As you have probably already guessed Panacea is not the vacation spot for everybody. When we asked a local resident how far it was to Disney World and the response was "not far enough" and that about sums it up. If you are looking for tee shirt shops, putt putt golf, loud beach bars, or crowds this isn't the place for you. You can find whiter sand, clearer water, and more people to go with them a lot of places but we don't think you'll find a quieter more beautiful sunset any where than on our deck. You can walk miles of beaches with shelling, and wildlife viewing as spectacular as it comes just by going out the door. Don't get us wrong, there are lots of things to do around here. You can make a 2 day trip and take in Disney World if you want to, but most of the things we like to do have more to do with the outdoors than tourist traps. We've listed a few of our favorite things, and some info to help you get started, but you will soon find that there is more to do than you have time for. Panacea has a website http://www.panaceafl.com/ with some good information on it. Panacea is in southern Wakulla county, see this youtube Wakulla County promotional video.
Get down for one of the local festivals. In Pancea there is the Blue Crab Festival in early May youtube and the Mighty Mullet festival in early November youtube home of the world famous international mullet cookoff. Probably the king of all local festivals is the Sopchoppy Worm Grunting Festival held in early April; if you only look at one of the youtube video links on this page make it this one. Worm grunting is a real business and the backbone of Sopchoppy's economy.
Swim and enjoy the Beaches! The beaches here are wonderful. It is a clean sandy bottom and great clean salty water. We get asked a lot about the beach, how does it compare to Panama City, is the sand white, is the water clear etc. It is not the same as Panama City or Destin because of the Ochlockonee River. The Ochlockonee is a fairly large alluvial river that originates well up into Georgia. It discharges a lot of freshwater and sediments into Ochlockonee Bay and the Gulf. In this part of Florida the long shore currents are east to west, so the fresh water and sediments that come out of the Ochlockonee make their way to the west, this is the source of the sand that makes up Alligator Point and Mashes Sands. In contrast there are no significant alluvial rivers near Panama City or Destin. The result is we are closer to the source of the sediment and our sand is not quite as white and our water not as consistently clear as it is a 100 miles or so to the west. This same river water brings nutrients and so we have more fish than around Panama City or Destin. Kate brings the sand home and uses it in "sand tray therapy" and her clients say it looks like sugar. But if you put it right next to Destin sand you will see a difference. The beaches between Panama City and Pensacola probably have the whitest sand in the world, a high standard to compare to. When the weather has been dry, or in winter our water can be crystal clear, but in summer it usually is not. Typically our water has a greenish color and 2 to 4 feet of visibility. We have no mud, just nice sandy bottom on and off our beach. What Panama City and Destin have that we don't are lots of people, tourists and development. We wouldn't trade Alligator Point for anything between Panama City and Pensacola. We were just down in Ft Lauderdale and can tell you our sand is a lot whiter and water just as clear as we saw there.
Rent a Canoe: There are lots of canoe trips you can take. The Canoe Shop (1115-B W. Orange Ave. Tallahassee, FL 32310 (850) 576-5335) or Wilderness Way on the Woodville Highway (850-877-7200) will rent you a canoe and carrier equipment for the week and if you like to canoe there are lots of possibilities. You can also rent canoes for shorter trips locally at the hwy. 98 bridge and other places. Kayaks are becoming increasingly popular and although Panacea is about 30 years behind the rest of the world we are starting to see a few kayaks. You may be able to rent them from The Canoe Shop as well. We are not kayak people so we don't know much about them, but the people we see in them seem to get around faster and easier than we do in our canoes. Youtube video of Wakulla Canoe trip. People have been canoeing here for a long time, a 4000 year old canoe was found on Dog Island and recently a 200 or 300 year old hand made 50 ft cypress canoe was pulled from the Apalachicola River click here to see it.
A true redneck experience: A couple of years ago Rob had just licensed a boat and needed to put numbers on the boat, he went to a local (it will remain unnamed, but if you spend a week in Panacea you will probably stop there) marine supply store. Now this was not a new business, they had been selling a somewhat eclectic collection of boat supplies for over 50 years. When Rob asked where the numbers were he was directed to the back of the store. Against the wall was a collection of various numbers and letters, lots of everything except F and L. Now if you have never registered a boat you may not know the first two digits are always the State's abbreviation, in Florida F and L, in Georgia G and A, etc. They probably had over 50 of every other number and letter. Rob went back to the store manager and asked about Fs and Ls the manager responded: "yes sir, we are always running out of F's and L's, we never run out of anything else!" When Rob pointed out that every Florida boat needed at least one F and one L, the manager looked a bit surprised and said: "Is that right? No wonder we always run out of em, be we don't like to reorder while we still have so many of the other numbers and letters left". That happened a few years ago and last we looked they still have no F's or L's, lots of other numbers and letters, and the same manager.
A note on the use of the word "redneck": Rob uses the word frequently and it is not meant in a derogatory sense, in fact he is a Louisiana native raised in Florida with southern roots going back over 200 years. You don't get much more redneck than Rob himself. So if you are a redneck don't be insulted, you and Rob have something in common. If you aren't, Rob knows wherein he speaks. You may detect that Rob has the Southerner's fascination with history and heritage. One of Rob's greatgreatgreatgrandfathers was John Lee Williams the founder of Tallahassee about 1820. Williams was founder of modern day Tallahassee anyway, it was founded in the early 1600's and abandoned in the early 1700's by the Spanish, and was a major Native American settlement long before that. Rob has other family history in the area that is not so glorious. He has a copy of a letter written by one of his Tallahassee ancestors that refers to "needing to sell Sara". A reminder of some of our southern history we are not so proud of, but probably need to remember. So prepare to hear tidbits about local history and lore, some of which are most certainly true. Kate by the way is a native of Utah, and while she really likes Florida and the area she can get tired of the history lessons and redneck stories, and thinks sometimes Rob writes too much. So when we use the term redneck or joke about rednecks don't misunderstand us, we like the locals here, they are friendly, good people.. if they weren't we wouldn't have a house here.
