Delta Downs horse parade
"And they're off!"
Mark would have put money on this horse...
Our greeters at the first sight of the ocean in Florida
Young love on the beach
Panama City Beach
The Driftwood Inn
Mini-chapel, a labor of love
Rare white squirrel at Ochlockonee River State Park
Walking trails and "pecker pines" at Ochlockonee
River State Park
Hobie inflatable kayak, with paddles AND pedals
Gulf Coast at St. Joseph State Park
The beaches are serene and quiet
St. Joseph, bayside.
Grandson & grandpa fish from shore.
St. Joseph State Park
St. Joseph State Park
Pelicans enjoy their view of the "Forgotten Coast."
Beautiful boardwalks through the pines and
grasslands in St. Joseph State Park
Delta Downs Race Track, LA, & "The Forgotten Coast" FL
February, 2009 - We left San Diego and started a cross-country trek to
visit Mark's son at Navy Dive School in Panama City, Florida. We didn't
intend to cover the distance quickly, but suddenly found ourselves doing
400-500 mile days. I-10 through Texas stretches for 880 miles, and you
get a sense of treading water somewhere around San Antonio. We
wondered if we'd ever get out of Texas. So it was with exhaustion and
relief that we finally pulled off the interstate in Louisiana to stop at Delta
We were simply
hoping for a
sleep, but when
I began to
shades I noticed that there was a horse racetrack right behind where we
were parked, and the stadium lights were on! We wandered over, and
suddenly found ourselves swept up in the horse racing scene.
I had never been to a racetrack before, and I was amazed as the
horses were paraded and their credentials were read by the
announcer. The jockeys were smaller than the Tour-de-France
cyclists who specialize in climbing, and the horses were lean, fit and
eager to race.
The betting office opened, the stats for each horse were displayed on a
huge electronic board, and a line of seasoned racetrack bettors
While the TV cameras rolled, a gun went off, and the ground
rumbled beneath our feet. Suddenly, a hurtling pack of hooves and
snorting nostrils streaked past us.
As a little boy, Mark spent a lot of
time at the horse races with his
beloved grandpa, and he had told
me, "Watch horse #2." Sure
enough, that horse won, and
Mark caught the winning moment
on camera. Too bad he hadn't
bet a buck or so on that horse, it
would have been a really good
That happy evening's unplanned
entertainment put smiles on our
faces that were still there two
days later when a group of
seagulls greeted us at the first
tiny beach on the Emerald Coast
in Florida. Panama City Beach
starting a warm
spell when we
arrived, and we
made a beeline
for the famed
There is something about turquoise water and white sand
and young lovers romping around that makes the heart sing.
Panama City Beach is an arcade and mini-golf heaven, but
the beach is pure and true, even though high-rises anchor it
to the modern era.
We took a side trip to Mexico
Beach, a delightful, tiny, seaside
community that is all low-rise
buildings offering more of that
beautiful sugar-sand beach.
Friends of ours were staying at
the Driftwood Inn, a beautiful
property that is worth a visit even if you aren't lucky
enough to get a room. It is charming and artsy and a
little funky, with antiques and a unique mini-chapel that
the original owner built for his wife.
From Mexico Beach we began a tour
of three state parks along the
"Forgotten Coast." The first was
Ochlockonee River State Park, a
lovely park amid thousands of skinny
We had read that "a patient observer
may be rewarded with a sighting of
the rare white squirrel, a local
mutation that is not an albino."
On our very first hike we saw one.
What luck! Like many park
animals, he was unafraid of us,
and he busied himself eating nuts
and scampering up and down
tree trunks without the slightest
concern for our presence.
This park sits at the confluence of
two rivers and has several pretty
hiking trails. We had just
purchased an inflatable tandem
kayak as a combination 5th
anniversary gift and pair of
birthday gifts for each other, and
we couldn't wait to launch it in the
river. It is a very cool kayak that has
pedals as well as paddles, perfect for
a pair of cyclists. And it fits in our basement (barely!).
The air was about 50 degrees when we first set it up on the river's edge, and we were both
bundled in many layers of clothing. Mark hopped in and situated himself while I chatted with a
pair of experienced kayakers who had just shown up on the beach.
"Does that have pedals?" the veteran kayaker asked me. "Yeah!" I said proudly, "Isn't it cool?
This is our first time out!" I confidently put one foot in the kayak to launch it, taking care not to
get my other foot wet as I pushed off from the shore. In an instant, I was over the side, one leg
looped over the edge of the boat, hanging on for dear life, while the other sank steadily deeper
until I was submerged, half under the boat, in cold water up to my neck. "Sweety!' Mark called
out. "You didn't want to get your feet wet, and now look at you!"
I found my footing and scrambled ashore, squeezing gallons of water out of the arms of my
jacket. Why do these kinds of things always happen with an audience? After a change of
clothes and a few colorful remarks from yours truly, we eventually got the kayak launched, both
of us dry and in the proper seats in the boat. What a blast. It flies along effortlessly and opens
up all kinds of possibilities for exploration we could never do from shore.
We moved over to St. Joseph State Park where we spent a few days perched on the end of a
long skinny peninsula of sand. The roar of the waves lulled us to sleep every night,
accompanied only occasional by an owl nearby our campsite.
We had stayed there last year, but
we got better weather this year
walks along the
My mom visited
us for a week,
and as we
talked, catching up on all kinds of things, we had to stop every so often to
look around and soak in the gorgeous colors. The many pretty shells
evoked all kinds of creative ideas for crafts and decorations, as well as
thoughts of the creatures that had once lived inside.
It is fortunate that this is the
"Forgotten Coast," because it is
very sleepy and almost feels
undiscovered. The sugar sand
brings out the kid in
everyone, and a grandson-
grandpa pair were fishing
happily from the shore,
poles vertical and ready,
and souls relaxed and free.
As we asked the many
fishermen along the beach
what they were catching,
everyone had hopes for various kinds of fish, but no one was
catching much of anything, and nobody seemed to care either. It
was too beautiful to feel anything but joy at being alive.
St Joseph State Park opens onto a shallow bay as well as the
Gulf, and the bay side retains some of the swampy feeling of the
inland rivers. The shorebirds like to mingle with the swamp
birds, and the brackish water from the rivers mixes with the tidal
waters of the ocean.
Everywhere you look you feel
the essence of peace.
Boardwalks connect the two
campgrounds, taking strollers
on a tour of the marshlands.
Mom and I sat for a while,
contemplating the swaying
grasses and the ibis and
herons that stalked their prey
among the rushes. It was an
easy decision to stay in
Florida's Panhandle a bit longer.