We are starting the New Year off with a change to the blog as far as theme. Now our page will have a sidebar listing the most recent posts and an archive list by month so you can look back easily if you wish to refer to a past post without scrolling through every post. You can also search the blog by keyword if you can’t remember where you saw something or if you are new to our blog and have a special interest area. Let us know how you like it. We have our own new feature photo too. We will have links to major sites mentioned here so you can just click on them to get more information.
When we left you in the Alabama post we were late leaving for our 5 hour drive to Apalachicola, Florida. Our “home” for the next 2 weeks would be Saint George Island State Park. We really try to make it to the parks before sundown. (Backing the trailer into an unfamiliar site in the dark isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Steve) Today that was not to be. We crossed the Apalachicola Bay bridge then the almost 5 mile bridge out to Saint George Island turned left and got to the park about twenty minutes after sunset. The sign at the entrance said “park closes at sunset” and the gate was down. We didn’t know the code to get in! Thank goodness for cell phones. We called the park number and someone was able to give us the code. We found our site and parked. It was level enough so we could make do and stay connected to adjust our position in the morning. From now on if we’re going to arrive after sunset we will call and check about closing time and gate access. Live and learn.
This is our second visit to Florida’s Hidden Coast as the area is nicknamed. It runs about 150 miles roughly from Panama City on the west to Tallahasse on the east. Apalachicola (known as Apalach to the natives) is the largest town on this strip. Apalachicola is itself just a small town of shrimp and oyster fisherman and tourism. It is the kind of place we love with quaint 1880s-1920s buildings, locally owned businesses, great seafood and empty sandy beaches. Last February we stayed at Saint Joe Peninsula SP about 35 miles to the west. While we enjoyed the park the sites would be too small for our new trailer. We’ll spend time at on a barrier island known as SGI to the natives, to the east of town. The campground at SGI is smaller with 50 sites but they are large, private and level. The island is approximately 20 miles long by 1 mile wide and the park is located on the easternmost 9 miles. There is a sandy Nature Trail connecting the campground to the East Slough beach access on the Gulf and another primitive spur going off to the lagoon side. Opal and I made good use of these for our morning walks. Dogs are not allowed on the park beaches but SGI does allow them on leashes. Toward the middle of our visit we found a beach access on the Apalachicola Estuary Research land that is open to foot traffic only and Opal could be free to run wade and roll in the sand. The campground had a resident Great Horned Owl who sang us to sleep most nights with his HOO-HOO-DE-HOO.
Since we didn’t get anything published in our old blog from the trip last year due to life going into warp drive we’ll combine some pictures from both trips. Last year the weather was cool and wet so we did a great deal of exploring since it wasn’t good beach weather. This year the weather was in the 50s-70s and much sunnier so we did more kayaking, biking and beach walking hence the name of the post Paddles, Pedals and Playas (Spanish for beach). Yes we are showing off our high school Spanish.
A quick look back at our February 2012 trip:
1) Finding a great dog beach which we named Opal Beach that had wonderful driftwood for photos too
2) Touring local museums such as the Florida Constitution Museum in Port St. Joe and the John Gorrie Museum http://www.floridastateparks.org/johngorriemuseum/default.cfm in Apalachicola
3) Visiting Florida Caverns SP http://www.floridastateparks.org/floridacaverns/ and Wakulla Springs SP http://www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings/ for photography ops
4) Prowling the shrimp boat docks for more photo ops
5) Walking historic Apalachicola for yet more photo ops
This year we’d be here over Christmas and New Years. Not having room for a tree we decorated the outside of the trailer. Our new lifestyle calls for not adding to any “stuff” we carry. We’ve adopted a “If we can’t eat it, wear it, take photos with it or put it in the gas tank we don’t need it” attitude. So instead of buying each other presents we decided to have expensive (at least for us) restaurant meals to celebrate. Christmas dinner was a five course meal at the 1907 Gibson Inn. It was beautifully decorated for the holidays. An appetizer (shrimp and crabmeat cocktail), salad (a variety of greens with goat cheese and their own special dressing) and soup (sweet potato) was the same for all diners. I had cornish game hen for my entree and orange creme brûlée for dessert. I had duck and pecan pie with ice cream covered with a mocha sauce. And I had the leftovers!
