St. George Island
And so, we headed further up the Gulf Coast, eventually rounding the “bend” and heading into the Panhandle. It was a comfortable drive on a state highway, and eventually we were able to see the aquamarine colors of the gulf through breaks in the tall pines that were lining both sides of the road. Soon the ubiquitous rows of coastal homes and rental properties alternated with the pines. You can’t go far in Florida without seeing these beachfront properties.
St. George Island is one of the many barrier islands found bordering the coastlines of southern states. It is about 5 miles off shore, and soon we were driving across the only bridge that gives access. We had a site reserved at St. George Island State Park, which has nearly 2,000 acres of prime real estate on the eastern tip of the island. Within its boundaries are a variety of natural features that include sandy coves, salt marshes, tall pines, rolling dunes and wild rosemary.
The 60-site campground had an ideal location situated behind tall sand dunes in a slash pine forest. Our site was nicely shaded and private.
St. George Island is all about long stretches of sandy beaches, solitude with the shore birds, and a wide expanse of sky overhead—at least on this end of the 29-mile long spit of land. And the sand is what St. George is known for. Washing down through long-gone rivers of ages past, the fine white sand is composed of tiny quartzite crystals eroded from the granite rock of distant mountain ranges that once existed far to the north of Florida.
The island is perfect for biking, and especially from the park. The single road is rarely busy and runs straight as an arrow out of the park, where a dedicated paved bike trail begins. One can bike to his/her heart’s content. Or do some hiking. Or kayak in the bay. We took an interpretive hiking trail, partly a boardwalk, that followed the shoreline of the East Slough, learning a lot about the flora and fauna of the area. Information about the slash pines was particularly interesting—they were a source of turpentine back in the early 1900s and contributed a lot to the economy of the area. The park was one of the locations of a camp for the workers.
Later that evening Melinda would return to this isolated spot, seeking out what has become her perfunctory sunset shot.
The town of Apalachicola was back over that long bridge on the mainland and was worth exploring. We were told by our friend and neighbor, Barb Alcock, who has been to St. George many years now, that the small town had a few spots worth checking out. She provided us with some great information to get us started—like good spots for eating. We always find that kind of help worthwhile!
Sometimes known as the Forgotten Coast, this area offers an authentic taste of the Gulf Coast, according to our research. We soon found that Apalachicola had strong maritime ties, an eclectic group of locally-owned shops and galleries, restaurants serving fresh local seafood, and meticulously restored B&Bs adapted from the stately homes of bygone times. We learned that nearly 200 homes and commercial buildings here have been listed on the National Register. To add some character to the town, we discovered weathered ruins of old buildings and warehouses were scattered among the beautifully restored classic examples of old Florida homes. The more to take pictures of!
Several of the town’s churches were built in a style similar to their counterparts in New England.
And then we came across what must surely be The Landmark Home of Apalachicola—the antebellum Orman House. Thomas Orman made his fortune through the shipping business (as well as other ventures, I would guess). It is now part of its own state park.
Back in the late 1700s, a trading post called Cottonton was the first settlement in this location. The town was incorporated in 1827. Before the development of railways in the gulf states, Apalachicola was the third busiest port along the gulf (behind New Orleans and Mobile). Goods from the surrounding plantations (mainly cotton) all collected here for exporting via ships. Apalachicola is still the home port for a variety of seafood workers, including oyster harvesters and shrimpers. More than 90% of Florida’s oyster production (and 10% of the nation’s) is harvested from Apalachicola Bay, which is attested to by the multitude of raw bars in the area. The town’s marina also illustrates just how extensive the fishing business is around here—don’t expect to find yachts or spiffy boats in this harbor—it’s a working man’s port.
Our last morning on the island found Melinda out with her camera. The park has 9 miles of beaches which were deserted except for the gulls and little plovers. It was a blustery morning and the wind was kicking up the waves. With temperatures in the 60s, she reported it being quite invigorating.
Now, on to our last stop . . . further across the Panhandle.