Now that John Lee Williams name has come up a few things need to be said about him, as he is an ancestor of Rob's Kate has had to listen to way too many John Lee Williams stories. Williams was a lawyer and land surveyor living in Pensacola when Spain ceded Florida to the United States. Under William Duval the first Florida Legislative Council alternated meeting in Pensacola and St Augustine and decided to select two commissioners to locate a new capital somewhere in between. Dr William Simmons was chosen to represent St Augustine and John Lee Williams was chosen to represent Pensacola. They were to examine carefully the uninhabited and largely unknown area between the Chipola and the Suwannee Rivers, a part of Florida then but little known. Traveling was not easy back then it took Williams 23 days to get from Pensacola to St Marks lasted twenty-three days where he met Dr. Simmons, and began looking for a location. They settled on the present site of the capital, which had actually been inhabited by Indians long before Columbus landed and then was a Spanish mission for over 100 years beginning in the 1600s. By the time Williams and Simmons go there it had been abandoned but they could see and described the ruins. Williams wrote: "The Ocklockonee and Tallahassee lands far exceed my expectations. Every vegetable cultivated here is luxuriant, the cotton fields exceed by half any I have seen before; the sugar cane is better than the Mississippi ground affords. Water is good and plentiful." In reading much of William’s writings Rob has come to the conclusion that he was frequently full of crap. This is a good example, most of the soil around here is sand, lacking in organic matter, nutrients, and generally everything but quartz. None the less Tallahassee stuck as the capital. John Lee Williams wrote a couple of books about Florida, one published in 1827 and one in 1837, they were reprinted by the University of Florida press but are no longer available, used copies can sometimes be found. His daughter, Pamela Williams, Rob’s great great aunt wrote of experiences in the late 1800s and those have been reprinted in Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives which is currently available on Amazon.com.
The St. Marks Wildlife Refuge: Much of the land north and east of Alligator Point is in the Refuge. It is worth a visit to the headquarters on highway 98 east of the St. Marks River. We recommend that you continue on down the road past the headquarters building to the lighthouse. You'll see lots of wildlife along the way, and there are numerous hiking trails on the levee system that start from the road. Call 925-6121.
Apalachicola is an interesting old town. Apalachicola ("Apalach" as some of the locals call it) is at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, the largest river entering the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi. Apalachicola was first settled as Westpoint in 1831, but the name was changed to Apalachicola that same year (the town of Eastpoint is still on the opposite side of the river). The name comes from the Apalachicola indians, not to be confused with the Apalachee indians, a different group that lived to the east of the Ochlockonee River. Their was an indian town with the name Apalachicola about 50 miles up the river; today it's location is most likley somewhere under the reservoir "Lake Seminole". Originally built as a cotton port in the early 1830’s (rumor has it the original slave auction house is still standing) Apalachicola went though economic hard times after the civil war. In the late 1800’s the town enjoyed a second boom as a result of the timber industry. Logs were floated down from north Florida and Georgia. Offshore sponging was also big here about then. Apalach was at its heyday around the turn of the century. Today it is a sleepy town of about 3000, but many of the older homes and buildings remain and some have been restored. You may notice the Bubba Crum for Sheriff sign in the house, we aren't really political, but when Bubba ran for office we had to take one of his signs. Unfortunately, he lost to his brother, Sonny. Hopefully not for the loss of one sign. Apalachicola is the largest town in Franklin county, and that illustrates how unpopulated this area is. Franklin county has about 10,000 people not one traffic light, not a single full size grocery store, no McDonalds, no Kmart, no resort hotels, no full size golf course, and about 45 miles of coast line on the Gulf of Mexico.
Tateshell.com is a good website for information on Apalachicola, Eastpoint, St George Island, Carrabelle, Dog Island and St Vincent Island.
When in Apalach eat at the Gibson Inn, an elegant restored old Hotel for a very nice dinner, the only kind of expensive one in the area (653-2191). Or at Boss Oyster’s and get a table on the dock where you can feed seagulls from your table, not formal or expensive.
Tallahassee, the state capital Lots of things to do here we think the old state capital, and FSU are worth seeing. If the archeological exhibit at the old St. Lewis site (the remains of an old Spanish mission built in about 1630) is open its worth seeing a bit of Florida's Spanish history. On this subject, Florida's pre US history is interesting but not well known, Florida was a part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years, and has only been in the US about 175! Tallahassee also has shopping malls, dept. stores etc., almost like a big city.
Monarch Butterflies: In September and October our beaches and shorelines fill up with Monarch Butterflies. This seems to be a jumping off point for them in their migration across the Gulf to Mexico. Sometimes the sand dunes get covered with them, and we have seen them many miles offshore flying south. The Monarch has a fascinating life cycle and migration cycle. Apparently they all over winter in a relatively small area in Mexico, in spring they fly north to populate the US with Monarchs and then return to Mexico in the fall. This takes several generations, it's not the same butterfly that leaves and returns. If you are down in the early fall look for them.
St Marks has a Mararch Butterfly Festival (call 850-925-6121).
Cape San Blas is a state park about 1 hr. west on highway 98. The beach here to the northwest of the campground is spectacular, undeveloped and only accessible on foot. You can walk for miles and see almost no one. The bay side of the park is a good place to snorkel and see the grass beds. In the summer you can find scallops in the bay. Call 227-1327 for information.
Visit St. George Island: Drive west on 98 and turn south before Apalach. The island is the closest thing you'll find to a classic Florida beach resort in the area. There is a State Park on the east end with nice beaches and a bathhouse (at least there was before Hurricane Opal, its probably been repaired and rebuilt by now), call 927-2044 for info.
