Monday, April 4, 2011

Calling All Saints

Our last two parks are both state parks on peninsulas east of Panama City in the Florida Panhandle.  It's our last week before we start our drive home .

St. George Island State Park is on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico.  We cross two incredibly long bridges that make us think we are in the Florida Keys.  Unfortunately, the weather while we are here is horrible.  Cloudy and windy for the first day, and steady rain for the other two with severe thunderstorm warnings.  So we don't get out to explore much, but we do hike most of the way out to Gap Point where primitive tent camping is allowed.  Along the trail are many 50 to 60 foot tall sand pines, one of which is tapped to show how they used to make turpentine; it reminds me of the tapping process for maple syrup in Ontario and Quebec.  Unfortunately we have to turn around before we get to the end of the trail because it is getting dark, and we get back to our trailer just as it gets dark.

It's impossible to sit on the beach even when it's not raining because of the wind, but the beach looks nice - beautiful, white sand, and a long stretch of beach for walking, running, or just kicking back and relaxing.  The campsites are quite nice, not too close together and lots of trees for shade which would be important if you camp here in the summer.  The humidity is already killing me!

Fire ant bites on Marilyn's foot
There are two ponds as we drive into the campsite area.  There is a sign at each pond that says "Alligator.  No swimming."  Brad wants to take my picture by the sign.  So I go and stand just behind the sign and while he is adjusting the polarizer and determining the best focal length, blah, blah, blah, I feel sudden stinging sensations on my right foot.  I quickly look down and see that I have about two dozen fire ants all over my foot.  I yell to Brad to quickly help me get them off as they are biting me and it freaking HURTS!  I was standing on their nest.  We get the ants brushed off quickly, but I sustain almost a dozen bites, which drive me crazy for about a week.  They are itchier than mosquito bites.  From this point on, I watch where I walk.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is on a cape about 30 miles west of St. George Island.  Thank goodness the weather clears by midafternoon and is supposed to be great for the next few days, because I want to work on my tan before I go home.  We manage to book an extra night, and we hear from our Quebec friends Jean and Denyse, whom we first met in Mojave National Preserve and later spent a few days with near Tucson, that they want to come this way to spend a night or two in the area and they manage to scoop a site in this very overbooked park.  Here's the story of the campsites - it's really insane.

We are originally booked into site #38 at St. Joe's for Thursday and Friday nights.  When we arrive, I ask if there's been a cancellation for Saturday night because we want to stay an extra night since the weather on Saturday is supposed to be so nice and we want to spend the day on the beach.  The Ranger tells us "Sorry, no, but keep watching the website and maybe something will come up."  But the Ranger Supervisor walks by and says "We could move you to a non-reserved site now for three nights, but you won't get the site you originally booked."  "We don't care.  We'll take it as long as it will fit our trailer."  We work out the details and we're good to go - we move into site #18 for the three days!  Earlier this afternoon our RV friends from Quebec, Jean and Denyse, asked us to find them an RV park in this area for Friday and Saturday night.  There is nothing available at this park we were already told, and we passed no RV parks on our way from St. George Island, but I had found a list of parks on the internet in a couple of nearby beach towns that I had sent to Jean.  However, now our old site #38 becomes available at least for Friday night, so I call Jean on the cell phone and tell him that if he hasn't reserved another RV park (he hasn't), to call Reserve America and book site #38 here at St. Joseph Peninsula right away because we just gave it up.  So he does and he gets it, but it is only for the one night.  Not the end of the story.

Jean and Denyse arrive around 5pm on Friday after a long drive from New Orleans.  We all enjoy Happy Hour, have dinner and a campfire and I tell them that they should continue looking on the Reserve America website to see if a cancellation comes up for Saturday night so they can stay in the park and not have to go to one of the beach towns tomorrow.  Jean says, "We are not so good at doing that like you are."  "Come on inside and I'll show you how to check," I say.  I take Denyse inside and show her how to get to the website and how to search for a free campsite and voila, site #38 comes up as available for Saturday night!  Someone must have cancelled!  OMG!  "Denyse," I say, "your campsite is available tomorrow night. I can't believe it!  Shall I book it for you right now?"  Denyse runs to the door and "blah blah blah" en Francais to Jean who doesn't believe her at first, but she convinces him and he runs back to their trailer to get his credit card to make the booking.  So here we all are for the beautiful, sunny weekend in this usually full state park, sitting on the gorgeous white sand of this fabulous Gulf beach, enjoying each other's company until we leave for Canada on Sunday morning.  What are the odds of the stars aligning in the right direction, at the right time?  And for the one site that became available to be the site that they are already occupying so they don't even have to move.  AND for me to show them how to use the Reserve America website at the right time when the cancellation of site #38 had been made but no one else had reserved it yet.  So many pieces of the cosmic puzzle just fall into place.

Alligators - Swim With Caution!!!
Brad and I take a hike along St. Joseph Bay, where we see tons of tiny crabs and beautiful views of the bay and the mainland, but here we see a funnier alligator sign than the one at St. George Island (which wasn't funny really).  Beside every pond at St. Joe's park is a sign that says "Alligators.  Swim with caution."  Swim with caution?  Who the hell wants to swim in skanky ponds with alligators?  Well, we couldn't resist a silly photo.  Brad emailed this one to a bunch of friends saying that I'd had enough of him after 5 months (ain't it the truth!).

Anyway, for our last day in Florida, of our 5 month journey, we enjoy the day on the beach with Jean and Denyse and we have our last campfire (we have to use up all of our wood that we got in New Mexico since we can't take it across the border) and in the morning we say our last au revoir to our Quebec friends.  Well, for this season.  Au revoir nos amis.  Adios to the southwest and warm temperatures (although some temps during the 5 months were downright freezing!).  Until next year.

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