Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Big Bend of Florida

March 2, Thursday. We left Helens and headed east toward Florida. We had gotten a reservation at St. Andrews State Park about 180 miles away. We are now on the panhandle of Florida, called the “Forgotten Coast.” While there are plenty of visitors, it is nothing like the area further south. Still, we only got a couple of days in the park because there was a cancellation; these sites reserve up eleven months in advance.

The park is sandy and wooded, and the sites are reasonably spaced. Next day it was cool and windy, but we decided to walk to the camp store to see if they could mail a couple of letters for us — bills that Jean needed to pay. Unfortunately, they couldn’t. It was a longer distance than it looked on the camp map, so we decided not to continue on to the beach. We went back to the rig, took naps, and kicked back for the rest of the day. That’s a good thing, too.

Thursday, Jean got up and washed her hair in the galley sink. After breakfast, I topped off the water tank (it was pretty low). We dumped the holding tanks on the way out. At the boat ramp we stopped and looked over an old turpentine still. This was a large, building-size operation.

Turpentine still

 Then we drove to the beach. Crossing over the dune, we were startled by the green color of the water. Similar to the shores in Greece, the water was different shades of green depending on the depth.

We took a short walk, then it was off to find a post office. It turned out to be quite a few miles west, the wrong way. She posted her letters and we were finally on our way. Other stops included getting groceries at a Piggly Wiggly, and a lunch stop in Apalachicola (now back in the Eastern time zone). This was in a restaurant we ate at the last time we were on the panhandle. Are we developing favorite stops in faraway places?

We found a county park in Newport where we could get a primitive camping spot (20 amp electric only) for the princely sum of $11, and laid our heads down for the night.

We are now around the corner and heading down the Big Bend of Florida. This is a pretty, rural part of Florida. Not much tourist activity, which is the way we like it. We took a flyer on a side trip to see if there is a beach there. We drove many miles through the woods on a two-lane road, passing through an unexpectedly large town with lots of boats —all on canals. We finally came to the town of Keaton Beach.

Keaton Beach

The beach is small and had just a few people on it: one woman sitting on the beach, a man and a boy, and two people paddling kayaks offshore. Talking to some locals, we were told it is the biggest beach in the area. On the panhandle there are miles-long, white sand beaches. In the bend of Florida, beaches are rare. (Further south you find lots of long beaches again.)

Later, we talked with the couple from the kayaks. They’re just starting a long trip around the country with a travel trailer. Back on the road, Jean found a spot in a KOA in Old Town, FL.

Next day, we chatted with neighbors for a while, then headed out. Our first destination was Manatee Springs State Park. This was a short distance as the crow flies but about an hour by road. Manatee Spring is a deep, large-volume spring that feeds a short creek that empties into the Suwanee River. There is a boardwalk through a dense cedar swamp to the mouth of the creek where there were about eight manatees and several kayaks milling about them. There were also lots of vultures resting in some trees, and a large number of ibis in an adjacent tree.

Some of the manatees in the river

After a while a motorboat race came roaring down the river (it was Sunday) and spooked all the birds. The vultures circled a while and went back into their trees. The ibis flew back and forth in a flock a few times, and settled into a tree farther up the creek.

Next we drove to Cedar Key. The town was larger than I remembered it, but the beach was smaller and busier than the one at Keaton. We sat at the beach for a while and just people-watched. There were a couple of cruising boats anchored off-shore (one a catamaran). After a while we walked along the old waterfront, and stopped for lunch. The town was very crowded, so we had to wait a while but it was worth it.

Cedar Key

About 3:30 we left and headed inland to a KOA. On the way out of Cedar Key we spotted a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the marsh.

Monday started off by doing laundry. All went well until we found that I had failed to press the “start” button on one of the driers. They don’t automatically start when you put in your quarters like the washers do. The end result was we were pushed right up to the checkout time of 12:00.

We drove back to the coast (we were about 30 miles inland) and followed a county road which paralleled the coast but some distance inland. We eventually ended up at a park in Bayport, where we had lunch overlooking the Gulf. Then we watched a Windrider 16 come in. We later talked with the owner.

Finally, we headed for Seffner and its Cracker Barrel. There is a good sign which you can see for a mile on the freeway, but when you exit, there is no clue as to where the restaurant is. It is well-hidden, as is the sign from the local streets.  We drove around for a while, going back and forth, until we finally put the address into the GPS, which gave us wrong directions. Finally, I tried a road that looked like it was the wrong way and it led to the place. This is not the first time we have had that experience with Cracker Barrel. Anyway, we got a good supper and a good night’s sleep

Tomorrow we go in to Seffner and find Jean’s sister-in-law and start the next chapter.

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