Fly: There are a couple of pilots at the Panacea airport who will take charter flights and it's a great way to see the area and get a feeling for things. The Panacea airport consists of a grass landing strip, nothing else but there are a few homes with small hangers around and that's who flys. Sometimes you will see a guy sitting by the road with a sign offering scenic flights for $10 or $15, we've never been up with him, but expect it's a short ride. We have flown with John Haberson he has 2 small planes and when we went he charged $50 per hour for one with room for 1 passenger and $75 for the larger plane that can take 4 passengers. You better check. On a dry day he may be willing to take you to Dog Island and drop you for the day. John has a house in Panacea and one in Tallahassee as well so he can be hard to reach email him or leave a voice mail message. His phone is 850-984-5832 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eat some boiled green peanuts: This is something you probably can't get at home. All along the road side you will see little stands selling boiled peanuts. The most common is Buddies Boiled Peanuts, he seems to have a franchise that provides road side entrepreneurs with a trailer a propane burner, a big pot and a sign, you will see them everywhere. These are a local delicacy available only (that we know of) in this corner of North Florida and South Georgia. Kate is tormented when Rob even suggests stopping for these, and when Rob is being honest he'll tell you he doesn't really like them much. But you might.
Myths from the Internet: Here are a couple of items we found of questionable veracity, but no more so than some other advice found here, perhaps Panacea is closer to Eden that we had thought!
Tate's Hell - "Where bull gators beller and panthers squal, this is the place to be shun' by all!" As legend is told, more than 125 years ago 'ole Cebe Tate emerged from the grasp on Tate's Hell starved, crazy-eyed, and near dead. His reply to the men who ask where he had just come from was, "My name is Cebe Tate and I've come from hell." This swampy land known as Tate's Hell has challenged anyone that dared enter its path. Located between Sumatra and Carrabelle in the northern section of Franklin and Wakulla Counties it consists of approximately 200 square miles of tangled vines, boggy muck, endless pine forests, snakes, alligators and biting mosquitoes. There are many versions of this legend. One is that old 45-year old Cebe went into the swamp looking for stray cattle or after a panther that had killed some stock. The panther led Tate's dogs to exhaustion and struggling after his dogs Tate became mired into quicksand and lost his rifle. He was then bitten by a moccasin and wandered for 10 days until he finally emerged a battered man. We've heared tell his once brown hair was plum' white. Other legends tell of men swallowed up with their horses and cattle. You may even hear about a "lost civilization" where a stone monument guards a long dead city. Tate's Hell has been tamed somewhat by logging but folks still beware its potential grasp!
Garden of Eden - Based upon 60 years of research by E. E. Calloway, deceased, who resided in Bristol, Florida. According to Mr. Calloway, the Garden of Eden was smack dab between Bristol and Chattahoochee, Florida and east of the Apalachicola River. He spent over 60 years of personal time and resources to obtain his information to produce his book "In the Beginning" (out of print). A copy of his book is located in the reference section of the Evelyn and Maxwell Harrell Public Library in Bristol, Florida. Mr. Calloway used accounts from the Holy Bible to define certain facts, joined by nature and science. According to Genesis, the Garden was "Eastward" and a river was described as flowing forth from it and dividing into four streams. Callaway felt that the water systems here better suited than those of the Tigris and Euphrates. Further support of his theory comes from the existence of a rare gopher wood found only along the Apalachicola River banks and matches that also in biblical records where Noah built the ark of gopher wood.
Both Tate's Hell and Calloway's Garden of Eden are real places. Tate's Hell swamp is north of Carrabelle, about a 20-minute drive from Alligator Point and was just recently acquired by the state of Florida and is being turned into a state park. We don't know much about the new park, but it is probably worth looking into, maybe you can hear some bellerin. Calloway's "Garden of Eden" is actually an unusually attractive wooded area along the Apalachicola River. There are sandy bluffs overlooking the river that over the years have become eroded by an interesting process of groundwater transport of fine sand. The result is that the bluffs literally erode from beneath and canyons or hollows form as the ground collapses. This area is vegetated by beautiful temperate Appalachian forest and looks to many people like a garden of eden. Torreya State Park is a little visited state park located in this area and has some nice hikes into "Eden". It is about an hour's drive from Alligator Point.
Go see San Marcos de Apalache in St. Marks: This is the site of the original Spanish mission in the area. It was established about 400 years ago. You will see that the town of St Marks claims to have been established in 1527, if this is true it would make St Marks the oldest European settlement in the US. The old fort site a state park and has an interesting visitor's center. When in St. Marks eat at Posey’s "home of the topless oyster", the smoked mullet is very good, and of course the oysters can't be beat. This is a genuine Florida redneck experience. There are people who believe St. Marks to be the oldest inhabitation in the US. No records exist to prove it was inhabited before the early 1600's but there is some evidence. In 1519 Ponce de Leon may have landed there, and many believe that Wakulla Springs was his famed Fountain of Youth. Cabaza de Vaca probably spent the winter of 1528/1529 here. Cabaza de Vaca landed with a party of about 300 men near Tampa, with the objective of finding gold and conquering. The ships were lost and he made his way mostly overland from there to Mexico City over a period of about 8 years, of the original party only 3, including Cabaza de Vaca survived. Anyway there are people who believe Cabaza de Vaca's group left settlers at St. Marks, this is the basis for their claim to the 1527 date. There are also those who believe that when DeSoto passed the area in 1540 he left settlers. In some of the early reports of the 1604 missionaries who landed at St. Marks there appears to be reference to Spanish already living in the area. If in fact St. Marks was first settled before 1604 it was most likely by someone from Cabaza de Vaca's party. If so it is the oldest European settlement north of Mexico City, but even if it was not settled until 1604 it was still an important port and settlement many years before the first Englishman set foot on Plymouth Rock. Little remains today of the early settlement, and St. Marks population is probably no more than it was in 1650, but the oysters are still just as good.
