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Archive for the ‘US 98’ Category

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So, where were we? That’s right, Fort Meade. US 98 splits off to the east here. But maintain your southerly course on US 17 and bye-bye, Polk County. Next you’ll hit Hardee County and Bowling Green. Which may or may not have any relation to the other one. There’s an old hotel on the corner of US 17 and Main Street, which is now home to the Bowling Green Youth Academy. If you park at the Dollar General nearby, you can take a walk around it. Then if you stroll east on Main Street, you’ll pass the most unprepossessing city hall I’ve ever seen, and an old railroad depot about another block on.

Get back in your car and drive east on Main Street until it dead ends into Lake Branch Road. South on that will get you to Paynes Creek Historic State Park. Inside the park is an NRHP, the site of Fort Chokonikla, built during the Seminole Wars. There’s nothing left of it, just signs in the sand marking the spot. There are trails through the park. Very open and scrubby, with some stands of trees. The visitor center was closed when I visited, so there may be information inside about the history of the place. (see Google map)

Back on US 17 and southward. The road is four-laned, with a wide median between the northbound and southbound parts. It’s very well maintained, and more what I’d expect to see near a larger city. I can’t imagine there’s that much traffic going through here, so why it’s like this I haven’t a clue. Makes driving easier, I’ll give it that.

You’ll soon be going through the Hardee County seat, Wauchula. A right at Main Street, and you’ll go through downtown and some nice old commercial buildings. Just past them on the left is the Hardee County Courthouse. I like the solid architecture, but the brownish-grayness does make it a bit bland. The old County Jail is behind, now used for local government office space.

Back the way you came and crossing US 17, the old city hall is on the left. Very nice condition, I must say. All along here is nice, since Wauchula participated in the Main Street Florida program. Whenever I get back down there, I may some aimless driving in town, since I suspect there’s some other neat stuff to see.

A couple blocks south is the only other NRHP in Hardee County, the Albert Carlton Estate. Which is, you know, a house and a few acres of land. It’s not fenced, so you can get close-ish to take pictures of the house. Still, it is private property, so you might want to take telephoto shots from the street.

Which is what I’d have done, if I was alone. But Mom was with me, and she encouraged me to get closer. I was like, "Mom, I could be trespassing and get into trouble." And she was like, "We’ll just tell them why you’re here." No greater love hath a mother for her son than being willing to use her terminal cancer to help her son take pictures of historical places. Yep, she was one in a billion. (see Google map)

Wauchula was one of those towns I wanted to visit due to its mildly odd name. The next town’s name is a bit weirder. Zolfo Springs. It’s believed the name came from Italian immigrants’ pronunciation of "sulphur springs", a feature in the area. Oh, and lest I forget, as you enter town you’ll cross the Peace River, which will be to the west of US 17 the rest of the way south.

You’ll pass by Pioneer Park, which is a heritage park like the one up in Homeland. There’s no admission fee, so it won’t cost you anything but time to go in and look around. If you go far enough in, you’ll reach the banks of the Peace River. If you have a kayak or canoe, you can take a relaxing trip along the river. (see Google map)

  • Pioneer Park (US 17 and 6th Ave. (or SR 64 and Terrier Drive)) (AGFHA)

If you go continue south, the road becomes two-lane and stays that way until you get to Arcadia in about twenty miles. Mostly farmland along the way. So whatever the reasons for US 17 being so expansive, they end in Zolfo Springs.

