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Gulf Islands National Seashore
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Gulf Islands national seashore

I came to Florida looking for sun and surf, and by happy accident found possibly the most beautiful beach in the Panhandle – Gulf Islands. This is a National Park, unspoiled and pristine, with snow-white sand and emerald green waters. A lovely park to drive through, if nothing else.

Gulf Islands is a long, finger-thin peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Pensacola Bay on the other. You could walk from one body of water to the other in about 10 minutes.

gulf beach

I spent a little time on the beach today. But much of the afternoon was devoted to fretting over the coach’s electrical system. Seems I have a bad circuit breaker and it’s a kinda crucial – runs the entire 30 amp system in the motorhome. Nothing I can fiddle-fix by myself, although I tried gamely for a few hours.

I’ve been trying to set up an appointment with a mobile RV repairman and not get too distraught over equipment failures. Meanwhile, I’m powered up via the big DC coach batteries, which should give me plenty of juice for a few days.



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Gaters & Goofballs

by Richie

St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach, FL
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Hoo Betty – it’s cold here.

I came to Florida to stop shivering in the cold, and got no relief today. After last night’s storm, it took all day to warm up to only 49 degrees. I actually wore my big parka – hood up with mittens – to walk the dog this morning. Shadow was in a lively spry mood, so the day was spent taking lots of walks, with me wearing multiple sweaters and the dog happily trotting in the chilly wind.


Between the lagoon (where the campground is located) and the beach is an area called Gator Lake. It’s a brackish pond that’s home to large white egrets, blue herons, googly-eyed frogs and a good population of alligators.  gater-comp

I stood some time on the visitor boardwalk checking for gator-like movement in the pond before I was brave enough to venture out on the nature trail. Hearing a quick rustle in the margin, I stood still until a small gator about two feet long revealed itself. He looked puny and unlikely to attack, but I did give him a wide margin.

I’d been looking forward to a swell seafood dinner all week – had my mouth set for scallops – so tonight I perused several restaurants up on the main drag, Thomas Drive. Couldn’t find a scallop in town. But there’s lots of fried shrimp and “market price” oysters, which turned out to be about a buck apiece.  

I ended up at a little dive called Scampy’s and had their signature dish which was mealy shrimp on top of overcooked angel hair pasta. Disappointing. But the key lime pie was fresh, local and sublime.

Speaking of fresh and local, in the booth behind me sat a couple of goofy gay guys, gelled hair and inked up and talking really loud. I heard one of them say: 

“That’s like asking me what the color of number nine smells like.”  

It was such a stoner thing to say and I laughed out loud, which of course made them even louder and more outrageous. Dinner and a show. It was the best part of the evening.

 Camp Cam

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Catcher in the Rain

by Richie

Panama City Beach, FL
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A nasty storm swept in last night, bringing rain and cold weather to the Panhandle. I stayed in all morning drinking chicory coffee and reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time. So in homage to J. D. Salinger, I will write these next few paragraphs in a mockery of his peculiar style, some plagiarizing included… 

The Catcher in the Rain

“If you really want to hear about it, I’ll tell you what it’s like here and all, even though you’ve probably looked at the goddamn pictures already. I mean I would have, if you want to know the truth. Look at the pictures, and all that. Just to see if I might like the article it or not, although I probably would be bored reading it. But I would look at the goddamn pictures first.

Anyway, there’s these two old ladies camped next door to me. They’re in a crummy tent, I mean it’s nice and all but it’s a crummy tent that flaps in the wind, and it’s been very windy here. They tried to give my dog some pancakes yesterday, the two old ladies. Goddamn pancakes. Wrapped in some leftover aluminum foil, like it’s ready for the garbage but instead they tried to feed it to my goddamn dog. So I said to them, “Don’t feed the dog.” And even though I said it nice and all, I just wanted them to go back to their goddamn crummy tent. Boy, I really did.

I sort of felt bad later like, with those two old ladies sitting in a crummy tent that flaps all day in the lousy wind. I kept worrying about them. With the rain and all that crap. I don’t know why. Probably because the goddamn wind was really howling, and I was thinking this would be a bad time to be camping in a goddamn crummy tent.”

(Thanks, Salinger – that was fun copying your style!)

I cruised around town a couple of rainy hours in the afternoon. It’s a good-sized beach town with all the requisite ocean view condos, ticky-tacky tee shirt shops, tattoo parlors, drinking establishments, scooter rentals, and beach clubs. Love it.

beach junk

Panama City Beach also retains large neighborhoods of Old Florida homes – low bungalows with shuttered windows, often painted in bright colors and usually sporting a boat in the yard. It gives the area a nice homey feel – lived in and well loved.


A long pier is on the Gulf side of town. It was too chilly and wet to advance very far, so I took a few quick snapshots at the entrance and hustled back to the warmth of the rental car.


I was looking forward to a good-sized splurge on a seafood supper tonight, but the second wave of the storm hit just as I prepared to drive out of the campground. The wind is howling across the lagoon, the motorhome started rocking and swaying a bit, and I decided that staying put was the wisest choice.

And I am a little worried about the old ladies camped in the tent next to me.


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Ahhhh – Beach Day

by Richie

St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach
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I am loving this state park. It’s deliciously dark at night, a spray of stars overhead and a glow on the lagoon from the lights across the bay. At night the tree frogs chortle and chip from the palm trees and the campground settles down to quiet.

The cab curtains are open to enjoy the waterside view, and dawn broke with a golden glow. I took an early morning walk and watched the herons stretch from their slumber. Two dolphins glided noiselessly by within 10 feet of shore. dawn

This would be a perfect park to ride the motorcycle, but it has been left at home. It’s a two person job to load and unload it from the carrier rack, and not an easy task I can press on a stranger to help me. I’ve been looking for an alternative rack or trailer that I could load by myself, but the prices are in the thousands. 

So I rented a car from Enterprise. It’s a cheap and fast, and they met me at the park entrance this morning.


Then off for a long day at the beach. It was splendidly sunny, beautifully breezy, and barely occupied in the lull before Spring break begins. Heaven.

This is what I came to Florida for – and this beach was worth the drive.



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Destination: Dunes

by Richie

Camped at:
St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach, FL
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Last night’s camp by the swampy lake was a bit creepy. I was the only guest for the evening, excluding the opossums, and as soon as the fog lifted at daybreak I was outta there. 

Next came a two-hour drive through Alabama’s back roads. Yesterday I speculated what was behind all the pine trees along the interstate, and today I found out: more pine trees. And a scattering of hard-scrabble farms. 

Florala was the biggest town I drove through, situated on the state line. I remember Florala from 30 years ago being a charming and bustling little town. But time has not been kind to this country burg, and downtown seemed desolate and depressed for a Monday morning. 

A bunch of endless driving miles later I started seeing signs for the Beaches, and I perked up at the prospect of being back among the living.  

Beach collage

The sun was glorious and temperature in the 70’s as I rolled into St. Andrews State Park, at the tip of Panama City Beach peninsula. I took a slow drive around the park and stopped to admire the pristine dunes and the sugar-white sand.

Camp collage2

The campground is located on the lagoon side of the peninsula, and I’m parked right on the water’s edge. Campers are bustling about, nearly every site is full, and I had a few friendly conversations with my neighbors already. Shadow and I are are relaxed and at ease tonight. Quite a change from last night’s Deliverance creep camp.


 Dash Cam Highlights


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