Go see George the Potter, a good bad weather day activity. George is a real artist who somehow ended up making pottery in the woods near Sopchoppy. His place is well marked; it's down a dirt road south off of 319 just east of Sopchoppy. The turn off is marked with a visible sign; he also has a sign at the 319/98 intersection in Medart. We think George does some real interesting things and all of his work is unique, it is a good place to pick up a nice bowl, or coffee mug, we buy a lot of wedding gifts there. If you go, pick up a "Been to Sopchoppy met the Potter" bumper sticker. Sopchoppy is probably the closest town to Alligator Point and the quickest way to get there is to take 98 west across the Ochlockonee Bay bridge and then turn north on surf road just after crossing the bridge, Sopchoppy is about 6 or 7 miles north of the intersection. Sopchoppy is one of our favorite local place names, it's origins are unclear, but in the local Tocobaga Indian language sokhe meant twisting or convulsing and the word chapke meant long. The Sopchoppy River that joins the Ochlockonee near the town of Sopchoppy is certainly long and twisting, so some believe the town name is derived from the Indian name for the Shoke Chapke River. We can imagine that pronounced by Florida crackers 100+ years ago that would come out Sopchoppy. The town has little to offer, there is a grocery store, gas station, antique shops, and a nice hardware store of the kind you may remember from 40 years ago (if you are old enough). A few years ago the City fathers tried to put out a kind of a tourist brochure. It was just typed and reproduced on an old mimeograph, they then folded it and put it in a few local greasy spoons, it didn't seem to turn the town into a destination resort. It did brag that "In the 1880's Sopchoppy was an important rail stop between Tallahassee and Apalachicola with 3 hotels and a newspaper, today the town sports a cinder block city office building". All of which is true. The railroad was abandoned years ago, there is an effort underway to turn the right of way into a trail. Last time we were in Sopchoppy some feeble efforts had begun to renovate the old railroad station.
Look for white squirrels: This may sound odd, but there are white squirrels in the area, we have seen a couple and the area between Alligator Point and Sopchoppy is know for its concentration of white squirrels. We don't know why, but here is an explanation found on the internet, who knows maybe it's true:
The Legend of the White Squirrels Years ago I saw a book about the history of Sopchoppy. These books described the legend of a Chinese Princess being on a ship that traveled up the Ochlockonee River to the old railroad trestle to unload. She was carrying her pair of pet white squirrels. As the legend goes (if I remember correctly), the squirrels got out of their cage and survived. According to legend, this is how the Franklin County side of the river from Highway 319 to St. Theresa has white squirrels-today. They are not albinos. They breed with gray squirrels but the white is dominant. County Road 370 a/k/a Cow Creek Road, Boat Ramp Road, White Squirrel Road, and currently Rio Vista Drive parallels the river where the squirrels are located.
We have never run into Chinese princesses in Sopchoppy, but the remnants of the old railroad trestle are still visible from the river. We recently got an email from Joe Blackmon, a long time resident of the area and neighbor on Alligator Point, who also happens to be CEO of the National Catfishing Association. After reading this story on our website he wrote to set things straight. Here is his version of the white squirrel story:
"Mildred Jones, wife of Fenton Jones who owned the Break-a-way lodge on the Ochlockonee River at the 319 bridge and the Kingfisher hotel in Panacea, (which burned), brought 4 pairs to Break-a-Way in the late fifties. She got them from Highlands North Carolina. Some have been trapped by a friend of mine and put on Alligator Point. So forget the myths."
To be honest we still like the Chinese princess story better, but some how Joe's rings a bit truer. Either way look for the white squirrels.
Diving; A lot of people ask about diving so we'll tell you what we know. This is not a diver's paradise, except maybe for the odd cave diver who likes lots of dark mazes and has more SCUBA gear than sense. The water off the house is not dependably clear enough to snorkel in and when it is about all you see is sand bottom. The most interesting snorkeling is probably in the fresh water springs and spring fed rivers. These are crystal clear and full of interesting things to see. At Wakulla springs you can snorkel, but the area you are allowed to swim in is limited. You can go down river to either bridge and go into the river there and see more. Rob likes looking for alligators while snorkeling but others are not so brave, or perhaps fool hearty. The Wacissa Springs and river are also a good place to go, a lot of people hunt fossils in the Wacissa you can find mastodon bones and teeth, but we never have tried so don't really know where to go. For salt water snorkeling the grass beds in Alligator Harbor or off of St. Marks Lighthouse can be interesting, and in summer you may find scallops. The best grass bed snorkeling in the area is found off of the state park on Cape San Blas in St. Joe Bay, about 1 hour to the west of Alligator Point. Just go in off the beach at the park. There is a dive shop in Crawfordville, the Wakulla Dive Center, 147 White Oak Drive, Crawfordville they can give you more info. Youtube videos of local diving, cave diving: #1 #2 #3 #4 offshore.
We know even less about the SCUBA diving, Rob learned to SCUBA dive in the early 60's with an old Royal Master double hose regulator. The kind that the bad guy was always cutting the hoses on in Sea Hunt. Rob's father, Al, was one of the really early divers, in the early 50's before you could buy SCUBA gear he made his own regulator out of an old war surplus aircraft pilot's regulator. Fortunately he had the sense not to use it much and waited for commercial gear before he really started to dive. Well to make a long story short Al is in his 70's and still an avid diver, but Rob hasn't done it in many years. We know people do SCUBA dive here, but we don't see many of them, there is a new dive shop between Tallahassee and Crawfordville, and are probably some in Tallahassee. If you have your own gear there are both natural rock formations and artificial reefs in the area, but all are offshore. The water offshore is clear enough to dive in. Any local charter boat captain could put you onto some of these areas. Since we have fewer people than most of Florida any diving you do find is likely to be less crowded. We have also heard that there are some large freshwater springs off shore that can be interesting diving. Lastly there is the cave diving. The area around Tallahassee and south is honeycombed with caves, most under water. These caves daylight lots of places, locally called sinks, these are just holes into the subterranean karst limestone, some are large and people use them as swimming holes, others are small cracks that are hard to get into. This is the only place we have seen divers hiking into the woods carrying their gear, to some crack in the ground (sink) no doubt to go cave diving. Some of these people have even been know to come out alive. A recent National Geographic special highlighted exploration of the caves at Wakulla Springs, but these are off limits to the public.
