“… not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight.” Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rijka Brunt
Carol writes: The last of six stops in our Florida winter trek was in a tiny town named Eastpoint, smack-dab on the northern Florida coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This section of the Florida panhandle has become known as “Florida’s Forgotten Coast.”
For residents of nearby small-town Apalachicola, “forgotten” is a good thing because the simple old Florida way of life is just how they like it. Here, the passage of time has slowed… There are no multistory hotels on the beach, no high-rise condos, just a simple southern way of life focused pretty much around modest tourism and harvesting their century-old claim to fame—those celebrated oysters found on the shallow sea floor of Apalachicola Bay.
For us, this was a golden opportunity to experience a superlative campsite with a view of the Gulf of Mexico spanning our entire front windshield.
No two days out in the bay were ever exactly the same with the exception of constant sea breezes blowing onshore. This campground provided us a great opportunity to take advantage of our southern vantage point to view a flyby of the International Space Station (ISS). With only the nearly flat horizon of the offshore islands in the distance, just after sunset three nights in a row we were able to catch a brief flyover of the ISS. Moving in the same direction as the rotation of the earth, the ISS appeared as a very bright sphere of light moving silently, smoothly, and very fast (compared to airliner traffic) across our unimpeded view of the sky.
On another day in camp, we were entertained by the appearance of a pair of bald eagles that were fighting over a fish one had caught and was refusing to share. The incessant squawking brought campers scurrying with cameras in hand. For Al, his 50-zoom camera did a mighty fine job of capturing one of the bald eagles sitting high up in a native Florida pine.
Just down the road, we spent a few hours at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR), where we gained a better understanding of the vast watershed that drains into Apalachicola Bay. That’s quite an impressive name but basically indicates that these folks are the stewards who study this area’s local estuary—the place where the river meets the sea. The work at ANERR is essential because maintaining the health of the waters that flow into shallow Apalachicola Bay is vital to the local seafood industry.
Our visit to ANERR was a novel way to celebrate my birthday. My birthday pic ended up being one of me sitting in a rocker in front of an oyster boat… It was just one of those unusual circumstances we find ourselves in on the road…
ST. GEORGE ISLAND
The barrier island of St. George
is one of the chief draws of the Forgotten Coast, or what St. George Island bills itself as: “Uncommon Florida.” There is star quality on St. George Island for bikers, campers, fishermen,
and beach walkers.
The last 5 miles on the extreme eastern end of St. George has permit-only access limited to 20 cars at a time in an effort to protect bird and turtle nesting areas, while at the same time preserving the delicate pristine landscape. It was our best decision of the day to acquire one of those enviable permits.
Our beach and shell-hunting walk was outstanding, and we were all by ourselves for much of it!
The western end of the island was an extensive residential section, where the view on the beach was pristine old Florida
with stupendous rolling dunes fronting mini-mansions which clearly said 21st century millionaire.
An article in a Family Motor Coaching magazine caught my eye one day when it mentioned a place called Wakulla Springs. Now part of a state park, Wakulla Springs is a very ancient geologic feature that has numerous discoveries of mastodon bones in the deep part of one of the world’s deepest fresh water springs, where the flow rate can be over 400,000 gallons of water a day.
The park boasts of an elegant Mediterranean-style lodge that dates back to the late 1930s.
The painted beams of the lobby ceiling evoked similar ceilings we have seen in Europe, except that the theme of this one was historic Florida motifs.
From our point of view, there was no better way to appreciate Wakulla Springs than a 3-mile boat ride downriver.
The wildlife in that short one-hour ride was phenomenal, as was the sparkling clear water itself!
Mature adult alligators and their young were plentiful.
Turtles and the very strange anhinga bird posed midstream for us on a log.
Periodically, we have seen anhinga birds during our travels in Florida. They are strange birds indeed, with a black furry body and feathers for wings! Thus, they are often seen sunning themselves with wings spread wide to dry fur and feathers. It would seem like Nature’s adaptations have just not caught up with the anhinga.
The vulture, common mud hen, blue heron, and a snowy egret rounded out our best Wakulla Springs wildlife photos.
FLORIDA STATE CAPITOL IN TALLAHASSEE
Any state capital within easy driving distance always lands that city on our must-visit list; therefore, Tallahassee made the list. This time, however, we didn’t even take a picture of Tallahassee’s relatively new 22-story State Capitol building because, frankly, it wasn’t all that interesting or inspiring, and so I have resorted to an Internet photo.
Fortunately, the central portion of the Old State Capitol has been preserved and sits right in front of its less appealing cousin. The historic red and white striped window awnings
gave the Old Capitol building a southern curb-appeal which was complimented by the plaster relief pediment featuring what was clearly an all-Florida theme.
Inside the Old Capitol, restoration of the house chamber
had ho-hum appeal which was not helped at all by a jarring set of televisions, but the restoration was probably historically accurate and so likely didn’t have much of a wow factor even when completed in 1845.
The more intimate old Supreme Court chamber
was a little more “history cozy.”
Constructed in the 1970s, the best thing the architects of the New Capitol did was to make a 22nd floor observatory from which visitors could enjoy panoramic views of Tallahassee. Our destination for the afternoon was nicely laid out for us in the north-facing view—the campus of Florida State University.
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
Not knowing much else about the Florida Seminoles, we were aware that their athletic teams have long been powerhouses in college sports, so we began our visit at awesome Doak Campbell Stadium, a sporting complex that far outshined any other collegiate stadium we have ever seen.
Naturally, the trophy room spotlighted FSU’s three Heisman Trophy winners, a not-so-subtle accomplishment that validates the success of its football program.
Since we prefer NFL games and are not college football fans, the tradition of Oceola and Renegade was interesting to learn about. At the start of every home football game, a student portraying Seminole Chief Osceola gallops in on his horse Renegade and plants a flaming spear midfield, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular traditions in all of college sports. Oceola and Renegade are indeed the 12th player on the team.
The campus was huge, and the Legacy Walk loop that was recommended to us would likely have been about 5 miles of walking. With temps in the high 80s, we had to pace ourselves and ended up shortening the route a bit. With access to numerous air-conditioned campus buildings, and eventually more treed areas, along with a cold lemonade, we covered quite a bit of ground.
Campus-wide there was a pleasing unifying architectural style using red brick that carried through even to newer buildings.
The hammocks on the green were a unique way to study, and very southern...
The oldest building on campus, dating back to 1851, was a classic beauty.
Our overall impression of FSU was that it is a university that takes its collegiate sports very seriously. From talking to some of the students, it was obvious they were quite satisfied and excited about their education choice. The university also seems to turn out some pretty friendly and polite students. For two seniors who were determined to complete much of the Legacy Walk, more than once we were offered help with directions from students when we were trying to interpret our campus map.
Our visit to Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” completes the sixth and final stop in our 3-month winter odyssey through Florida. The touristy, beachy areas were world-class and quite gorgeous… much like we imagined.
However, for us it was…
the unexpected, low-key discoveries on the water…
in the small towns…
and in undeveloped natural areas of prairies and swamps
that fulfilled us the most. We felt very fortunate that we had the luxury of time to appreciate what was beyond the shore.
“Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from the gods.” Kurt Vonnegut