Tag Archives: Florida panhandle

Seeking Seclusion? Try Dog Island!

Dog Island is Private, but Not Exclusive

Dog Island, off the coast of the Florida panhandle, is a favorite spot of mine. In fact, it may hold the #1 position, so prepare to return with me, time and again, because one entry will never be enough.

Our trip to the island was not without adventure. Our start was delayed by a half hour and rush hour traffic in Tampa is never fun, but we’d cleared the area by 7:45 am so we missed the worst of it. The fog near Gainesville was almost cozy, like driving through clouds, which is what it is, I suppose. Watching it roll off the horse pastures in Ocala reminded me of my stays with country cousins, those primeval mornings when you half expect an ancient mastodon to appear in the mist. It was a day filled with anticipation reaching fruition.

Our innocence was shattered when I reached for my wallet to pay for our breakfast in Gainesville. It wasn’t there. I looked on the seat. I looked under the table. I looked on the floor of the restaurant. My panic rising, I told my husband what was wrong and hurried to the car to search while he paid the bill.

It wasn’t in the car. Either I’d dropped it (or it was stolen) at a rest stop or I’d left it at home. As we hurriedly back-tracked to the last rest stop (over an hour south), I frantically called our youngest son, who called back to affirm that the wallet was indeed in my everyday purse and the money and cards were safe. We didn’t have the debit card, but we did have a couple of credit cards in my husband’s wallet, so we decided we had enough to push on. We wouldn’t be spending anything while we were on island anyway, so there wasn’t any need for a cash advance from the bank before we boarded the ferry.

We found the ferry on Marine Street in Carrabelle without incident. Parking is free and your car will be safe. Our water taxi captain, Russell (Rusty) Cahoon 850-697-8909, ferried us over. His fee fluctuates with the cost of fuel, but he divides the cost, depending on how many are riding.

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The six mile ride across the bay was rough, but Rusty’s boat was good-sized and sturdy and he is supremely confident in his boating skills, informing me that he is the last one to evacuate people out when a hurricane threatens. It was as exciting as an air boat ride.

 

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We were staying at the Pelican Inn (we reserved through owner Jane: 1-800-451-5294) and were met by manager Terry Cannon (850-697-4710), who took us to the Inn. Rates were not cheap ($150 per night, slightly less for longer stays) but not outrageous and after all, guests do have an entire island to enjoy!

 

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For now, I leave you on the docks. Next week, we’ll explore the Dog Island beach!

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.