Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sand, Shrimp, and Summer

My mother’s goal in life seems to be to have all four of us in the same room at the same time, which has become increasingly challenging as my brother and I are now adults, and I have this little quirk of moving off to other continents.  So, one last time before I move back to China, she organized a little weekend family trip.
The closest place from middle Tennessee to see sand and waves is the gulf shore of Florida, so we started out at the crack of dawn (or, a little before that, really) Saturday morning for Navarre.  Along the bay, there are several little camping area; the one we stayed at (Navarre Beach Campground)  offered little cabins—there were beds for four, a kitchenette, a bathroom, an a screened in porch with rocking chairs, all just a couple hundred yards from the water.  You can’t beat that for $99 a night! 
The campground was just a little ways down the road from the bridge over to Santa Rosa Island; Santa Rosa is a barrier island that runs for miles along the coast, from Pensacola to Destin. The section of the island at Navarre is dedicated to public beaches (including bath houses, lifeguards, a fishing pier, and lots of Florida’s famous white sand).  The western end of the island is preserved from development as the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  Driving through the state park was probably my favorite part of the trip—white dunes and sea grass on both sides of the car, on a brilliantly sunny day with white fluffy clouds, turquoise waves rolling in from the gulf on one side, and the calmer waters of the bay on the other.  Now and then the dunes are interrupted by scrubby trees and driftwood; we saw a huge heron standing by its nest in the top of a dead tree. 
At the very point of the island is Fort Pickens, which was built in the 1800s to defend the bay at Pensacola.  There’s an eight-dollar-per-car fee to get into the park (good for a week), and once inside you can walk the ramparts and pose for photos with the old cannons.  A museum has been built in the old caretakers’ home.  Fort Pickens was sometimes used to house prisoners; its most famous inmate was the Apache warrior Geronimo, who was held there for a time before being moved permanently to Oklahoma. 
When you’re at the ocean, you have to have seafood; we splurged by going to Flounders’ in Pensacola.  We sat out on the covered deck; although it was a hot day, it was fairly pleasant in the shade with a light breeze coming off of the water.  A live musician was singing mellow classics; everyone clapped the hardest, of course, for anything by Jimmy Buffet.  The deck ended on the sand, where a beach volleyball game was halfheartedly going on, and the bay was just a few steps beyond that.  The fried fish I got was honestly the best fish I’ve ever had, and if I ever go back, I’ll probably get a shrimp basket like my mothers—I tried various things off of it, and particularly enjoyed the grilled shrimp and bell peppers. 
Now, I’m not enough of a beach person to enjoy staying at the coast for a whole week like most of my friends like to do (I get tired of sand in everything very, very quickly), but after a long weekend in the sun I feel like I’ve really had summer. 

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