Posts Tagged ‘Carrabelle’

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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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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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Had some vacay time to use, so decided a couple of weeks ago to take this past Monday off. I really wanted to go up west of Tallahassee, and in Tallahassee, but wasn’t sure the weather would cooperate. Fortunately, it did and then some. It was in the upper 20’s in the morning, but warmed up to the high 50’s/low 60’s, which is just about perfect to me.

One minor downer was I dropped my digital camera in a river on the first day. Not completely, fortunately. I was trying to get shot of the Victory Bridges and Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee. I stepped out on a small projection of sand and stones in the Apalachicola River. It turned out to be more sand than stone, and I sunk in over a foot. In trying to extricate myself, and not lose my sneakers, I lost my balance and the camera lens went in the water. When I got it out, the lens wouldn’t retract completely, and when it finally did, it wouldn’t come out. After some shaking, I got it to mostly function. The dial at the top to turn it on and off and change settings was sticking too. It was touch and go, but seemed to be ok.

The next day it was even more difficult to turn the dial, but as it warmed up, it got easier, so maybe it was ice. Rest of the trip was fairly lovely.

Favorite part? I’d say most of day 2, driving through the Apalachicola National Forest, seeing the Fort Gadsden site, driving along the Gulf Coast Highway (what I call US 319/US 98 between Port St. Joe and St. Teresa), and Carrabelle. Very little traffic, so a very relaxing drive. I can’t recommend the area too highly.

Google links below to the routes I travelled:

Day 1Day 2Day 3

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