For nightlife go swimming or wading at night, in the summer the bioluminescence is indescribable if you do this you'll never forget it. Pick a dark spot, on a moonless night and go in at least waist deep. This isn't dangerous and in the summer the water is plenty warm. Walking the beach at night is nice also, take a flash light and look for ghost crabs, they won't bother you but seeing them is fun. If you are looking for a wild night in a beach bar Panama City Beach is only a two and a half hour drive away, Tallahassee has some night clubs, or so we've been told.
Walk the beach; shelling at low tide is usually good, you should find lots of sand dollars, an occasional conch, and lots of other shells. Mashes Sands the closest beach has about a mile of beach to walk, Bald Point and Alligator Point have miles of beach. Youtube of dolphins near the beach at Alligator Point. Another local video, this one begins leaving Panacea and ends in Alligator Point.
Eat out: Two of our favorite places are Posey’s and the Angelo's. Posey's is just up the street and Angelo's is next to the Ochlockonee Bay bridge, about 5 min down 98.
Read one or more of Jack Rudloe’s books. They include "The Wilderness Coast", and "The Living Dock". Rudloe lives in Panacea and writes primarily about this area. This is good preparation for your visit. On early morning walks you may find Jack and his dog out looking for seaweed, he eats it and the beach in front of the house seems to be a favorite spot for him to find it. Rob’s tried it (Kate won't) and found it to have an "interesting texture", but doubts you'll be seeing it soon in famous restaurants. A note here, some of Jack's best books now seem to be out of print, it's worth a visit to the library to get them and read them before you go down. Recently we have found ebay and half.com to be a good source of Jack's books, they are used but usually a bargain.
Visit Jack Rudloe’s Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Panacea, it costs a few dollars but is well worth it, Rob calls it the very poor man’s Sea World of Panacea. Read about it on their web page at: www.gulfspecimen.org, you can also order his books here.
Go hiking: There are a lot of really nice hiking trails in the area. This part of Florida is about 90% government land, or paper company land, and is open to public use, so you can hike a lot of places. Some of our favorite hikes are on the levees in the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, but you can find trails in the Apalachicola National Forest, and in most of the State Parks mentioned else where in this document. Other than beach walking this is mostly a winter activity for us, the reason is that in the summer we find lots of other things to do, and honestly hiking inland can be hot and buggy in the summer. In winter temperatures are often perfect for hiking, and the bugs are much less numerous. Don't let us discourage you though, with the right clothes and bug spray summer hiking can be fun. The Florida Trail passes a few miles to the north and offers some nice hiking.
Youtube video about the Monkey Creek Bridge Florida Trail between Sopchoppy and Bradwell Bay.
We think one of the most interesting places to go is the St. Vincent’s Island Wildlife Refuge. This is about an hour’s drive west, and you need a boat to get there. We don't know of any public ferry, but it doesn’t take much of a boat, we have crossed by canoe. You can rent a canoe for about $15 from the Cape San Blas Camping Resort, near the island (call 229-6800). The pass from shore to the island is only a few hundred yards wide, but currents can be strong. The island has something like 50 miles of roads, but the only vehicle on the island belongs to the Refuge people, so walking is the only way to get around. St. Vincent’s is a more substantial island than most of the barrier islands, it has a fresh water stream and a couple of fresh water lakes, and it also has spectacular rarely visited beaches. It also has a couple of really unique animals; the Red Wolf, and the Sambar Deer, a large deer native to India. The deer were brought in over 100 years ago for the amusement of rich hunters, and have survived. The wolves are part of an effort to reintroduce the Red Wolf to its original habitat.
If you make it to St. Vincent’s you'll find lots of things to explore, but no services or amenities, we have never even seen anyone who works for the Refuge out there, usually we don't see anybody, but ourselves. Call 653-8808 for more info.
Shopping? If this is your primary interest go some where else, but if you get desperate, or need something to do with bored teenagers, or to do while you're curing a sunburn, or on a rainy day we’ll give you some ideas, but don't expect too much. There is a little gift shop next door to the BP station just over the Ochlockonee bridge on 98 as you go towards Panacea, and across the highway. The last time we looked there was an interesting driftwood art kind of place next to and in the same building as the Oaks Restaurant (also a nice place to eat, low cost and good breakfasts). Sometimes there is a little gift shop open in the same building as the Campground office, nearby on 98 right next to the bridge.
There are a many tourist shops in Apalachicola, and even closer, Carrabelle also has a few shops. Check out the Two Gulls Gift Shops next door to Harry’s Georgian Restaurant. We know there is some tourist type shopping on St. George’s Island but don't know much about it (try and call 927-2044 for info).
We just got back from a trip down and it seems several new antique and related kinds of shops have opened in Apalach, you might want to visit them.
Panacea is a nice little fishing village; you'll find a small IGA for groceries, Crum’s Mini Mall (not like most mini malls you're probably used to) for gas, fishing supplies, intermittently marine supply and auto parts. On the far end is Earl’s hardware, not a bad small hardware store. There are a couple of other marine supply and fishing tackle shops. On 98 at the far end of the IGA’s parking lot (opposite end from Crum’s) is an interesting little second hand store. On the far end of Panacea, going away from the Point, is a liquor store, and next door was a new second hand store. We think the best things in Panacea are the seafood shops, at least four at last count. These are small places, but they get fresh seafood directly from fishermen every day, its really good stuff, and more reliable than going fishing yourself. Panacea and Sopchoppy are the nearest towns to Alligator point, Sopchoppy is cloest in a strait line, but driving time to Panacea may be quicker. Panacea is a town of 950 people that was originally developed over 100 years ago as a tourist resort. There are a couple of foul smelling springs that a hotel was built around and it was sold as a health place to visit, hence the name Panacea. Well the hotel and most all the original development is gone, but you can still see the springs and some of the original pavillion on the east side of town just north of hwy 98.
