Archive for the ‘Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park’ Category

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Now that you’ve seen everything in and around Pensacola, or at least as much as you could see depending on your timetable, it’s time to start your journey east. Go south on US 98 and cross the Gulf Breeze Parkway until you get into Gulf Breeze itself.

But before you get too far, there’s a historic marker at the intersection of US 98 and Fairpoint Drive. It marks a point along the first federal highway in Florida. It was built as a military road back in the 1820s. I don’t think any of it survives today, but you can look for it in the Naval Oaks part of the Gulf Island National Seashore. It’d be in the part north of US 98.

First, though, Fort Pickens. Hang a right at the aptly named Fort Pickens Road and head west. You’ll get to an admission station, where you’ll have to pay 8 dollars to go further. On the plus side, it allows you access for a week, so if you’re staying in Pensacola for a few days, it’s an even better deal. Fort Pulaski up near Savannah has a similar policy. There’s probably more lake that in the National Parks system.

Check ahead before you go, though. Really bad weather can wash the road out. If that’s the case, you’ll have to walk or bike the rest of the way. It’s several miles, so best to know before you go.

As you’ll see, the road is like 6 inches above sea level, and cuts through the beach. There are starkly white sands to either side of you. I wonder if they’ve considered building low walls to protect the road? Or maybe an elevated road. Even one 3 or 4 feet tall would alleviate the closures.

There’s some mini-sidetrips along the way, but eventually you’ll get to the fort itself. Pretty impressive, I have to say. Amble around and climb up to the higher level to get some great views. If you look to the west, you’ll see the east end of Perdido Key, where lie the remains of Fort McRee in the Perdido Key Historic District (Fort McRee). And if you turn your gaze about 45 degrees to the southwest, you’ll be looking in the direction of the remains of the USS Massachusetts. It was sunk off the coast some years back. It’s one of the Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves, and divable, when conditions are favorable.

When you’re through with Fort Pickens, head back to the Naval Oaks area. There’s a visitor center just south of US 98, with displays about the history of the region. You can go to the north part, too. Both have picnic areas and beaches that go on and on. If you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll get there at low tide and you can walk on sandbars that stretch away from the shore. You’ll get some amazing views of the curving coast when you look back. (see Google map)

If you want to check out another state park, go over the CR 281 Bridge to Yellow River Marsh. I’ve not been there, ’cause I couldn’t pin down where it was on my previous trips. I know where it is now, but seeing it on Street View, I’m not that tempted to visit. It looks to be mostly for hikers. Not my scene, man.

Now you have a choice. The fast way or the slow. Fast is continuing on US 98 for the next 15 miles or so. It’s rather ordinary, just road and trees and houses and malls. Not super developed, but hardly wilderness. You can’t see that much of the water, either.

Or you can go south like you’re going back to Fort Pickens. But instead of taking a right at Fort Pickens Road, stay on Pensacola Beach Boulevard/Via Luna Drive. This will take you through Pensacola Beach. Slow going, as it’s very residential. There are some spots along the way where you can park, cross over on a boardwalk and be on the beach itself.

Eventually you’ll get past all the condos and restaurants, and be in another section of the Gulf Island National Seashore. You can see this part for free. There are a few large parking lots, where you can stop and see more beach. There’ll be sand dunes here and there too.

Eventually you’ll reach the end of the road. If you go straight, you’ll enter Navarre Beach Park. It used to be a state park, but not for long, as for various it reasons reverted to the county a few years back. Hang a left, and you’ll cross Navarre Beach Causeway and rejoin US 98. Another 12 miles, or thereabouts, and you’ll be in Fort Walton Beach.

You’ll find two NHLs here, one that’s been here for centuries, the other far more recently. You’ll encounter the recent one first, the Governor Stone. It’s an old schooner, and it’s moored in The Boat Marina. It’s been moved around a lot, from Apalachicola to near Point Washington. It wound up in Fort Walton Beach only a few years ago. Call the Marina, and they’re usually happy to show off the boat. Watch out for the wandering avians, as there are ducks and peacocks and attack geese wandering around the parking lot.

