Florida Panhandle – Emerald Coast Gems

RV blog post - Apalachicola is cute, St. George island has seashells & critters, but the Gulf Islands Nat'l Seashore's sugar sand beaches & emerald water rule.

Apalachicola oyster boats

Apalachicola Florida Sponge Museum

The Apalachicola Sponge Museum

Apalachicola Florida Sponge Museum

Inside the Sponge Museum - lots of cool antiques

Storefronts in Apalachicola Florida

Storefronts in Apalachicola

St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

St. George Island offers a quiet bay and beaches.

St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

This guy sunned himself for hours while campers stopped for photos

St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

St. George Island State Park on a blustery day

St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

Shell-strewn beach

Pine Log State Park Panama City Florida

Pine Log State Park

Lake Powell City Park Panama City Florida

Lake Powell park shrouded in mist

Bald Eagle Lake Powell State Park

A bald eagle watched us kayaking below

Rosemary Beach Florida

Cycling near Rosemary Beach

Middle Eastern style swimming pool

in a new development

Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida

Gulf Islands National Seashore - what a spot!

Emerald Coast - Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida

The Emerald Coast

Emerald Coast - Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida Emerald Coast - Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida

Crashing surf - Gulf Islands National Seashore

Results of Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis in Pensacola Beach FL

Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis hit this coast back to back.

The surf and winds were so powerful the entire road was

hurtled hundreds of yards away, in rumpled pieces.

Emerald Coast FL

Sugar sand beaches line the Emerald Coast

Emerald Coast FL

The sand is so white and so thick it looks like snow.

Love on the beach

Sunset from our doorway

A great shoreside spot to spend a few days.

Apalachicola, St. George Island, Gulf Islands Nat'l Seashore, FL

February, 2009 - We continued our tour of the state parks in Florida's

Forgotten Coast, leaving St. Joseph State Park and stopping in the

cute seaside town of Apalachicola on our way to St. George Island State

Park.  We had visited Apalachicola last year and been enchanted by its

unique shops and history, and we found it equally charming on our

second visit.

The town was once a bustling cotton shipping port, and it now harbors a

sizeable fleet of oyster boats.  There was an active sponge harvesting

industry too, and the Sponge Museum offered not only a glimpse of that

unusual industry but a terrific collection of curious antiques as well.

We picked up another jar of the semi-sweet locally harvested Tupelo

honey and spent a happy morning wandering through the many

shops in town.

Over on St. George Island we checked into the state park that fills the tip

of a long, narrow sand peninsula.  Like St. Joseph, this park borders

both a shallow saltwater bay and the Gulf coast.  The bay is sleepy, lined

with skinny trees with exposed roots.  We learned that a tidal surge had

covered the entire end of the island in recent years, leaving the bayside

trees immersed in salt water longer than they liked, and sadly killing many of them.

This gives the bayside a slightly haunted look.

Lots of swamp creatures

patrol the area, and we

noticed unusual birds standing

in the trees and a sneaky

alligator biding his time at the

water's edge.

The coastal beaches were

wind-blown and blustery when

we were there.  At night the

roar of the waves on the

beach filled the trailer, even

though the campground is a

healthy distance from the


The beaches extend for many miles, and we did lots of invigorating

walks along the water's edge.  The seashells were abundant, as they

had been at St. Joseph State Park, and the campground had a

lovely display giving the names of all the different creatures' shells

that could be found along the beach.

Leaving the Forgotten Coast, we ventured slightly west and stayed in

two more parks.  Pine Log State Park boasts vast stands of pines, a

terrific mountain biking trail (this from an avowed roadie who does not

particularly enjoy mountain biking) and a lovely row of campsites

overlooking a pond.

Lake Powell park sits on the edge of a lake that was the perfect

place for kayak exploration.  The morning awoke under a shroud of

thick mist that gave the park's trees a mystical look.