Crawfordville, a little further up 98 has a little more real shopping; a full sized grocery store, a drug store, etc. Tallahassee has a full size shopping mall, department stores, etc.
Leon Sinks is between Crawfordville and Tallahassee on 319, it is an interesting place where you can see exposed karst limestone holes in the ground. Worth the stop, you can walk through and see most of it in an hour or two.
Sopchoppy, home of the world famous worm grunting festival has less than Panacea, after seeing the cinder block city office building things are pretty much down hill. Sopchoppy's biggest industries are raising worms for bait and honey. You can find local supplies of either. Tupelo honey is a specialty of the area. Good original Tupelo honey comes from the blossoms of the white Tupelo, a tree that grows in the swamps and blooms in spring. Pure high quality Tupelo honey is white and does not granulate, it's has a very distinctive flavor, and it is claimed that it's high levulose low dextrose ratio allows some diabetics to eat it. Producing pure Tupelo honey is an art, the hives have to be cleaned of old honey and put out into the swamps just for the brief period the White Tupelo is blooming. It is only produced commercially along the lower Apalachicola River and along the Chipola River. Although Wewahitchka is known as the center of the Tupelo honey universe it is also produced in Sopchoppy so look for it there. Sopchoppy is also home to Mystic Myster Sprinklers an outfit that makes some very unique sprinklers. As the crow flies Sopchoppy is the closest town to Alligator point, it has a population of 400 people and was originally an important railroad town, today it is a nice slow moving southern place. No more railroad.
Carrabelle, famous as the home of the world's smallest police station, is the closest town in Franklin county. It is about a 30 minute drive to the west down 98. Carrabelle is a pretty place right on the water, it has a couple of nice marinas and an IGA grocery (Kate tells me it burned down last year, so check before you go). Carrabelle also has some interesting little antique shops, although it seems to Rob much of the mercandise is closer to junk. When we first purchased Kate's Dream we got rid of what we thought was the worst of the pink furniture only to see it appear in some of these antique stores with interesting and fanciful stories to go along. With a population of 1800 Carrabelle is one of the largest towns in the area.
Got a boat? Bring it! You can keep it in the water on the bay side right in front of the house. There are 2 decent boat ramps in Panacea; the best one is about a mile south of the house, it's the Panacea Public Launch with a good ramp, a pier and parking. The other ramp is about a mile north of the house at the end of Bottoms Road, it's a good ramp but without a dock and only limited parking. Both ramps are free.
Golf: We aren’t golfers, and there really isn't a whole lot down here for golfers, but there is a new course in Wakulla County, about 10-min east at the Wildwood Country Club, it's right on Highway 98 (3870 Coastal Highway 98, Crawfordville 850-926-4653). The golf course is open to the public. We have had good reports on it. Franklin County really has no real golf courses. About 25-min west is St James Bay Golf Course in Carrabelle and a little closer in Lanark Village, about 10 min west on 98 there is a three hole course that looks like its nothing but a big field with 3 holes and 3 flags. Last we knew cost was 50 cents for non members, we've never actually seen anyone playing golf there, but if you get desperate……
Tennis: We don't play tennis either, and there probably isn't much in the area, but we know that there are 6 newly lighted tennis courts at the Wakulla High School that we understand are open to the public. The High School is about 25 min east on 98, kind of across from the Golf Course.
Go see the Tallahassee Downtown Marketplace: Fine arts, crafts, authors, writers/poets, live jazz, chefs, historic chats, children's storytelling and farmer's market, plus special events throughout the season. www.downtownmarket.com Saturdays. Downtown/Ponce de Leon Park at Park Ave. call 850-980-8727 for info.
Go on an antebellum home hunt. Before the Civil War this area was not as well developed or rich as much of the south, but there was little fighting and destruction here and little economic development since the war so there are some interesting old mansions still intact. The corridor between Tallahassee and Thomasville, Georgia has the greatest density of still standing antebellum homes found anywhere in the south. Unfortunately for the tourist most of these are privately owned, owner occupied, not open to the public, and not easy to find or see. Here is a list of some of the places we know of: Goodwood Plantation, 1600 Miccosukee Rd, Tallahassee 877-4202; Nicholson Farmhouse (it's been converted to a restaurant 200 Coca Cola Avenue / SR12, Havana, FL . 539-5931 (Havana it self is an interesting old town); Pebble Hill Plantation on 319 about 5 miles south of Thomasville, Ga and 25 north of Tallahassee (912) 226-2344 www.pebblehill.com; and the Meginniss-Munroe House, now an art museum run by the LeMoyne Art Foundation 125/133 N. Gadsden St., Tallahassee 222-8800. There are lots more if you do some research, we have never seen a good list of the antebellum homes in the area.
Tallahassee, the state capital: Tallahassee with a population of almost 150,000 is basically a southern town, it has little in common with other Florida cities like Orlando where most people are recent transplants from elsewhere, or Miami often called the northern most city in Latin America. For one thing Tallahassee is a lot smaller, and it has a lot more in common culturally with Georgia or Alabama than most of Florida. Florida used to be more like Tallahassee, it's the rest of the state that has changed while Tallahassee has stayed stagnant. There are lots of things to do here we think the old state capital, and FSU are worth seeing. If the archeological exhibit at the old Mission St. Luis site (the remains of an old Spanish mission built in about 1630) is open its worth seeing a bit of Florida's Spanish history 2020 W. Mission Rd, Tallahassee 487-3711. The Museum of Florida History, 500 South Bronough Street, 488-1484 is worth seeing. On this subject, Florida's pre US history is interesting but not well known, Florida was a part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years, and has only been in the US about 175! Tallahassee also has shopping malls, dept. stores etc., almost like being in a city.