If you want to see one of the kitschy places that define Florida, though, go east on SR 64. Then south on CR 663 and west on CR 665. Look for the signs for Solomon’s Castle and follow them to the parking lot. A note, though. I couldn’t get to it the first time I visited because the parking lot was flooded. So if there’s been torrential rain recently, you mightn’t be able to get in. Otherwise, park and go witness the glistening home of Howard Solomon, Solomon’s Castle. He’s an artist and sculptor, so you can see his smaller works inside the castle. Which was made from printing plates that were discarded by a local newspaper. There’s a small restaurant there and limited lodging is available. Howard doesn’t do credit cards, so make sure you have the 10 dollars per person admission in cash when you go. And some extra in case you want to get souvenirs. (see Google map)

The most direct way to the next area on the itinerary is down Pine Level Road. The first mile or so is a dirt road, but not pot-holey or anything. You’ll get to SR 70 in about 10 miles. Then follow the map link below to see the remnants of Pine Level itself. Hard to believe this used to be a county seat, since there’s hardly anything left now. You can else check out what’s left of Owens, a small community in the area. (see Google map)

Next post, Arcadia. See you on the road!

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This is a melancholy trip for me, since it was one of the last I took with Mom. We did Bartow to Arcadia, then over to Lake Placid and up US 27. This will be about the first half.

However, we’ll start in Mulberry, which Mom and I didn’t go through. I got there about a year later. The only reason I went was to see the Mulberry Phosphate Museum, since that was a major industry in days of yore. I didn’t go in. Yeah, me and museums. There may be more to see there, but you’ll have to figure if there’s enough enticement to go there, folks. (see Google map)

Take SR 60 east and you’ll run straight into Bartow. It has 1 commercial and 2 residential historic districts, and several NRHP sites. They’re spread out somewhat, so there’s as much driving as walking involved. The county historical society is in the old courthouse, where you can learn more details regarding the area’s past. (see Google map)

Once done with central Bartow, head south on US 17/US 98. Before you get completely out of town, there are a couple more sites of historical interest. First is what’s left of South Florida Military College, which is now a private residence. Then there’s the Conrad Schuck House, which is one of the trippiest homes I’ve ever seen. (see Google map)

From south of Bartow to Arcadia the road is one of the most unmoving roads in the state. I mean, you can move on it. But it’s not especially thrilling, at least between inhabited places. Good for getting you from point to point, but scenical it ain’t.

Look for the sign for the Homeland Heritage Park and take a right at the light at CR 640. In a short bit you’ll arrive at the park. There’s a collection of historical buildings, some of which I’m sure were moved there. I’ve seen a few parks like this all over the state. Macclenny, for example. Amongst the buildings is the old Homeland School, which is on the NRHP. To me, the nicest thing is the old church.

When you go back to US 17, if you cross it you’ll find Mosaic Peace River Park. The Peace River parallels the road all the way down to Arcadia, and is on the east side most of the way. There are a few parks along the river, and this is one of the larger ones. There’s a boardwalk that’ll get you to the river, and it feels like you’re in a tropical rainforest. I rather liked it more than I thought I would. (see Google map)

Continue south and you’ll be in Fort Meade. A large part of it is a historic district. Quite a lot of neat old homes, so take some time and drive around. Don’t miss the old Christ Church, either. (see Google map)

  • Fort Meade Historic District (Roughly bounded by North 3rd Street, Orange Avenue, South 3rd Street and Sand Mountain Road) (NRHP)
  • W. Henry Lewis House (424 North Oak Ave) (PENDING NRHP)
  • Fort Meade Town/City Hall (8 West Broadway)
  • Christ Church (331 East Broadway) (NRHP)

Fort Meade is the last city you’ll be going through in Polk County. After this, you’ll go through 2 more counties, their county seats, and some other towns too. Bit like US 90, but flatter and less trees. But that’s all in the next post. Later, and see you on the road!

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Down US 19/US 98 from Steinhatchee, you’ll be going through the Nature Coast. There’s not much development in this area, compared to places like Orlando and Miami. Partly it’s because there are several large National Wildlife Refuges and some state forests here. Also there aren’t any beaches. Well, at least not the white sandy beaches that you imagine when you think of Florida. On the west coast, those are found up in the Florida Panhandle and from around Tampa southward. So I doubt there’ll be an explosion of growth here anytime soon. Which is fine by me.

