Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Carrabelle, Florida - Sunset Isle RV and Yacht Club Resort…


Carrabelle, Florida 001We left Mexico Beach and drove only about 56 over to Carrabelle, Florida. This will be our last stop on the forgotten coast. The drive over was very scenic as we had the Gulf of Mexico out our side window much of the way. We finally got to our destination and got set up in a Passport America Park called Sunset Isle RV and Yacht Club Resort. As we pulled into the property a friendly fellow met us to show us which site was ours and said he would stop by to settle up later.

Carrabelle, Florida 008The roads inside the park are all paved with brick pavers and done so in a very nice pattern. Each site on our row has a compacted sand/gravel pad and are 50 amp with full hookups. Cable TV and Wi-Fi are included in the price of about $29.00 including taxes per night. We plan to stay here 5 nights and then will drive the 250 miles from here over to Jacksonville, Florida for our doctor’s appointments.

Carrabelle, Florida 019This is a nice park that is along the St. James River and is cut out of a raised land feature adjacent to a marsh. They have a large nice pool with a hot tub (currently the hot tub is under repairs which bummed me out). They have also built three 2-3 level viewing platforms high enough to allow panoramic vistas of the river, marshes, and gulf of Mexico. These platforms are also excellent places to watch the sunrises and sunsets.Our site directly faces a ship channel leading to a nearby marina.  It has been very pleasant to watch various sized boats cruise in and out to sea.  Those that have purchased lots all seem to have boats and trailers so they likely enjoy the easy access less than a block away.

Carrabelle, Florida 016When the nice fellow came by to collect our rent we chatted with him a bit about the town and the park. He said the RV park had recently changed hands and that the long term plan was to turn the park into lots that are owned outright and not rented. Certainly this park has a lot of appeal but the town may be a little short on attractions. We ventured into town and found that Carrabelle itself is a sleepy little fishing village with few amenities to travelers such as us. There is a small IGA grocery store, a Dollar General, a hardware store and a few tavern/restaurants but little else.  Therefore on our first day we took the 55 mile drive over to Tallahassee, the state capital, to do some grocery shopping and visit the nearest Trader Joe's to stock up on all our favorites we had run out of.


Carrabelle, Florida 005After groceries were put up we hopped on our bikes to go to the marina for a closer view of the water. Directly across the street from our park we found a small cul de sac of lots for sale where owners can build a small beach house with boat slips included in the purchase.  The board walk on site opens up to very nice arrangement of boat slips numbered to match the numbers on each site.  We saw tons of bait fish and  had a scenic view of the entire town of Carrabelle on the other side of the river. Obviously Carrabelle is working hard to attract people to the area.  The boat slip boardwalk extends to the marina where we noticed it has a bar and outside seating but on this Sunday, it was closed.  We tooled back to our site and were treated to an amazing sunset while enjoying Happy Hour at home.


There is a very nice public beach just a few miles west of town that we plan to spend most of our time while we are visiting here. After all since this is a fishing village I plan to get in a few days of fishing while my lovely bride will surely enjoy the sunshine and read a few books on the beach… yep another rough day in the lives of John and Sharon…

Monday, October 28, 2013

Peninsular Point and Celebrating a Birthday…

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Penninsular Point FL 005As our week in Mexico Beach comes to a close we can say without a doubt that we are really glad we came here and will likely come back this way in the future. What makes this part of Florida more unique is just how laid back it is.It's not crowded at all compared to our last stop in Panama City Beach. Businesses that cater to the tourist industry are as sparse as the people seen on the beaches here. The people we did meet seemed down to earth and very friendly.

Penninsular Point FL 004We visited a local watering hole called the Lookout Lounge for happy hour one day and met some people there. When asked about what it was like living in this area the only real negative we heard was that they see the same people at the same places and hear the same music performers… Sounds like a typical small town anywhere in America to me…  Now one thing that is confusing when living in Mexico Beach is that the town is divided between the Central Time Zone and the Eastern Time Zone. In fact the road Rustic Pines RV Park is on is the dividing point. So when we drive down 15th Street and turn right we are on Central Time, turn left and we are on Eastern Time. Makes it a bit tricky when hitting happy hours…

Penninsular Point FL 009After watching the Aggies and Johnny Manziel get a big win over Vanderbilt, we decided to check out the Peninsular Point area near San Blas, Florida. About a 30 minute drive over to the thin strip of land that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico we found ourselves looking at the powdery white sandy beaches of the gulf side and the brackish mashes on the St Joseph Bay side. Locating a public beach access we walked a mile or two along the beach.To us it seemed the ocean was a bit wilder but these waters appeared to be even clearer that the very clear waters near Mexico beach and Panama City.

