Sunday, April 8, 2018

T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park - Florida (March 2018)

Google maps said we should be able to travel from Hardridge Creek COE Campground to T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park near Port St. Joe in a little more than four hours. Google lied! It took more than six hours to reach Florida's Gulf coast. 

Google wasn’t alone in this optimistic travel time estimate. Our Garmin GPS and Ford's navigation system also thought Florida was much closer to us than it really was. 

All three systems (we refer to our Garmin GPS as Jill, our truck's system is called Jack and Google Maps is simply known as Google) could only agree that we should be forced to drag Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, down some tiny country roads running through Alabama's and Florida's farm country. For some unexplainable reason, the speed limits on too many stretches of these roads were 35 or 45 miles per hour and a frightening number of those speed limit signs had the annoying “Strickly Enforced” notices attached. Jack would point us to the left, Jill would say go right and Google said to keep going straight. It was as if we had too many cooks in the kitchen. 

Somehow we managed to make a wrong turn and ended up in Georgia. Jack, Jill and Google all agreed we were heading in the wrong direction, but true to course, none agreed how to get back on track. 

To be fair, Jack, Jill and Google tend to agree when we are rolling down the Interstates. It appeared to us that once our navigation devices figured out we were traveling country roads to our destination, they were competing to see which unit could come up with the slowest, I mean most scenic, route to Port St. Joe. 

After driving for what seemed forever, we found a place in the middle of nowhere with a Methodist church directly across the street from a Baptist church. There was a parking area in front of the Baptist church large enough to allow us to stop for a while and stretch. Both churches had signs saying that burials in their cemeteries must be preapproved and that you could not simply show up and start digging a gravesite. It appeared that random burials were a problem in that community. 

As expected, Jack, Jill and Google didn’t wisely use our break time to agree on the best route for the rest of our trip. We were becoming painfully aware that technology was not going to get us to the Florida Gulf Coast in a timely manner. 

As we meandered through the backroads of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, we started talking about family vacations when we were kids. The backroads were the main highways then because the first legs of the Interstate system were only in the planning stages. 

My memory of vacations was of the family in the Buick and Daddy following his TripTik from AAA. As I was the youngest child, I was permanently assigned the middle of the back seat with my feet resting on the driveshaft hump. My brother and sister had to fight our family dog in what often was a losing battle for the open window in our car that lacked air-conditioning. 

One of our family traditions was the turning of the TripTik page. Mom would always read the description printed on the new page telling us what to look forward to for the next 50 or so miles of our trip. 

Becky had different memories as her family had a Ford station wagon and her permanent seat wasn’t really a seat. She sat in the area behind the last seat. The advantage to traveling in the luggage area was that she could stretch out and nap while traveling. It was always a mystery to her as to how they ever arrived anywhere as she snoozed her way through family trips. 

After much longer than the initial time estimates, we turned on U.S. Highway 98 heading for Florida Highway 30A, the road hugging the Gulf coast and the gateway to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. It is amazing how our spirits lifted at the first sight of the Gulf. 

We finally see the Gulf

One of our traditional conversation points while driving through the Cape San Blas area is about how it appeared more built-up in a year's time. We were shocked at the amount of construction since we camped there last year. It appeared that the road to our secluded beach area was quickly becoming developed. 

Rosie as we turn off Florida 30-A and head to the state park near Port St. Joe, Fla.

Selfie taken as we turn on to Cape San Blas Road

Fortunately, Cape San Blas Road dead-ends at the state park and you are quickly removed from the growing clutter of “progress.” After checking in, we headed to our site in the Gulf Breeze loop.  

Sign at the entrance of the park

We have our list of favorite sites, but word must have leaked out because we couldn’t get any of our “A-List” sites. We found ourselves on the “marsh” side of the loop this time. 

