyclists of all stripes. The path leads around the greater city, touching its furthest neighborhoods, and is generally smooth and easy. The route connects many of the city’s parks and follows the valley’s mostly dry rivers and washes.

Mount Lemmon

While the relatively warm weather brings serious cyclists to Tucson in the winter months, they come in the summer for Mount Lemmon. Mount Lemmon’s peak looks over Tucson from about 10,000 feet above it all, and a twisting paved road winds all the way from the desert to the tall pines and the ski run at the top. It’s about 56 miles round trip, with a fairly steady grade, and turns into a roller-coaster ride on the way down. The mountain’s upper regions are about 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the desert floor, making this training ride more popular during the summer. Though it can get a bit nippy at times, if it’s not covered in snow the road to Mount Lemmon makes a great winter ride as well. Visit the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association website for group ride information.

Related Travel Guide

Scoring College Basketball Tickets in North Carolina

If you’re visiting the Triangle during college basketball season and are hoping to catch a game in person, don’t count on being able to buy a ticket at the box office. In fact, count on not being able to. The 20,000-seat Dean Dome, UNC’s Dean E. Smith Center, routinely sells out for men’s in-conference games, and PNC Arena, the NC State Wolfpack men’s 20,000-seat home arena, often does as well. Duke plays at the comparatively quaint and tiny Cameron Indoor Stadium, and its 9,000 seats are the hardest of all to obtain.

aerial view of the University of Carolina campus
UNC’s Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Photo © Lance King/iStock.

The most prized and scarce treasure of all is a ticket to the Duke-UNC men’s game. Unless a current student at one of the schools really, really likes you, or you’re a major benefactor with a building named in your honor, your chances of paying face value for a ticket are slim to none. When the game is played at Duke, students follow an elaborately codified protocol of camping out next to Cameron in “Krzyzewskiville,” a whimsical tent city named for the legendary Duke coach, for a chance at getting into the game. The university provides K-Ville with its own Wi-Fi; however, no heaters are allowed in the tents, and someone must always occupy a tent to keep its place in line or else the whole tent is disqualified. Some students spend the better part of a semester living at least part-time in K-Ville.

During basketball season, tickets appear on eBay, Craigslist, and ticket-scalping search engines. For a minor out-of-conference game, such as those played early in the season—the Wolfpack versus the Flying Menace of Snickelfritz County Community College, let’s say—you should be able to get a reasonably good ticket for $10-20 above face value and without much difficulty. For a sold-out game between ACC teams, prices go up steeply. If you want to go to a UNC-Duke game, seats up in the rafters will be in the hundreds, and a good seat could easily set you back $1,000 or more.

Scalping is illegal in North Carolina; it’s also pretty common. On game day, the scalpers are the people hanging around outside the arena, or on nearby street corners, holding signs that say “Need Tickets,” code for “I’ve got tickets.” If you ask one of them if he has a ticket, he’ll ask cagily what you’re looking for. Draw your line in the sand—you want a really good ticket for not a lot of money. If you ask for courtside seats for $20 each, you’ll only get laughter and lose your bargaining chips, but if you start not too far from the bounds of reason, he’ll talk business. Be firm, and be willing to turn down a best offer. There’s another scalper just a few steps away. If you don’t mind missing the first few minutes of the game, you’ll find that prices start going down at tip-off.

Related Travel Guide

Start Reading The Prometheus Man by Scott Reardon

The Prometheus Man by Scott ReardonStart the year of right—with a bracing, nerve-jangling debut thriller. Scott Reardon launches a new series for Mulholland today with the publication of The Prometheus Man. Tom races against the clock to get to the bottom of a secret government program, a project so clandestine he must go under deep cover to infiltrate it. What makes this project so dangerous? Read the opening chapter below to find out what’s at stake.

Chapter 1

“You need to come in.”

The words came out so low and fast Karl wasn’t sure he’d heard them.

He rolled over in the bed. “Who is this?” Then he remembered he was on a cell phone and the line wasn’t secure. “Wait. Say again.”

“You need to come here. Right now.”