Penninsular Point FL 010There were more shells along the beachfront and more birds milling about while they looking for a little sushi for dinner. If it weren’t for the condos nearby it felt as if we were on a deserted island. After finishing up our oceanside walk we strolled out on a boardwalk that extended way out into St Joseph Bay. There were snowy egrets everywhere piercing the clear waters with their sharp tipped bills attempting to skewer their dinner. Even the active Osprey in the brackish marshlands had scored a direct hit on a large fish and was cheerily announcing to the nest that dinner was on its way…

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Leaving the peninsula we decided to revisit the Indian Pass Trading post. There was a fellow out on the front porch picking a guitar and singing some of his own songs… great lyrics but a very unpolished singer in our opinion. However, that didn’t stop us from entering the establishment and pouring our own drafts of a IPA for me and a  Red Ale for Sharon. After all this was Sharon’s birthday so we had a bit of celebrating to do. After a few libations we returned back to the park to visited their tiki bar. Yes, Rustic Pines RV Park has a tiki bar featuring live music on Tuesdays and Saturday’s. The same guys that played Tuesday were playing tonight and the sax player was stellar… We ordered up a bar pizza, had cold Yuenglings and sat back to enjoy the sounds…

Yep, this is a wonderful place to spend some time and for sure we will return someday… We are now camped at the Sunset Island and Yacht Club Resort in Carrabelle, Florida.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Unexpected shark sighting on the forgotten coast…

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Mexico Beach FL 021No matter where we are we love to go on long daily hikes and whenever we are near the coast those hikes (usually 3 miles) are along the beach. While walking the beach one thing that strikes us is the vast differences between these beautiful salt water beaches and those scenic fresh water beaches we visited in the Great Lakes region.

Here near the salt water we see numerous varied sea shells, more varieties of shore birds, sea grasses and sea weed as we stroll the shoreline.  Most notable is the smell of the sea… that salty aroma given off by the effervescence of the waves… Yes, we simply love taking long walks along the beach as we never know what we will see.

Mexico Beach FL 011  Mexico Beach FL 012

The beaches here along the "forgotten coast" are unique and like no other waters found in the continental USA. The brilliant white sands are composed almost entirely of quartz crystals and we just love the squeaky sound that emanates from our feet while walking through it. The emerald green waters are perfectly clear as there are no rivers carrying murky sediments to this part of the world. These clear waters allow us to see things we might not otherwise see in more clouded waters.

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As we were walking out along the Mexico Beach pier we were able to follow large pods of dolphins frolicking in the waters. This is one of few locations I have ever been where we can see dolphin completely ejecting themselves from the sea  time and time again. As they too, to anthropomorphize, seem to be having as much fun in these waters as the people are along the beachfront. I also spotted what I think is a spotted eagle ray (cell phone photo, sorry about the quality) gliding along the surface of the placid waters one day and it too leapt from sea. What an amazing sight!

Mexico Beach FL 063Yet the most unexpected sighting came on one of our walks when Sharon yelled out to me “John, isn't that a shark!”… Well my first reaction was it must be a tarpon as they are found in these shallow waters and are quite large. However, as I  looked more closely it was indeed a shark! My best guess was it was a Spinner shark but I was not certain. Anyway as we watched it became obvious it was feeding as we saw a rather bloody fish swimming very fast into the even shallower water. This shark was within 5 feet of the water’s edge at one point trying to recapture his prey. What a really cool sighting this was as it was if we were in a live National Geographic moment…

Mexico Beach FL 028Mexico Beach FL 029

Mexico Beach FL 031As we turned around to retrace our steps back to our car, we were still animatedly discussing what we had seen. As we returned to the spot where the shark was we noticed something shimmer in the water… it was half of a fish… (the poor quality photo at the right is the unfortunate fish). It was a bad day for a few fish who fell prey to this shark but another great day for us in our retired lives…

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Indian Pass Raw Bar and the Blast on the Bay…

Forgotten Coast FL 008

Once we retrieved my misplaced glasses we stopped to fill up with gas and bought some groceries before returning to our campsite at Mexico Beach. Since it was still early enough to attend the shindig our neighbor told us about, we decided to head on over to the happening at a local restaurant/tavern about 20 miles away. It was a pleasant drive along the coastline as we passed through the town of Port St. Joe and by an Air Force Base. As the GPS notified us that we were getting closer we suddenly saw a long line of cars parked on both sides of the road with still a quarter of a mile to go…

Forgotten Coast FL 033We drove on down to the Indian Pass Raw Bar where the music was taking place. The music was part of a larger event called the Blast on the Bay. The Blast on the Bay is annual songwriters festival held on the forgotten coast of Florida. The festival features a group of songwriters/musicians mostly from  Nashville.These artists have written hit songs for artists such as Faith Hill, George Strait and Garth Brooks.  Best of all this festival was absolutely free!!!