Search for Treasure: There are rumors that gold coins have been found washed up on Alligator Point and Bald Point. We have it on good authority that the pirate Billy Bowlegs Rogers buried three chests of treasure on Bald Point (the far side of Alligator Point from the house). He started out as one of Jean Lafitte’s men in Louisiana and later moved to Florida and fought in the Seminole Indian wars. Before that the British attacked and sunk his ship, the “Mysterio”, in the pass between St George and St Vincent Island, the wreckage was found in 1956, but no gold was reported. As the story goes he buried $6,000,000 worth of gold bars in clay jars on St George Island, we are sure he buried a lot more on Alligator Point. He is buried in Mary Esther, Florida near Eglin Air Force Base. Rumor has it that about 100 years ago grave robbers dug him up and found 2 pots of gold in the grave. Even more interesting it is said that an unusual looking tree in the cemetery was hit with an axe and silver dollars poured out. He was married to an Indian woman and may have taken his name from the famous Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs. He lived out his old age in Northern Florida as a simple fisherman who occasionally did a bit of pirating.
Some other good stories including a 1699 shipwreck in a Hurricane that washed up on St George Island losing gold, silver, and cannons as it broke up. We have been told that artifacts have been found about half a mile east of the old lighthouse on Little St George Island. There are numerous other stories of gold, silver, and treasure having been buried on Dog Island and Alligator Point. FSU has an interesting website (click here) about real Dog Island shipwrecks.
One of Rob’s nieces found a British copper coin with a date of 1808 near the end of Alligator Point on the bay side. That’s as close to treasure as we’ve seen, but good hunting, we’ve sure it’s out there.
Go to Tallahassee and take a tour: Tours with a Southern Accent does Historic Tallahassee van tours daily at 10 am and 2 pm ($20). Specialized tours include Plantations, pre-Columbian & Spanish Colonial, Lafayette, Napoleon & Wine, Art Museums & Galleries, Antiques, Proud Black Heritage, Civil War and more. Full receptive services, multi-lingual guides. Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm, (Sat by reservation). Corner Monroe and Brevard streets . 513-1000. We have never done this but if you get really bored or need a break from the beach.
While in Tallahassee don't miss the graves of the Prince and Princess Murat the son and daughter in law of Napoleon's great General Murat in the old Episcopal Cemetery.
Birding and Butterflying: We aren't "birders" but we do enjoy watching them. For birder information on Alligator Point look at: http://www.badbirdz.com/guide4fr.htm We do know that the place is popular with birders. A related phenomenon we like is the Monarch Butterfly migration. Every year in September what look to us like millions of butterflies collect on the beach and fly south to Mexico (we guess that's a long way for a butterfly!). We haven't really been able to find anything written about it, but you can see it, and on some days in September you'll see lots of them well off shore into the Gulf of Mexico.
Before you go look up the tides, you can find them at: http://tbone.biol.sc.edu/tide/tideshow.cgi?site=Alligator+Point%2C+St%2E+James+Island%2C+Florida Print the tides out for the time you will be there, plan your walks and shell collecting at low tide, and swimming and fishing at high tide.
Go Visit Disney World or any of the tourist theme parks. You will notice we left this for almost last. Rob is old enough to remember Florida before Disney and he doesn't like many of the changes the last 30 or 40 years have brought, Disney is of course not to blame for all the development and spoiled beaches, but they are a good scapegoat. Before you go Rob recommends reading Team Rodent : How Disney Devours the World or Sick Puppy or another of Carl Hiaasen's books; at least it will put you in the right frame of mind. Seriously though Disney World and the Orlando attractions or Busch Gardens in Tampa are not a day trip from Alligator Point. If you want to go to these places you will need to plan to spend the night there, it might be best done either before or after spending a week at Alligator Point. We know how hard it can be to bring young kids to Florida and not take them to Disney World, when one of Rob's brothers kids were younger we had to be careful not to tell them that Alligator Point was in Florida.."
Special Events and Festivals: There aren't any, well not many. On Alligator Point the big day is the 4th of July, the volunteer fire department puts on a parade. It's no Rose parade, but some of the locals decorate their vehicles and it's fun anyone can enter. The first year we participated in the parade was 1996. The kids wanted to make a float so we decided to take Rob's old 12 foot aluminum boat on a rusty old trailer and turn it into our entry. Kate and the kids spend the day designing and making pirate costumes; even the dog got an eye patch. Just to be sure everyone got the message we made a large cardboard sign that said "Pirates" for the kids to hold. As the time approached it was a bit stormy, and just before the parade was scheduled to start we got one of our great afternoon thunderstorms. It blew over quickly so we loaded the pirates, about 6 nieces, nephews, and cousins along with the dog into the pirate ship and drove down to the marina, where the parade was supposed to start. It was wet, but the worst of the storm was past. When we got there we were told the fire department had canceled on account of rain. It goes without saying the kids were greatly disappointed, but after talking it over for a few minutes we decided to have our own little one float two car parade. As we started down the point others who were also disappointed at the rain out began to follow us. To our amazement in a few minutes we were leading a parade of 20 or 30 makeshift floats down the street. As we passed the fire department we were given a good scowl, but were not stopped. As word spread the crowds, lining the street at up to one person deep came back and we lead a great parade. We have been in parades since, but it was never the same again. If you are down on the 4th and have young kids look into the parade.
This is a collection we have put together from various sources. We can’t vouch for the accuracy of the calander or the quality of the events. If you are interested we suggest you try and get more information before going. We have listed contact phone numbers or information where we had it. The event descriptions are mostly copied off of the internet and we have not verified the accuracy of any. These may sound like big deals, but you will probably find some quite small. All of these are less than a one and a half hour’s drive from the house. We have tried to list the events chronologically, but are sure some are out of order.