Later in the day, once the sun was

victorious over the fog, we took the

kayak into the far corners of the lake

where we spotted a Bald Eagle.  He

watched our bright yellow craft for a

long suspicious while and finally flew

off with a majestic sweep of his


This portion of the Emerald Coast has

a few upscale communities, and we

rode our bikes through the South

Walton Beach and Rosemary Beach

areas one morning.  Like everywhere

else in this country, many developers'

dreams have evaporated in all stages

of construction since the housing market crash (not to

mention this area's sudden face-off with nature in a

series of hurricanes).  We rode through a community of

graceful homes that stopped sprouting when only about

20% were built.  Boardwalks meandered through the

community and over waterways, offering pretty views of

what could have been.

A fellow cyclist stopped and took our photo in front of

the grand entrance to the strip of road that defines a

particularly ritzy part of the coast.

She recommended that we check out the Middle

Eastern style swimming pool that was the central

attraction of one new development.  I wouldn't have

thought that this distinctly Arabic looking community

would have been a big seller among Americans in this

era, but sure enough, we saw several sales people with

clipboards in hand and prospective customers in tow.

Further west along the Emerald Coast we

discovered the Gulf Islands National

Seashore.  This jewel of a drive presents

the stunning coast at its best, especially

on bright sunny days.  The sand is

blindingly white, and the water is truly

green in places.  We walked the beach

and our shorts soon gave way to bathing

suits and frolicks in the waves.

The signs warned of rip-tides, but just like the warnings of bison gorings

at Yellowstone, you don't really take those things seriously at first glance.

I was mighty curious about the dark green band of water that is behind

Mark in this photo.  It beckoned me in the way that ocean water always

has since I was a a small child.  I just had to find out how deep it was

there.  So I bounded out into the waves, going from waist deep to over

my head in one step.  Hmmm... it was deep!  I turned around to swim in

and soon found that my most powerful strokes were not moving me

forward.  Mark stood on the edge of the water, just 100 feet from me, but

despite my best effort, I couldn't make any progress towards him.

Suddenly the sign about rip-tides came back to me.  Is this a rip-tide?

Yikes!  What had the sign said about them?  I had no idea.  Mark was

yelling something at me from the beach, but I couldn't hear.  I just dug in and swam towards him for all I was worth, valiantly

ignoring the rising feeling of panic in my heart.  In a few minutes (that felt like forever), I finally found my footing on the sand, dug

my toes in, and hiked my way back to him, uphill in aggressive water.  I stood next to him on the beach, trying not to let my

pounding heart and panting breath be noticeable, and feigned nonchalance about the whole thing.  "Great workout!"  I said

cheerfully.  Mark quietly shook his head at me, hands on his hips.  "Didn't you read the sign?  Swim sideways, parallel to the beach,

when you are in a rip-tide."  ... Oh, that's the trick!

The power of the ocean is deceptive along this idyllic stretch of coast,

with its shimmering, rich shades of turquoise.  The waves show dark

green just before they break, and the sandpipers dart in and out of the

water effortlessly, living their entire lives on the edge.  However, we

learned from a local ocean kayaker that in 2004 Hurricane Ivan

completely destroyed the road along this strip of land, effortlessly

tossing it in tiny pieces all over the inland side of the peninsula.

Eager to stay on top of repairs, the state replaced the road

immediately.  Five days after reopening the road, Hurricane Dennis

roared through.  The sea chewed up the new road and spewed it all

over the bayside dunes a second time.  I was stunned to walk the

dunes and find evidence of this man's story all over the place, as far

as 300 yards from the road.

This savage aspect of nature seems

implausible as you sift the fine sugar

white sand through your hands.  In

places along the Gulf Islands National

Seashore it looked more like snow

than like sand.

It had the same texture as the sand

we found in the Coral Pink Sand

Dunes park in Utah, but here it was

pure white rather than a rusty burnt

orange.  Riding our bikes alongside

the sand  "snowdrifts," we thought of

all our friends and family who have had such a

snowy winter in Michigan.

The spectacular scenery on these glorious sunny days brought out the most

romantic notions in everyone along the beach.  It is a place for lovers, and this

young couple found each other quite irresistable.

We stayed along the beach for many days, watching the coast change from minute

to minute as a series of storms blew through.  It was the perfect place to slow down

again and get back in touch with ourselves and with nature before heading on to

Alabama and a gradual trek west with a fun return visit to the Natchez Trace.