Forgotten Coast FL 009As it turned out we were attending the final event held at the well known Indian Pass Raw Bar, an institution in this part of the world. What started as a sundry store for a turpentine company in 1903, it became general store in 1929 when the McNeill family bought the place. After the store was swamped by Hurricane Kate in 1985, the family decided to make it the raw bar it is today.

Forgotten Coast FL 004What makes this place so well known is the food and the low key charm of the forgotten coast. it has a simple menu of oysters raw, baked or steamed, shrimp a few different ways, seafood gumbo and hot dogs. Nothing fancy and nothing is fried… Also unique about it is its 'honor system method of paying your ticket. You serve yourself  beer or wine from the stocked coolers lining the back wall or pour your own draft beer by the glass or pitcher. You keep your own drink tab  and at checkout you are asked what you had and you pay your tab!

Forgotten Coast FL 032As we made our way to the bar we could see this place was packed with people and we could hear some singer/songwriters on the front porch playing their tunes… People had encircled the porch sitting in their folding chairs with the rest of the crowd standing behind spilling out onto the front roadway. We strolled past the people into the establishment and straight to the back wall. I got us a couple of draft beers, self served, and today they were running a special on all drafts at $2.00 each. So I took our two Land Shark drafts outside where we listened to Forgotten Coast FL 017some really talented singers and songwriters. We had an absolutely great time at the Indian Pass Raw Bar

When it was time for us to leave we drove slowly the 20 miles back to the RV park as it was right about sunset time and we wanted to stop several times just to ooohh and ahhhh at the sun setting over the waters in the bay. Stunning… and a great ending to a great day…

Monday, October 21, 2013

A little rain, a local feast and a little oooopsie…

Mexico Beach FL 002

Our last day in Panama City, Florida brought us a little bit of rain as cold fronts are starting to make their way further and further south finally affecting the weather here in the panhandle of Florida. We stowed all our gear the evening before the light rains began so we wouldn’t have to pack away any wet gear.  Luckily by Saturday noon the rain subsided.

Forgotten Coast FL 001That afternoon we were able to take one more 3 mile walk before heading over to our favorite little beach bar called Patches. It just couldn’t be any more convenient as this little bar is less than a 1/4 mile from the state park entrance. This bar hosts food events a few times a year and today was one of those days as locals had filled the parking lot for the big food fest at the bar. We were invited by several of the locals on a previous visit so we found a spot at the outside bar where we ordered a bucket of beer and watched some college football.
As we were at the bar a local decked out in his finest LSU gear (including his LSU cook apron) had just added about 25 pounds of shrimp along with some sausage and mushrooms to a huge boiling pot of water and spices. Other locals had their fryers going and were whipping up some fried locally caught fish as well as some locally caught alligator. The bar provided the sides of potato salad and baked beans so the feast was set. Best of all all this food was free!!! One of the locals told us they do this once or twice a year when everyone's freezers get too full. What impeccable timing!

Mexico Beach FL 001We had a great time at the feast on Saturday but alas Sunday came and it was time for us to leave this little gem of a place. It is definitely one we will return to if we can score a spot there when we come back through next spring. We rolled out of the park around 11:30 for the 45 minute drive of about 39 miles east to Rustic Sands RV Park in Mexico Beach Florida. As we pulled in we could tell this park was not going to be as nice as the one we just left. We pulled into a site nestled in the sparse pine trees next to a cute little pink remodeled travel trailer.

As we were setting up we met Judy, the owner of the remodeled rig.  It turns out she told us she and her husband always wanted to RV full time but he passed away before they could realize their dream.  Since her kids are spaced between Mexico Beach FL 003Georgia and Florida she decided to purchase a vintage camper and make it her own unique girly travel trailer.  Not only is it pink but it also has a state of the art kitchen as she is a retired executive chef.  She is one of those happy souls who makes you smile just being around her.  She invited us to a shindig happening at a local restaurant/tavern about 20 miles away. We were real interested in going to it until I couldn’t seem to find my glasses… Sigh….

