Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wild Beauty and Mass Destruction - the Power of Mother Nature

October 31 - November 5, 2018
Cedar Key and Marianna, Florida - Robertsdale, Alabama

Another beautiful morning when we pull out on Wednesday, and it's an exciting day for us - we're turning west! Having lived in California all my life there is an undeniable pull when we are "on the other side" of the country. 

Today we'll drive from one coast of Florida to the other. 

We travel the Florida Turnpike to Highway 98 through a very different looking Florida. Cattle ranches and agriculture, then miles of black-fence horse farms. We take Highway 24 until it ends in the gulf. Again, we're surrounded by water.

This is one of those stops that I've "planned" to visit since I first started researching becoming fulltime RVers. A few bloggers have visited, and one lives here. I'm looking forward to seeing the island, and meeting that blogger!

Sunset Isle RV Park is the least expensive of the two parks on the water. I've read that the spaces are tight, but didn't expect just how tight! We're unable to get perfectly level on gravel sites, and since we're only here two nights we don't hook up sewer. Fortunately, for the first night we have no neighbor on our door side. We're unable to put out the awning on the second night when a motorhome barely squeezes in next to us. Next time we'll spend a little more and stay down the road at Low Key Hideaway.

A sweet spot before neighbors.

Note the wood strip divider between spaces. Our awning edge is in the neighbor's space.
The weather is great, but the bugs send us running inside as the sun goes down. It's a shame because this is the best sunset we've had in a very long time!

We only have one day this time, but it's enough to fall in love with this laid back village surrounded by natural refuges and protected wetlands. 

Our first stop is Shell Mound, a place of historical and natural significance. On the road we come upon a committee of vultures (called a wake when they're feeding, and a kettle when they're in flight). When we get to the mound we're treated to a personal lesson from volunteer Ron who happens along while we're exploring. It is these chance encounters with locals that are among our favorite experiences on the road.

Shell Mound is surrounded by marsh and open water, accessed by a narrow sand road.

From the lookout deck on the water Ron tells us about the tree-covered shell mound behind us. Protected from development, the mound has provided archeologists with proof of nomads who came here for the winter months between 1800 and 400 years ago. The original snowbirds!
A tapestry of water and land patches.
We continue into the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, where we spend hours meandering on sand and gravel roads through a tropical paradise.

Tall pines line the road.

Bromeliads grow from stumps in the shade.

A ghost tree peeks out between her living sisters.

Earlier I saw a rock that looked like a toad. Next I see a log that looks like an otter. When we get closer the log moves! And not an otter, it's a small gator that heads back to the trees.

One side road ends at the water.

Fluffy Dog ignores the raccoon around the corner.

Deep grasses lead to thick jungle.

One of several fresh water ponds.

Bill catches this little one keeping an eye on us.
Every time Bill sees turtles, they slide into the water before I can see them - until these two cooperate and give me a little pose.

None of the gators we see today are large, even this medium size one that looks bigger with the zoom.
 Giant Foxtails soften the edges.
The refuge is like spending the day inside Jurassic Park and Swamp Thing, and Tarzan - and even a bit of Hunger Games.
One of the original blogs I found when immersing myself in all things fulltime RV life was Pat's Every Miles a Memory. He and Cindy were already off the road and owned the Low Key Hideaway here in Cedar Key. Both are wonderful photographers, and through their eyes I saw a place I knew I had to see. They've since sold the Hideaway, and opened a gallery/gift shop/locals bar in the little town they love calling home. I've reached out to Pat and we're looking forward to meeting after all this time.

The cutest place in town - you'd never know there's a great cocktail bar in the back!

A touch of color in the beer garden.

I'm a big fan of Pat's over and under shots.

Wonderful underwater black and whites.

I'm so happy to find my favorite photo of Cindy is a post card I can take home! 
Pat and a couple locals share stories of Hurricane Hermine's impact on the little community. Wonderful tales of people coming together to help each other.

Best Banana Daquiri ever!
Pat and Cindy are genuine and fun people, and everyone who comes in is greeted like good friends - most of them are. We wrap up our day exploring the little village.

We've been on the road for 3.5 years, and have never stayed at a Walmart. With good weather expected, I plan an overnight stop in Marianna, Florida, at the Walmart just off I-10.

We always keep an eye on the weather, so we're not surprised when we run into a strong down pour. Unfortunately our windshield defogger fails to clear the glass, and quickly I'm driving nearly blind in the middle of a storm. Holy crap!! Pulling over isn't an option. With a handful of paper towels Bill wipes off the moisture and visibility is restored. Whew! We're through the wet and under clear skies in less than 30 minutes. Don't need to do that again.

Our destination is north of Mexico Beach where Hurricane Michael wiped out the entire community. The drive takes us through miles of downed forest and trashed billboards. Large trees are snapped in half, others are completely uprooted. The level of destruction is hard to believe.

