July 24-26, 2014 – Carrabelle, FL
Thursday we drove south into the Florida panhandle and are staying at the Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, FL. This is a small, no frills laid-back kind of park but it is right on the Gulf of Mexico and we have a nice long site.
Best of all we have a great view - we can see the water from our door-side and back windows! The water comes right up to the edge of the park during high tide but during low tide we can walk on the beach. We can’t wait to take the dogs on the beach and look for shells.
After getting set up we drove into the small town of Carrabelle where we stopped at the Visitor Center and picked up information about the area. We got a guide to the Big Ben Scenic Byway and plan to spend some time exploring it. The By-way is divided into the Coastal Trail and the Forest Trail. After dinner we took the dogs for a walk on the beach and found some great shells. The dogs really liked sniffing around and scaring the little crabs hiding in the weeds and drift wood.
Friday we drove the east end of the Coastal Trail which starts just a few miles east of our RV Park. We stopped at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge which was established in 1931 to provide winter habitat for migratory birds, and is one of the oldest refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. It encompasses 70,000 acres and includes about 43 miles of north Florida’s Gulf coast. This pond was covered with lily pads.
This part of the NWR is primarily slash pine, flat woods, man-made pools, swamps and marshes.
At the end of the road was the St. Marks Lighthouse. The original lighthouse was built in 1828 to guide ships and boats to the entrance to the St. Marks River. A hurricane destroyed the lighthouse in 1837. The lighthouse was rebuilt farther away from the water in 1842.
We enjoyed this portion of the Big Bend Scenic Byway. Another great walk on the beach with Camille and Cody in the evening.
Saturday we drove the central and west portions of the Coastal Trail and the West Forest Trail. We headed west from the RV park and stopped at the Crooked River Lighthouse. When the Dog Island lighthouses were destroyed by hurricanes, the Crooked River Lighthouse was built inland in 1895 to guide mariners through the treacherous pass between Dog and St. George Islands. The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1995 and restored in 2007. This is a cast iron structure with a cement foundation.
We then drove to St. George Island and stopped at the Cape St, George Lighthouse. This lighthouse is the fourth construction – the first was built in 1833 on the western tip of St. George Island to help guide ships into the port of Apalachicola. The first light was difficult to see for maritime traffic approaching from the east, so after suffering storm damage it was dismantled. In 1848 the lighthouse was rebuilt on Cape St. George, the southernmost tip of the island. In 1851 a hurricane toppled that light and the third lighthouse was completed in 1852. The Coast Guard deactivated the light in 1994 and in 1995 a tidal wave from Hurricane Opal washed the lighthouse from its foundation and left the fuel house and keeper’s house in ruins. The tower began to lean at a precarious 7.5 degree angle and by 2004 the lighthouse was completely surrounded by Gulf waters and collapsed in 2005. In 2007, 22,000 bricks were salvaged and reconstruction was started. The fourth Cape St. George Lighthouse was completed in 2008.
We climbed the 92 wooden steps to the top of the tower. This is the first lighthouse we have seen that has wooden steps. The volunteer manning the tower told us that the original lighthouse had wooden steps. We got a great view of St. George Island and the Gulf of Mexico from the top of the tower. We could also see the bridge to the mainland.
We drove back to the mainland and had a great lunch in Apalachicola. After lunch we started on the west portion of the Forest Trail. We entered Tate’s Hell State Forest which is over 202,000 acres. In the 1960’s the private timber industry used this area for extensive tracts of pine plantations. They cleared the natural forests, constructed roads and associated ditches, planted large dense stands of Slash Pine that were fertilized with phosphorus and nitrogen. To protect Apalachicola Bay from the severe freshwater runoff that ensued, the state began repurchasing the majority of the property in 1994 and has continued to acquire additional lands. As a result Tate’s Hell has become one of the largest state forests in Florida. It was strange to see trees in the forest planted in straight rows. We stopped at the Ralph Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Boardwalk.
The path to the boardwalk had water on each side with lots of lily pads. We were able to get close to this beautiful flower.
This cute little frog was sitting on one of the lily pads as we walked to the boardwalk and was still there when we returned.
Dwarf Cypress, also known as Bonsai or Hat-Rack Cypress is found throughout Tate’s Hell Forest. Many of the trees are more than 300 years old but they grow to only 6-15 ft. No one is sure what causes the cypress in this area to be dwarfed. The trees are not genetically different from other pond-cypress trees in the area, and seeds from these trees will grow to normal heights when planted on other sites. The soil here is very low in nutrients and this site was thought to have been flooded in the past, further reducing the ability of these trees to grow. From the boardwalk we had a great view of the Dwarf Cypress.
We enjoyed this portion of the Big Bend Scenic Byway and visiting the lighthouses and Tate’s Hell State Forest.