Leaving the beauty of Alabama was hard but interesting as we continued east along the Gulf. We both felt a big change as soon as we crossed the border into Florida, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it was. The grass didn’t seem to be as green, the lots not as large, and the homes not as well maintained. And it seems like we were right back to flat land as soon as we crossed the state line. At least that seemed to be our impression.
As we continued east into the Florida panhandle we were impressed by how much “wilderness” there still was, but the woods were different. We saw a lot of tall pines planted in rows with little underbrush. We found out later these tree farms or plantations burn off the underbrush regularly and they clearcut when they harvest the pines for wood and paper. So there would be alternating patches of forest, patches of fresh burns, and patches of bare ground. Pine trees aren’t my favorite, and even Tom didn’t like it much.
Our first stay was at Dead River Landing, a free spot with a boat landing, but we felt it was too swampy and buggy to do any kayaking there. Although the view from the landing was just beautiful.
While camped there, we drove over to the coast at Panama City Beach. It was perfect weather, but not a lot to do in the area other than hang out on the beach. Which would have been wonderful if we had kids, or were just on vacation.
But now that we’re on permanent vacation, just soaking up sun on the sand doesn’t sound so appealing. So we checked out some hiking at a conservation area. Or should I say walking. To me, hiking is only hiking if there are hills or rocks to climb. The area was flat and had asphalt trails and seemed better suited to biking.
Our next camping destination was at Wright Lake State Campground. We parked with a nice view of a little black lake that only took us a half hour to walk around. It was also near the site of a fort that was along the beautiful Apalachicola River.
While still there we again took a Jeep trip to the coast. Here we found St. George Island – by far our favorite beaches so far. There are no high rise condos, and it had a very kicked back and small beach-town feel.
We took a picnic lunch and did spend some time on the sand soaking up the sun. The beaches were very accessible all over this island and especially in the State Park end. The whole island was very narrow and you could see the water on both sides just by turning your head. This was also the only area where we’ve seen sand dunes.
When we left the island we went across the bay to a fishing town called Apalachicola. The locals called it Apalach, and we never did find out why the -icola was silent. It was a charming town and they were having an art show in town the following day, so we went back.
Only the next day was stormy and rainy. We went anyway and had a lovely time getting wet and visiting with the local artists. We even purchased some RV-sized artwork: some watercolor gift cards of the local fishing boats. We topped off the day with a visit back to St. George Island – which looked much different in the stormy weather. We had a nice meal at a restaurant recommended by my son-in-law, who used to vacation on the island when he lived in Georgia.
We had found many landings and boat launches near that campground, but I didn’t feel like taking the kayak out in the rain. So we moved on again without getting the boat out.
This time to Manatee Springs State Campground, one of the prettiest campgrounds we’ve been in so far. The vegetation was beautiful, and not just the pine trees of the previous campgrounds, all types of trees and vines. We arrived around 4pm and went straight to the springs and boardwalk of the manatee viewing area and canoe/kayak launch.
We watched some scuba divers go into the springs that were completely clear. Some of the divers went into underwater caves accessed through murky waters.
We thought about breaking out the kayak right then, but decided we’d just wait until morning. Big mistake.
We awoke to the sound of rain – that wasn’t supposed to arrive until the next day. So much for forecasts. And unfortunately we were in a dead zone – no cell service and couldn’t even pick up a radio station. When the weather cleared we got out the kayak and aired it up just as it started sprinkling again. We tried waiting it out, but it was clear it wasn’t letting up. then we got word of thunderstorms coming, so we retreated to the RV.
Mid-day we ventured into town to check weather and got a redbox movie to enjoy during the storm. On the way back we saw our first armadillo which was very exciting. We sat in the Jeep and watched it dig and frolic and roll for a while before skittering off.
That afternoon, we got the most intense storms we’ve encountered so far. Really, it was pretty cool. I noticed how the thunder actually “cracked”, “boomed”, “clapped”, “rumbled” and “roared”. We got it all. From our view in the woods, we only saw flashes of lightning, just a couple of bolts. Then it started flickering – like it did in South Dakota – and I wondered about tornadoes. That’s the only time I was nervous. The rain was coming down in sheets and the dirt road in front of our campsite turned into a river. The thunder continued for hours – the longest I’ve ever heard. It shook the RV several times. At one point there was a flash of lightning that seemed to emanate from inside our RV it was so bright, and at the same time a crack of thunder that literally seemed just over our heads. It was quite intense, but after our movies we slept quite well!
We thought about staying another night, just because it was so pretty, but the rain was forecast to continue and I woke up with a nasty head cold, so we moved on. But if you’re ever in that Northeast corner of the Gulf, I’d definitely recommend it. They even have a company that will pick you up in the park and take you miles upriver and drop you off with a canoe or kayak (yours or their rentals). I’m so sorry we missed that opportunity.
Peace & Love, Joy