Saturday, October 15, 2016

2016-33 Traveling the Panhandle of Florida


the Florida Panhandle beaches, ahhhh

Top Sail St Park, Continued

Ochlocknee River State Park

The Emerald Coast to the Forgotten Coast of Florida

Campground:  Ochlocknee River State Park.  30 amp elect/water.  $10 senior Fla rate.  Sandy sites with scrub oak shade trees and pines.

just a side of the road campsite, but it'll do for a few nights

A few more notes on Top Sail.  Because the beach is a fair distance from the campground and public parking lots, they have a free tram to take you and all your “beach stuff” down to the beach boardwalk.  I rode the bike I’d rented down the paved path to the beach last evening to watch the sunset and walk along the beach.  The Panhandle beaches are a pure white fine sand that squeaks under your feet as you walk to the water line.

sea oats

As I watched the sun setting, not the most spectacular of sunsets, I started up a nice conversation with a couple  as we leaned against the boardwalk railing.  They told me that the horse flies had been horrible all week long during the daytime at the beach.  They finally found some bug spray, deet that was %100  and it was about the only thing that kept the flies off of them.  My walk along the beach was fine in the early evening, even though there was barely a breeze to be had which of course would help to keep any flies away.

RV Camp Host info:

I talked to one of the rangers in the park and asked about “work camping, camp host jobs” and was told they are often in need of help.  So any of my RV friends looking for a premier location to do some camp host work, this might be the place for you.  Summers are always the greatest need for camp hosts but other times have a need as well.  Just go online to Florida campgrounds/volunteering to sign up. I did talk to a campground host and he told me they work 10 hour days, three days on/three days off.  Said it’s almost like having a full time job again.  His duties were to drive the tram hourly in the slow season and in between time he would use the blower to clean the pine needles off of the campsites.  Busy season the tram to the beach runs every half hour.

had a fun morning taking pictures of water lilies

my favorite shot

A Travel Note:  

As I was heading south, I had two routes to choose from.  I could have gone east through the Carolina's and Georgia along the Atlantic coast or head a bit south west and travel through Alabama into the Panhandle of Florida.  Of course that’s the route I chose.  At the time, there was no indication of hurricanes heading towards the U.S.

It really was a 50/50 chance I would take either route.  Since I’d never traveled through much of Alabama, I decided I’d head in that direction this time around.  In the last couple of days, the Tv stations have been showing all the destruction caused by hurricane Mathew.  Not necessarily wind damage, but mostly damage from rain as over 8 dams collapsed in North Carolina alone.  Parts of I-95 have been closed due to flooding, obviously a major north/south highway.  The flooding continues and would have made from some really difficult decisions on my part as to which direction to head trying to avoid all that mess.  If I could have even avoided any of it if I’d headed through the Carolinas and Georgia.

Call it luck, divine providence, what you will.  I’ve always felt to some extent guided along my path.  So what ever it is, thanks to the big guy in the sky and those above who are looking out for me and maybe guiding me in the right direction.


  • Did you know Florida is so big it has two time zones?
  • It usually takes me a minimum of three days to get through Florida.
  • Living in Central Florida, I have had breakfast and a sunrise on the east coast, driven across the state and had dinner and watched a sunset on the Gulf coast.
  • Many of Florida’s state parks have a historical, archaeological or geological aspect to explore.

Distance Traveled:  140 miles

I took hwy 98 all along the Gulf of Mexico to my next campsite in the Apalachicola area.  The closer I got to my destination the more I was able to enjoy the views of the Gulf of Mexico.  The small coastal town of Mexico beach is a particularly charming area, reminding of one of the quaint small beach side towns that used to be prevalent until they where destroyed by high rise condos and excessive building.  I stopped in the town of Apalachicola for lunch on my way to the next campsite.  It’s a nice historical town with lots of shops, restaurants and  old fashioned motels and hotels.  I think I’d like to stay closer to it the next time I’m traveling in Panhandle of Florida.  Even a great little museum on the invention of the air conditioner.

Apalachicola Florida

When I got to Ochlocknee River State Park, I once again was lucky to get the only campsite left for a three night stay.  I’ve been at this park a number of times in the past, it’s nothing fancy,  but anyone who enjoys canoeing and kayaking will enjoy the river, or a walk through the tall pines and saw palmettos.