There’s a small dinosaur on a raft next to the marina, visible from US 98. Commissioned by the owner of the marina, apparently. Hey, it’s Florida, you never know what you’ll find on the side of the road.

The other NHL is Fort Walton Mound. It gave its name to an entire period of native history, the Fort Walton Culture. There’s a museum there, and some other historic stuff close by. (see Google map)

Now for detours. If you’re interested, head north on SR 85 to Niceville. You can see the Heritage Museum in Valparaiso and the Air Force Museum on Eglin Air Force Base. There are several NRHPs on the base too, but none are accessible to the public, dagnabbit. Go a little further east, and you’ll reach the Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. I’ve only been as far as the entrance, so I can’t recommend it one way or the other. This review may help, though. (see Google map)

Get back to Fort Walton Beach, cross the mouth of the Choctawhatchee Bay and you’ll be in Destin. This is where the other McGuire’s is, but I’ve not been in this one. I’m sure it’s as good as the original in Pensacola, though. My food rec here is Fisherman’s Wharf. They have an award-winning gumbo, and I can attest to its scrumptiousness. Plus they’ll actually cook fish that you bring in. So if you spend a day here fishing, you know where to bring the results.

The only site of interest to me in town is the local history museum. There’s also the Emerald Coast Wine Cellars a few miles away. The drive along this part of US 98 reminds me a lot of Miami Beach, and not in a good way. It’s way too overdeveloped for my tastes. But apparently spring breakers come here in droves, so they need to cater to where their income is coming from. Hint: Try not to visit during spring break (March-April). (see Google map)

A bit further east, though, are a cluster of state parks that are all about great beaches. They’re listed below, in the order in which you’ll encounter them. You’ll have to get off US 98 and travel down Scenic Highway 30A to see them. Also, between Grayton Beach and Deer Lake is the planned community of Seaside. It’s where they filmed The Truman Show. Since it’s new, it doesn’t really interest me. But if you want to see New Urbanism at its finest, whoomp there it is. It was also recogized by Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places.. The town as a whole, and the Seaside Interfaith Chapel, a stylized Carpenter Gothic church. (see Google map)

Back on US 98 and heading west, you’ll finally escape the sprawl of Destin and have the open road ahead of you. Keep your eyes peeled, though, since one of the prettiest parks in the state is right off here.

At CR 395, turn left. If you go right, it’s another way to get to Seaside, and you’ll go through the Point Washington State Forest. But you’re going north, so follow the signage. You should keep your maps handy, though, as it’s easy to miss the street to go down. Soon you’ll reach Eden Gardens State Park. A gorgeous old mansion, azaleas all over the place (March is a great time to visit), other plants too, places to picnic, and a spectacular view of Tucker Bayou. I was there Easter Sunday morning just after dawn, and it was like a dream. I’d love to spend a day there, or at least a leisurely afternoon. Go, see it, you won’t regret the diversion.

Next post we’ll finish our tour of US 98 in Panama City. See you on the road!

Route length: 150 miles

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I was debating with myself about how to do travel posts. They’ve been reminiscences up until now. But I tend towards the meandery, which mayn’t be how a lot of folks travel. So I decided to focus more on roads, and talk about offshoots where appropriate. Here goes!

Had to start with my favorite part of the state, the Panhandle. I define it as west of Tallahassee ; conventionally it’s further west, on the other side of the Apalachicola River. I was going to do US 90 first, but there’s a lot there, and could run into several posts, so let’s begin with State Road 20.

It surprised me that SR 20 was in the Panhandle. Having lived in Gainesville for years, I thought it only ran from there to Palatka. Apparently it’s hidden for much of its length between G’ville and Tally. The things you find out when you travel.

