Dash Cam Video of our arrival at St. Andrews State Park
It would be another really short drive, only about 40 miles. Of course, being a Sunday and knowing that we were in the midst of spring break season and Panama City Beach is a hotspot, we were prepared for lots of traffic and lots of kids (at least we thought we were).
It didn’t seem too bad until we neared PCB (aka Panama City Beach), turning onto CR 392 (Thomas Drive) which is near the beach. Then it seemed that there were kids everywhere, walking down the side of the roads and running across the road in the midst of all the traffic. Jeesh, what were we thinking coming here at this time with all these tweens, teens and twenty somethings? Oh, too be young again…..well, maybe not quite that young again! Word of warning – don’t ever go to a Walmart near a beach in a popular Spring Break area! Realistically though, despite the congestion I doubt our arrival was delayed more than a few minutes.
After checking in, we took a look at the exhibits in the Interpretive Center which was pretty interesting. It was here that we learned about “Teddy the Hermit”, a Norwegian-born sailor who was shipwrecked on the south bank of Grand Lagoon during a 1929 hurricane. Rather than return home, he decided to homestead and remained until his death in 1954 at the age of 74. His makeshift shack once stood between campsites 101 and 102.
Here’s a tidbit of information about why the campground is named St. Andrews. It is located on St. Andrews Bay which was named by the conquistadors who made a practice of naming important navigational landmarks, usually bays and rivers, for Catholic saints. Which is why St. Andrews Bay was named for St. Andrew — it was discovered on the day the Catholic calendar was dedicated to the patron Saint, Andrew.
Once back outside, we unhitched the toad and made our way to site #17 which was a pull thru in the Lagoon Campground section. Yours truly immediately became a little grumpy – I immediately decided I didn’t like our site or the campground. Silly me! Our site was at an intersection of three roads which I knew would mean a lot of traffic and noise and had no vegetation except for a large live oak tree. Talk about a lack of privacy. If we were to have a campfire we’d almost be sitting out on the road! But not to worry, although we were less than happy with our site and felt having a different site across the road on the lagoon side would have been a better experience, we somehow managed to enjoy our stay here.
Fact is, the sites that front on the lagoon are a relatively rare commodity in our experience. Ho-Hum RV Park (private) is the only other park we have been to where the RV site is directly on the water. We witnessed several campers launching their kayaks and other water craft directly from their campsite, very cool.
Before I get into what we did during our stay, for anyone who might be thinking about visiting here, let me tell you about the saga of our mail delivery! In our five years of RV’ing, we’ve never had a problem with the delivery of our USPS mail or packages or the campgrounds handling of our stuff after delivery.
Every campground has slightly differing policies and procedures regarding delivery. Here at St. Andrews SP USPS delivers the mail late in the afternoon between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m, leaving it in a parcel locker located about 300′ across the parking lot. Apparently, retrieving and sorting the mail is the responsibility of the park employees manning the registration desk. And understandably, if the mail gets delivered close to quitting time, it ain’t gonna get sorted till the next day.
OK, no big deal, you get your mail the next morning, right? But that isn’t necessarily how it works. After trying to pick up our mail on three separate days, we quickly determined that the staff there doesn’t always bother checking the parcel locker the next morning, and maybe not even the next afternoon! As an example, on March 10th around 2:30-ish we stopped by to pick up mail that according to the USPS website had been delivered at 4:25 p.m. the previous day. The ranger on duty, without moving from his chair, insisted that “we don’t have it”. When I showed him the delivery info on the USPS website, again he repeated belligerently “what can I tell you, we don’t have it”. Funny thing is, 10 minutes after we returned to our coach, he called to say our mail had arrived. Yeah right! Isn’t that a coincidence especially when the carrier doesn’t come until after 4:00 p.m.? We suspect that after we left he decided he had better check the parcel locker to see if anything had arrived the day before. I won’t bore you with the details of our other two deliveries but the circumstances were pretty much the same, except the staff didn’t have “the attitude” and was much more accommodating. On the other hand, UPS deliveries get dropped right at the check-in office, so we received timely calls regarding the two packages we had delivered via that carrier.
Moral of this story is that the timeliness any USPS delivery here is at the whim of the personality manning the check-in office, so allow an extra day or two for any delivery of USPS items.
We also had another glitch while we were here. The hard drive on our DISH DVR started futzing out making it impossible to view and/or record shows. After doing some troubleshooting, Rob called DISH and they sent us a new one. We have a leased unit so there was no charge. He spent some time getting that set up and reconfigured. Everything is working properly now and we have also added a backup drive to preserve shows and movies we haven’t had a chance to watch yet.