First stop is the subject of one of my early "Where in Florida…" posts, the Putnam Lodge. It’s in Shamrock, which is now only a name on a map. Essentially, it’s in Cross City. (see Google map)

I don’t know of anything historical in Cross City. It is the Dixie County seat, so yeah, there’s a courthouse here. Not impressive, though, ’cause it looks like an aircraft hangar. When returning from the Panhandle, I do look forward to getting to Cross City, though. Because after driving through the forty odd miles of wilderness to Perry, and another forty miles after Perry, I’ve gotten my fix of rurality. Not so bad during the day, but at night, you wouldn’t believe how lonely it is driving along US 98 with no street lights. After this, there’s at least a town every five to ten miles. This is a good section of road to drive if you want to get away from it all without getting awaaaaaaay from it all. When I get to Cross City, I’ll usually grab some food (Hardee’s most of the time), stretch my legs, get some gas if needed, and I’ll feel like I’ll be able to make it back to Ocala.

  • Dixie County Courthouse (214 Northeast CR 351)

East of Cross City is another name on a map, Eugene. According to AGFHA, the school bell for the old Eugene School is here. Supposedly it’s on the grounds of the New Prospect Baptist Church, but I couldn’t find it. There’s what looks like a boarded up well on the property, and the bell could be inside, but that’s just a guess. (see Google map)

  • Old Eugene School Bell (New Prospect Baptist Church now there) (AGFHA)

How old is Old Town, the next city on the way? The first school there was built around 1909, so there’s a clue. There’s some old stuff in it, according to AGFHA. It also has the only NRHP in Dixie County, which is also the only Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve that’s inland. It’s the City of Hawkinsville, which was sunk in the Suwannee River decades ago. You can see the spot in the river where it lies from the old railroad bridge, which is now part of the Nature Coast State Trail. It’s a long walk to get there, though. And you can’t see the boat itself, or at least I couldn’t. Maybe if the river level was really low. If you’re a diver, you can see it that way. (see Google map)

It’s barely 4 miles until you get to Fanning Springs, on the banks of the Suwannee River. There used to be a military post here, Fort Fanning. The site has been made into a park, on the north side of US 98 right next to the bridge. Just beyond on the right is Fanning Springs State Park. I use a closeup photo I took when I first visited as my desktop wallpaper. It’s in the photo series above. See what I mean? (see Google map)

Chiefland, the last place I’m covering this post, is about 10 miles south. Just before you get there, you’ll pass the Dakotah Winery. If it’s open, stop in for a wine tasting. They’ve got some unusual ones, like blueberry wine, but also the garden variety. It’s not in an area I’d think of as wine country, but they seem to be doing OK. The wine I tried was good, which I’m sure helps.

Off US 98 is the old Hardeetown Hotel, which is now a private residence. West of Chiefland is what I’d guess is a big draw, Manatee Springs State Park, which is also a National Natural Landmarks. When I worked for a boat manufacturing company back in the 1990s, we had a company picnic here. Any employees who wanted could get a ride on one of our boats on the Suwannee River. That was a pretty cool day. And it’s a pretty nice park. (see Google map)

That’s it this go-round. See you on the road!

Route length: 25 miles

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    After the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll face one of the two really long and lonely sections of US 98: the 40 mile stretches on either side of Perry. Kind of nice in the daytime, but at night they’re downright spooky. No street lights, hardly any houses or commercial buildings, and very little traffic. You feel like you’re the last person on Earth. Another part of the state I tell people about when they complain about how over-urbanized Florida is.

    Halfway between St. Marks and Perry (6 miles down CR 14) is a very popular place for boaters, Econfina River State Park. It has some picnic areas, as most of the state parks do, but no beaches. (see Google map)

    Just before you get to Perry, take a right at CR 356 to see a forgotten fragment of Florida history, Hampton Springs. The Hampton Inn was a very popular resort here way back when, but time and traffic patterns shifted and it faded into obscurity. Taylor County recently converted the old Inn grounds into a park. You can see the remains of the foundation and imagine what was. (see Google map)

    Only a few miles on is the crossroads city of Perry, the Taylor County seat.

