After an over-night stop at Sue’s parents we drove 90 minutes north to Fort Desoto County Park which occupies five long skinny islands at the juncture of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s literally the end of the road going south along the west side of the bay. The Pinellas County park has three miles of really nice white sand beach and 238 campsites.
In chats with other campers last winter many said we ought to visit here and I’d read many rave reviews on the interweb so it was a priority destination this year. It is a beautiful place that feels a million miles away from the hustle of St Petersburg, but is only ten miles and three toll bridges from I275 and fifteen miles from downtown St Petersburg.
Like most of the state parks, Fort Desoto’s camp sites are carved out of tropical forest so are very private with dense foliage all round. But here the sites have an even more ‘surrounded by nature’ feeling as the trees form a canopy over most of the camping spots. We would have appreciated more sun on this chilly week but I’m sure the dense shade is welcome most of the year. The main campground occupies the whole of Mullet Key so more than half of the sites have a water view at the rear.
The beach here is pretty special too, in fact Trip Advisor named it the Best American Beach in 2009. Florida has lots of nice beaches but most are lined with condos and beach houses. The Fort Desoto beach has none of that. It’s just as natural looking shoreward as seaward. Also, because there is no development aside from the campground there are lots of shore birds.
More beach porn:
And some wild life pictures – first a Long Billed Curlew. Many of these were fishing in the surf with their oddly elongated bills.
Often Herons and Egrets will wait patiently by a surf fisherman hoping for a handout but we were amazed to see this bird with weird wrinkled neck waiting too. It’s a Wood Stork.
Here’s a double header. I was trying to photograph a porpoise swimming right along the beach and got a Sanderling going the other way.
And Sue photographing an Osprey on its nest.
Just like up north the weather here was unseasonably cold last week. When we arrived Monday it was OK, low 60s, sunny, not too windy, so we went for a short bike ride and then a longer beach walk.
Tuesday was even nicer so we went to the beach mid-morning, walked for a couple of hours then had a total junk food lunch at the beach snack bar. Afterward we walked some more until a storm chased us back to the car.
A cold front came through in the night and Wednesday morning dawned with mid-40s temps and a strong north wind. This was clearly going to be an inside day. First came breakfast at Black Forest Cottage, a very authentic German Cafe in a little retail area just north of the park. The menu had a lot of interesting German crepes. I had one with Brie, cranberry preserves and pear slices – delicious 🙂
Then we drove about 15 minutes into downtown St Petersburg to the Museum of Fine Arts. They had a special exhibit featuring the art of New Mexico which was especially interesting as we are going to NM in April. The art is housed in a striking modern building with a large glass walled lobby connecting the permanent and special exhibition wings with a nice little cafe at the south wall overlooking the harbor.
Of course I can’t resist posting a photo of my lunch.
The next day turned out just as chilly so we lazed around the trailer all morning reading, web surfing, drinking coffee and complaining about the weather. By about 12:30 we gathered enough enthusiasm get out and find somewhere for a nice lunch. That turned out to be Bill’y Seafood in the same little shopping area north of the park. We got a table against a south window in the sun. Sue had clam chowder made with Cedar Key clams and I took advantage of the 50 cent oyster special.
By mid-afternoon it had warmed up a bit so we spent a couple of hours exploring the old Fort Desoto built for the defense of Tampa Bay around 1900. There is a recreated quartermasters office, a lot of clammy concrete mostly underground rooms and a pier that extends 1000′ into the bay. This was honestly the least interesting feature of the park. The military owned the islands but never did much with them. The Fort never saw any action and after WWII, when planes from nearby Macdill Air Force Base practiced bombing runs here, it was sold to Pinellas County.
Friday morning was even colder and windier and we had to vacate our site by 11:00 anyway so we packed up first thing and went back to Sue’s parents’ house in Port Charlotte.
We will be staying there for five nights then moving to Myakka River State Park.