So, starting in Tallahassee, go west. In 10 to 15 miles (depending on where you start), you’ll come to the entry road for Lake Talquin State Park. The lake was created when the Ochlockonee River was dammed up in the 1920s. It was ostensibly named for the two cities it’s between, Tallahassee and Quincy. Yet if you look at a map, you’ll see that it’s more between Tallahassee and Hosford. Quincy is the larger city, though, and maybe the namers didn’t like the sound of “Lake Talhos” or “Lake Hostal”. It’s a nice park, and I can see it being especially popular with boaters.

Old Fort Braden School

Get back on SR 20 and head west. Less than a mile on the left is the Fort Braden Community Center, which used to be the Fort Braden School. It was built in the 1920s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I’ve seen so many buildings listed on the Register that are dilapidated or gone, and it’s nice to see ones that are not only being preserved, but actively used.

The next stretch of SR 20 I haven’t travelled myself, so I have to rely on Google Street View. Which is where I found that about 8 miles past the Old Fort Braden School is a major bridge over the Ochlockonee River. The dam that formed Lake Talquin is just to the northeast. There was an older bridge to the southwest as late as 1975, but there appears to be no trace of it now. It must have been demolished when they built the new one.

After the bridge, the scenery changes and becomes one of the reasons I love the Panhandle. People who don’t know better think Florida is all beaches, theme parks and overdevelopment. But there are vast undeveloped areas of the state, and they’re likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. If you enjoy driving not to get somewhere, but to relax and soak in the sights, there are roads aplenty for it in Northwest Florida.

Nine miles past the Ochlockonee River bridge is Hosford, which I mentioned previously. Having driven between there and Hosford, I can speak more knowledgeably about this stretch. Not much to see in Hosford, though there is a nicely restored old church.

Fort Gadsden site

And here’s one of those offshoots I was talking about. If you continue south on SR 65 for about 35 miles through the Apalachicola National Forest, and follow the signs, you’ll wind up at Fort Gadsden, one of the most remote National Historic Landmarks in the state. It’s the site of two forts, one built by the British, one by Americans. There’s not even ruins left above ground, so there’s little to see in the historic sense. If you want to get away from it all, and have a relaxing picnic along the Apalachicola River, this is definitely a place to go. Should the spirit move you, drive south 23 miles until you get to US 98. Turn right (west), and you’ll reach Apalachicola pretty quickly. Turn left, and you’ll be in Carrabelle in short order. It’s also the section of US 98 I like the most.

Yes, it is a rather extreme detour. But Fort Gadsden is so out-of-the-way, and the drive so nice from the north or the south, I decided to include it.

Back to SR 20. Continuing west is just road and trees and lots of time for thinking. In about 12 minutes (depending on how fast you drive), you’ll be in Bristol, the county seat for Liberty County. This is the least densely populated county in the state. It’s also one of three in the Panhandle that has neither Gulf shoreline or shares a border with another state. There’s not much to see there. The courthouse is nice enough, but nothing special. Unlike the one in the next county over.

There’s two offshoots in this area, but I’ll discuss them later.

Up to this point, the terrain is fairly level. Now you hit one of the hillier parts of the state as you head west. Which gives you a good view of the 1.5 mile-long Trammell Bridge, which crosses the Apalachicola River. The river is also the divider between Eastern Standard Time and Central Time, so adjust your watches accordingly. Unlike the bridge across the Ochlockonee River a ways back, the old bridge here was preserved and is still in use. So instead of a lane each way, both lanes on the old bridge go west, while the new bridge carries traffic east.

Old Calhoun County Courthouse

In no time at all, you’ll be in the county seat of Calhoun County, Blountstown. Which has one of my favorite old courthouses in the state, which is on the NRHP. It’s Romanesque Revival and very angular, looking more like a church than a courthouse. It’s a couple of blocks away from the current courthouse, which is modern and incredibly drab by comparison.

You’ll also find the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement further west, inside Sam Atkins Park. It’s a living history museum, but don’t know much else. The only time I’ve been there, it was late, an hour or so before sunset. That’s not a good time for taking photographs, and honestly, museums aren’t my thing. Especially living history museums. But if you like that stuff, it did look like there was a lot to see.

