Heading west, via the Florida panhandle and the gulf coast states, to Texas.
After Wakulla Springs we headed west, hugging the coastline as much as practical. This
was nice from a scenic perspective, but meant that we didn’t see much of “ordinary” life in the deep south. Still, we got a feeling for the variety of coastal towns, rich and poor, urban and rural, gaudy casino towns and quaint villages. We saw huge stretches of shoreline that were wild and untouched, and a few awful industrial zones where the air was full of foul smelling chemical haze.
One of our first stops was at Indian Pass Campground. It was nearly full, but this meant “having” to take an overflow site – which turned out to be steps from the long sandy shoreline. As soon as we settled in we headed for the beach, and walked at least a mile down it and back, enjoying the birds and waves and seashells and sand.
Next was the fun little town of Apalachicola. We browsed the shops, sampled the offerings at a microbrewery and had lunch at a rooftop cafe. The birds in town were not shy. They stole food from tables, fought over a chicken wing and generally ruled the town. Hitchcock fans might have a flashback here.
Topsail Hill State Park was excellent for biking. We rode trails both within the park (to the ocean and to a lake in the park) and outside it, where bikeable sidewalks stretched for miles. We even rode bikes to our Valentine’s Day dinner at Stinky’s Fish Camp – a nice restaurant with water views, despite the silly name.
Just a few miles from Topsail is the unusual town of Seaside, a planned community so impossibly perfect in its old-timey Americana vibe (neat cottages on quiet tree lined streets, white picket fences) that it was used as the artificial community in “The Truman Show”. It really is quite pleasant, with large public spaces for town events, musical performances, movies, public art, a permanent food truck row, ocean-side restaurants and ocean access points. But even if you don’t mind the artificiality of it all, you might blanch at the prices: those quaint little cottages tend to cost over $1M. Oh well!
Also nearby (in the opposite direction) is the resort town of Destin. We met up again with friends Jeff and Monica to enjoy an afternoon along the harbor boardwalk. Later, we all returned to Topsail and biked the trails which led to the beautiful, pure white, sandy beach. We ended the evening with a cookout of grilled chicken, veggie skewers, and salad, and finished with ice cream and berries for dessert. Entertaining in the RV is a little challenging – we have exactly 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 forks, 4 knives, etc. – but we make it work! And, it’s always fun to catch up with old friends.
Alabama and Mississippi
We’d already spent a decent amount of time in Alabama (Birmingham and Montgomery) last fall, and the ‘bama coastline is pretty short, so it was just a blip on this part of the trip.
The next neat place we found was Ocean Springs, particularly a funky art museum dedicated to the lifetime work of native son Walter Anderson. It has a pretty tree-lined town center, with interesting galleries, shops and restaurants. We could have spent more time here, actually. It’s where we first noticed the Mardi Gras decorations appearing. That gave us the idea of catching some small town celebrations along our way.
We continued to hug the cost, through Biloxi (so many casinos!), Gulfport, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and finally crossing in to Louisiana.
Fontainbleu State Park was another bike friendly spot. A rail trail runs through the park to downtown Mandeville, where we found Das Schulerhaus, a german gift shop, along with a brew pub, and a variety of other shops and restaurants. We rode down to the waterfront park and just cruised the coastline for quite a while, enjoying the view and the weather.
Having just spent a week in New Orleans last year, we decided to bypass the Mardi Gras craziness there for a more local Mardi Gras in Eunice, hearing that it features a traditional chicken run and dog parade. We missed the chicken run, but walked among the street food vendors, selecting beignets to eat while the dogs paraded past. Very folksy.
For our last stop in Louisiana, we stumbled onto little Intercoastal Park, . Only $10 a night, full hookups. It’s a bit out of the way, but we enjoyed watching the boat and barge activity on the canal. The barge that blasted its horn at 1:30 AM wasn’t so great though. Maybe that accounts for the low price.
Our story this time ends in Beaumont TX, where we watched another Mardi Gras parade. We arrived just as the parade was about to start. Beaumont has a substantial downtown with at least a half-dozen interesting museums, (some of them “offbeat” like the Babe Zaharius museum). Also just outside of town is the “Boomtown” museum, a recreation of a turn-of-the-century oil gusher boom town, where we spent a few pleasant hours.
See you next time!
Mark & Lori