His feet were already on the floor the moment he recognized the voice. There were questions on the tip of his tongue, but the circumstances answered them before he could speak.

Did something happen at the lab?

—Of course something happened at the lab.

Are the police there?

—He wouldn’t tell you if they were.

“Fifty minutes,” he said and hung up.

He was actually only twenty minutes away, but Weaver—the voice on the phone—didn’t know just how frequently he switched hotels. Within minutes, he was out of Paris proper and heading for the lab. It was that hour of night when so much of the world was at rest that it became a sort of death. He sped across silent streets and empty highways, a world without people, until he reached the forest outside Versailles.

He pulled onto a service road. Once he reached a redundant power station, he skidded to a stop. The wind whistled across his windows and bent the trees in his headlights. He sat there for a minute, knowing he ought to call this in to Langley, ultimately deciding he wasn’t going to do that.

He drove around the power station and took the road another half mile to a warehouse whose only color came from ancient scabs of red paint.

The stars were out. Karl could see Weaver sitting on a cinder block surrounded by black leafless trees.

Weaver had always reminded Karl of Renfield, the attorney Dracula turned into his houseboy. He was short, severe-looking, and had the kind of temper that flares only when a back is turned. Weaver said nothing as Karl approached. His eyes were fixed on the horizon, though in the woods there is no horizon.

Without looking in Karl’s direction, he stood up and led the way to the lab. The entrance to it was inside the warehouse, which wasn’t actually a warehouse. And that was the idea. No road crew or stray backpacker could ever know what was here.

Inside, the lab was dark. It wasn’t supposed to be. Weaver flipped the switch to a light by the door.

And there was blood.

It was streaked over the plexiglass wall that divided the lab from the rest of the building. Where it wasn’t streaked, it was sprayed.

Karl saw a handprint in it.

“I locked them in,” Weaver said. “I had to.”

He stood waiting for the reaction, the explosion at what he had done. But Karl just turned and stared at him.

“One of them got loose,” Weaver said. “It was waiting for us.”

Karl glanced at Weaver’s jacket pockets, looking for the bulge of a weapon.

“I got out first and used the override. By the time I got back, it had dragged Dr. Feld to the door.”

“What override?”

“It was holding him against the glass.” Weaver closed his eyes. “I couldn’t see what it was doing to him, but he was still alive.”

Karl looked at the plexiglass. There were other partial handprints and, between them, runny smears where someone had tried over and over to wipe away the blood. Which would have been difficult, like scraping egg yolk off a plate after it’s congealed.

“It was keeping him alive on purpose.” Weaver pulled out another cigarette. “It was torturing him.”

“‘Animals don’t torture other living things.’ Your words, Dr. Weaver. And please don’t smoke in here.”

Weaver turned on him. The expression on his face was hard to look at. “You don’t get it. The code. It knew he had the code to get out.”

Then Karl understood the purpose behind the wiping. The last one alive would have tried to clear the blood off the glass, so he could see Weaver. Plead with him.

“Unlock the door,” he said.

Weaver grimaced like this was a sick joke.

“They could still be alive. Unlock the door.”

“But by now the rest of the sample could be loose too. I’m not going to—”

Karl shoved Weaver back against the wall and pressed his forearm into his neck. Weaver choked in silence, in acceptance.

“You override the override,” Karl said, “or whatever the hell it is you have to do to get that door open.”

Weaver worked on the door while Karl went into the woods. At the base of a little tree, he dug up the Sig compact he’d buried in a plastic shopping bag. When he got back, he found Weaver standing across the entrance from the lab door.

They hit the fluorescents inside, but only a few came on. The rest dangled by their wiring. The alarm system went off, but since they’d disabled the sirens long ago, the blue lights spun in silence, whipping shadows around the room. Through the strobing, Karl could see Dr. Feld. He was right by the door, right where Weaver had last seen him.

Deep gouges had been cut into his skin, splitting it wide along his legs, back, and sides. His foot, still encased in its Rockport orthopedic walking shoe, lay several feet from his body. His face wasn’t on right: something powerful had gripped it and twisted.

