Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year

Move? We’ve moved and then moved again!  From one seaside state park we headed east along the beautiful “Emerald Coast of Florida” to another seaside state park in Panama City Beach.  We had stayed in St Andrews State Park on our very first winter of retirement – SPFB!  Our site way back then was spacious and backed right up to the bay.  Not so lucky this time!  H had managed to reserve the very last site that was open for only one night.  It was narrow – down right malnourished - just like the rest of the sites in that section.  After much jockeying and frustration the big tan condo was backed in and secured for our short stay.  The “roads” thru the camping areas were not much more than 2-tracks in the sand with palms and pine trees left growing way too close to maneuver around easily.  We witnessed more than one rig have a difficult time getting into his tight spot.  We chose to not even try for another site the next day.
St Andrews beach

We used the afternoon to re-explore the park.  We walked the off white sand cliffs on the beach.  Erosion was still happening and we heard they were dredging the bay to fill in the beach-AGAIN!  It’s Christmas break so the park was full of families and teens!  We took time to walk the fishing piers and watch the seabirds beg for the fish scraps at the cleaning shed.  There was even a tri-colored heron on the roof that sat like Snoopy on his doghouse with his head cocked over the edge to stare down!  

We were packed and out early the next morning – still following the route along the shoreline.  The beautiful beaches had now changed to rocky shallow bays and the road followed obediently along and around each one.
St George Island Lighthouse
H chose to follow a “Scenic Florida Highway” sign and we ended up on a long strand of bridge out over the bay to St George Island.  At the end of the 3-mile causeway was the normal collection of tourist shops, a row of 3-story, parallel townhouses stacked side by side like pastel dominos-ready to fall if nudged.  A tall, stately 1843 lighthouse and keepers house stood guard over a neatly groomed park with plenty of informative signs to read. The lighthouse had been destroyed by storms in 2005 and has been rebuilt using the salvaged bricks. The boardwalk nearby led over the scruffy dunes to the YELLOW sand beyond.  It was cold and windy so there were not too many folks frolicking in the water today!

That afternoon we parked in a small “fishing camp” campground – the Newport County Park on the St Marks River.  Right across RT 98 was the road to the St Marks Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge.   Last spring the area was damaged by Hurricane Hermaine, and the shoreline at the lighthouse still showed some residual damage.
Wakulla lodge
 We chose to spend several nights and so took a day to see if Wakulla Springs State Park was still doing well.  It is!  The agent at the gate had to charge us an entry fee but was nice enough to inform us that we could use that receipt towards any cost of a meal (breakfast!) at the restaurant in the lodge.  The lodge was and is still a step back into a grander time! Their Christmas tree was still up and the decorations fulfilled the feeling of the era.  A toasty fire was crackling in the huge fireplace. The spring is still a first magnitude spring and the resident manatees still follow the tour boats around and rise to the surface as if on cue.
Wakulla Springs

It was New Year’s Eve and there was to be a big celebration, complete with fireworks that evening in Tallahassee at a park near the capitol building. Since we were not going to be in Tallahassee after dark, we wanted to at least see the park where all the fireworks were to be set off.  It was not on our GPS so we wandered from the east side of town to the west - right thru the Florida State University campus!  Right past the Seminole Stadium - the guys that beat the Michigan Wolverines in the Orange Bowl by ONE lousy point.  We never did find the park. Defeated also – H and I headed back to our snug little winter home.

We’ve gone from the “Emerald Coast”, thru the “Forgotten Coast” where the tenor of the area changed from sparkling water and tourists to tidal flats and fishing villages.  Around and down the “Big Bend” of the Gulf side of Florida we lucked out and got a “walk-in” site in Manatee State Park near Chiefland.   Manatee Springs had been closed a year ago for updating electrical and
Manatee Springs
sewer hookups.  Not much else has been done. From December to April, the actual run is usually off limits (because in the cool weather, manatees come up in the run from the river).  Not so this year.  The kayak and canoe rental is going strong!   During the day, there is still a pod of 4 or 5 manatees out in the area where the spring empties into the Suwannee River and can be seen from the boardwalk, the fishing dock – or from your kayak or canoe!   The spring is still flowing 72-degree clear water.   On one trip to the spring to watch the swimmers in the water, we saw more than just kids bobbing around.  We were
Mermaid in Manatee Springs
amazed to see a Mermaid with long shimmering blue green fins!  H and I even got to talk with her!   Her name is Serena and has wanted to be a mermaid since she was a small girl!    Cool, huh