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Posts Tagged ‘coast’

St. Joseph Bay in the morning

Updating this blog is on our list of ToDos, but being down in the south has seeped into our bones and slooooowed us way down. A combination of warm sun, the relaxed pace and the drawl in Southerners’ speech — our motto is now “What’s the hurry”.

We spent a week on a narrow strip of land off of the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico. St Joseph Peninsula State Park is about 6 miles, as the crow flies across sheltered St Joseph Bay, from the small town of Port St. Joe. It is a 20 mile drive from that nearest heavily populated area. There are lots of residential, waterfront properties on the peninsula, an incredible number of them for sale, but there is none of the boardwalk, hotels, restaurants, etc., sort of commercialization, congestion, noise and bustle as with so many beaches. And once you pass the State Park’s gates, you leave even that behind.

Click to enlarge image

February is a wonderful time to visit northern Florida. Few bugs, no crowds of tourists and comfortable temperatures. When we picked up our Florida State Parks guide and said, “let’s try this place,” we had no idea how lucky we were in our selection.
St Joseph Peninsula State Park preserves the natural landscapes of gulf and bay, sea grasses, beaches, dunes and inland coastal woods and marsh. With the bay to one side, the gulf to the other, the peninsula is so narrow that we felt that we could stretch out our arms and just about touch the water to each side. Camping in the park enabled us to live within a wild, natural coastal environment; to live beside the abundant beauty — scenic, plant and animal alike — 24 hours a day.

Wading in the Gulf in February

A wooden walkway channels human traffic from the campground across and, more importantly, above the sand, to protect the large, but fragile dunes. As we crest the dunes, the wind suddenly picks up. The fresh salty breeze plasters our clothes to our sides as we come down off of the boardwalk, kick off our flip-flops and sink our toes into cool sand so snowy white that it hurts the eyes in the full bright sun.  We make our way to the shore, dodging bits of broken shell that never seem to hurt our feet even when we do step on them, and begin wading in the gentle, light, clear green waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The colors — white sand, pale green water, deep blue sky — are so unusual in our day to day experience. Those colors soothe, the light warms and the combination of it all has finally brought us the bone-deep relaxation we’ve craved.

Young ghost crab

Looking over the dunes

White-tailed deer

Dunes

Marsh at dawn

We’d awake in the morning to the sound of waves crashing on the nearby gulf shore while, closer in, the air was filled with myriad birdsong and the drip-drip of heavy morning dew on the roof of the RV. The air was still cool, but not for long once the sun cleared the horizon. We’d get up, grab our Camelbacs, binocs and cameras; snap Annie’s leash on and make sure she had her ball; and head out the door. Mist usually hung lightly just above the marshes and birds called everywhere from shrubs and treetops. Mating season is in full swing here. Since arriving down south, we’ve watched all sorts of courting behaviors from the preening of Great Egrets in full breeding plumage, to Osprey showily diving and swooping or carrying large sticks to their nests, to (very large!) Water Moccasins slithering in a slow dance over and around each other.

Morning dew

Morning dew is so heavy it drips like a light rain and we have to wrap a protective hand over cameras and binocs as we walk under tall palms and pines.

Bayside

Brian & Annie (w/ her ball)

We’d like to see more of Florida, but February’s heat is the most we feel we can take. Daytime highs of 60s in the sun with humidity — that’s our limit. We hope to come back soon, another winter, to explore more of this state.

Low tide

Peninsula woods

The effort to reestablish Longleaf Pine forests requires fire. Throughout our travels in the south, we’ve seen large tracts of land and foliage turned orange and black by fire. The peninsula is no different. Fire destroys in order to restore, clearing out overgrowth and invasives and creating habitat for native animals and plants to re-inhabit. We came upon a controlled burn on one of our walks. Volunteer fire crews worked with “prescribed burn” specialists to create and monitor this blaze. They moved along with deliberation and no haste, settlng fire to the undergrowth, monitoring and moving steadily on down the peninsula. They burned hundreds of acres that day. Orange flames leapt from one plant to the next, devouring the lowest plants and clawing 15 feet up the trunks of Longleaf Pines. The heat was tremendous, as we stood some 20 feet from the blaze.

Controlled burn

The air has just cleared, embers are still lightly smoking here, but already birds have returned to the high branches of the pines.

After the burn

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Reality vs memory

Rockaway Beach, OR

The Oregon coast is spectacular, but seems much more crowded, with more houses, businesses and traffic, than in the past. Of course, it is the height of the tourist season and we also try to take Juneau, AK into account when saying this. Having lived in a remote, pristine area, where human civilization is a tiny dot amidst vast forests and water, our definition of a natural environment is stringent compared to what it was before. Humanity undoubtedly presses more heavily on nature in coastal Oregon, but how much more heavily we no longer feel we can objectively say.

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Edge of Oregon

Sea Star

We spent a morning exploring the tidal pools below the Heceta Head Lighthouse, arranging to arrive at lowest tide so we could explore from lowest tidal zone out to the spray zone.

Sea Anemones

Just off shore, the top of a large rock formation was covered by hundreds of Murres while Cormorants were black spots scattered over the rest.

Lisa bird watching — Heceta Head Lighthouse in the distance.

Cape Creek courses down that same beach on it’s final run to the ocean, shallow enough that gulls and ravens stood and bathed in the center of the cold, clear current.

Brian beside Cape Creek

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Breakfast in Depoe Bay

Out to breakfast on Brian’s birthday in Depoe Bay (“world’s smallest harbor”), we parked on one side of Hwy 101, angled into the curb. The road is narrow there: two lanes with parking on either side and buildings close up to one side, while across the narrow sidewalk on the other is a low rock wall beyond which, and down a couple dozen feet, is the Pacific Ocean. The morning was foggy and cool, only more so than usual so that the roiling waves crashing onto rock were just visible in the gray blur.

This gull waited hopefully on the low rock wall, clearly used to handouts

The restaurant

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