St Andrews – Week Two

20130429-070229.jpg We went back to St Andrews State Park for another week (M-F actually) as this is a nice park right on the beach and only two hours drive from the kids in Enterprise. There are three other Florida parks on the beach about the same distance from Enterprise but this one is much larger and the only one where we could reserve four consecutive nights in one campsite.

We were a bit early to check in Monday so stopped at Jazmines Thai Restaurant on Thomas Drive just a mile or so from the park entrance. We ordered two different curries and then shared. Delicious and lots of other veg choices on the menu.

Tuesday started out as car repair day. When we hitched up Monday morning I noticed one of the trailer lights had stopped working. The fault appeared to be in the ‘black box’ that interfaces between the car and trailer light wiring. I ordered one on Amazon but literally one or two minutes later realized I forgot to change the ship-to address to Ami’s house in Enterprise, but it was already too late to change the order. I then called a couple of local RV shops, no one had the same part as Amazon, but one had something I thought would work. We drove in to Panama City to get the part where the counter guy drew us a map to the Old St Andrews neighborhood with a marina, a nice city park and a restored neighborhood street with some interesting shops and restaurants. We walked around sight seeing for awhile then followed his map to downtown Panama City. The Main Street has six or eight blocks of businesses, ending at a big marina and park on St Andrews Bay. We had a great lunch at Ferrucci Ristorante at a table on the sidewalk. Afterward we wandered into a small civic center displaying PC public school students art work. There were some really nice paintings especially considering the artists were high school kids.

Wednesday I started to install the new black box only to quickly realize it wasn’t the correct part after all. I ordered another one from Amazon, carefully checking the alternate shipping address this time, then went back to the RV store to return yesterday’s purchase. They didn’t have the right part but today everything was 50% off so we got $40 of other stuff in return for the $20 part. Since we were in town anyway we went back to the Old St Andrews neighborhood and Hunts Oyster Bar for lunch. This is an old fashioned place where the waitress calls you “darlin'” and there is a huge (and fragrant) mound of oyster shells out back. Reminded us of similar places on the Chesapeake Bay. The oysters were great. If it grows in one place and has to be shelled to be eaten it must be a vegetable, right?

Thursday was cloudy and windy so we mostly chilled around the campsite, reading, writing, a little walking and bike riding. The clouds cleared in the evening so we went to the beach hoping to have a nice walk under the full moon. It looked pretty but was still too windy to enjoy walking.

Friday was a gorgeous day, sunny, 80, low humidity. After breakfast we rode our bikes to the nature trail at the little lake in the park. At one spot on the edge of the lake we were treated to a Yellow Crowned Night Heron fishing right in front of us. Afterward we got packed up and parked the car and trailer at the beach (check out time is 1:00 PM) then walked a mile or so along the beach to Schooners which bills itself as the last local beach bar.

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we got a table right on the railing overlooking the beach.

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On the walk back I found my dream retirement job – driving the ice cream boat.

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We got back to Enterprise just in time for dinner at Todd’s house. Took the grand kids to the park Saturday and Sunday and generally enjoyed visiting the kids.

Josh (aka Spike Nicer) will be the featured entertainer at Oscars Bar and Grill next Saturday night so is rehearsing in his workshop. It was fun sitting around after dinner with another glass of wine listening.

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We are off to Fort Pickens Park in the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola this week. It’s a screaming deal at $10/night with my National Park senior pass.

St Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach

20130421-090418.jpg We left the kids Monday morning and drove down to St Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, Fl. This is a relatively big campground with 172 sites spread along the bay side of a mile long narrow peninsula that separates St Andrews Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The ocean side is typical for this part of Florida, snow white sand and very clear water. The park also has two fishing piers and a nice boat launch ramp on the bay side.

Sue wanted to write for awhile after we set up camp so I took off on my bike to explore. I always like to check out the boat ramp and this one had a fish cleaning station with a couple of guys cleaning a lot of smallish fish. A huge scrum of pelicans fought over the scraps.

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Often two or three birds would each get a good grip on a larger scrap and tug and flap for some time before one would win. The seagulls had a good strategy too. They swooped through the area grabbing smaller bits in mid-air, before they hit the water where the pelicans waited.

