Florida Panhandle – Don’t Forget the “Forgotten Coast”

RV blog post - Delta Downs horse races were a thrill but the emerald water & sugar sand of St. Joseph State Park, Mexico Beach & Panama City Beach Florida were the best.

Delta Downs horse parade

Delta Downs Racetrack

"And they're off!"

Delta Downs Horse Races Delta Downs Casino Horse Races

Mark would have put money on this horse...

Delta Downs Racetrack Florida Panhandle

Our greeters at the first sight of the ocean in Florida

Panama City Beach Florida

Young love on the beach

Panama City Beach Florida

Panama City Beach

Mexico Beach Florida

Mexico Beach

Mexico Beach Florida The Driftwood Inn Mexico Beach FL

The Driftwood Inn

Chapel at the Driftwood Inn Mexico Beach FL

Mini-chapel, a labor of love

Ochlockonee River State Park

Rare white squirrel at Ochlockonee River State Park

Pecker Pines at Ochlockonee River State Park

Walking trails and "pecker pines" at Ochlockonee

River State Park

Ochlockonee River State Park

Ochlockonee River

Hobie Kayak i14t

Hobie inflatable kayak, with paddles AND pedals

Gulf Coast St. Joseph State Park FL

Gulf Coast at St. Joseph State Park

Gulf Coast St. Joseph State Park FL

The beaches are serene and quiet

St. Joseph State Park FL

St. Joseph, bayside.

Sea Shell on the Emerald Coast FL Fishing on the Emerald Coast Sea St. Joseph State Park FL

Grandson & grandpa fish from shore.

St. Joseph State Park FL

St. Joseph State Park

Sea Shells on the Emerald Coast FL

St. Joseph State Park

St. Joseph State Park Florida

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

Downs Casino.

We were simply

hoping for a

quiet night's

sleep, but when

I began to

close the

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

suddenly formed.

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

was just

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

"pecker pines."

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!"

Very funny!

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

(fewer bugs)

and enjoyed




walks along the


My mom visited

us for a week,

and as we

walked and

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.