We have reached the Panhandle: Gainesville to St George Island & Florida Caverns State Parks

Oh man, did I foolishly whine about the cold and mention our longing for the tropical South Florida weather in a recent post from Central Florida?  Shockingly, it turns out as you continue north it gets colder!  Who knew?  Though nothing like what any of you in actual northern climates are suffering, for those of us accustomed to Miami temperatures the increasing chill has been a difficult adjustment, particularly the 30 degree low the night before last. Fortunately that was a short-lived drop such that even our puny heating strips on the roof ACs kept us pretty toasty while the water heater in the storage compartment kept the pipes clear.

At Andreas Cute Yellow House

At Andrea’s Cute Yellow House

We adjusted our schedule to have a one night stay in Gainesville visiting daughter Andrea and Nate, and Cousin Robb, Colleen, Maeve and Nola. Thanks to all for the hospitality, especially the “all barbecue all the time” meal planning, starting with Andrea’s order of BBQ tempah pizza and Colleen’s pulled pork, ribs and beans.  After an evening of “drinkin’ with fire and stories” it was nice to have a break from the bus and sleep in a real bed as well.

Scarring one child...

Scaring one child…

... and the other.

… and the other.

St George Island State Park:  This is a spectacular place near Apalachicola, Florida, just west of the crook in the state between the panhandle and the main peninsula.  We started and ended the three day stay the same way: with fresh raw Apalachicola oysters at a very local fish market on the coast.   Having entered true oyster country we plan to take full advantage.  Located on a barrier island the park is more isolated than most of the places we have stayed; the entrance is about four miles from commercial stores and the campground an additional four miles into the park.  Perhaps this will help ease us into truly remote boondocking out west.  The sites were very spacious and reasonably level, with power and water hook ups and a nearby dump station.  The park offers both forest hiking and fantastic stretches of beach, exhibiting some of the largest sand dunes I have seen in the state.  We did quite a bit of biking and day hiking, during the course of which we found all 12 active geocaches in the park.  Though the island offers pretty good opportunities for the shell collector, given the cold and wind neither of us were up for getting up before dawn to catch the low tide for first run at the best.

Miles of beaches, very few people

Miles of beaches, very few people

Perhaps our most critical learning experience for this stop was figuring out how many days our holding tanks will handle when we are exclusively and liberally using our own shower, sink and facilities rather than the park’s.  Three days is the limit, meaning if we want to stretch a week out of our tanks while boondocking we will need to make some lifestyle adjustments, such as paper plates vice dishwashing, and more conservative water use during showers.

Easy hiking in the scrub forest...

Easy hiking in the scrub forest…

...but not much wildlife spotted, despite the extra  effort.

…but not much wildlife spotted, despite the extra effort.

Florida Caverns State Park: After two stops to satisfy an apparently unquenchable lust for the previously raved about Apalachicola raw oysters, we made the pleasant drive through Tate’s Hell State Forest and the adjoining Apalachicola National Forest, during which all of Rosemarie’s distorted beliefs about The South were confirmed when we passed by Children With Guns Alone In The Forest.  We entered the park just north of Marianna, and found our very spacious site, though the ground is packed dirt rather than gravel, and in the rain things can get a bit muddy.  Unusually, this park has sewer hook ups on all sites, alleviating the need for a stop at the dump station.  As these were our coldest and rainiest days to date, we did not do much more than a couple of miles on the bikes in order to take the cavern tour, Though we did manage to snag four or five geocaches.  Our biggest learning point for this stop was finally figuring out exactly where a slow roof leak was occurring, something we will need to address shortly.

Wild animal spotted in the cavern

Wild animal spotted in the cavern

Sure it's looks amazing, but what does it taste like?

Sure it’s looks amazing, but what does it taste like?