White Squirrels

And of course the campground is famous for it’s white squirrels. Folklore says that they were introduced to the area in 1938 by the owners of the Breakaway Lodge, a hunting and fishing camp.  The Lodge owners first saw the white squirrels on a farm in Gadsden County.  They were given permission to capture two and took them back to the lodge as pets.  Mr Jones had built a 10’X10’ squirrel cage for them.  Mildred enjoyed hand feeding them peanuts.  One day the cage door was left open and they got out.  After a few days they came back to the safety and food in the cage.  Shortly after that, they had their first litter of white babies.  Mr Jones realized the exercise must have done them good since they had not had any offspring until their adventure out in the woods, so he built what is believed to be the first squirrel wheel for exercise.

The squirrels are not albino, their white fur is a natural mutation and they don’t have pink eyes.  Most have dark black eyes and they often have small patches of darker colored fur as well.

now that's tent camping


Water Lilies at Top Sail State Park

Top Sail State Park, Sunset shots

Ochlocknee River State Park 

Note:  This will be my last report for the travel season.  I'd like to thank all my readers for coming along on my journey and taking the time to drop me a line occasionally.  Knowing you are out there following my travels and sharing your thoughts with me makes my adventure that much more complete.

Once I arrive in St Cloud Florida for my winter stay, I'll send out a Post Script report on my new Rv Lot.  

Wishing you all the best of adventures, see you down the road......

Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016-32 Gulf Shores Alabama to Florida's Panhandle


Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan Alabama

Gulf Shores Alabama
Top Sail St Park, Florida

Gulf Coast Rv Park
just a bit rundown
Campground:  Gulf Coast Rv Park. Full hookup with cable TV.  $15.00 PPA rate.  $2 extra for the Cable TV.  This is an older park with many permanent units that are rather run down.  Rv lots are not well maintained.  I probably would not use this place a second time, since there are many other RV parks that are much nicer in the area for just a bit more.

Campground:  Top Sail State Park, Florida.  This is the premier campground in the Florida State park system for camping.  It sits right on the Gulf of Mexico and is booked up completely a year in advance.  The chance of getting a spot without booking a year in advance is non-existent.  Somehow, while I was doing a search of campgrounds at Florida State parks, a site opened up at Top Sail and I was able to book 5 days.  I’m awestruck at the good fortune.  Senior rate 50% off:  $24.65.  AWESOME.

Top Sail Reserve, State Park

Hank Williams Boyhood Home

On my drive south on hwy 65 which is a major part of the Hank Williams Trail, I stopped in Georgiana Alabama to visit the boyhood home and museum of  Hank Williams Sr.  Hank got his first guitar at age 5 and practiced constantly on that $3.50 Sears guitar.  Learning to play from local musicians and a black street singer known as “Teetot”.  The raised cottage style home was a boarding house that the Williams family moved into when the owner heard that their previous home was destroyed by fire.  The owner, Thaddeus Rose told them they could live there for free until they could get back on their feet.  Though a simple home, it captures the essence of young Hank Williams early years.

Hank Williams boyhood home

Hank Williams boyhood home
a boarding house

raised cottage style, popular in New Orleans

Gulf Shores/Southern Alabama

Gulf Shores Alabama

Gulf Shores is a broad peninsula bordered by the Mobile Bay on the western side and the Florida Border and Perdido River on the east.  The first couple of days in the area, I’ve had a chance to drive around the area extensively.  The further one gets away from the Gulf Coast, the more I see the rural countryside.  A mix of very productive farms growing hay, cotton, hops and greens of some sort.  Along with small communities with well kept newer homes and forests in between.  Of course the Gulf coast beaches and a large state park are the main attractions.

I drove over into Florida to pick up my mail at American Homebase since I was relatively close.  I even stopped and picked up a dozen donuts to thank them for the many years they’ve been handling my mail for me.  I didn’t quite get the reception I expected, after ringing the bell at the front desk.  The gal came out with a solemn demeanor, took my post box number and went back to get my mail.  Hardly said a word, barely said thanks  for the donuts and kind of just stood there waiting for me to leave.  Hope everything is alright.  Perhaps they had a shortage of staff today or something.  One never knows.  The mail room is pretty much blocked off from public view compared to the last time I was at the office/building so I couldn’t tell if anyone else was even in the building.

