Port St. Joe, Saturday Feb. 14
Frost on the car window as we headed out this morning. Reminds us once again that not all of Florida is warm and sunny all of the time. As the day progressed, the temperatures rose to 60 or so during the middle of the day.
The “Forgotten Coast” of Florida is heavy on fishing, wildlife refuges, rivers, long bridges,and, of course, beaches. Shrimping, scallops, oysters, and fresh fish are on the menu at many establishments and we have been enjoying it (except the oysters, neither of us are fond of oysters.) The Gulf of Mexico waters are clear, the beaches here are starting to show signs of sea shells along the shore. No where near as heavy as you find around Sanibel and Marco Island, but enough that the bare foot walking we did on the Emerald Coast would have to be accompanied with more careful footwork to avoid stepping on shells.
We are not visiting every park and wildlife refuge, there are so many. Saturday AM we headed out to St. George Island, home to the St. George Lighthouse and St. George Island State Park. SGI (St. George Island) is 28 miles long, a barrier island,and has beach front development and a pristine, unspoiled state park. The development is primarily single family homes, not high-rise condos. At the west end is a private, gated community. In the middle are individual homes and a small commercial area. At the east end is the state park, our destination.
This state park opened in 1980. A long bridge crosses the Apalachicola Bay, giving access to another one of the areas used during WWII for military training activities. We hiked along a trail in the interior of the park and paid a visit to the dunes and beach area. Birds were much more evident today and the park was nearly deserted. There was a home tour on the island that attracted throngs of people; the tour only happens once a year, but the park is open daily.
Lunch was at the Blue Parrot on SGI, more fresh grouper. We took a few pictures of the lighthouse but did not climb it. This is the third lighthouse on SGI. Previous two were destroyed by storms. This one actually was re-constructed. It was de-activated in 1994 and beach erosion eventually caused it to collapse in 2005. A fund-raising effort was able to raise enough funds and volunteer labor to re-construct the lighthouse further inland. The reconstruction used 22,000 of the bricks from the collapsed lighthouse. The lighthouse museum displays demonstrated that the shape of St. George Island has changed dramatically over the last 200 years as erosion and storms have been powerful forces at work.
The afternoon and evening were spent in the town of Apalachicola (2200 people). Way back when, this was the third largest port on the Gulf. Cotton, lumber, sponges, and fishing have all contributed to its past glory. Apalachicola oysters are supposedly the best. This area produced 90% of Florida’s harvest but the take has dropped precipitously in recent years to the point the bay fishing may be shut down for 18 months to regenerate the oyster beds. Locals blame Georgia for draining off too much of the fresh water flowing down the Apalachicola River (which begins in Georgia) before it reaches Florida. The balance between fresh water and salt water in the estuaries around the Apalachicola produces an abundance of marine species. This battle over water sounds like a replay of western water rights wars.
Apalachicola is famous for another reason. It is the location where the first patent was awarded for an ice-making machine, laying the ground work for air conditioning. John Gorrie was a physician during Apalachicola’s glory days. He believed that cooling the rooms of patients with yellow fever would help them heal and/or deal with the illness. His device worked to cool their rooms and he received a patent on the device in 1851. He was unable to market his invention. Air conditioning ended up being one of the major reasons for the rapid growth of Florida in the 20th century, particularly after room air conditioners were invented in the 1930s.
We also visited the Orman House State Park; unique in that the lumber for the home was pre-cut near Syracuse NY and shipped to Apalachicola by ocean sailing vessels. Downtown Apalachicola is combining the fishing industry and tourism. For those of you from Minnesota, think of a smaller version of Stillwater. We walked around, had some ice cream, and even bought an Apalachicola t-shirt.
Dinner was at a tapas restaurant and then we went to the Dixie Theater. The Dixie was built in 1913 and survived until 1967. 31 years later it was re-incarnated as a local theater. We saw a performance of Doo Wops and Beauty Shops; a 90 minute show based around songs from the 1960s. The audience, all white and retired, enjoyed it immensely. It was light-hearted and entertaining. A great way to wrap up a long day.
Sunday Feb. 15th
St. Marks FL
We checked out of the Main Stay in Port St. Joe and said good-bye to the dogs. Main Stay is pet friendly, at least to dogs of less than 25 pounds. Thus, it seems to attract a preponderance of customers with dogs. The place was okay, breakfasts were a little light but everything worked.
Originally we were planning to stay in Port St. Joe for three nights but a few days ago decided to spend Sunday night in St. Marks, about 90 miles further east. One activity we had on our wish list was to bike the 16 miles Tallahassee to St. Marks Bike Trail. It did not make sense to drive 90 miles back west to Port St. Joe after spending Sunday afternoon biking. Chris found a great bed and breakfast in St. Marks, the Sweet Magnolia Inn.
The drive to St. Marks was primarily along the coast, but then we veered inland for the last portion. Given that we would be biking for several hours and the light breakfast at Main Stay, we stopped for brunch at St. James Bay Golf and Resort Community by Carrabelle FL. The grill was open to the public and we had a buffet breakfast/lunch. The staff was pleasant but stumbling a bit; last night’s Valentine’s Day crowd was overwhelming and all of them had worked it. The food was fine and on the way out we picked up a brochure; they have rental villas and the costs were extremely reasonable. Maybe in a future year???
St. Marks (population 300) had Spanish development going back to 1528. We had visited the area a year ago when we stayed at Wakulla Springs Lodge State Park and visited the lighthouse and national wildlife refuge here. Today our purpose was to bike the Tallahassee to St. Marks bike trail. The trail was the first rail to trails path in Florida, following the path of the first railroad in Florida which hauled cotton from plantations to shipping.
The bike trail is 16 miles long, it is flat, and it is paved. The trail runs through forests with areas of watery sloughs on either side of the trail. It has plenty of rest rooms and benches. The trail was well used today, possibly because there were replica ships of the Nina and Pinta docked in the St. Mary’s River at St. Marks.
Our hosts at the Sweet Magnolia Inn had bikes and helmets for us to use free of charge. They stated that the restaurants in town, including theirs, had run out of food yesterday and expected to do so again today due to the influx of visitors. Certainly the parking areas and line to get on board the ships were evident of a very popular destination this weekend day.
The bike ride went for 22 miles, we did not go the last five miles into Tallahassee. Still it was 50% longer than our ride in Milton FL. The ride was pleasant, temperatures in the mid-60s with a light breeze. When we got back to the Sweet Magnolia, their Sunday jazz brunch was underway and we spent an hour listening to the musicians. Eventually we went up to our room where I am working on this-and still listening to the music from downstairs.
Ed and Chris 2/15 7:50 pm