Tag Archives: Apalachicola

Is Tate’s Hell State Forest Really Hell?

Is Tate’s Hell State Forest a Bad Place to Visit?

So how bad is Tate’s Hell State Forest? That depends on perspective. Archeological research reveals that Native Americans didn’t use the area very much, probably because it was mostly swampland that drained into estuaries of East Bay and the Apalachicola River, and more fertile ground was found nearby. Logging/lumber/and wood product companies took ownership and attempted to drain the land in the 1950s, inadvertently endangering the environmental health of the bay.

Tate's Hell State ForestCebe Tate fought insects and suffered a snake bite while searching for the Florida panther who was preying on his livestock. He probably also shared the swamp with alligator snapping turtles and eastern box turtles, snakes, including the Apalachicola king snake and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and alligators and bears.

Old Cebe Tate slogged through acres of wetlands rife with biting insects before he finally found his way out. Tate’s Hell Swamp makes up 70% of Tate’s Hell State Forest, but prairies offer dry footing and host a wide variety of pitcher plants (designed to trap and digest insects) and other wildflowers, as well as a variety of grasslands.

The Florida black bear, once almost hunted to extinction, is making a comeback these days, and human-bear confrontations can be just as dangerous today as it was for Cebe Tate then. When in Tate’s Hell State Forest or Swamp, use caution when encountering a Florida black bear. Do not crouch or lie on the ground. Instead, speak calmly and assertively and back up slowly. Noise will often scare the bear away, as well.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is 187,710 acres of rugged country and a four-wheel drive is recommended. Amenities such as trash containers are non-existent, so be sure to take all garbage with you when you go. Caution is strongly advised when swimming or boating, and diving into streams and rivers is prohibited. Primitive camping is available in selected areas for a nominal fee and there are 12 tent camping sites at the Womack Creek recreation area, which also offers a bathhouse with hot showers.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is definitely rugged country, but that’s part of its attraction. We’ll explore those in the next post.

Tate’s Hell State Forest Name Origin

How Tate’s Hell State Forest Got its Name

Tate’s Hell State Forest is named after Cebe Tate, a 45 year old local farmer plagued by a panther that kept attacking his livestock. The year was 1875, a time when Florida was experiencing a population boom as homesteaders moved in on land formerly controlled by Native Americans. Although most Seminoles escaped the Trail of Tears by disappearing deep into the swamp that makes up most of Tate’s Hell State Forest, many Native Americans were rounded up for relocation in Oklahoma.

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The homesteaders didn’t have an easy time of it and rogue panthers were unwelcome pests. Cebe Tate decided to do something about his problem and headed into the forest with his shotgun and hunting dogs.

It didn’t go well. After just a few hours, he became separated from his dogs. Lost in the swamp, he lost his shotgun. When he sat down at a tree stump to rest, he was bitten by a snake.

Lost and disoriented for seven days and seven nights, he suffered greatly. Water was scarce, the mosquitoes were relentless, and the heat was stifling. Cebe was forced to drink the muddy swamp water. Finally breaking through the underbrush to a clearing near the town of Carrabelle, nearly 25 miles from his home, and barely able to speak, he walked up to two men. “My name is Cebe Tate,” he said, “And I’ve been through hell.” With that, he collapsed at their feet and died.

What to Expect During a Visit to Tate’s Hell State Forest

Tate’s Hell State Forest is typical Florida terrain, made up of woodland and swamp. Today’s visitors to Tate’s Hell State Forest have well marked paths, including a boardwalk that winds through a dwarf cypress forest of ancient trees.

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There is a dirt (mostly sand) road through the forest, but a four wheel drive is strongly suggested, and, since many areas flood during rainy periods, hiking may be your only option. It is well worth your effort. Once commercially forested, Tate’s Hell is now a wildlife management area and abuts the Apalachicola National Forest.

 

Tate’s Hell State Forest is a popular place for hunters and campers alike.