Next stop was the beach, about a quarter mile directly across the peninsula from the boat ramp. A beach walk beckoned so I rode back to our campsite, got Sue and we had a nice walk from the end of the park to where the high-rise condos started.

Looking west toward civilization:

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And east to the state park:

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Tuesday morning we went for another beach walk in the morning then went to the Zen Garden Market and Lotus Cafe for lunch. Lots of interesting veg food with tables around a beautifully landscaped pond.

20130421-205530.jpgA stop on the way home for groceries, another walk on the beach and it was dinner time. Where did the day go?

Wednesday morning we rode around the park and hiked a short nature trail on the shore of a small fresh water lake named Gator Lake. We didn’t see any alligators though. We did come upon a coupe of tourists staring nervously at a partially sunken log right next to shore though 🙂

After lunch we went back to the beach and found it continued around the inlet to St Andrews Bay and made a large pool sheltered from the waves by the rock jetty. It was warm and the water was clear and warm(ish) so we went for a swim. There were schools of small fish, maybe the size of your hand, jumping out of the water near the rocks. They paid no attention to the people in the water. I heard some kids yell that the fish hit them, they came close enough to splash us but no direct hits. I wish I could have gotten a picture as they were a pretty green and silver color and there would be dozens of them in the air at the same time.

I went for another bike ride before dinner and came across a group of very tame deer just hanging out on the sie of the road.

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Thursday we went out for breakfast at Another Broken Egg Cafe and then went grocery shopping as Todd, Amanda and the kids were coming for lunch. They arrived about 11:30, Luke immediately got busy picking the wild flowers around the campsite, we had lunch and then spent the afternoon at the beach. They ended up staying for an early dinner too.  Great way to spend the day.

Thunderstorms were forecast for Friday morning and we had to vacate the site by 1:00 PM so we packed the screen room, chairs and awning after the dinner dishes were done, then went for a walk. The park land includes a large swamp with a boardwalk extending out to a viewing platform maybe a hundred feet ‘offshore’. The viewing platform was an excellent listening platform as well. We must have sat for half an hour enjoying all the frog, insect and bird sounds. Sue remarked it was like listening to a symphony with some of the instruments playing on the right, some center and others on the left.

The Friday morning sun lured us to the beach for another walk but turned rainy before we got back. It rained for awhile but stopped in time for us to finish packing and exit the park around noon. We had a nice lunch at the Hognose Snapper restaurant a few miles along the way back to Enterprise to spend the weekend with the kids.

The Enterprise Airport hosted an air show Saturday which was pretty small but we all went anyway and had a good time.

20130421-213617.jpg They were selling rides in a restored Vietnam era Huey which looked fun but $60 for ten minutes seemed steep.

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We are going back to St Andrews tomorrow for another week and will come back to Enterprise next Friday.

Enterprise, Alabama and Lake Tholocco campground at Ft Rucker

20130414-150203.jpg It has been two weeks since I last updated our blog as we have been doing mostly family things, visiting the kids and enjoying our 6 month old grandson William and 27 month old grandson Luke. Fun for us, but not as much to write about as say, snorkeling in Mexico.

We drove up to Enterprise, Alabama from Grayton Beach March 31 and spent the weekend with Ami and Josh. Monday we decamped to a small lake on the Fort Rucker Army base where Josh and Todd are Blackhawk instructor pilots. Lake Tholocco is the main outdoor recreation facility on the the base with boat and RV rentals, a swimming beach and very nice paved campground sites with water and electricity. The campground is open to anyone, not just people affiliated with the military, so we didn’t have to camp ‘with’ Todd or Josh 😉

The campground was maybe 2/3 empty and most of the campers that were there seemed to be working on the base, consequently gone most of the time. Fort Rucker is the main training site for Army aviation so lots of people are here temporarily for flight school or advanced warrant officer training.

We stayed here for 7 nights and really enjoyed the peaceful setting and the easy 15 minute drive to either of the kids’ houses.

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Here’s a shot of our campsite, you can see how empty it was.

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I was chatting with a neighbor several sites down one evening when a beautiful bald eagle flew over at tree-top level. He said the eagle’s nest was right over our campsite and sure enough it almost was. We never saw the babies but heard their cries often. One warm evening we sat out in the screen room until about 11:00 PM and the woods were full of cool sounds, the eaglets squawking, owls hooting and lots of bugs and frogs saying “hey good lookin’…” in their native languages. I wish I could post a recording here.