As we retraced our steps trying to locate the glasses we realized they were on the picnic table at our last camp site at St Andrews State Park. Sharon called only to have the ranger tell us no one had turned in any glasses and that he had no way to get in touch of the camp hosts that clean up the sites once patrons depart. Having no choice but to drive back the 39 miles we made our way back to the park. As we pulled up to our site someone had just recently pulled in and were setting up. We looked at the picnic table and lo and behold there were my glasses! Lucky me!!! So we drove back to Mexico Beach and after stopping to get some gas and groceries we decided that we would go ahead over to the shindig our neighbor told us about… more on this shindig in the next blog…

Saturday, October 19, 2013

St.Andrews State Park - A review…

Panama City Beach 008

Panama City Beach 002When we first scheduled our Mayo appointments in Jacksonville I knew that on the way I wanted to spend some time along the coastal panhandle region of Florida. Many years ago we took a vacation to Destin, Florida with the kids and my memories lingered of the sugar white sands and emerald green waters of the area.

Once we got nearer to Florida I started watching the weather to make sure no tropical issues were developing over the time period we would be visiting this part of the USA. I also pinpointed St.Andrews State Park as the park I wanted to stay at if possible. As I monitored the state park reservations it became apparent we may not be able to stay more than a couple of days. However, the day before we were heading to Panama City a whole week opened up on the reservation system and I booked it as fast as I could.

Panama City Beach 001As we pulled into the state park it was apparent they had lots of rain in the past as many of the sites were flooded to the point they were unusable. A bit worried as we passed the flooded lowlands of palmettos and pine trees we were very pleased once we we pulled into our pull through site. Most sites in the state park are hard packed sand and grass whereas we scored one of the rare few that had concrete pads. We are on site 19 just across the street from the bay.

Panama City Beach 009There are two campground loops Pine Loop nearer the entrance and Grand Lagoon nearer the beach. The lagoon loop is better suited for larger rigs as the vegetation in the pine loop will likely scape larger rigs while navigating through the loop. The sites are small for state parks but still much larger than most private parks. We can see the bay across the street but don’t have a clear view of the bay. We do enjoy slices of waterfront where we watch the boats zipping back and forth out to the ocean, frolicking dolphins and brown pelicans Panama City Beach 004dive bombing unsuspecting schools of small fish.

We have only water and 50 amp hookups with no sewer however, we are just across the street from one of the four bathroom/shower facilities.The camp hosts keep the restrooms and showers spotlessly clean so all our showers are taken across the street making it very easy for us to last 7 days without having to dump the tanks.

St Andrews sunrise 004With a nice biking loop within the park and walking and bike access to the beach, the jetties and a fishing pier we feel we would be hard pressed to find a better place for a panhandle coastal stay than here. With the flooding most of the trails were closed but we prefer taking our hikes along the beach anyhow. We were even able to get in some pretty decent snorkeling along the rocky jetties where we saw lots and lots of varied fish. We never got the inflatable kayak out but this is a great spot to do that as well especially along the shipping channel.

St Andrews State Park FL 068Happily we found a great and close coastal bar called Patches with extremely welcoming staff and clientele.  We received an invitation for a fish/shrimp/gator fry on Saturday and we are really looking forward to that event!

We will leave this great little spot tomorrow and drive a whopping 39 miles over to the Mexico Beach area where we will spend another week along the coast…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My beach thoughts and a rant…

St Andrews sunrise 014

St Andrews sunrise 008In the last blog Sharon pointed out a lot of her reason's for loving the beach... so I thought I should chime in from my perspective as well. As she mentioned we were both worried about transitioning to the heat once again but have found the weather here on the Florida peninsula be near perfect for us. With daytime highs in the mid to low 80's and overnight lows in the mid to low 60's there just isn't anything to  complain about here!!!

As she also mentioned I spend whole lot more time outside when we are near the water. I mean, the smell of the sea just can't be beat... well maybe except for the detrital aromas at low tide. The sea breezes with sea gulls, brown pelicans and various terns flying overhead let you know just how close to the ocean you are. I am the early riser in the house so one treat for me whenever we are near the beach are the fabulous sunrises and St Andrews has been no exception.Our front porch faces due east and we can see slices of the waterfront from our windows and patio on that side of Abbey.

St Andrews sunrise 016I love getting up and putting on a pot of freshly ground coffee... While enjoying the aroma of the coffee brewing I open up all of Abbey's windows and start watching for the pink hues emerging from the early sun before it rises. Once the first cup of coffee is in hand I venture outside with  my camera hoping for some nice photo opportunities during the early morning sunrise... Unfortunately my old beat up point and shoot camera doesn't do much justice to the sunrises.  But it really doesn't matter as I enjoy each one of them immensely as I watch the birds flying as silhouettes across the backdrop of reds, yellows and oranges in the sky. The mullet are usually leaping high out of the water and splashing down into the still bay waters forming concentric circles emanating from their landing sites... Yep I just love experiencing a good morning sunrise at the ocean side...

