FORGOTTEN COAST IS
FLORIDA'S FORGETTABLE COAST
March Break, 2008, my friend Anthony and I decided to escape winter and take a trip to the sunny south. As it was spring break in Ontario, I was a little worried about crowds in Florida, so we decided to try the Panhandle area around Panama City. I had been there about ten years earlier and remembered some interesting beach areas.
After traveling south through one of the worst snow storms of the season, through several states that evidently don't own any snow plows, we finally cleared the storm in Tennessee, stopping to visit my great friends, the DeWaard family. Their hospitality was particularly welcome after our harrowing drive, which often seemed to be a matter of life and death. After a long overdue visit we hit the road again, aiming for that promise of warm sunshine to be found in the south. It took us a while to realize that this promise would not be found in the Panhandle.
We made our way down to the Chattahoochee/Tallahassee KOA on Sunday, the second day of travel. I love KOAs. They are dependable places to stay and I'm planning to dedicate another section of this Travel Blog to review them. This is your average KOA with your one usual shortcoming: They always put the tenting area right beside the noisy, busy road. Almost every time!! But the next morning we were off to our destination, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. From my visit in the middle of summer (about 12 years ago) I remembered it as a seashore ecology paradise.
We got to Port St. Joe on Monday morning After driving for about three hours looking for anywhere to grab some breakfast en route. This was our first introduction to the wasteland which is Florida's Forgotten Coast. When we got to Port St. Joe we found that all of the restaurants listed on my GPS were either closed or out of business. We followed the signs to "Main Street" only to find that it was mostly closed as well, and that the biggest store on the street was the Goodwill Centre. (At that time I was not thinking of doing a travel blog. I have to remember to take pictures of these exciting places.) Still not having found anywhere serving food we resorted to the local Piggly Wiggly, and at that time did stumble on an expensive restaurant in the port Marina. We asked, and found out that, in fact, it was the only restaurant in town.
In fact it seemed to be the only place with people in town. Everywhere else was deserted. Half of the properties along the coast were up for sale. When we drove around the penninsula to the State Park, we discovered where all the people were. The campsite was full. When we asked the ranger if there would be any likely opennings, all we got as a reply was that we should check the Internet reservation system. Anthony and I kind of looked at each other, wondering how exactly she was expecting us to do that. It was perhaps the most unhelpful piece of help I'd ever received.
|Now, with the possibility of not having anywhere to stay that night, we drove around looking for other accommodations. We found some nice Bed and Breakfast places at around $150 - $200 a night, which was about ten times what we'd expected to pay for a campsite. Eventually we found Indian Pass Campgrounds which is a small RV and camping park with adequate facilities. The price was right, though, and if it weren't for the cool weather, wind and rain, it would probably be a nice place to stay. One morning I saw a dolphin swimming just a dozen metres or so off the shore of our campsite.||
St. Vincent Island, just across the channel from it is a nature reserve with a guided tour by naturalists that looked like it might have been interesting. (Unfortunately we stumbled across it just as we were leaving.)
The Indian Pass Raw Bar, on 30A right at the Indian Pass turnoff, was probably one of the two highlights of our stay here. This simple, yet very ambient restaurant was a refreshing delight, from the old fishermen standing around the barrel fires outside (it was cold!) to the big communal tables inside. The menu is limited but good, being heavy on the local seafood.
|The other highlight was St.
Joseph Peninsula State Park. Even though we couldn't camp there,
I wanted to check it out. Lots of sand. Actually, I have no
trouble seeing it as an inviting and interesting place, ...if the
temperature were about 10 degrees warmer. I remember all sorts of
interesting seashore life there the last time I visited. We got some
good hiking in and walked along lots and lots of sandy, primitive
beach. There were empty backcountry sites (walk ins), so we wondered
why the picture of helpfulness at the gate hadn't suggested one of those
when we'd inquired about camping the day before. But after a solid
day of decent hiking and exploring we returned to the car, looked at each
other and wondered what the heck we were going to do next. This area
seemed to offer very little, and we both agreed that we'd not yet achieved
our goal of truly warm weather.
So the next morning we got in the car, left Florida's Forgettable Coast and drove the 6 hours to Daytona and the Canaveral Seashore. Much better, and a story for a different page.
HAVE A FUN FUN TIME!!