Rentals on Dog Island

Dog Island Pelican Inn vs Private Home: Expectations, Cost, & When to Go

There is no store or restaurant on Dog Island. There is a landing strip for private planes and a dock for private boat and ferry. There are a few homes to rent. Expect to pay around $1200 to $1500 per week for a home that sleeps 6. Most of the available homes are beachfront, some have closer neighbors than others.

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You may also stay at The Pelican Inn, a bit less expensive (around $1000 per week), but be warned! The Pelican Inn is not for the faint-hearted. I grew up in a summer beach cottage community, so stubborn window and sliding glass door frames, corroded by salt air, ancient plumbing and fixtures stained by decades of hard water, and refrigerators that struggle to cool don’t bother me, but if you’re expecting more than a camping experience, this place is not for you.

Maintenance is not high on the priority list. At one point, my husband rummaged around the laundry room, found a hammer, and walked around pounding nails back down on the deck. An internet search reveals a scathing complaint by a guest who called it a death trap. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the place needs work, which is not surprising, since wood structures built at ocean’s edge tend to be vulnerable to the elements. The owner, by the way, refutes many of the comments made by the guest.

My experience with her was honest for the most part. She’d told me to expect rough camping, supplies needed to be brought in, and water was not potable. She was not quite as accurate in her description of condition.

The place borders on dilapidation in places. She really, really, really needs to hire someone who can start making the necessary repairs. We could be tempted, my master carpenter husband and I, to do so, but the problem then becomes one of money, which I suspect is not in ample supply, and permitting, which we could not do for her, since we live nowhere close to her county. We would happily barter work for a stay free vacation, but materials are expensive enough these days, and that’s prior to factoring in the costs of ferrying the items over to the jobsite.

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I found the complaints about wiring unfounded, at least in our unit, but I would avoid the upstairs units. The place is a fancy beach shack. You either love it or you hate it. You get a kitchen, a bath, and a room with a bed, couch, chairs, and small table, all of it in “early Goodwill” styling.

The draw is the island itself. Seven miles of “almost” solitude, miles of beach to yourself, and abundant shelling. The few neighbors are friendly but not intrusive. The residents do resent the annual Memorial Day White Trash Bash, claiming about the wild parties that get out of hand and environmental destruction that should not be allowed, so you may want to avoid booking, either at The Pelican Inn or with a private homeowner, during that particular holiday.

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While I’d love to be able to purchase the Pelican Inn and bring her back to the glorious monument of beachfront accommodations of yesteryear, I think I’ll splurge and rent a private home the next time.

Before we leave Dog Island, let’s take one more backward glance to remember what warmed our soul and soothed our nerves, a place without telephone, TV, or internet and a time of solitude and relaxation:

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Much too soon, we are on the docks, waiting for our ride to the mainland:

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Yes, we’ll return, ready for our next adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Island Name Origin and Ownership

How Was Dog Island Named and Who Owns It?

Dog Island is actually a bit of land (less than 7 miles) that separated from St. George Island, and is one of a group of barrier islands that protect St. George Sound and Apalachicola Bay. It even sported a lighthouse at one time, built in 1838, that was later destroyed in 1899 by a hurricane that devastated the mainland town of Carrabelle.

There are various stories surrounding the origins of its name, the most outlandish being that it is a sanctuary for dogs to live out their last years without the stress of urban life. Untrue! I did see one dog with its owner walking on the beach one day, though. Some claim Dog Island is so named because the shape resembles a crouching dog. I don’t buy into that one, either. I thought that perhaps the origin of the name was connected to a stray dog that had been found on the empty island or a similar story, but it turned out not to be the case.

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There are two more likely explanations. Wikipedia attributes the name origin to the French, who discovered it in 1536, listing wild dogs, the shape of the island, and the practice of dropping sailors (known as “dogs”) there before going in to the mainland, preventing the men from abandoning ship, as the origin of the island’s name.