Feld’s assistant was stretched along the floor nearby, facedown, with one arm extended overhead. Patches of hair and scalp were missing from the back of his head. The other arm was so dislocated from its socket that the wrist rested on the back of his skull. Karl didn’t see Eric Reese, the youngest member of Project Prometheus and the only one he really knew.

With his weapon raised, Karl crept through the door. The spinning lights made it seem like in every corner of the room something was moving. He listened as hard as he ever had in his life. As he scanned the room for bodies, dead or alive, his eyes stopped on something else.

He didn’t recognize it at first—it looked so different from the way it had looked the last time he’d seen it and so different from the way it was supposed to look. Only its height was the same: four feet. The largest members of the species, Karl had been told, weighed 110 pounds. This one must have weighed twice that. Its hands had thickened, and the skin on them looked chunky, like raw hamburger microwaved gray. The musculature was all wrong. It was thick like a man’s, not lengthy like a chimpanzee’s.

The chimp was propped up against a desk with its hands in its lap, like a child being read a story. There was blood pooled under its body and a hollow space where its throat had been. Skin hung in rags under its fingernails. Though he would never admit it to anyone, though it wouldn’t go in any report, Karl knew its wounds had been self-inflicted. He knelt down and gently cupped the back of its head. Then he looked at Dr. Feld and his assistant and tried to imagine scenarios in which they bled out fast. He stayed there until Weaver came up to him.

“Contact Dr. Nast,” Karl said. “Tell him everything’s on hold.”

When he looked up, Weaver was staring at him. “I thought you knew.” He almost sounded sad.

“Knew what?”

Weaver hesitated.

“Knew what?”

“Dr. Nast got the go-ahead.”

“The go-ahead for what?”

“To start the next trial. They injected the first volunteer two days ago.”

Drink Like A Woman: Lavender Amore

Holiday: Valentine’s Day, but any holiday where you share the love

Love. It’s all you need. Or, just make a great drink.

Try this lavender-laced version of a Paloma. It will make you feel loved.

Recipe by Jaime Salas, Milagro Tequila brand ambassador

2 oz. Milagro Silver tequila
1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. fresh lime juice

3 oz. DRY Lavender soda or club soda
glass: Collins
garnish: grapefruit peel, lavender kosher salt, sprig of fresh lavender

Shake all ingredients, except for soda, with ice, for 60 seconds. Strain into glass filled with ice, top with soda, and garnish with a grapefruit peel and a sprinkle of lavender kosher salt and/or a sprig of fresh lavender.

Note: If you can’t find DRY Lavender soda, you can make a simple syrup infused with dry lavender and vanilla. Try this recipe from Shalommama or this one from Martha Stewart.

Visit Cumberland Island National Seashore

Not only one of the richest estuarine and maritime forest environments in the world, Cumberland Island National Seashore (912/882-4335, reservations 877/860-6787) is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, as everyone learned when the “it” couple of their day, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, were wed on the island in 1996. With more than 16 miles of gorgeous beach and an area of over 17,000 acres, there’s no shortage of scenery.

Cumberland is far from pristine: It has been used for timbering and cotton, is dotted with evocative abandoned ruins, and hosts a band of beautiful but voracious wild horses. But it is still a remarkable island paradise in a world where those kinds of locations are getting harder and harder to find.

sunset over salt marsh on Cumberland Island
Cumberland Island has no shortage of beautiful scenery. Photo © Posnov/iStock.

There are two ways to enjoy Cumberland: day trip or overnight stay. An early arrival and departure on the late ferry, combined with rental and a tour, still leaves plenty of time for day-trippers to relax. Camping overnight on Cumberland is quite enjoyable, but it’s a bit rustic and probably isn’t for novices.

Important note: Distances on the map can be deceiving. Cumberland is very narrow but also very long—about 18 miles tip to tip. You can walk the width of the island in minutes, but you will not be able to hike its length even in a day.

You can have a perfectly enjoyable time on Cumberland just hanging out on the more populated south end, but those who want to explore the island fully should consider renting a bike or booking seats on the new National Park Service van tour around the island.

