After one week in Florida, Joan and I made our return to the Panhandle.
We decided to break up our six-hour drive into two parts and make our way back slowly. There are lots of things to see in Florida, and a six-hour trip means we’d miss quite a bit if we did not stop.
The first place ended up being only ninety-miles from The Villages, but a place we both wanted to see: Manatee Springs State Park.
The famed naturalist and ethnographer William Bartram first described the springs back in 1774:
Having borrowed a canoe from some Indians, I visited a very great and most beautiful fountain or spring which boils up from between the hills about 300 yards from the river, throwing up great quantities of white small pieces of shells and white shell rock which, glittering through the limped eliment as they rise to the surface, subside and fall again round about on every side.
In addition to these memorable springs, the park’s chief attraction, and namesake, is that its inlet is the winter home for the manatees.
The warmer weather of the inlets makes for better winter quarters vs. the Gulf waters.
But what we saw later in the day on a hike proved to be as impressive in its way – a somewhat rare gopher tortoise.
We headed out and found a camping spot at a county campground near the small fishing village, and Florida Trail resupply spot, at St. Marks. A town purported to be the third oldest settlement in Florida.
We ate dinner along the river and admired an exquisite sunset.
A sunset that numbered among the best I’ve seen anywhere.
The following day, we continued our trip to the Panhandle.
We stopped at Wakulla Springs State Park earlier in the morning. Typically, more manatees call the inlet near the historic spring home during the winter. (complete with Paleo artifacts and mammoth tusks in the 1920s lodge). Alas, some early morning swimmers made the manatee a bit shy there.
A quiet hike let us enjoy more of the Florida landscape.
After that, we made a planned stop to the site of the Mission San Luis in Tallahassee.
Dating back to the 1630s, this reconstructed, hill-top site, once made an important outpost for the Spanish and their Apalachee allies.
We enjoyed our time there and enjoyed interacting with the knowledgeable “living historian” volunteers who knew their roles well and answered many different questions. One of the volunteers even suggested we walk the nature trail by the reconstructed fort as the trail leads to the original spring.
After lunch in the parking lot, we continued our travels to the Panhandle.
We enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve with Joan’s folks.
The following day we hiked the Tarklin Bayou that featured carnivorous pitcher plants.
Another of the excellent parcels of public land that Florida seems to do well amidst the development. A small piece of wildness in an otherwise busy area.
Later that afternoon, we took a walk following local bike paths and backroads along a cove with the usual array of diversity of birdlife.
The following morning, we visited the historic Ft. Pickens.
Besides being one of four Union naval forts to hold out during the American Civil War, the site has the distinction of being the northern terminus of the Florida Trail.
Besides being an important historical site and terminus of a national scenic trail, we found the scenery itself to be memorable on a moody day.
Not quite ready to call it a day, Joan and I got dropped off a or so from where here parents are staying, and we walked from Johnson Beach back to their condo.
The sounds of the ocean, the smell of salt air, and the wind blowing off the water are something I rarely get versus my earlier years.
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An afternoon walk @gulfislandsnps … #beachcombing #florida #floridapanhandle
After all the history, the simple pleasure of walking along a coast in the late winter light proved to be enticing.
On our second to last day, we visited another naval fort just across the state line in Alabama – Ft. Morgan.
Another fort with a scenic view, most people perhaps heard the phrase, perhaps apocryphally, said at this location: “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!”
Not quite ready to call it a day, we walked along the longest pier in the Gulf and spotted more of the diverse birdlife.
A memorable sunset closed the day.
Our last day of hiking ended up being an enjoyable one at the Naval Live Oaks Reserve in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
At one point, the location of where the navy grew wood for their vessels nearly 200 years ago. We even hiked an ~200 yr old road, too. This place has been preserved land for almost two centuries.
We had a hike with the typical diverse ecosystems found in Florida hiking: oaks, pines, sandy beaches, and wetlands.
The following morning we made our way back to Moab.
We swapped the sunshine for an inversion layer and the relative warmth of a Florida winter for a 20F and snow in our red rock desert town.
I’m sure we’ll find our way back to Florida at some point.
A University of Central Florida conservation biology professor once told me that Florida was doing a surprisingly good job of setting aside conservation lands. Surprising because of all the growth pressure. That being said, while celebrating what’s been set aside, I mourn the lands given over to development in the 53 years I’ve lived in the sunshine state
Agreed. If you’re not already, definitely follow the Florida Wildlife Corridor and Carlton Ward for the incredible vision they have and the work they’re doing to bring it to fruition.