I decided to take a little (okay, large) detour on the way home. I’ve been to Florida at least 20 times in my life, but I’d never been to the Panhandle. Since neither Alan nor I had ever been to Alabama or Mississippi, we decided to head back to New Jersey via the Gulf of Mexico.
When I think of Florida greenery, I think of palm trees and the Everglades. I gained a whole new perspective after driving for hours through verdant farmland and forests. (My new favorite woodland, based on name alone: Tate’s Hell State Forest. I can’t find the reason for its name, but I bet there’s a great story there.)
We stopped in Port Saint Joe and wandered around town before taking a detour to see Saint Joseph Bay. The beach was beautiful and completely empty at high tide.
We overlooked one very important detail on this trip: Spring Break. We’ve both been out of college seven years now (yikes), so Spring Break wasn’t even on our radar. Neither of us did the typical Spring Break party destinations even when we were in college. (Fun fact: I did my first-ever travel assignment during Spring Break my junior year of college, when Alan and I went to Aruba. We’ve been traveling together a long time.)
Anyone who remembers MTV’s annual Spring Break show knows Panama City. It all came rushing back to me when we arrived in town to see hundreds of sunburned co-eds roaming the streets, inviting us to party at their place. (Seamus got a few invites, too.) It made for some hilarious people watching, and also made me a little sorry I didn’t go to a southern university.
The next day, we visited Santa Rosa and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The white sand beaches and sapphire waters were stunning. Santa Rosa is a 40-mile barrier island in the national park. The sand in that area is pretty unique – it’s white quartz that came from eroded Appalachian Mountain granite, which traveled down to the gulf through rivers and streams. That’s a really long distance, considering how close it is to the Alabama border.
Seamus is a sand-rolling aficionado. He was especially fond of this sand.
Next stop: Pensacola