STAR SPANGLED BLUES GATHERING (850)894-0181 (Tallahassee)
Wild Duck Viewing - Throughout January at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. 850.925.6121
RATTLESNAKE ROUND-UP (912)762-3774 (Tallahassee)
Forgotten Coast Chef's Sampler, St. Patrick's Parish Hall (Apalachicola)
Swine Show - Last Saturday in February. Showmanship competition for youth and adults. Activities include swine judging contests, a pig scramble, raffle, awards, swine sale and Bar-B-Que... 850-926-3931. (Crawfordville)
St. George Island Charity Chili Cookoff & Auction 850/927-2753
Natural Bridge Reenactment -First weekend in March. A reenactment of the 1865 Civil War battle which defeated the Union takeover of Tallahassee. The only Confederate capital East of the Mississippi which did not fall into Union hands. Encampments open to the public. 850.922.6007
JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL - Tallahassee Museum of History & Natural Science; (850)576-1636.
St. Marks Trail 5K Run - Co-sponsored by the St. Marks Trail Association and Gulf Winds Track Club with assistance from the Florida Park Service. 850.922.6007
Earth Day Celebration at Wakulla Springs State Park - April. 850.224.5950
Antique Automobile Race and Display 850/653-9419 (Apalachicola)
Worm Gruntin' Festival Sopchoppy Preservation and Improvement
CARRABELLE RIVERFRONT FESTIVAL
Historic Apalachicola Antique Boat Show 850/653-9419
Blue Crab Festival - The first weekend in May. The two day feast of world famous hard shell blue crabs draws 20,000 seafood lovers to Panacea for feasting, dancing, parade and more. 850.98402722
Spring Tour of Homes, Historic Apalachicola Trinity Episcopal Church, 850/653-9419
St. Marks Humanatee Celebration -Third Saturday in May. The area welcomes the manatees back to Wakulla County waters with a full day of live music, local artist exhibits, educational exhibits and canoe race. 850.925.6216
June Jam - 1st Saturday in June Sponsored by Sopchoppy Preservation and Improvement Association
July 4, Alligator Point Prade, Marina to Firestation.
Sopchoppy 4th of July Celebration - An all-day, all-American tribute complete with dazzling fireworks display. Parade, canoe race, food, and music at the park. 850.926.1848
Fallfest Sponsored by Sopchoppy Preservation and Improvement Association
Monarch Butterfly Festival at St Marks National Wildlife Refuge - View thousands of beautiful monarch butterflies as they prepare for their long journey across the Gulf to wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. Learn more about this remarkable insect at educational session presented by NWR staff and volunteers. 850.925.6121
Taste of Wakulla Food Festival - October. Restaurants from around the area showcase their delicacies in an outdoor food festival at the park in Crawfordville. 850.926.1848
Spooky Springs - Near Halloween night. Spooky river cruises and trail walks. Ghosts, goblins and other spooky things are in abundance at Wakulla Springs State Park. 850.224.5950
National Wildlife Refuge Week Festivities - Held the third week in November at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. 850.925.6121
Christmas in Sopchoppy - 1st Saturday in December, Sponsored by the Lions Club
Wakulla Chivaree - The first Saturday in December. Enjoy a big country breakfast to kick off the festivities. Demonstrations throughout the day include cane syrup and apple butter making; activities for children, arts and crafts, local entertainment and local food venders. 850.421.3125
New Years Eve Gala - Welcome in the new year with an evening of dining and dancing at the Wakulla Springs Lodge. Dinner buffet and live music. Semiformal attire. Reservations required 850.224.5950
The Sopchoppy Opry is held each month, usually on the last Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Also, The Wakulla Community Theater features productions throughout the year. Both the Opry and the Theater are held at the Sopchoppy School. 850-962-5282.
You need to go to Tallahassee to see Professional or College Sports, but going to a local high school football or other game can be as much fun. Just pickup a Wakulla Times (the Wakulla County weekly paper) or a Apalachicola Times (the Franklin County weekly) and look for a schedule. It can be great fun to sit in the stands with the locals and cheer on the Apalachicola Sharks or the Wewahitchka Gators.
JULY-AUGUST TALLAHASSEE SCORPIONS (850) 222-0400 or (850) 224-7700
AUGUST-NOVEMBER FLORIDA A&M RATTLERS, (850)599-3230.
SEPTEMBER-NOVEMBER FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES, (850)644-1830. Surprisingly tickets do not all sell out far in advance, if you are interested call.
OCTOBER-MARCH TALLAHASSEE TIGER SHARKS, (850)222-0400.
FEBRUARY-APRIL TALLAHASSEE TORNADOS (850)656-8166.
Both FSU and FAMU have a wide variety of sports and sporting events, including basketball, baseball, tennis etc. You can get most FSU tickets online at http://www.seminoletickets.com/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/ExecMacro/evenue/se/Main.d2w/report?linkID=fsuse I believe FAMU also has a similar website, but I couldn’t find it.
Here are some interesting links to more about Panacea and Alligator Point info (everything here is within a one hour drive of Panacea, unless otherwise noted):
Checklist of Wakulla Birds
Witchcraft on Alligator Point? This is a strange website, the only evidence of supernatural we know of on the Point.
Wakulla River Manatees
Wakulla River State Park
Wacissa River Canoeing A long trip but you won't regret it.
TORREYA STATE PARK Maybe a little more than an hour, but well worth it.
Tallahassee/St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail State Park
St. Vincent's National Wildlife Refuge No Driving to this one see text for more details.
NATURAL BRIDGE BATTLEFIELD STATE HISTORIC SITE
contact Rob & Kate at email@example.com
Alligator - Someone who makes allegations.