I think our ferry captain, Rusty Cahoon, is probably a bit more accurate. During the Civil War, Union armies would transport prisoners by boat, using Dog Island as a drop-off point. The prisoners were referred to as “Sea Dogs”. While the commanding officers went into town to drink and secure supplies, those left behind were unlikely to attempt an escape with a risky swim to shore.
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The story of Dog Island ownership is an interesting one. Evidence (pot shards, a 9th century canoe) of early Native American presence has been uncovered, and later, piracy and smuggling occurred. At one time, the island supported a thriving turpentine business, but it wasn’t until Florida businessman Jeff Lewis purchased it shortly after World War II that the idea of development began to threaten the area. Mr. Lewis, it seems, had some very definite ideas concerning the island and its future. While he did sell some lots to individuals, most of the island is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, which helps protect the fragile ecosystem on Dog Island, including the annual turtle-nesting season.

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The Nature Conservancy and the private homeowners value this island, as do most visitors. Help keep the area pristine by doing all you can to minimize your carbon footprint while here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico Beach, a Quieter Alternative to Pensacola

From Destination Weddings to Family Vacations, Mexico Beach is a Quieter Alternative to Pensacola, But That Doesn’t Mean it’s Boring There

Pensacola is a popular and fun place to visit, don’t get me wrong. But this blog is about the lesser known spaces in our state, the kind of place where a visitor can catch his or her breath and slow down a little. That doesn’t have to equate to “boring”, however.

Mexico Beach is family-oriented but is also a popular locale for destination weddings. Less prone to rip tides, the beach also boasts a good-sized turtle-nesting habitat. Located on Northwest Florida’s gulf shore between Port St. Joe and Panama City, it, too, boasts the white sugar sands of Florida’s fame. The City of Mexico Beach maintains four beach parks, each accessed by wooden walkovers that spare vegetation from being trampled.

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Pets are not allowed on Mexico Beach within the three miles city limit, so if you want to bring Fido to the seashore, nearby St. Joe Beach would be a better choice. Yoga classes are held on the beach during season and fishing tournaments, music festivals, and triathlon events are held throughout the year.

We passed a sign that said “trailers for sale or rent” as we wound our way along the coastline, and found a room at the El Governor Hotel. That evening, we enjoyed another oyster dinner and then a walk on the beach:

Our room was quite comfortable and very reasonably priced. Other lodging choices included an inn, numerous rental agencies and privately owned properties, and a couple of campgrounds and RV parks; one offers cabins, as well.

The dolphin fed on an abundant supply of fish:

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The birds are almost as hard to photograph as the dolphin (you’d think they’d learn to stay still!):

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Where the river reaches the beach:

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I love the 3-D Bird-of-Paradise detail on this building because it reminds me of Miami Beach:

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My husband tried to talk me into moving to the area. He wants to rent a store in downtown historic Apalachicola and he will build things and I will sell them and that’s how we’ll pay for my medical bills. On weekends, I’ll look for shells to make necklaces to keep him in beer money:

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Ah, dreams! Hope there’ll be enough shells:

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Sunset on the beach:

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I turned off the noisy a/c and opened the doors and let the waves lull me to sleep. It took me back to my childhood, when I wanted the windows open on summer nights, the rhythm of the waves keeping me company, rocking me to sleep. “I am here,” they tell me, “Constant. Fluid. Relax. Hear the pattern. Find the rhythm. I am comfort.”

Early morning, Mexico Beach (put yer shades on):

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We’ll come back to this area, because there is more to see: horseback riding on the beach at Cape San Blas, buying Tupelo honey in Wewahitchka, as well as touring antebellum homes and spelunking in Marianna. Our list is long and our state is big. Next time, we head to a new area, but we’ll come back to this area. Everyone always does, once they’ve visited.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

The Florida panhandle has seen its share of storm damage. Tropical storms aren’t usually too much trouble for a Floridian, but hurricanes can be relentlessly unforgiving. As one man said, “You hunker down and ride out the wind, hoping you don’t lose everything, grateful for what’s left.” As hard hit as it seems to get year after year, I simply cannot resist going back time and again to drink in the Florida of my youth, when people stopped to do a favor and roadside stands promised just one delectable temptation at a time.

Of course, once we round the bend, our mouths start watering for oysters, so we spend a lovely morning of shopping in Apalachicola, stop for an oyster po’boy lunch and then we head west again to visit the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but then again, this park is an eyeful.