Getting to and Around Cumberland Island

The most vital information about Cumberland is how to get ashore in the first place. Most visitors do this by purchasing a ticket on the Cumberland Queen at the Cumberland Island Visitor Center (113 St. Marys St., St. Marys, 877/860-6787, daily 8am-4:30pm, $20 adults, $18 seniors, $12 under age 13) on the waterfront in St. Marys. I strongly suggest calling or faxing ahead. Be aware that there are often very long hold times by phone.

The ferry ride is 45 minutes each way. You can call for reservations Monday-Friday 10am-4pm. The ferry does not transport pets, bicycles, kayaks, or cars. However, you can rent bicycles at the Sea Camp dock once you’re there. Every visitor to Cumberland over age 16 must pay a $4 entry fee, including campers.

March 1-November 30, the ferry leaves St. Marys daily at 9am and 11:45am, returning from Cumberland at 10:15am and 4:45pm. March 1-September 30 Wednesday-Saturday, there’s an additional 2:45pm departure from Cumberland back to St. Marys. December 1-February 28 the ferry operates only Thursday-Monday. Make sure you arrive and check in at least 30 minutes before your ferry leaves.

One of the quirks of Cumberland, resulting from the unusual way in which it passed into federal hands, is the existence of some private property on which you mustn’t trespass, except where trails specifically allow it. Also, unlike the general public, these private landowners are allowed to use vehicles. For these reasons, it’s best to make sure you have a map of the island, which you can get before you board the ferry at St. Marys or at the ranger station at the Sea Camp dock.

There are no real stores and very few facilities on Cumberland. Bring whatever you think you’ll need, whether it be food, water, medicine, suntan lotion, insect repellent, toilet paper, or otherwise.

beach meets forest on cumberland island
Visitors to the island will have nearly 15 miles of beach to comb and acres of maritime forest to explore. Photo © laradyoung/iStock.

Area Information

Sights in Cumberland Island

The ferry typically stops at two docks a short distance from each other, the Sea Camp dock and the Dungeness dock. At 4pm, rangers offer a “dockside” interpretive program at the Sea Camp. A short way farther north at the Dungeness Dock, rangers lead a highly recommended “Dungeness Footsteps Tour” at 10am and 12:45pm, concentrating on the historic sites at the southern end of the island. Also at the Dungeness dock is the little Ice House Museum (912/882-4336, daily 9am-5pm, free), containing a range of exhibits on the island’s history from Native American times to the present day.

Down near the docks are also where you’ll find the stirring, almost spooky Dungeness Ruins and the nearby grave marker of Light-Horse Harry Lee. (You’re very likely to see some wild horses around this area too.) The cause of the 1866 fire that destroyed the old Dungeness home is still unknown. Another even grander home was built on the same site during the Victorian era, but also fell victim to fire in the 1950s. It’s these Victorian ruins you see today.

A very nice addition to the National Park Service offerings is a daily “Lands and Legacies” van tour (reservations 877/860-6787, $15 adults, $12 seniors and children) that takes you all around the island, eliminating the need for lengthy hikes. It’s ideal for day-trippers—if a bit long at six hours—but anyone can take the ride. It leaves from the Sea Camp Ranger Station soon after the first morning ferry arrives. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Moving north on the Main Road (Grand Ave.)—a dirt path and the only route for motor vehicles—you come to the Greyfield Inn (904/261-6408). Because it is a privately owned hotel, don’t trespass through the grounds. A good way farther north, just off the main road, you’ll find the restored, rambling 20-room mansion Plum Orchard, another Carnegie legacy. Guided tours of Plum Orchard are available on the second and fourth Sunday of the month ($6 plus ferry fare); reserve a space at 912/882-4335.

At the very north end of the island, accessible only by foot or by bicycle, is the former freedmen’s community simply known as The Settlement, featuring a small cemetery and the now-famous First African Baptist Church (daily dawn-dusk)—a 1937 version of the 1893 original—a humble and rustic one-room church made of whitewashed logs and in which the 1996 Kennedy-Bessette wedding took place.

a wild horse stands in front of the ruins of an old building on Cumberland Island
Ruins dot the landscape of Cumberland Island. Photo © Brian Lasenby/iStock.