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This is looking down the lake from the campground dock one morning; unfortunately just after a beautiful white egret flew over the reflecting surface.

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The ugly under belly of all this peacefulness and nature is the fact that we are in the middle of the world’s busiest heliport. After all, a beautiful campsite on the lake for 12 bucks a night is bound to have a downside. There are several hundred Army helicopters here operating between 5:00 and 24:00. The different types each have their own areas to fly in. We were right under the flight path of AH64 Apaches which flew over at about 400′. We expected the noise so it wasn’t really a problem and they tended to come by in groups with sometimes several hours with no activity.

The trade-off of some intermittent noise for a great campsite only ten miles from the kids’ houses was definitely worth it. We will be back.

The second week we (really Sue) pinch hit for Amanda, who had to go to her National Guard base near Nashville for flight training. Todd works 5:00 AM to noon so were happy to stay at their house and get the kids up. Most mornings we took them to the park. Luke loves to run around on the playscape and Will is just happy to ride in the stroller.

I got some chores done on the trailer, put up a spice rack to gain a bit of much-needed storage and finally traced a problem with the inverter failing to start the refrigerator to a not-tight-enough connection on a battery terminal.

Amanda is coming home tonight and we will head back down to the Fl panhandle tomorrow for what will probably be our last beach time for awhile. We will be at St Andrews State Park in Panama City Monday through Thursday nights then back in Enterprise next weekend. After that we will see what the weather looks like in Michigan. Maybe we will head north, maybe not…

Grayton Beach State Park

20130401-172323.jpgLast Monday we drove from Sue’s parents home in Port Charlotte to Grayton Beach, up in the panhandle, roughly 250 miles north and 200 miles west. All in all about ten hours poking along towing the Snoozy with lunch and three gas stops. We lost our summer weather as the back side high pressure from the big storm in the Midwest and east coast gave us a couple of windy days with highs in the fifties and lows in the high thirties. I know, wa,wa,wa, it’s a lot colder back home.

20130401-170536.jpgGrayton Beach is a funky little beach town west of the park, to the east of the park are the tony planned communities of Watercolor and then Seaside. It’s about a three mile walk on the beach from Grayton Beach to Seaside. This area is only eighty miles south of where two of our kids live in Alabama so we rented a condo here for the month of February last winter. It was virtually deserted then but this spring break week it was very busy. We drove to Seaside one day and went back home, unable to find a parking place. It’s a very family oriented place so no rowdy college kids but lots of people. Seaside was the setting for the movie “The Truman Story”.

Tuesday we found a nice spot for lunch in the sun, out of the wind and a brick wall at our back for radiant heat. Wine World in Watercolor is a wine shop / bistro with a permanent two for one daily special on wine. Afterward it was warmed enough for a walk on the beach Here’s the busiest stretch of the beach at Seaside:

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Wednesday was a lazy day around the campsite reading and writing with another long beach walk in the afternoon, this time away from the crowds. This view is looking west at the state park beach.

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Thursday warmed up a bit so we went for a bike ride in the morning. The sate park is adjacent to the Point Washington State Forest which is thousands of acres of pine woods and scrub land with lots of trails. We mapped out a four mile trail ride connecting to a paved bike path. We got a six mile trial ride as we were blocked by a huge mud puddle we couldn’t get around without getting wet and had to retrace our route back to the campground.

20130401-180118.jpgWe spotted a bobcat standing in the middle of the trail just a little in front of us. He or she must have been at least a little acclimated to people as she didnt bolt, just trotted ahead for five or ten seconds before disappearing into the brush. It is always so exciting to wild animals in their natural environments.

Friday was even warmer, all the way back to summertime. We went walking on the beach again before packing up, having lunch and heading up to Enterprise.

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That’s downtown Grayton Beach, by the way, where the cars are parked on the beach.

We are spending Easter weekend with the kids then camping at Lake Tholocco on the Fort Rucker Army base for a week, a ten minute drive from the kids. We have visited but never camped here before. It’s a really nice campground, very wilderness feeling, but right in the middle of the largest helicopter training site in the world. Might be a tad noisy! More on that in the next post.