Being born and raised in Florida, it would seem that at some point in time I would have experienced some travel in the northwestern portion of the state, known as the Panhandle. But in fact, the only time I have traveled in this region is when I was passing through quickly to some other destination.
Leaving home recently, we headed,initially, to Manatee Springs State Park as a stopover. Manatees were not around during our visit. Recent torrential rains had left water standing everywhere and water overflowing the banks of the Suwannee River. The river also receives water from the springs via a stream linking the two. Headwaters of the springs produce about 100 million gallons of clear water daily; provide a winter home for manatees and, slightly chilly, 72-degree water for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving experiences year-round. Oak trees grace the shores of the springs and the lands throughout the park.
|Dunes at St. George Island|
Luckily, the following evening we were able to secure a reservation at St. George State Park southeast of Apalachicola. During the summer and spring break times of the year, this portion of Florida is inundated with visitors from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and
Moving slowly to the west, we made a stop at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
|Snorkeling for dinner|
|Early morning St. Andrews beach|
Saint Andrews State Park was our next destination. Located just east of Panama City Beach, we passed by miles of high-rise hotels and a varied assortment of entertainment venues lining the highway to arrive at the park. As a former military reservation, the land had been preserved prior to the encroachment of this development. The mile and one-half of beaches, plus two fishing piers, a jetty and a boat ramp provide a variety of water-oriented activities. Sunbathing and biking were our choice of activities.
|Gulf National Seashore|
Ft. Pickens, which is part of the Gulf National Seashore Park, was our next destination. The Seashore Park runs for 160-miles from Florida to Mississippi, broken up into 12 different parts. The fort construction was started in 1829 and completed in 1834 with the use of slave labor. One of four forts built in the Pensacola Bay area; Ft. Pickens was the largest and was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War. With modifications, the fort was used through WWII. By the end of the war, it was considered to be obsolete and was abandoned. It’s open daily and the nearby museum offers details on the history. Miles of snowy white sand are available for beach walks, but the park also offers opportunities for fishing, biking, boating and birding.
Big Lagoon State Park was our final campsite in Florida, before shooting over to New Orleans. Grand Lagoon, leading out to the Intracoastal Waterway, provided another opportunity for kayaking and fishing. Once again, our fishing luck was limited, but the setting was lovely. The park utilizes extensive boardwalks to protect the marshlands, an observation tower for a wonderful overview of the park, fishing and 5 miles of hiking trails. Osprey nests were plentiful and we spotted many juveniles in the area near the campground.
Now we’re moving on to the “Big Easy”, New Orleans.
|Early morning walk at St. George Island|
|St. George Lighthouse|
|St. George beachfront|
|St. George sunset|
|Flooding at St. Andrews|
|Small mouth bass|
|Fort Pickens entrance|
|Kayaking at St. George|
|Spotted trout catch (and release)|
|Overlook at Big Lagoon State Park|
|St. George early morning beach|