    So, what is there to do in Perry? Don’t really know, as I mostly just pass through. As a lot of folks do, I’d wager. Four major US highways go through it: US 19, US 27, US 98, and US 221. But perhaps most importantly, what doesn’t come anywhere near here is any interstate. Which could have made Perry dry up and blow away like so many other towns after the Interstate Highway System was finished. But there was enough industrial (mostly lumber) and government “business” (it being the county seat) to keep it going. Perry does rather sprawl, and seems to have most of the amenities you’d expect in a city much larger. You’ll see them all on the way to the historic downtown. Get to US 221 and head north. Once you cross a canal and some railroad tracks, it’s like you’ve stepped back into the 20th century. The early part, that is.

    The city put together a walking tour so you can see the historic sites (see here). The map’s a bit fuzzy though, so I put together the same route on Google maps. The addresses are approximate, but if you look at the pictures, you’ll know what’s what. The only two NRHPs in the county are here, the old post office and the old jail. (see Google map)

    • Perry Historic Station (Old Train Depot) (310 South Jefferson Street)
    • Big Bend Hospice (aka The Blair Building) (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
    • Bloodworth Sundries (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
    • Old Perry Shoe Store (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
    • Rosehead Junction (aka The Schwartz Building) (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
    • Old Perry Post Office (201 East Green Street) (NRHP)
    • Big Bend Fitness (50 South Washington Street)
    • The Emporium/Peacock Building (50 South Washington Street)
    • Taylor County Historical Society (Main and Washington Streets) (AGFHA)
    • First United Methodist Church (300 North Jefferson Street)
    • Greystone (300 N Jefferson Street)
    • O’Quinn’s Pharmacy (200 North Jefferson Street)
    • Photos, Frames & Trophies (200 North Jefferson Street)
    • Wells Jewelers (200 North Jefferson Street)
    • Dansby Building (151 North Jefferson Street)
    • Beggs Funeral Home (formerly Old First Presbyterian Church) (201 West Main Street)
    • Capital City Bank (aka The Dixie Taylor Hotel) (115 West Green Street)
    • Perry Office Supply (115 West Green Street)
    • Old Taylor County Jail (400 North Washington Street) (NRHP)
    • Taylor County Courthouse (108 North Jefferson St)

    Go south once you’ve done the tour and catch US 98 south. Before you leave town, you can visit Forest Capital Museum State Park, which recounts the history of the lumber industry in the region. Contrary to Google maps, it’s on the west side of US 98 near the airport. (see Google map)

    Remember that it’s 40 miles to the next town, Cross City. There is a convenience store on the corner of SR 51 and US 98, but I’d fill up before you leave Perry, just in case.

    Before you get that far, though, you can take a detour on CR 361 and travel through a very marshy-scrubby part of the state. It’s 35 miles until you get to the next outpost of civilization, the remote and drowsy town of Steinhatchee. I think it’s properly pronounce Steen-hatchee, though I usually say Stine-hatchee. It’s on the Steinhatchee River, and the main industries are fishing and scalloping and get-away-from-it-all tourism. The town dates back at least to the early 1900s, so It’s old enough to have historical stuff. I’ve not found any, so maybe they couldn’t preserve it like Cedar Key did. (see Google map)

    From here, the easiest way to get back to US 98 is up SR 51. If you kept going north, you’d eventually wind up in Mayo. Or go southeast on US 98 to Cross City.

    That’s all for now, folks. See you on the road!

    Route length: 95 miles

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    I’ll be doing more posts about US 98, but here ends the Pacific Coast Highway-ness of it all. By the time you reach Panacea, you’ll have caught your last glimpse of the Gulf from US 98. After this, you’ll have to veer far off this main drag to see it again. I’ll be directing you to some of those veerages along the way.

    We last left off in Carrabelle. Heading east from downtown, it won’t be long before civilization fades away and you’re back to forest (Tate’s Hell and Apalachicola National) and water. You’re also in the middle of the holiest part of the state.