Recreation in Cumberland Island

There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails all over Cumberland, about 15 miles of nearly isolated beach to comb, and acres of maritime forest to explore—the latter an artifact of Cumberland’s unusually old age for a barrier island. Upon arrival, you might want to rent a bicycle at the Sea Camp dock (no reservations, arrange rentals on the ferry, adult bikes $16 per day, youth bikes $10, $20 overnight). The only catch with the bikes is that you shouldn’t plan on taking them to the upcountry campsites.

Shell-and-sharks-teeth collectors might want to explore south of Dungeness Beach as well as between the docks. Unlike some parks, you are allowed to take shells and fossils off the island.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be in heaven. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded on the island, which is also a favorite nesting ground for female loggerhead turtles in the late summer. Of course, the most iconic image of Cumberland Island is its famous wild horses, a free-roaming band of feral equines who traverse the island year-round, grazing as they please.

Cumberland Island is home to some creepy-crawlies, including mosquitoes, gnats, and, yes, ticks, the latter of which are especially prevalent throughout the maritime forest as you work your way north. Bring high-strength insect repellent with you, or buy some at the camp store. Rangers recommend you do a frequent “tick check” on yourself and your companions.

Accommodations and Camping on Cumberland Island

The only “civilized” lodging on Cumberland is the 13-room Greyfield Inn (Grand Ave., 904/261-6408, $475), ranked by the American Inn Association as one of the country’s “Ten Most Romantic Inns.” Opened in 1962 as a hotel, the Greyfield was built in 1900 as the home of the Carnegies. The room rates include meals, transportation, tours, and bicycle usage.

Many visitors opt to camp on Cumberland (reservations 877/860-6787, limit of seven nights, $4) in one of three basic ways: at the Sea Camp, which has restrooms and shower facilities and allows fires; the remote but pleasant Stafford Beach, a vigorous three-mile hike from the docks and with a basic restroom and shower; and pure wilderness camping farther north at Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise, and Brickman Bluff, all of which are a several-mile hike away, do not permit fires, and have no facilities of any kind. Reservations are required for camping. All trash must be packed out on departure, as there are no refuse facilities on the island. Responsible alcohol consumption is limited to those 21 and over.

Insect life is abundant. Bring heavy-duty repellent or purchase some at the camp store.

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Visit Cumberland Island National Seashore, one of the most beautiful and romantic places on the planet, not to mention home to a rich estuarine and maritime forest environment. Plan your coastal Georgia getaway with this helpful guide.

Hiking, Climbing, and Seeing the Portage Glacier

Fifty miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway is the turnoff to Portage Glacier and Whittier. The old town of Portage was located here, along the Placer River where it flows into Turnagain Arm. The massive 1964 earthquake dropped the land 6-10 feet, flooding Portage with saltwater, but you can still see ruins of the old Portage Garage, along with a “ghost forest” of dead spruce trees. The salt acted as a preservative, and many trees are still standing more than 50 years later.

Today, Portage has an Alaska Railroad station on the east side of the highway and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on the west side. Portage Highway heads east from here to Portage Glacier before passing through a long tunnel and ending at the town of Whittier.

Portage Highway is a six-mile access road through scenic Portage Valley to Portage Glacier. The glacier is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Southcentral Alaska, so be ready to share the ride with busloads of cruise ship travelers.

a body of water in front of portage glacier
Take a boat tour to see Portage Glacier. Photo © Lisa Maloney.

Visitors Center

The Forest Service’s Begich, Boggs Visitor Center (907/783-2326 or 907/783-3242, daily 9am-6pm late May-mid-Sept., $5 adults, free for kids under 16) is named after Nicholas Begich (U.S. representative from Alaska and father of former U.S. Senator Mark Begich) and Hale Boggs (majority leader of the U.S. Senate and father of journalist Cokie Roberts), whose plane disappeared in the area in 1972. They were never found. A large picture window overlooks the narrow outlet of Portage Lake. When the visitors center first opened in 1986, the glacier was readily visible, but it is now out of sight around a corner, and in recent years the number of icebergs entering the lake has decreased greatly as it continues to shrink as the climate warms.