Rosie in our Gulf Breeze campsite

We have camped in this park in a variety of weather conditions. There were several times during our tent days that all we talked about was how cold it was.There were also times when it was simply too hot for tent camping. The weather isn’t as big a factor for us now because it is always pleasant inside Rosie and that was a good thing because the wind was the weather story this year. We had a couple days of 25-30 mph winds and the temperature dipped into the 40s a few mornings. The winds kept us off the beaches and mostly inside Rosie for three days this time. 

The beach area was closed during the wind storm

Our timing normally places us in this park during the traditional Spring Break season. Of course, the college students tend to gather an hour west of this park in Panama City Beach. We usually see families from Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio in this park. The college-age Spring Breakers that stay here seem to fit in as they appear to enjoy the natural beauty of this area. In fact, several of our neighbors commented on how quiet the park was while it was full of campers. 

Here are some specifics about this park:
  • There are two camping loops (Gulf Breeze and Shady Pines) in the park. There are some tree-lined narrow passages in the Shady Pines loop and I don’t think I would try to navigate some of the sharp turns in that loop with a rig longer than 27 feet. 
  • There are advantages to both loops. Shady Pines has more of a feeling of camping in the woods. Gulf Breeze seems to accommodate larger rigs and is closer to the beach. We noticed while walking around the camping loops during the wind storm that we felt more of the wind in Gulf Breeze than in Shady Pines. 
  • Our site was dirt and it took many leveling tools to help with the port to starboard lean. I think our leveler tools sunk in the sand as the lean became more pronounced during the week. 
  • Our site had 30 and 20 amp electrical service. I don't think the park offers 50 amp service. 
  • In addition to electrical service, our site had a water connection. The water pressure on our connection was a healthy 44 pounds. 
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection and I don't think any sites in this park have sewer connections. 
  • There is a single dump station near the exit of the Gulf Breeze camping loop. You should plan on waiting for your turn at the dump station if several other people decide to leave about the same time as you. 
  • There is a dump station in the Shady Pines loop near the Eastern bathhouse. You cannot reach it with your RV, so you must lug your sewer tote across some soft Florida beach sand to reach it. While this is a challenge, it is easier to use when camping in the Shady Pines loop than dragging your tote to the Gulf Breeze loop. 
  • There are two bath houses in each camping loop and they are all well maintained by the park's staff. The Gulf Breeze loop bathhouse nearest the boardwalk appears to have been updated more recently than the others. That bathhouse was also heated, something we appreciated during the short cold snap while we camped there. 
  • The AT&T signal was slightly better this year. We had two bars of voice and 4G data service inside Rosie. We are not sure if this is the result of the buildup of Cape San Blas or if we parked Rosie in one of the “magic” spots that simply had better service. 
  • There are two WiFi access points in the park. The WiFi at the campstore seems to be a little faster than the WiFi point between the two camping loops. I think I had a dial-up modem 30 years ago that was faster. Expect the bandwidth speeds to plummet when someone else starts sharing the WiFi signal you are using. 
  • There is a campstore in the park with some last minute necessities. I think it may be cheaper to buy a cow from a local farmer than a carton of milk from the store. 
  • This is a pet friendly park. 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS most of time time using Rosie's antenna. We also consistently saw digital channels ME-TV and CW. Signals from GRIT, H&I and Escape drifted in and out during the day.
This is a park that we always want to bring our bikes and kayak to. Toss in some of the best beaches on the Gulf and spectacular sunsets and you are talking about some great reasons for spending Spring Break in this park. 

We saw nine Airstream trailers and motor homes in the campground while we were camping at the T. H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park this year. 

The bay side of the park

The "alligator" lake

Along one of the trails in the park

Becky and Suzy at the beach

Seen between the Shady Pines and Gulf Breeze camping loops
A pelican near the camp store 

Suzy on the boardwalk

Becky and her new friend in Port St. Joe, Florida

Lunch in Port St. Joe, Florida

Sunset over the Gulf



Rosie at the dump station as we leave the park

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