Birding, hiking, and plenty of time sitting around the fire.

After a few weeks in the Pensacola area we headed back east, across the Florida panhandle to St. Andrews state park, a little postage stamp of protected land off the coast of Panama City Beach.

Apparently this was once a gem in the Florida State Park system, but the universal consensus is that when it was remodeled following a hurricane, they ruined it. I’m not sure when they ruined it, or who they are, but if St. Andrews was ever a nice place, it’s not now. Now it’s indistinguishable from the over-priced RV parks across the bay in Panama City — campsites are packed in, grass and gravel have replaced trees and earth, and everything has a sterile, over-regulated feeling. Maybe this is what people want, but everyone we’ve met talks about how it was ruined, so I don’t buy that. As with so many things right now, I think St. Andrews is what you get when you let a very vocal minority push an agenda, in this case maximize profit and the expensive of, well, everything. Luckily we were only there for three days.

While the new campground is awful, the rest of the park is nice and there is some excellent birding, with a heron rookery in the middle of a pond. One day, while walking around the pond, the kids and I happened upon an osprey devouring its catch on a branch not more than ten feet above our heads. It didn’t pay the slightest attention to us until we walked directly underneath it.

From St. Andrews we backtracked a few miles inland to Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. Tucked on the northern side of Choctawhatchee Bay, in a well-preserved maritime forest of live oaks and palmettos, “Fred,” as the kids dubbed it, was much more our speed. There were plenty of trails to explore and the campsites were nice and spread out compared to St. Andrews. There even plenty of these lovely things called trees between each site.

My parents flew in for a visit, arriving the same day we did. They rented a condo across the bay in Destin and we took turns driving back and forth across the bridge, spending the nice days hiking around Fred Gannon and going to the beach in Destin. Fred Gannon was the highlight though, with several trails running through forests carpeted with deer moss and overhung with a canopy of oak and pine.

It turned cooler and we had a little bit of rain, which made it nice to have a condo to hang out in. The kids could spread out their art supplies and books and lounge in oversize chairs, which sounds strange, but is something they’re not really used to doing. We also discovered there is such a thing as black light mini golf, though let me tell you, the novelty of that wears off around hole three.

old jeep wagoneer photographed by luxagraf
Saw this cool old Jeep Wagoneer in Destin.

Toward the end of my parents’ visit, my cousin and his wife, who were on their way back to Washington, stopped by to hang out for a couple of days. My cousin and I hadn’t seen each other in over five years, not since Thanksgiving in Nevada. It wasn’t long, but we spent plenty of time around the fire, which is always the best way to spend time with people.

It was good to see everyone, but then, all too quickly, everyone had to head home.

We spent a couple extra days at Fred, catching up on missed work, running some important errands, and giving the bus a fresh wash and wax for an upcoming photo shoot. More on that next time.


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