From Boynton Beach FL to Bay St. Louis MS – Nov 26-Dec 3

17 Dec

After Thanksgiving in Boynton Beach FL, we drove north to Vero Beach FL and spent the weekend with my grammar school buddy, Mike Spivack, his wife Akemi, and Simon their very vocal African gray parrot.  We spent one night in Vero, then did a caravan north to a beautiful park somewhere inland from Daytona Beach, Blue Springs State Park.  Mike had a business appointment with the owner of the gift shop and sold him some 50 zillion manatee carvings.  OK, manatees are a big thing here, but I just don’t get it.  They’re like big seals on Valium.  Of course, I’ve never seen one in person, but I don’t that get in my way of having a judgment about them.  Anyway, we don’t get to see the Spivacks often and we thoroughly enjoyed spending several days with them.

I haven’t made the time to straighten out the photographs from my camera (i.e. I don’t know where they’re hiding in the computer).  But, posted below (more . . .) are some iPhone photos.

Additional text follows image gallery.

We left Mike and Akemi on Sunday morning, heading in a northwesterly direction.  We decided to spend some time on the Florida Gulf Coast, aka the Emerald Coast.  We spent the day driving.   Since it was a holiday weekend, we stuck to secondary highways and avoided the traffic.  We drove through small towns, small businesses, and horse ranches, and two national forests.  The interior of Florida is much different than the coast.  We found a campground just as the sun was setting.  Finding campgrounds can often be a challenge.  In the north campgrounds were virtually empty, and many were closing for the season.  In the warmer south the campgrounds have high occupancy levels – filled with “snowbirds” (people fleeing from the cold north to spend the winter in their RVs) and transitory workers.  The campsites tend to be close to one another, and offer little privacy.  We prefer the state or federal campgrounds which limit the length of time people can stay, and offer much more space in an unspoiled woods or forest environment.

We spent time in Panama City Beach and Grayton Beach FL.  I’m still not a fan of Florida.  I was stunned by Panama Beach City.  While the beaches are magnificent, powdery white sand and emerald green ocean, they are lined with gigantic condos and hotels, tacky roadside attractions and tourist stores.  There is a huge regional shopping center that looks like a tropical version of Universal City.  Being there in the off-season is weird, like being in a ghost town.  We moved west to Grayton Beach and Destin, a much saner environment.  We stayed in a beautiful state campground.  This area has some sort of regular economy with people involved in non-tourist businesses.  I was happy to get away from Panama Beach City.  Despite all the damage from hurricanes, this coast is filled with new construction.

We moved further west to Pensacola FL, spending the night.  The weather has turned to very cold, down into the 20’s at night.  We sleep very well in the cold.  Our 42 inch wide bed is like a cocoon, and we have ample blankets.  It’s just that we don’t want to get up in the morning.  Pensacola is the home of a Naval Air Station.  We went to the fascinating Naval Aviation Museum which houses a collection of planes from the early days of flight to modern warplanes.  The IMAX theatre featured “Hubble,” about the history of the telescope and captivating images of the universe.  It was a great afternoon.

Next stop, Mobile AL.  We were disappointed.  The town feels like it’s economically depressed, and we didn’t find much energy or excitement in the city on a Friday afternoon.  The architecture reflects a French influence, somewhat like New Orleans.  Near Mobile Bay, there are a number of skyscrappers.  Two of them, RSA Battle Tower and Renaissance Hotel, have similar unique spires that dominate the skyline.  We met Dan, a salesman at a local furniture store, who filled us in on the history of Mobile.  We had lunch at an excellent Mexican Restaurant, Fuego Mexican, which we found on Yelp.  We’ve been having good luck using Yelp.  Eating is a major part of a road trip, and having a resource like Yelp has been great.

Highway 90 runs along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.  We bypassed Pasagoula, and drove through Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis.  We took this route in 2006, six months after Katrina.  The area was devastated.  Pass Christian looked like it had been virtually wiped out.  Just east of the town businesses from WalMart to the everpresent Waffle House were reduced to rubble.  Tall poles that once held the stores signage remained as ominous grave markers.  The tops of bridges were carried off their foundations and deposited in the water.  Gas stations awnings flew away.  Now, in 2010, the recovery almost hides the remaining destruction.  Hints of the remaining destruction include empty lots with “For Sale” signs, foundations that once held someone’s home or business, boarded up abandoned buildings.  WalMart built a huge new store, but it’s now set back something like a 1/2 mile from the highway.  Just outside of Biloxi we saw some buildings that looked totally out of place.  Imagine the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum or the LA Disney Concert Hall on the Gulf Coast.  Close, the buildings are the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum designed by Frank Gehry.  Ohr was a “mad” potter in the late 1800’s, and O’Keefe was the benefactor behind the museum.  Paul, docent at the museum, spent time with us and furnished us with a wealth of information.

Next stop, New Orleans.