One day to explore St. Augustine. What to do? Walk around the old town? Been there, done that. Visit the Castillo De San Marcos? Been there, done that. Take a trolley tour? Been there, done that. Drive to the St. Augustine beach? Yep, you guessed it – been there, done that. Go visit our “home” in Green Cove Springs? Borrr-ing! Hmmm, what hadn’t we been to and what hadn’t we done?
Well, in our last post, I mentioned two campgrounds that we had considered staying at – Anastasia State Park and Pellicer Creek Campground. As a future alternative to Stage Coach, we decided it would be worthwhile to take a drive to see what they were like. And hubby, after doing some research, suggested something we had never done, take a tour of Fort Matanzas National Monument.
So our first stop would be Anastasia State Park which was 10 miles from Stagecoach campground but only about 2 miles from St. Augustine center, then we would drive down A1A to Fort Matanzas National Monument which was located another 12 miles further south. After that we would need to backtrack a bit to visit Pellicer Creek Campground. By gosh, we had a plan for the day – we were going to do something new and different in a fairly familiar place!
Of course, we couldn’t start our day without some satisfying nourishment. Last year we had gone to a decent non-touristy diner in St. Augustine, Georgie’s Diner, so being the creatures of habit that we are that’s where we headed for breakfast on Tuesday morning. I had my usual bacon & eggs while Rob had his usual poached eggs on homemade corned beef hash. Both were good although Rob’s eggs were a little overcooked.
A couple miles later, we arrived at the State Park where we were greeted by a very friendly park ranger at the park entrance. No charge for a visit – today was a free day in honor of Veteran’s Day. When Rob asked the ranger what size rigs could be accommodated in the campground, we were told that there were only five sites for a maximum of a 40′ rig and that those particular sites are normally booked way in advance.
The campground is within walking distance of the beach and is quite nice, but not so accommodating for larger vehicles (sorry no pictures)! There are seven loops with mostly well spaced, lush (almost jungle like) private sites with water and electric hookups (mostly 30 amp). The sites vary considerably in size and shape and are set amidst lots of palm trees, pines, palmettos and underbrush. Two of the loops (Sea Bean & Queen Conch) are marked “No Large RV’s” – we didn’t even look at those. The other five, with the possible exception of the “Coquina” loop, are narrow with overhanging branches and intrusive vegetation and just driving down them in a big rig would probably mean a trip to the body shop to buff out the scratches. Most of the sites are close to 90 degrees to the already narrow road making maneuvering very tough. However, there were a few sites near turns in the loop that would make for an easier back-in. So while 40 footers can fit in here, we would recommend visiting first if possible to look for acceptable sites. We would not recommend this campground if you care about your paint job.
Besides checking out the Anastasia campground, we stopped to take a peak at the beach. Were we expecting it to look any different than all the other beaches we have seen recently? Not really but it was after all a perfect kind of day, bright blue sky, lots of sunshine and temps in the low 70’s so who could possibly resist the opportunity to feel the warm breeze, to smell the salt air and to listen to the roar of the waves? BTW, I’m feeling guilty as I write this a week later because most of the country is suffering with frigid air and lots of snow especially in the Buffalo area. Boy, oh, boy sure feeling sorry for those folks! Sure glad we left when we did.
Anyway, I digressed….although it was tempting to hang out there for a bit, we didn’t want to dilly dally for very long. We continued the pleasant drive on A1A until we came to Fort Matanzas National Monument. To see the fort itself, you have to take a short ferry ride (free) over to Rattlesnake Island where the fort is located. The ferry leaves every hour on the half hour – we arrived at 12:33 p.m. so we had just missed the 12:30 p.m. ferry. Oh well, a short video giving an overview of the fort and it’s history was being shown and allowed us to occupy some time while waiting.
After the video was over, we still had at least 45 minutes to kill so we took a walk along the nearby nature trail. The Spanish word Matanzas means “slaughter” in English and according to the FAQs on the website, the area and the waterway have been named this “since 1565 when 245 Frenchmen were put to death in the dunes at the inlet.” We saw a marker along the trail that marked the site of the massacre.
There is no admission fee for either the fort or the ferry but you do need to get boarding passes at the Visitor’s Center – guess that is how they keep track of how many people will be boarding their 36 passenger ferry (a large pontoon boat). Our ferry was completely full, surprising for a Tuesday but then again it was a holiday! Once we disembarked from the ferry at the fort, a park ranger explained the history of the fort and was there to answer any of the group’s questions. Before he let us begin exploring, he told us that we needed to return to the ferry by 2:15 p.m. Forty five minutes was more than adequate to tour the small fort.
Built between 1740 – 1742 using coquina (stone formed primarily of shells) blocks which was pretty common for the area, the fort was constructed to control Matanzas Inlet, the “backdoor” to St Augustine. It was Spain’s last effort to ward off the encroachment of the British in St. Augustine. Compared to other forts we have been to, this one was relatively small, 50 feet long on each side with a 30-foot high tower. It was manned by seven to ten soldiers and one officer. Troops were rotated every month from the garrison in St. Augustine.
During the 1920’s extensive repairs were done on the decaying structure. It was reinforced with modern day materials but we could still see some of the original coquina blocks used for both the interior and exterior walls. Two of the four existing cannons (originally there were five) are original, made around 1750, while two others are reproductions. Hard to believe that seven to ten soldier’s lived here even if it was for only a month. There was access to the rooftop via a ladder but yours truly decided to leave that venture to Rob, telling him to take lots of pictures. He had to wait because there were a lot of kids going up and down but he finally climbed the ladder. Looked like it was a pretty scenic view from up there!
Rather than me regurgitating the fort’s history, probably best to read about it on the National Park Service website. Very enjoyable and informative – highly recommend a visit if you are in the St. Augustine area.
Once we left Fort Matanzas and headed for Pellicer Creek Campground, we had to backtrack about 4 miles on A1A until we took a left on US-206W and followed that for another 4 miles. Another left onto US-1 and 7 miles later we arrived at Pellicer Creek Campground. There was a gate at the entrance so we went into the office but no one was there (a posted sign said that the staff person was somewhere in the campground). Since we couldn’t go through the gate by car, we walked out the back door of the office and walked around a bit. Small but well maintained campground. With only 30 full hookup sites, their website says that the average size of a campsite is 45′ x 45′ so if we are in the area again we might try to stay here. For our size rig though, we probably need to call pretty well in advance. At $30 per night, the rate is definitely cheaper than Stage Coach although it is a little further from the historic area (about 20 minutes according to their website). It is right on US-1 so it may tend to be a little noisy from the traffic.
By now, it was time to head back to the coach. Considering when we arrived in St. Augustine we didn’t know what we would do, it turned out to be an informative and productive day. That night we spent a quiet evening resting up for our trip on the morrow for Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound. More later.