Friday, October 26, 2007

St. Andrews State Park in Panama City

I have been planning a trip to St. Andrews State Park for some time now. I saw a photo in someone's Webshots album of site #108 and realized that I could launch the kayak right into the Grand Lagoon from the site, which is fantastic. However, this is a very popular park and only a few sites are set up in such a way that launching from the site is possible. In fact, those sites are 106, 108, 110, and 112. And, being waterfront, they are popular. But finally #110 came up available for two nights.

As with the recent NC trip, I had rain nearly all day of the 2 days I was there. But in between drizzles (never a real downpour, just enough to keep you under cover) I was able to get out and about. For a few hours on my only full day there there was beautiful blue sky and sunshine. Photos of birds are posted on Paddle Tales (even though I never did actually get out in the kayak).

The campground is located on the lagoon. The Gulf is only a short drive away within the park--you could certainly ride a bicycle there, and possibly walk to it as well. During the sunny part of the day, I drove over to the Gulf. It was in a form I have rarely seen--the surf was very high (it was very windy) for as far out as you could see. I noticed that it was breaking over a rock jetty and so I braved the wind and sand to walk down and get some (many) photos of it. Again--we just don't see this that often along the Gulf (during non-hurricane times).

That jetty is at the end of a point, which is where the Gulf runs into the lagoon. I walked around the point and discovered a beautiful beach stretching along the lagoon. The difference in the water was amazing. This was taken about 15 minutes after the photo above, only a short walk around the point:

Here's how that same beach on the lagoon looks in the other direction--away from the Gulf and toward the campground:

I would imagine that this area gets extremely crowded on early summer days before the real heat hits but when everyone is tired of winter weather. It's well-maintained, you have a choice of the Gulf or the calmer lagoon, there are rest areas and changing rooms. There are many picnic tables under shelters that overlook the water.

I went back up to this same area later as the sun was setting.

I like this campground a lot and plan to return soon. There is enough to do that I may leave the kayak at home next time. Captain Anderson's restaurant, a favorite in Panama City, is extremely close by, along a drive that does not include any heavy traffic. The Treasure Ship restaurant is even closer to the campground. The campground itself has a large playground. The bath house is roomy and was very clean (great water pressure, too). Some sites are covered in gravel so tenters will want to be aware of that when reserving. The sites are small, which is ideal for tenters or those with pop-ups or little trailers. The people in big rigs were a bit cramped in some of the sites. This campground has been there so long that thick vegetation has had time to grow between sites. I had low palms on either side of my site that totally blocked the views on either side. Even-numbered sites from 106-112 are long and narrow. Simply parking my car in the entrance also gave me privacy from the road side. The view across the lagoon is of condos and other developments. However, not only did I hear a great blue heron squawking as it flew back and forth at night, but one day at about 4 pm I was checking the crockpot to be sure that it was still cooking in the rain and a great egret walked into my site. I held completely still. It wandered around, getting to within about 10 feet of me. It was wonderful. I saw deer twice while driving back and forth to and from the Gulf. Interestingly, I saw no raccoons in my site at night, which is somewhat rare. So, although the surrounding area is highly developed, wildlife is present in the park. The campground was nearly full the entire time I was there, which was midweek in late October (a time when many campgrounds are less than half-full). There were only a few other tenters.

I recommend this campground.

While I was at the Gulf on the first day, I saw several kite surfers in the water and took some photos of one, which I compiled into a slide show, which is posted in the Photo Miscellanea blog.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Smoky Mountains Meadow Campground near Bryson City, NC

You really never know what you will find when you select a campground using only the Internet. Win some, lose some.

This campground, Smoky Mountains Meadow Campground, falls way, way on the win side. It's small and family run. Many residents have rented space for their RV and they return when they can or choose to. Fortunately, the best spots, alongside the creek, are not filled with vacant RVs. I was the only tenter at this time (which is not unusual these days). I had chosen site #17, as recommended when I called to reserve, and it was possibly the best campsite I have had yet. Grassy, shady, roomy, and right next to a stream that burbles over rocks. I had power and water (I needed to borrow an adapter for my extension cord as the power hookups only accept the large plugs found on most RVs).

Other sites along this stretch (see "Site Map" on their website for site locations) would also be fine, but I think this was the best. Not all sites along the stream have power and water. The stream runs just behind my picnic table and lounge chair in the photo.

The stream is wonderful. Given the recent drought conditions, I did not expect it to have any water, but, while a longtime visitor to this campground informed me that it was low, it had enough to make a wonderful noise as it tumbled over the rocks.

In fact, I set my sound recorder down next to it one evening when the crickets and cicadas were accompanying the water sounds and I now have a CD of the stream and night sounds. Here's a short clip (about 20 seconds long) of what it sounds like from site #17:

Stream sounds.

It was overcast and rained for most of my three days in the area (prior to leaving, the forecast was for 10% chance of rain...why do I pay attention to forecasts?), which did not stop me from getting photos--I just had to get out and about before the actual rain fell, or between showers.

This is the view from near site #17 (I imagine it's even prettier under blue sky and sunshine...)

The people there are very friendly, and I met one woman in particular who lives about an hour from me here in Florida. In addition to the human company, I was delighted to meet a couple of dogs who live near the campground but spend most of their time there; one in particular, a female named Blue, was welcome company.

Blue was very sweet, I never heard her bark, and she did not beg for food or bother me while I was eating. I missed my own dogs and it was nice to have her spend some time filling in that gap. She made her rounds every day, spending a little time at each campsite (everyone seemed to like her, I never heard anyone chase her away). I would look over when it was my turn and spot her napping in front of my tent--

--and then when I would look back, she would be gone, having quietly gotten up to move on to the next site. One afternoon she brought a friend who was also very friendly and quiet and unobtrusive.

This campground also offers small cabins. I meant to ask for a peek inside one but never got around to it. I believe there are four, with two of them right next to the creek.

I highly recommend this campground and plan to return in the spring. It's ideally located, very close to the Smoky Mountains and the town of Bryson City. There is an Ingles grocery store only a short drive away. The access road in is fully paved, and though sections are somewhat narrow, those sections are very short with several parking lots (mostly by churches) to pull over. The road it is on dead-ends at some point past the campground and so there is almost no traffic noise at night, only locals. The bath house is clean, the grounds are well-kept.

Photos taken on this trip in Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway can be found on the Photo Miscellanea blog.