As Sharon also mentioned there is still a lot of water standing as after having talked with many of the locals it appears as if most of this water came from 20 inch rains during the July 4th holiday period combined with an extremely wet August. The camp hosts here said that in August it rained nearly every day... Yikes it wouldn't have been much fun hosting that month here in the state park. It is kind of sad though as there are numerous trees still submerged underwater and I fear that many of them, especially the pines, will not survive their "feet" underwater this length of time not allowing for the critical respiration the roots need.

St Andrews sunrise 005But you know as much as I love the beach there are still a few things I don't like about them... The bugs can be bad although luckily they aren't here as we have no mosquitoes, even with all this standing water, and only a few biting flies that are pretty annoying when they get you... The traffic around beach areas has a tendency to be more congested but this area isn't too bad. However, it is also during the off season and we heard many locals say that they like to get away in July when it is especially crowded here. But thing I like the least are the "stupid tourists" (those who are thoughtless in their behavior during vacation mode).  I guess we may have been one of those in our past but I hope not..

Who are these people? One for example has her dog down at the beach where it is clearly marked with signs that say no pets on the beach. Not so bad if you don't know better but a young park attendant came by and appeared to politely remind the lady she was violating the rules .She argued with the poor young fellow and after he left she simply stayed put and didn't bother to leave! To her the rules were obviously made for other people... A late friend of mine once said that people such as these "stupid tourists" should be called "Tourons" which he further explained were people that were half tourists and half morons... gotta love it when a new word makes so much sense.

imageAs we were taking a stroll down the beach yesterday we came up to the jetties and noticed a crowd of people near the base of the jetties. Hoping to see a fisherman's huge catch we walked closer. Then we noticed they weren't watching a fisherman pull in a lunker..... instead they were feeding some raccoons!!!  Yes, there are also signs everywhere saying do not feed the wildlife.  But do these Tourons think those rules apply to them? No, and in fact they are feeding them in such a way that the raccoons would walk on the hind legs to take the food out of their hands!!! Geeshh people, think about this! Raccoons are nocturnal animals so what are they doing out during the day? It may be because they have been enticed by the food of many previous tourons  but it could  just as likely be that they are sick with something such as rabies! Do you think any of the tourons considered that and the fact that they might be spending their next week undergoing those shots in their stomach to prevent rabies???

Sigh... yes I still loathe the tourons but will not let them spoil my fun at the beach... sorry for the rant but some things just get under my skin!!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sharon blogs about going… Back to the Beach!

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sea oatsWe worried a little about moving south too quickly and having to become acclimated again to 80 and 90 degree weather with humidity. There were a few days in Alabama where the humidity was stifling but as soon as we arrived in Panama City Beach, Florida we were greeted by those awesome sea breezes. No acclimatization needed. In fact, John has moved all operations outdoors. He carries his folding chair to the waterfront across the street from our site to watch the sunrise, he plays the stock market on his laptop outside, we cook and eat outside and of course we enjoy an adult beverage (or two) in the evenings watching the sunset and/or visiting with neighbors.

What a welcoming place St Andrews State Park is. The sites all face the bay and it is almost always full. Apparently there was a lot of rain in August as several sites are still closed due to standing water. We worried that perhaps we might have a mosquito problem but luckily we have not experienced any problem other than a few of those annoying biting flies.

beachin itA short bike ride from camp is the beautiful sandy beach that is part of the state park. It took my breath away to see the beautiful dunes adorned with sea oats open up to that sight of clear bluish green water and bleached white powdery sand. It just feels like vacation to be here. I love it. The water is an ideal temperature and joyously I plan to spend every single day we are here frolicking in it. I realize I am out of practice as I forgot my floatie, my mask and fins and the binoculars. John laughed and reminded me I don’t have to do it all in one day….but I won’t forget tomorrow…

jzh in the waterSt Andrews State Park FL 017

It’s hard for me to describe all that I love about the beach. The pelicans, the terns, the fish, the crabs, the shells, the sound of the waves, the sun sparkling on the water, and the smell of the salt air, the gentle breezes and even the sea gulls envelope me with sheer joy. Maybe it brings out the child in me because every child I see at the beach seems to be having as much or more fun than me. I never ever tire of it. Though there are many sights left I want to see, I shall always yearn to revisit the sea. It is rejuvenating and like a vacation every day I am here. Wish you were here because it is about time to get in the water and go snorkeling today!

P.S. Where else but Florida can you go to Happy Hour and get invited this Saturday to a fish/shrimp/gator fry because a guy at the bar just wants to share his bounty with a few friends…