    As far as place names go, that is. Previously you went through Port St. Joe, built near the abandoned town of St. Joseph. There’s St. Joseph Peninsula and St. George Island and St. Vincent Island. Ahead are St. Teresa and St. Marks. Ever since I realized this, I’ve wondered about the circumstances that led to so many towns and geographical features here being named for saints. I’ve not found anything on the subject at all, oddly. I can’t have been the only one who noticed, can I?

    About 10 miles from Carrabelle you’ll have to make a choice. North on US 319 or stay on US 98? I’ll cover both, but for now we’ll continue on US 98.

    Turn right when you get to Alligator Drive and follow the signs to Bald Point State Park when you see them. It’s a bit of jaunt, but you’ll get there. Due to its location, it’s another of the less used parks. Doesn’t even have a ranger station. But it’s worth a look-see, since it has great views of the Gulf, nature trails through the scrub where you’re likely to see all sorts of wild creatures, and splendidly under-utilized beaches.

    Back on US 98, and head for Panacea. But before you get there, you’ll cross one of the longer bridges in the state, the Ochlockonee Bay Bridge. It crosses the mouth of the Ochlockonee Bay, which is the end point for the Ochlockonee River. If you’re a bridge aficionado, consider stopping at each end so you can appreciate it more thoroughly. You can get better access to the underside from the south end, though. (see Google map)

    You’ll be going through a significant portion of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, though you wouldn’t think so. It’s not Miami Beach, but it’s far from uninhabited. It reminds me of segments of SR 40 through the Ocala National. Little nuggets of humanity surrounded by thousands of acres of non-humanity.

    Soon you’ll encounter US 319 re-merging with US 98. Take a left onto it, and in a while you’ll be in another of my favorite oddly named Florida towns, Sopchoppy. I don’t know the etymology, but I think it may be a corrupted Indian name. A lot of places in Florida are.

    Two stops here. First in old downtown are some still standing commercial buildings from back in the day. You know they’re old, since they’re covered in ivy. Yeah, not a big draw, but they’re listed in AGFHA, so I’m including them. The other stop is a two-fer, both NRHPs. They’re the old Sopchoppy School and the old Sopchoppy High School Gymnasium across the street. I like the gym more, it’s very WPA. There was a railcar next to it the first time I visited, but it was gone when I returned a few years later. Maybe it’ll be back when you visit.

    West of here is a bridge over the Sopchoppy River, but I’ve not seen it, so I don’t know if it’s worth the detour. Me, I’d head south on US 319. There’s bridge over the Ochlockonee River; nowhere as big as the one over the bay. But before you get there, you’ll find the entrance to the Ochlockonee River State Park. Like Bald Point, it doesn’t seem well-visited, though it does have a ranger. I think it’s popular for canoeing, and you can wander around in the woods at your leisure.

    It’s only about 7 miles to the southern merge with US 98. The main reason I picked the other option was it’s the only way to get to Bald Point. You could always go there and backtrack and go to Sopchoppy from the south. Or do it in two trips, depending on how much time you want to spend at each spot. (see Google map)

    Return whichever way you like to the northern US 319/US 98 merge and head north. There’s another split, and this is where the rest of the trip gets wiggedy-wiggedy-whack. All the interesting stuff is well north or well south of US 98.

    North on US 319 and you’ll reach the Wakulla County seat, Crawfordville. You should see one of the brown Florida Heritage signs, which are your friends when you’re looking for the historical sights. On the corner of High Drive, you’ll see the new county courthouse. Take a left here and go about a block. On your left is the old Wakulla County Courthouse. To me, it looks like an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse writ large. Home to the local historical society, if memory serves, which would be why it’s in such excellent condition. After this, you can check out the Crawfordville Elementary School, which looks to be still in use. If it ain’t broke, why build a new one? (see Google map)

    • Wakulla County Courthouse (3056 Crawfordville Highway)
    • Old Wakulla County Courthouse (Church Street) (NRHP)
    • Crawfordville Elementary School (south of Arran Rd (SR 386) at Towles Rd) (AGFHA)

    From here, it’s some to-and-fro-ing to get to the next spot, but it’s a doozie. Wakulla Springs State Park, in the Wakulla State Forest.