The visitors center boasts an array of displays, including an ice cave, a small iceberg hauled in from the lake, an engrossing relief map of local icefields, and everything you ever wanted to know about glaciers, including displays on glacial motion and crevasses. Don’t miss the vial of tiny iceworms, which inhabit the surfaces of glaciers, feeding on pollen grains and red algae and surviving within a delicate, near-freezing temperature range. A 20-minute film, Retreat and Renewal, describes the changing world of Portage Glacier.

During the summer, Forest Service naturalists lead half-mile “iceworm safari” nature walks (assuming funding is available). The fish platform near Williwaw Campground is a good place to see spawning red and chum salmon in late summer.

Seeing the Portage Glacier

To see Portage Glacier, you’ll need to hop onboard the 200-passenger Ptarmigan tour boat (907/277-5581 or 888/452-1737, $39 adults, $19 kids); catch it at the dock near the visitors center. Operated by Gray Line of Alaska and staffed by Chugach National Forest naturalists, these one-hour cruises across Portage Lake start at 10:30am, with the last tour at 4:30pm. Gray Line offers the option to combine the boat tour with round-trip bus transportation from Anchorage ($86 adults, $46 kids).

Hiking the Portage Glacier

Two hikes are within walking distance of the visitors center. The Moraine Loop Trail, accessible from the path to the lodge, is a five-minute stroll through typical moraine vegetation; Portage Glacier occupied this ground only 100 years ago. Follow the access road past the visitors center (south) just under a mile. At the back of the parking lot starts the Byron Glacier Trail, an easy 0.75-mile walk along the runoff stream to below this hanging glacier.

At Williwaw Campground, the 1.25-mile Williwaw Nature Trail provides an easy introduction to the area, and Trail of the Blue Ice continues to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center.

Camping the Portage Glacier

Two seasonal Forest Service campgrounds near Portage contain woodsy sites. Black Bear Campground ($15) has 13 sites for tent camping and is not recommended for RVs. The larger Williwaw Campground (518/885-3639 or 877/444-6777, $18-28) has 60 tent and RV sites (no hookups), plus a wheelchair-accessible observation platform where spawning salmon are visible in the summer. Williwaw’s sites can be reserved ($10 fee).

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

One of Alaska’s most popular visitor attractions, the 140-acre Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC, 907/783-2025, daily 8am-8pm early May-mid-Sept., daily 10am-5pm mid-Sept.-Dec., Sat.-Sun. 10am-5pm Jan.-Feb., daily 10am-6pm Mar.-early May, $13 adults, $9 military and seniors, free for kids under 13) sits along Turnagain Arm just across the Seward Highway from the turnoff to Portage Glacier. This nonprofit game farm for orphaned and injured Alaskan animals houses brown and black bears, wood bison, moose, elk, musk oxen, Sitka black-tailed deer, lynx, caribou, coyotes, bald eagles, and even Snickers the famous (on YouTube at least) porcupine. AWCC is a hit with all ages, providing an up-close look at animals you normally see from a distance—if at all. The 18-acre bear facility (largest in the United States) is particularly impressive, with an elevated walkway to separate people from the brown and black bears.

Visit in early summer for the chance to watch those ever-cute musk ox babies. For a more informative visit, join one of the free daily programs that include caribou walks, lynx feeding, small animal programs, and brown bear feeding. Free shuttle bus tours are offered eight times a day. A fun children’s playground is across from the AWCC gift shop.

Use extreme caution when turning into AWCC off the busy Seward Highway; multiple fatalities have occurred at this intersection. The Alaska Railroad’s Portage train station is directly across the road, and they offer a special Rail and Wildlife Day Trip ($175 pp) that includes a visit to AWCC and a train ride to the scenic Grandview region.

Travel map of Portage Glacier
Portage Glacier

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