entrance to Fort Morgan, through the dry mote

Fort Morgan, main entrance

dry mote surrounding the fort

each step is approx one foot in height

top of fort, pavers

Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay Alabama

many oil rigs in Mobile Bay

a stunning beach side home returning to Gulf Shores

One day I drove along Dixie Graves Parkway to Fort Morgan which sits on the entrance to Mobile Bay.  The fort is operated by the state of Alabama and does not have the extensive displays one expects to see at a National park location.  The museum is behind the gift shop and consists of a few small canons, canon balls, photos etc.  The fort itself has an interesting design, surrounded by a dry mote with the pentagon shaped fort in the center.  A few placards describe various locations throughout the fort.  The history of the fort is fascinating.  In the 1780’s the Spanish constructed a fort and later the U.S. Army built an wood and earthen fort in 1813.  It was attacked by the British and the Creek Indians.  The new fort was constructed in 1819 and named Fort Morgan in 1833.  Actually the army hired 200+ slaves from nearby plantation owners to build the fort taking over 15 years.  The slaves not only built the fort, they also manufactured 30 million bricks for construction. By 1837 three thousand Creek Indians were removed from Alabama and sent to the fort to be transported to Arkansas.  During the civil war, Fort Morgan was seized by the Alabama State forces only later to be taken back by Union soldiers in 1864.

By 1917-18 is was used as an artillery training base for WWI.  Abandoned for a number of years it was rebuilt during the great depression 1934-37 by the Works Projects Administration, WPA.  It wasn’t until the WPA came along that they built a 23 mile road leading to the fort.  Before that, the only access was via water.  During WWII 1941-44 the U.S. Army and Coast Guard operated the fort, guarding against German U-boats which were seen in the Gulf of Mexico.  Finally in 1946 Fort Morgan was turned over to the State of Alabama as a historic site.  Lots of history there that could be presented to the public through video presentations, signage, and displays…. Unfortunately you’ll have to do that kind of research on your own as there is no video presentation, minimal displays with small print I might add.

But it’s here as a testament to the history of our country.  Driving back into Gulf Shores, with it’s beach front homes and condominiums, beach side amusements and seafood restaurants the contrast quickly takes one into the present day world of leisure type fun.  The history of wars, slave labor, Indian migrations and depression era recovery seem to fade back into the past.  Waiting for the next person to come along and discover what happened to get us where we are today.

By the way the main north/south highway routes go from four to six lanes of  divided traffic and the traffic is constant.  People heading to the beaches or shopping along at all the outlet malls and shops lining hwy 59.  It’s not really my cup of tea so to speak.

Distance Traveled:  102 miles

Top Sail Preserve State Park, Florida

Top Sail State Park

That relatively short drive takes over three to four hours to get to Top Sail State Park.  I could have gone around the traffic by taking 1-10 and then dropping down to the Gulf of Mexico.  Instead, I took a slightly shorter route along hwy 98, the Gulf coast route.  Hitting many of the resort towns along the way, three festivals all bordering hwy 98 and slowing traffic to a crawl.  The only reason I took this route was that I had plenty of time for my 3pm check in time at the state park.  Besides, I did get a chance to enjoy the intercostal water way and some views of the Gulf of Mexico along the way.  Para sailing is very popular and I saw many of the colorful para-sails billowing in the strong coastal breezes.

many resort amenities 

Now just a brief description of Top Sail State Park.  The park is a preserve purchased in 1992, the Rv resort portion was purchased in 1998.  Ensuring the protection of 3 freshwater lakes surrounded by sand dunes, the tallest being 25 feet and resembles the “top-sail” of a ship.  Stunning old growth long leaf pine trees that were once tapped for turpentine.  Rv campsites include 50 amp elect, water and sewer connections.  Concrete Rv and patio sites and cable tv all surrounded by manicured lawns, trees and shrubs.  I’m within view of the swimming pool just on the other side of a small pond.  A shuffle board court, camp store and canoe/kayak rentals are across the road.  Reservations can be made 11 months in advance and the park is booked up completely a year in advance.  There are many walking trails, private beach access and a tram that takes one to the beach.  Overall, a stunning park.  So glad I was able to get a last minute opening.

paved and sandy trails through the preserve

paved bike path to fresh water lakes

rent a bike

long needle pines

My first full day at Top Sail, I rented a bike to ride around on some of their paved bike paths.  Going to one of the fresh water lakes along the sand dunes.  Lots of long leaf pine trees and saw palms covering the forest floor.  Couldn’t ask for a better park to enjoy Florida’s Emerald Coast.

saw palmettos, common undergrowth throughout Florida 

Only a couple more weeks before I land at my new winter home, St Cloud Florida.


Hank Williams Boyhood Home

Fort Morgan Gulf Shores Alabama

Top Sail Preserve State Park, Florida