The two offshoots. One north and on the east side of the Apalachicola River (Torreya State Park), the other south and on the west side (the city of Wewahitchka). Each is also halfway between SR 20 and another major road. First, Torreya.

Gregory House, in Torreya State Park

From Bristol, go north on SR 12. It’s about 13 miles. The route to the park is not well marked, so use this for reference. And it’s really hilly, so be sure your car is in good shape. Once you get to the park, go to the Gregory House, which is the visitor center. It’s a very old house that used to be on the other side of the river, but was moved to its current location years ago by the CCC. Behind it is a view unlike any you’d expect to see in Florida. You’ll be standing on a bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River 150 feet below. Stretching out before you is miles and miles of forest. The unique topography created a microclimatic area. And with plant seeds and such brought down the river from further north, the ecology is different than anywhere else in the state. I like to go there in the fall because you can actually see a large amount of leaf-color change. It’s not like Maine or Vermont, as it doesn’t have those kind of trees. Still, for Florida it’s pretty amazing. I’ve learned to call the park first, though, because sometimes the color change doesn’t happen quite when you’d expect. The park’s especially interesting to me because it falls under several categories that I like: it’s a state park, on the NRHP, and a National Natural Landmark.

Old Gulf County Courthouse

Now for Wewahitchka. From Blountstown, go south on SR 71. This one’s easy. Stay on SR 71 and you’ll go right through Wewahitchka. Before you get there, you’ll pass a former state park, Dead Lakes. It’s run by Gulf County now. Don’t know what it’s like, because I couldn’t really find it. Anyway, Wewahitchka. One of those on my list of “places with weird names I wanted to visit.” It’s got one historic spot I know of, the old Gulf County Courthouse. The town is known for its honey. The movie “Ulee’s Gold” was filmed in the area.

If you keep going south, you’ll cross the Intracoastal Waterway and wind up in Port St. Joe. I recommend visiting there, but I’ll go into it more when I talk about US 98 in another post.

OK, back to Blountstown. Westward is another large chunk of road I’ve not traversed. I like the looks of this bridge over the Chipola River, east of Clarksville. The next 30 miles or so has nothing specifically noteworthy, just mellow driving.

Moss Hill Church03
Moss Hill Church

Once you get to SR 77, you have the option of continuing west, or going north for the last offshoot. If the latter, take SR 77 north, then SR 279 north. On the right after about 6 miles, you’ll find Moss Hill Church. It was built in 1857, so it’s one of the oldest churches in Washington County. I’m always amazed when I find extant wooden buildings this old in Florida, what with the humidity and hurricanes and all. It’s made of heart of pine, which explains a lot. Our ancestors, they knew how to build to last on a budget.

Back on SR 20, go west another 12 miles and you’ll reach the SR 79 intersection. I’ve travelled the rest of this stretch, but from the other direction. There’s another big bridge, this one over the Choctawhatchee River. From this point on, it’s mostly forest, with occasional spots of civilization. Which is another thing I like about the Panhandle. You’ll have these nice isolated stretches, and every 10 or 15 miles there’s a town or city where you can avail yourself of necessities.

There are a couple of long bridges across Choctawhatchee Bay which will get you to US 98.

Before you get to Niceville, you’ll pass by Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. I’ve not much to say about it, unfortunately. When I visited, I discovered I’d lost my Florida State Park pass. Fortunately, I was still able to get the stamp for my State Park passport, and I’d seen all the state parks I wanted to on that particular trip, so it wasn’t a big deal. And I replaced the pass when I got home, so it was all good.

Niceville is, as it’s name would indicated, nice. I’d always wanted to visit, as I had several friends who were from there. It’s close to some great beaches, so there’s that.

If you go a bit further west on SR 85, then south on SR 397, you’ll be in Valparaiso, and you can visit the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida. It’s small, so shouldn’t take up too much time. You can also visit the Air Force Armament Museum on Eglin Air Force Base, which envelops Niceville and Valparaiso.

So that’s it. And remember to value what’s been, cherish what is, look forward to what’s to be.

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