    Inhabited for centuries by various native tribes, the modern history starts when some rich dude building a resort here. It eventually got donated to the state and became a state park. Later it was designated a National Natural Landmark, probably for the springs. It’s one of the fanciest places to stay in the state park system, but there are occasional deals which make it a real bargain. There are boat tours, and you can see some of the places where Creature from the Black Lagoon and Tarzan the Ape Man filmed. Visit sometime so you can live like a king for a night or two on a squire’s budget. (see Google map)

    North of here is another state park that’s popular with the reenactment set, Natural Bridge. Actually, considering how far north it is, I thought about including it when I get into Tallahassee. Though it’s kind of far from there, so either way you’re in for a drive. (see Google map)

    Next you should get to the intersection of US 98 and SR 363. Head south on SR 363 and you’ll arrive in St. Marks, an old fishing community. There’s a few like it strewn along this part of the coast.

    At the end of SR 363, turn right at Riverside Drive. You’ll pass by the site of Posey’s Oyster Bar, which had been a fixture here for decades. Sadly, hurricane damage in recent years proved too severe, so it got torn down.

    A bit further is a small parking area, where you can leave your car and walk or bicycle up the St. Marks Trail. You’re at the southern end, the northern end is 20 miles away in Tallahassee.

    A bit further west is the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. There was an old fort here, since this was a strategic location at the junction of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers. The fort is gone, but there are remnants of some of the structures near where it used to be. Must have been important, since the place is a National Historic Landmark. (see Google map)

    Return to US 98 and head east. Shortly you’ll make a right at Lighthouse Road and be going south again. You’ll soon arrive at one of the proper entrances to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re lucky, it’ll be one of the free entry days. Check online to see when those are, so you can save yourself a buck or five.

    A little further on is a visitor center. After that, it’s a long and gently meandering drive. Well, about 5 or 6 miles. It just seems longer because it’s a 30 mph speed limit. You’ll go through what a wildlife refuge (in Florida, anyway) should look like. Large expanses of scrub and marsh, big stands of trees and lagoonlets. And at the end of the road, the Gulf and the St. Marks Light. It’s one of the non-climbable ones, unfortunately, as the view from the top must be amazing. Still, the ground level panorama ain’t too shabby. (see Google map)

    From the lighthouse, it’s ten miles back to US 98. Next post, the long and lonely stretch. See you on the road!

    Route length: 125 miles (if you go past Bald Point State Park, cross bridge, then go to Sopchoppy)

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    Well, there may be more visitors to my favorite part of the Panhandle. It looks like Sports Illustrated did a good part of the photoshoot for the 2012 calender in the area. Don’t think it’ll result in hordes of people, but a tourism boost would be welcome, especially after the Gulf oil spill. By the way, hardly affected us, come on down!

    Last week, we left off as we were arriving in Apalachicola. Let’s wander around now that we’re here.

    They have a large historic district; you could easily spend the better part of a day exploring it. A couple of state parks here, both museums. The most important one, to my mind, is the John Gorrie State Museum. Because he helped make living in Florida bearable, by inventing air conditioning.

    Well, not quite. But the cooling device he created contributed to air conditioning’s invention. The museum will tell you all about it. Call ahead, though. Like most museums, hours are limited, and state budgeting might mean they’re closed when you want to see it.