At the Walmart we learn that prior to the hurricane there was a large homeless camp alongside the parking lot - probably not the safest option. With the camp destroyed we have a better place to park for the night, but it makes me wonder where the homeless ended up in this financially blighted area. Several business signs and a few roofs will have to be replaced, but there doesn't seem to be much other structural damage. Michael was a Category 1 when it came through Marianna.

Our first Wallydock with plenty of room. We leave the driver side slides in and sleep well all night. It's a success!

An unexpected treat from our parking lot backyard.
Saturday is all blue skies and clear windshields, but more miles of hurricane destruction. We arrive before noon in our 42nd state - Alabama. This will likely be our last "new" state for 2018, although you never know where Jello planning will take us.

Azalea Acres RV Park is a wonderful place! Coming out of the trees we are greeted at the entrance (we called ahead per their request), and led to our very long and wide space. The level concrete pad is in good shape, and the 50 amp FHUs are well placed. Park WiFi works, and we have open skies for satellite - always important for Sunday stays! Staff are friendly and helpful. The nearby gun range is a bit annoying during the day. Close to Mobile and the gulf beaches, this would be a good spot to spend more time.

For us it's a nice spot to chill out for a couple nights.

Room to stretch out.

Easy access. 

With a handsome Husky across the road, Tessa loves this channel on her dog TV!
Monday morning we'll move on to Mississippi, and return to a favorite place on the white sand of the gulf - with the best eats in the southeast!

Back in California, Bill's 93 year old mom is doing well. We are blessed to have cousins nearby who help take wonderful care of her.

Looking good Anne!


  1. Azalea Acres was a nice find! We stayed there on our way to California a few years ago and loved it. It’s crazy that Michael was still a Cat 1 by the time it got to Marianna. That was a nasty one, for sure.

    1. We would definitely stay there for a longer visit. Marianna looked like it was already struggling before it took that hit, but all the trees on the interstate really show how strong that wind was.

  2. LOL! Love that you made it to 'a' west coast. The second half of your post really contrasts with the first. Interesting what a few miles will do. Tessa looks happy.

    1. It was definitely a big difference between one sunset and the other!

  3. Florida = bugs!! It could be such a delightful place if they would just remove the bugs and humidity...haha! Love all the wildlife you found. Aren't the gators strange looking when they walk on land. Amazing to see the destruction still left from the storm. Such a sad sight. Love Tessa watching the cute "guy" on the other side:) Bill's mom looks wonderful. Glad she has lots of people to look in on her while you are away.

    1. I agree about the humidity and bugs!! Folks must get used to it, but I'm glad I don't have to. Yes - gators look silly on land! We are so blessed that Anne's family is close by, moving her to CA was the right thing to do.

  4. LOVE Cedar Key but hate the bugs--they were so bad when we were there it turned us off on Florida! We hiked every day in that wildlife refuge and saw one of the largest alligators either of us has ever seen, probably in that exact pond--YIKES! Thought he was a log at first! Glad to hear Bill's mom is doing well at 93!

    1. Hard to picture the Cowboy in Florida :-)) We only saw little ones this time but I'm sure there were big ones keeping an eye on us!

  5. Ditto what Janna and Mike said. Cedar Key is wonderful but somehow it has more bugs than a lot of other places we've been. We really have never been very bothered by bugs or humidity but we are only here in the winter. You sure got some fabulous sunsets and sunrises there and who knew - at Walmart. We use them almost always for a one night stand. Just can't bother with setting up a reservation for pulling in, going to bed and pulling out. Or the money either for that matter. Such a relief to know you elderly loved ones are safe and taken care of especially by family. She looks great. Hope she's happy.

    1. We'll likely do some more Walmarts and Cabela's for our one-nighters now. Anne is very happy with her home and getting to go to church with family every week. Wonderful to hear her say she likes her life :-)

  6. Such beautiful country and your photos are stunning!

    The hurricane devastation is incredible.

    1. Thanks Lisa - we really enjoyed this part of Florida!

  7. We absolutely love Cedar Key and have been there several times in our travels. We already have reservations for early March at Sunset Isle. :-) On our first visit we stayed at the Low Key Hideaway and Cindy made us the best margaritas I've ever had! I'm so happy to know they have a cocktail bar in back of their gallery. We'll go there for sure.
    So devastating to see the destruction from the hurricane...I'm kind of scared to see what we're going to find when we see my folks in Apalachicola in February.

    1. We thought about your folks the whole time we were witnessing the downed trees - hopefully you'll find all is well in February.
      We didn't get to the Tiki Bar this time but have it on the top of the list for next time. But Pat and Cindy's local spot is wonderful so I know you'll love it!

  8. You hit upon all the reasons we left Pensacola: bugs, humidity and hurricanes. FL would be such a great place to live otherwise!

    1. Yeah, those are definite deterrents for us! But we're sure glad we visited.

  9. What a great stop, meeting up with great photographers. Loved the Emerald side of FL. Such damage!

    1. We would go back to this part of Florida for sure. I can only imagine what Mexico Beach looks like :-((