Wednesday, May 7, 2008

14. Florida Panhandle

Most RV parks are similar and fairly predictable, but once in a while we stumble onto one that’s exceptional. Somewhere between Pensacola and Tallahassee, we spent a couple nights at Juniper Lake RV Park in the small town of DeFuniak Springs, pop. 5,000. Many of the park’s 20 spaces were occupied by permanent residents or snowbirds. Our hosts, Bill and Donna, were very friendly and brimming over with “southern hospitality”. After we got settled in, Bill invited us down to the large deck on the lake for some conversation and a cold beer (no charge). He and Donna bought their little piece of Juniper Lake and have created an RV park that’s like a garden with lots of flowers, grass, decks, docks, wind chimes, bird houses and other amenities everywhere. The lake is full of fish, including trophy bass, and many turtles that they feed from the deck. A few gators also live in the area and help keep the turtle population in check. We really enjoyed this park and stayed an extra day to let a thunder storm pass through the area.

The panhandle beaches are some of the best in Florida. The sand is bright white and soft as sugar and the water is usually beautiful. The photo of Bonnie and the first photo below were taken at Santa Rosa Beach. It was open and uncrowded so we took the opportunity to bask and work on our tans. The second photo was taken west of Panama City Beach. Much of that beach is lined with hi-rise condos and hotels. Some can be seen in the distance. Public beach access in that area is controlled and not available to us common folks.

About 300 miles down the highway we arrived at the small town of Homosassa Springs, home of an exceptional state park by the same name. Natural springs pump millions of gallons of fresh water into the “fish bowl” of the Homosassa River. The water is a constant 72 degrees which is perfect for the manatees that make it their year-round home. We visited the park and watched the manatees. They aren’t the most exciting animals to watch. Most of the time they move very very slowly and look like very large slugs or small sand bars. Many manatees outside the refuges are injured or killed by boats because they swim in shallow water and have to surface frequently for air. Some areas have very slow speed limits for boats in an effort to minimize collisions.

The park is a wildlife refuge with its emphasis on birds. The birds include flamingos, spoonbills, blue heron, egrets, pelicans, owls and even a few bald eagles and hawks that were injured and can’t return to the wild.

The park also has a variety of reptiles and lots of alligators. The park naturalist showed us a baby gator. Bonnie got to touch the little feller. The big gator in the photo seemed to be “growling” at Bonnie. She caught a short video of it and we’ll try to get it to you so you can hear him growl. It sounds something like a motor boat engine.

This was a very interesting park within a half mile of our RV park. It was a relatively cool shady place to go on a hot muggy day.