    There are some other museums in town, and below are some of the significant highlights. I want to stay here some weekend, as it’s ideally situated as a home base to see the local sights. Off season is better, since rates at most hotels are significantly reduced. If you want to contend with hordes of people, I suppose you could come during the seafood festival. I’m half-tempted, since I’ve photo’d most of what I want in town, and you can’t beat a good seafood festival. (see Google map)

    Somewhere that those passing through could easily miss is St. George Island. Their loss, since it has one of the nicest bridge drives in the state. The one I mentioned earlier, rivaling the Seven Mile Bridge. Turn right on SR 300, and it doesn’t seem like much. Then the trees clear and there’s nothing but water and bridge. It’s only about three miles to the island. Unlike the Seven Mile Bridge, this one takes a couple of jogs. So you get to see things at different angles. Best is an hour or so before sunset, with the sun low on the horizon to your right.

    Just past the end of the bridge is the reconstructed Cape St. George Light. It was at the west end of the island, but collapsed several years ago. But volunteers recovered the bricks, and rebuilt it in this safer location. Parts of the inner wooden stairwell are salvaged lumber from the demolished old Bay Line Railroad Depot in Panama City. The view from the top is great, and safe, since you’re completely enclosed by glass. Look north and you’ll see the bridge back to shore. Wow. Just… wow.

    Go east on Gulf Beach Drive. Really low speed limit, since it’s condos and such the rest of the way. But eventually it clears and you’ll reach St. George Island State Park. It’s a bit like St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, but more flat. It’s pretty much one long beach that goes on for miles. If you really like beaches, this would probably be a great place to spend the day. If you don’t, it’s still pretty and worth an hour or two of your time. If you find a place to stay on the island, the sunrises and sunsets are probably pretty amazing here too. (see Google map)

    Once you’re back on the mainland, you’ll be driving along the most Pacific Coast Highway part of US 98. Tate’s Hell to the left of you, Gulf to the right, road gently curving ahead. If you can, stop by the roadside at a spot where you can get to the beach. Walk out on the sandbars and look back. Take a minute. Take two, even.

    There’s an optional major detour along here, to the site of Fort Gadsden. I mentioned it in the SR 20 post, if you want to check it out. You’ve got a 23 mile drive each way on SR 65, so it’ll take a good chunk of travel time.

    On US 98 again. Trees eventually crop up on the right, but you can still see the Gulf on and off through them. Keep an eye out for the signs for the old lighthouse, the turnoff comes up rather suddenly. The lighthouse is climbable, though I’ve not done so, and there’s a kid’s playground next to it, should you have young’uns and they need to let off steam.

    The road curves north, and you’re on the periphery of Carrabelle. You’ll cross a bridge that goes over the mouth of the Carrabelle River. Slow down if you can to take in the scenery. Once you’re over, you’ll be in Carrabelle proper.

    The town’s main claim to fame is the World’s Smallest Police Station. Ironically, the one on US 98 isn’t the original one, as I’d always thought. In doing research for this post, I discovered that one is in the Chamber of Commerce offices across the street. ‘Cause it keeps getting vandalized, doncha know. I’ll have to go in next time I’m there. And maybe find out a bit more about the area. Like Dog Island. I’ve only wandered a bit off US 98, but I bet there’s more to see than the few interesting bits I’ve seen. (see Google map)

    The next stretch of US 98 is similar to the last several dozen miles. A relaxed and mellow drive until you get into Wakulla County and closer to Tallahassee. But that’s for another post. That’s it for now, and see you on the road!

    Route length: 200 miles

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    Now we come to my favorite part of the Florida Panhandle. The bump. It’s the part that sticks out into the Gulf. Way back it was very busy, as it’s where the mouth of the Apalachicola River is located. Like a smaller scale Mississippi River, it is, since it goes all the way up into Georgia. Lots of commerce up and down the river in the past. But now that it’s dammed up near the state line, not so much. Compared to other areas of the state, it’s hardly visited by tourists. There are less than 500 hotel rooms in Gulf County, for example.

