East of Savannah the landscape gets peaceful quickly. Amid the contemporary calm stands Fort Pulaski National Monument (912/786-5787, daily, $7), 14 miles east of Savannah on US-80, a well-preserved stone-and-brick fortress completed in 1848 at a commanding site at the mouth of the Savannah River. Its prominent island site originally held colonial-era fortifications, which were demolished by a hurricane in 1804 and replaced by the architecturally impressive pentagon-shaped bulwark that survives in its battered and breached state today, surrounded by a moat and many acres of grassy lawn.

Beginning in 1829, construction of Fort Pulaski, proclaimed “as strong as the Rocky Mountains,” took 18 years, used 25 million bricks, and cost just over a million dollars (which is equivalent to something close to $5 billion these days, as a share of the U.S. GDP!). During the Civil War, its seven-foot-thick walls withstood bombardment by the Union forces’ new rifled cannon for only 30 hours, prompting the fort’s surrender in April 1862.

Beautiful and endlessly photogenic, besides the military history Fort Pulaski preserves abundant natural habitat for all sorts of splendid creatures. Eagles, falcons, and songbirds fly about, while alligators, manatees, and turtles cruise through the lazy waters of the moat and nearby wetlands.