Saturday, February 19, 2011

Camping on the Gulf

February 1-14th had us at probably the best state park in Florida: Topsail Hill Preserve in Santa Rosa Beach. It’s a former private RV resort that was purchased by the state. We were afforded the luxuries of a full hook-up site, 8 washers and dryers, mail service, quiet (or no) neighbors, along with a wonderful paved walking path to the Gulf of Mexico.

The weather was certainly better than it was back home but we still had to bundle up for our daily walks, meditations, and laundry trips. Most days brought cloudy skies and temperatures on either side of 50. Usually there was wind off the gulf and we had a few rainy days to keep us humble. We all idealize Florida and this was a great lesson in enjoying the moment and not being disappointed by our fantastical expectations.

The only service not provided by Topsail was internet. We found this slightly inconvenient but also a great benefit. Like TV, internet can devour a day so we were forced to plan ahead, find a local coffee shop and intentionally spend time on the computer. Topsail is located on scenic route 30A which runs all along the gulf for about 30 miles. With the exception of the state park, 30A is built up with huge hotels, enormous single family homes, and private communities mainly meant for summer rentals. We were there during the heart of their down time so it seemed particularly desolate. Miss Lucille’s Gossip Parlor was open for business though. We had some tea and a cinnamon bun and enjoyed the free wifi a couple times so Chris could work on his sabbatical and we could plan the next bit of the journey. Not having internet or TV at home allowed us to accept the lack of technological stimulation and actually be happy without!

Lily is hilarious with strangers. We met all kinds of people who just “had to see the baby!”. These were mostly retired women who would tell us about their own grandchildren or how they don’t have any yet and “why don’t they just hurry up?”.  People’s voices made Lily stare then burst out laughing and kick her legs. She’d flirt with the men in the office, giggle at the ice cream girl, and smile huge for oogling women on our walks sometimes even waking from a nap in the sling when she heard a new voice. During these two weeks she has really gotten the hang of her head and swivels it quickly to look round. She’s comfy on her belly and pushes her chest off the floor now. One day she rolled herself from belly to back and looked at me like “what just happened?”. Her Auntie Mary and Muzzie bought her a second-hand Bumbo chair and shipped it to Topsail…boy is that a great invention. She’s still napping two or three times during the day for about 45 minutes and is ready for bed around 7 when I change, swaddle, and nurse her in bed to sleep. It’s so cool to see her get sleepy with the sunset and wake up at sunrise.

Towards the end of our stay the weather cleared and we had a couple gorgeous, clear days. This was great timing for a ranger-guided walk to one of the freshwater dune lakes. These lakes exist in only five places in the entire world. Campbell Lake in particular is special in that it is protected and pristine. It is used as a benchmark for measuring pollution in other lakes of its kind. It was neat learning from the rangers about the wildlife (alligators, deer, coyotes, mice, sea turtles) and plantlife (longleaf pines, saw palmetto, deer moss). The gulf is clear as glass and emerald in color with pure white sandy beaches. The sunsets were pure magic over the water with wispy clouds and a bright white crescent moon above. We found a neat restaurant called Fire which serves local food as much as possible and we enjoyed an awesome lunch and dinner there: pecan crusted gulf snapper with diced apples and jicama over smashed yams and potatoes mmmmmm! Nearby there was a bike shop where we both got to test ride an electric bike…so cool. We also found a great natural food store and got some necessities before heading off toward Arizona.
Sunset from a public beach access point

Seaside, Florida is about 15 miles east of Santa Rosa Beach. It is a tiny town established in 1981 and demonstrates what is called New Urbanism. There is one main road (30A) where the speed limit is 25. On the right are two layers of relatively modest homes then natural dunes then beach. On the left is a town square with small streets arranged around it and homes that all suit the beach life. The point of Seaside is walkability so there are little paths through between all the houses that lead to the beach and charter school and center square. There is a bike path all along 30A as well. We enjoyed a beautiful day here walking around and Lily and I returned the next day to see the flea market and farmer’s market where we got some local jam and tasted some local milk.
A public pavillion in Seaside

It was marvelous being on the panhandle. As we head west, I remember snapshots of the gulf and am comforted knowing that we enjoyed our time there to the fullest.

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