New Years dinner was at the Owl Cafe, an 1880s building that is now part kitchen store, part restaurant and part Tap Room. We ordered off the menu. We both started with lobster bisque, then I had grouper and I had steak with a crab cake. Dessert for me was a flan with caramel sauce and I can’t remember but it was good. They didn’t bring home any leftovers! This year is not starting out well. Our food fest didn’t stop there. We frequented Lynn’s Seafood store in Eastpoint and made Emeril Lagassee’s coconut shrimp, his shrimp and grits, fried and cajun oysters, grilled shrimp and oysters and maui mahi. Why do my clothes feel tighter? I’m not one to recommend products often but when we had the coconut shrimp we used a mango coconut pepper sauce by Tropical Pepper Co. If you see it in the store, buy it.
Most of this visit was spent leisurely walking beaches, kayaking on the lagoon and taking bike rides. Here everyone is out walking, biking, roller blading or boating. The easternmost end of the park is kept as a primitive area. You can walk or bike to it for free or pay a fee to drive the 5 miles out there. We chose to bike the 11 miles R/T from the campground twice. Not having ridden for almost a month my legs did feel it a bit on the first trip but by the second trip I rode back without a break. The road starts out paved then becomes broken pavement then a dirt road and lastly a dirt road with sand traps that will take you from 10mph to zero in 3 feet. Last year we photographed shrimp boats and this year it was oyster boats.
We did stop in to see the Apalachicola Maritime Museum. We got there about 1 o’clock and the staff was still at lunch so one of the instructors let us in and said “pay when the girls come back”. We learned a lot more about the history of the area such as its economic rise and fall through the cotton boom and Civil War. Remember when we talked about the Anaconda Plan? Well, the Apalachicola River was one of the first rivers to be blockaded as it was the outlet for one of the South’s major industrial centers, Columbus, GA. During the Civil War England turned to China, India and Egypt for cotton causing imports from the South to fall to 1/8 of pre-war status. The Confederates had booby trapped the Apalachicola River with log snags. These continued to plague steamboat traffic until the Corps of Engineers finally cleared the river. Next it was a logging boom town for cypress. One of the prettiest homes in town was built by logging merchant Thomas Coombs and now is the beautifully restored Coombs Inn. When that industry played out the area turned to fishing and oysters. Fresh water from the Apalachicola river mixes with the salt water of the bay to produce just the right mixture to nurture oyster beds. The area now supplies 10% of the nation’s oysters. The demand for the oysters is bringing a new threat of over harvesting to the area. We were told that currently a truck leaves Apalach once every hour to deliver oysters to the markets. The size of oysters is decreasing and some of the beds may need to be shut down. The museum also holds hands-on classes in wooden boat building and sailing. They offer day and week long cruises on their schooner Heritage as well as pontoon boat and airboat rides.
One evening we took Opal for her beach time and decided to go to the western end of the island where we hadn’t been before. Do you ever feel like you are being put somewhere for a reason? First there were the dogs on the road, then the lady who fell and now… a house fire. We were walking back on the beach toward the truck when Steve looked up and said “That chimney is on fire!” Opal and I stayed on the beach while he ran to the house. No one was home even though doors were open. A neighbor just returning from shopping grabbed a hose while his wife called 911. Soon afterward the man renting the house appeared and fortunately so did the fire department. They doused the chimney and roof with foam and water. All was under control by the time we left.
W e did take one day to drive to Tallahassee to see Steve’s cousin. We got to town a bit early so we spent an hour or so at the Florida Museum of History. Not having time to see the whole museum we limited ourselves to a traveling art exhibit of Florida paintings and a quick walk through of agricultural history. Most of the artists we’d never heard about but there were 3 we recognized: Frederick Remington, Thomas Hart Benton and N. C. Wyeth. I never knew Remington did anything but western art. He had sold his collection of western art and through his connections with Teddy Roosevelt was allowed to go to Cuba to paint scenes from the Spanish American War. His Florida paintings were done while he was waiting to deploy.
There are still three small museums left for us to see (the SGI lighhouse, the Orman House and the Raney House), kayaking the Apalachicola River and through the marshes at Tate’s Hell State Forest, taking a ferry over to St. Vincent’s Island NWR and more shrimp and oysters. So until we come back…..