Friday, April 20, 2012

Florida 2012 - Week 7

On our last night at Manatee Springs State Park, we have a firefly trapped in the trailer.  It flies around our bedroom as we are trying to go to sleep and many times flies in front of the closet mirror door, perhaps thinking its reflection is a mate.  Grady follows it to the living room, then back to the bedroom, but never tries to catch it as he does with regular flies.  It puts on quite a light show for us, but in the morning, Brad finds it drowned in our dishes in the sink.

Only about one hour away, near High Springs, we stay in O'Leno State Park for two nights.  There is no spring here, just the Santa Fe River which is unfortunately low of water right now so there is no swimming, snorkeling, canoeing or kayaking allowed.  Being inland about 50 miles or so from the Gulf, we are again in the forest - with bugs (ticks, house flies, horse flies, yellow flies, a few mosquitos and no-see-ems).  After we set up the trailer, we take a short hike (nothing spectacular to report other than cool trees dripping with Spanish Moss and very tall pines), but on our second day, we go to Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where there is not only one spring, but two.

Brad diving in the Blue Hole at Ichetucknee Springs
Blue Hole is a deep cave about 40 to 50 feet down and leads to a series of underground (and underwater) caves where divers are allowed to explore from Memorial Day (at the end of May) until Labor Day (at the beginning of September).  The spring around Blue Hole isn't very big, and only Brad swims here as there's a lot of grass on the bottom of the swimming area, and that just freaks me out.  I like to be able to see a clear bottom so I know nothing is hiding.  Brad really enjoys this swim and pulls himself down into the hole for about 20 feet before his ears can't take the pressure anymore.  The main spring, Head Spring, is not as big a swimming area as many of the other springs we've visited on this trip, and there are very few fish, but we explore it a bit anyway.  The water is cool - always 72F so we don't swim long.

Marilyn on the beach at Grayton Beach State Park
Since we've had enough of forests and springs, we decide to head to the beach and go to Grayton Beach State Park in the panhandle near Destin.  It'll be nice not to have to worry about ticks!  It's hot and humid while we're here, so thank God for air conditioning!  This is a great park; excellent sites and a beautiful beach with powdered sugar white sand.  The water is rough because of high winds they had before we arrive.

Brad and Marilyn eating lunch on the beach
We spend some time on the beach just relaxing and doing a bit of walking, although Brad's not up to much of that yet with his bad ankle.  We do swim in the water on our last day; it must be 80F and it's much calmer than it has been since we arrive.  We explore a bit in the truck and on our bikes east and west of the park.  One day we have a fantastic lunch at Pompano Joe's which is a seafood restaurant overlooking the beach.  We watch surfers in the big waves left from the winds, and enjoy great food - Brad a seafood soup and huge breaded shrimp, me a Caribbean salad which was to die for!

Marilyn crossing the lake outlet to the Gulf
We also gawk at the million dollar mansions on the beach, some over $5,000,000 (six zeroes!) - but WOW!  No big condos here.  This county (Walton County) doesn't seem to allow big condos to be built, although there are some three-story high ones.  Mostly there are private residences - lots of money here.  There are some shops, but we don't browse.  The communities in this county seem to be very resident and guest conscious.  A bike trail follows the coast all the way - about 20 miles.  We ride a part of it.  One of the communities called Watercolor has all of their streets done with interlaced brick!  And there's lots of construction going on.  Each community runs into the next, but they have a small town feel, not like a tourist trap.  Absolutely lovely.
Overlooking the beach in Seagrove

Western Lake - a coastal dune lake (Gulf behind dunes)
One of the things that makes this area unique is the presence of "coastal dune lakes" which are found only here and a few other places in the world, namely South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Oregon.  These lakes are fed by streams, underground water sources, rain and storm surges, and are only connected to the Gulf during high tides and storms.  Some lakes are brackish whle others are fresh.  There are 15 lakes here on this 26 mile stretch, and they make for some beautiful scenery.

Captain Fantastic - The Village at Baytowne Wharf
When we arrive at a new location, we usually try to visit the local Tourist Information Center.  Through the one here, we discover that there are free concerts held weekly at the Village of Baytowne Wharf near Destin in a private community with this public space in the middle of it.  What a gorgeous place - again must be tons of money here.  The residents' taxes alone must be atronomical just to pay for the upkeep of the roadsides and medians!  What we can't belive is that everything is free - parking and the concert.  Perhaps the local business owners pay for the concerts to attract business.  It's a small park where the bandstand is, but we arrive early expecting that there might be a crowd (which there is) and get a good spot on the grass for our chairs in front of the stage.  Then Brad is in heaven because he finds out that he can get a tallboy (big beer can) for $2!  AND drink it in the park!  Many people bring their own wine bottles, others visit local restaurants and bars to get a traveller.  It reminds me of New Orleans' Bourbon Street.

The concert is fabulous.  It's a one-man show - a tribute to Billy Joel by 52nd Street and Elton John by Captain Fantastic.  Both acts are the same guy and he's GREAT!  The average age of folks here is about 60!  Many get up to dance to his music on the cobblestone apron in front of the stage.  The best part?  We're home by 9pm!  Just what us old farts like.

But our time comes to an end and on Saturday, April 21st, we leave for home.  We'll take 4 days to drive it since Grady doesn't like to spend too much time in the truck.  Well, I guess it's time to go - it's getting too hot anyway!

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