    Which is a major reason I like it so much. Big surprise. If there wasn’t anything to see, though, it wouldn’t do that much for me. But there are all sorts of historical and scenical and kitschy gems strewn throughout the region. The home of the Florida constitution and the grandfather of air conditioning. The most gorgeous bridge drive next to the Seven Mile Bridge. The world’s smallest police station. You’ll have to divert a ways off US 98 a few times to see everything; the route is very tentacular. But it’s worth it. Allow me to acquaint you with why I love this area so much. (see Google map)

    I’d be afraid that doing so would lead to the area becoming overrun with tourists, but I just don’t see that happening. It’s too far out of the way, and there are no huge attractions to attract people. But an increase of visitors to the area would be nice.

    When last we were on US 98, we were in Panama City. From here, you’ve got two options to continue east.

    Firstly, you could take SR 22. In about 30 miles you’ll be in Wewahitchka, honeypot of the area. There’s a former state park up SR 71, and a former courthouse in town. If you go south on SR 71 for 24 miles, you’ll be in Port St. Joe, the current Gulf County seat. (see Google map)

    Or, you stay on US 98. You’ll be going through Tyndall Air Force Base for a while, so I wouldn’t be speeding if I were you. Once past Tyndall, you’ll very shortly be in Mexico Beach, and enter Eastern Standard Time. Stop and look southwest-ish from the beach. About 3 and a half miles offshore is the shipwreck of the Vamar. Stroll around the beach, too, it’s a nice one. Very popular, and typical of the Emerald Coast beaches. (see Google map)

    Onward to Port St. Joe! You’ll cross a big bridge, which I think crosses a canal or stream or somesuch. To the left is the former site of the St. Joe Paper Mill. It was the town’s major employer, and when it closed in the late ’90s, Port St. Joe went into a slump from which it’s still recovering. Even the old AN Railway offices got torn down a few years back. They’re promoting the tourist angle, and the St. Joe Company has changed over to real estate, promoting fancy developments in the area. If you want a small coastal town to get away and de-stress, you can’t do much better than Port St. Joe.

    There are only two hotels I know of in the county. There’s a fancier one down the road, but I rather like the Port Inn. They have one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in, and though the rooms are small, they are cozy and have everything you need. Plus a pleasant breakfast, better than your standard continental.

    You’ll have passed the chamber of commerce, where you can get info on stuff to do in the neighborhood. One must is the Constitution Convention Museum State Park. The town was where the Florida Constitution was worked on. They have a diorama with talking statues. It’s no Hall of Presidents, but you’ll learn about the history of it all, nonetheless.

    Before you leave town, visit the Old St. Joseph Cemetery. St. Joseph was the town that was originally here, before it was wiped out through various calamities. (see Google map)

    Going east on US 98, you’ll see St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf for a while. Then it’s mostly until you reach the next county seat (Franklin County’s, that is), Apalachicola. But you might want to turn right at SR 30A to get to St. Joseph Peninsula, so you can visit one of the two beachy state parks in the area. And some other stuff too.

    First you’ll pass the Old Beacon Hill Lighthouse, near the local airport. It was moved here and converted into a private residence, so enjoy from a distance. Continue and follow the signs to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

    Before you get there, though, you can see another lighthouse, the Cape San Blas Light. Also there’s old Coast Guard Headquarters next to it.

    Get back on 30A and keep going west. The road curves and you’ll pass a rock wall, then you’ll be heading north. Speed limit is reduced, but that gives you more time to appreciate the view of the Gulf. Eventually you’ll reach the state park.

    There’s camping and cabins available here, which makes it a great place to spend the night. I can only imagine how gorgeous the sunrises and sunsets are. Plus this is another area that’s far away from big city lights, so the night sky is probably as lovely as it is at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. But arrange ahead, space can be booked long in advance.

    Returning the way you came, you can go back to US 98, or visit Indian Pass Trading Post and Post Office. It’s historic, and a fully operational convenience store and partial restaurant. I think you can catch a boat to St. Vincent Island somewhere around here too. Heading east from here on 30A will get you to Apalachicola, but it’s slow and residential, so you might want to retrace your way towards Port St. Joe to get back on US 98. (see Google map)

    Next post, on to Apalachicola. See you on the road!

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