Anyway, back to what we did here at St Andrews SP. After getting set up on the site and once all my interior set up chores were done, Rob was still working on the exterior side of things so I headed out for a walk to see what was nearby. As I walked down the road towards the fish pier, I passed by an area which was apparently the result of a controlled burn. Many of the trees had been reduced to blackened stumps or if they were still standing, the bark was badly charred and the usual bright green saw palmettos were now just dried up brown, singed leaves.
But underneath it all, new signs of life, small green leaves and sprouts were appearing. Seeing the damage up close, it’s hard to believe that these burns are beneficial but they are, helping to eliminate the less desirable invasive plants, thus ensuring that the native trees and plants have a chance to flourish. The burns also reduces the dry underbrush which can turn into kindling during an uncontrolled wildfire. And most importantly, there are some plant species that will not propagate at all unless they are subject to a fire.
Walking past that area, I turned to head out to the fish pier where there were a number of people fishing under the watchful eye of a heron waiting hungrily for a free lunch. He just stood there, unconcerned by my presence as I walked past him. I slowly retraced my steps back to the coach.
Back at the coach I decided to see if there were any geocaches nearby. Of course, there was one near the Old Cracker Turpentine Still so Rob and I went off in search of hidden treasure. After walking along the beach for a bit, we picked up one of the trails, heading towards the geocache coordinates. Eureka! After a little hunting we found it.
Continuing along the trail, we arrived at the Turpentine Still. The still had been in operation from the early 1900’s to about 1930 and was originally located about 18 miles from St. Andrews. It was donated and moved to the park in 1964. Very well done with signs explaining the mechanics of the Turpentine harvesting and distillation process.
After we finished absorbing all the info at the Turpentine Still, we headed out on the Pine Flatwoods Trail. Nice trail which meanders through sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, fresh water marshes and saltwater marshes along the shoreline.
Several deer were rummaging for food in the undergrowth, not the least bit spooked by our presence. As we walked by the marshes, there was constant chittering. Never did figure out if it was some type of insect or frogs or some other creatures. Whatever it was there were a lot of them. The trail ultimately ends up near the shoreline of the Grand Lagoon where a left turn heads back towards the boat ramp or a right turn heads out towards Sandy Point, on the Gulf side. Initially we took a left but on another day we took a right, taking a lovely walk along the beach around the point not too far from the West Jetty.
On another day, we walked to the Gator Lake Trail, a self-guided .36 mile loop that leads “over an ancient dune system, past a marsh and along the lake’s margin”. At the beginning of the trail, there was a small, maybe about 3′ long baby alligator just lazing along the shore line. Always fun watching these critters do nothing!
Along the trail, we passed by sand pines, rosemary shrubs, reindeer moss, cabbage palms, sand live oak and other types of vegetation. At Bird Island Overlook, we could see a number of Great Egrets and Little Blue Herons perched in the trees. This apparently is one of their favorite nesting areas.
Not too far from Gator Lake is the West Jetty and beach area. The West Jetty is formed by large rocks (not natural) that extend into the gulf directly off the shoreline near the park’s southwest corner.
There is a park store here, several picnic areas and boardwalks leading down to the beach. At the pavilion, there is a sign about the History of the Guns of St. Andrews. Apparently this area was a “major part of the St. Andrews Sound Military Reservation. In 1942 the War Department selected the site overlooking the new pass for a temporary Harbor Defense installation and directed the emplacement of two155 mm guns to be built among the dunes just west of the jetties. To this day one of the original gun mounts is now shaded by a pavilion to protect it from the elements. It is also, one of the most popular sites on the park for weddings.” Nice beach although not as nice as the one at Topsail in our opinion.
On another day late in the afternoon, we decided to walk back to the West Jetty to see if we could catch another beautiful sunset. No sooner had we started down the road towards the beach, when we were enshrouded in the dewy mist of a fog bank. Maybe we wouldn’t see a sunset but we kept walking anyway. Wow, look at that surf! Surf boarders were everywhere, some running on the sand, hoping to get in the water in time to catch that best wave. With the fog it almost felt like we were watching a creatures from the deep movie. We figured that there wouldn’t be a decent sunset but as we walked along the beach suddenly the fog lifted and we had a lovely sunset anyway!
We did some sightseeing outside the park but I’ll cover that in a separate post.
Here’s some more photos.