The park is on the very end of a finger of land that protects the mainland. The waters are clear, blue and not prone to riptides because of the peninsula’s protection. Nine and a half miles of snow-white sand welcomes the beach crowd on the Gulf side and bayside accommodates the boaters with some interesting accesses into the grass flats and coves that carve out the landscape.

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There is a tiny “museum” of fossilized specimens of days gone by; some, sadly, has been taken, since there is seldom an attendant on duty. There is a concession stand, but I’ve never bought anything there, since I was far too busy discovering wildlife along the 6 mile access-by-permission-only wilderness trail (there are two other, shorter, hiking trails with public access).

Here you will find the usual oceanfront recreations: a wide variety of boating and camping choices, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming, along with fishing, biking, and hiking. Or you can choose your spot on the ten miles of white sand beach, in 2002 named as the best beach in the nation by none other than Gainesville’s Dr. Beach (Dr. Steven Leatherman), who issues a new list each year. There are public restrooms and cold-water shower facilities for day guests, hot water facilities in the campgrounds for overnight guests (although day guests can sometimes receive special permission to use the camp showers).

We want to return to the St. Joseph State Park and rent one of their “cabins”: small, tidy, furnished stand-alone cottages that sit right on the water’s edge. The units have kitchens equipped with basic cooking and dining utensils, seasonal gas fireplaces, heat & A/C, and, of course, bathrooms. There is no TV, internet service, or telephone ,and cell phone reception is poor. The price sure was reasonable: $100 per night, $650 for the week. Each cabin sleeps up to six people.

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We’ll return again one day, to build castles on the beach and watch them wash away with an incoming tide and a setting sun.

Oysters are King in Apalachicola

Apalachicola, King of the Forgotten Coast

We’d cancelled our reservations at the Gibson Inn for the murder mystery weekend in Apalachicola, mainly because the theme was football-based, which did not interest me. After we drove past it, we felt we’d made the right choice, since it sat right in the middle of town with traffic on all four sides. Great for shopping, but relaxing by the water would have required compromise. Instead, we chose the Apalachicola River Inn, which reminded me of a riverboat since the building sat out over the water.

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The view from the private balcony:

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That night, the reflection of a full moon shimmered over the still water as the buzz of distant insects played in the background, broken only by the splash of breeching mullet that landed with a plop.

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Early morning river commute:

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Later the same day:

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We’d had our complimentary drink in the bar the night before and took full advantage of the free breakfast the next morning. I ordered eggs over easy, shrimp and grits, and juice. Shrimp and grits sounds better than it is. I found it too spicy for early morning.

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The rest of the morning was spent in historical downtown Apalachicola. The art museum was closed (we tried on our way home, too, but they were still closed) so we just poked our heads in shops and galleries.

Naturally, we stopped at Boss Oyster for lunch:

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In fact, we had oysters, in one form or another at almost every meal during our too-short stay and we could not resist purchasing more to take back home. I don’t know why the Apalachicola bi-valves taste better than those harvested from other areas, but I assure you, the difference in taste as well as in size is remarkable.

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The town itself is quite beautiful with many historic homes and buildings, yet carries a certain ruggedness that only a true fishing village can. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, Apalachicola’s sponge trade was booming, helping it to grow into the third busiest port in the nation. Today, it might be less well known if not for its reputation as a source of superior oysters and shrimp. My husband offered to take me on a boat ride, but I thought the offer was rigged:

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After all, papa was a rollin’ stone:

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Funniest name I saw on a boat? “Breakin’ Wind”. I asked my husband if that was his boat, but he said it couldn’t be because the “Pain in the Butt” wasn’t moored close by!

We had a lot of fun in Apalachicola and I look forward to a return trip and more oysters. On my to-do list for our return visit: Fort Gasden in the Apalachicola National Forest, part of the Florida Black Heritage Trail, and a closer exploration of the islands that protect the Apalachicola Bay: Flag Island, Sand, St. Vincent Island, St. George Island, and Cape St. George Island.

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