Port St. Joe: St Joseph Peninsula State Park

We had one Saturday scheduled in Florida, so we decided to spend it exploring St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is consistently rated one of the best beaches in not only Florida, but the nation. Much more sunscreen was applied.

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The park is at the end of the St. Joe peninsula and has the larger gulf waves lapping on the west side, and the calm clear waters of St Joseph Bay on the east. The drive from St Joe was around 35 minutes. According to their site, the state park boasts 9.5 miles of “snow-white” sand beaches and “aqua-blue” waters.

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Entry to the park was a mere $6 per vehicle, but there are no dogs allowed, so our new friend Turtle had to stay home and catch up on his reading.

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The park also has 119 campsites for those that want to hang out longer for some serious fishing, kayaking or SUP.

The gulf had more beach, bigger waves and got deep quickly, which made swimming much more fun that it was at Salinas Park. Everyone spent lots of time in the water, which was also more clear than the water at Salinas Park, but still not quite clear enough to get a good underwater selfie.

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As we sat and stared out into the blue, I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. I finally grabbed the camera and stared at a couple of holes in the sand for the better part of 5 minutes. Then I finally saw this little guy flicking sand around cleaning out his burrow.

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These things are called ghost crabs, and once I saw the first crab, I started noticing them all over the beach. They’re pretty shy, but if you sit quietly for a few minutes, they’ll pop up to say, hello.

After several hours of playing in the surf, we began digging around and playing in the sand. There is something about pointless, mindless physical labor that is so relaxing. So naturally after digging what was a pretty impressive sand hole, we decided to bury two people in it, and make them into mermaids.

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After quite a bit more goofing off we decided to wander over and check out the bay. The water on this side was shallow for hundreds of feet out and totally clear. However, if you plan to venture into it, I highly recommend wearing shoes of some sort because it was teaming with crabs and spiky anemones.

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After exploring the area, we grabbed an empty shell and walked back to our chairs. As we packed up the car, we got a surprise when a crab made an appearance from the “empty” shell, demanding we put him (or her) back into the bay. We set the crab free and headed back to Port St. Joe.

Port St. Joe: Salinas Park and Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach

Friday was our first beach day, and the decision was made to try out Salinas Park on Cape San Blas Road.

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Salinas Park caught our interest for several reasons:

1. It wasn’t too far from where we were staying in St. Joe.

2. It was free.

3. It’s dog friendly.

4. It’s where we were already scheduled to meet for Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach that evening.

The county park was established in 1991, and it has bathroom and picnic facilities, but we didn’t come across any showers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any showers, but if there are, we didn’t find them.

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When we arrived Friday morning, we basically had the beach to ourselves. The sand was white-ish, but the water stayed shallow for quite a ways out. We spent most of the day lying on the beach, applying and then re-applying sunscreen, but not much time in the water.

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We also discovered the hidden dark side of Florida beaches — the biting flies! They came and went throughout the day, but when they bite, it HURTS!

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After finishing the sandwiches we’d made for lunch and all of the drinks we packed in the cooler, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the cars. Kelly and the Broke-A-Toe crew had already unloaded the horses for our 4:30 p.m. ride on the beach, so we enjoyed some shade while they finished saddling up.

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We had wondered whether or not we needed to pack pants and shoes for the riding, but due to county regulations the horses can’t go faster than a walk on the beach, so it’s a nice slow ride, perfect for beginners or people wearing swimsuits and flip-flops.

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One very special thing about the Broke-A-Toe horses is that several of them are rescued horses and older horses, and all of them were extremely sweet, especially compared to some of the ornery horses I’ve known.

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After a quick horse-steering demonstration, we headed back down to the beach to discover a pod of dolphins was frolicking less than 100 yards offshore. It was magical. Even the horses were watching the dolphins, and as we rode down the beach, the dolphins swam with us. My only regret was that I had a wide-angle lens on the camera because I had been planning to shoot our horseback riding experience, not offshore marine mammals, so the dolphins just look like specs in the photos. I should have brought a zoom.

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Our ride guides not only made sure no horse poop was left on the beach, but they also proved to be great photographers.

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The ride back up the beach went a little quicker than the ride down because the horses knew there were hay bags waiting for them at the trailer, but the entire ride was very relaxed and enjoyable.

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This really made a great post-beach pre-dinner activity, and it added a little something special to our day. Of course, they can’t guarantee dolphin frolicking every ride.

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We’re in Houston Magazine this month

Well, Gimme Shelter isn’t actually in the magazine, but I’m flattered that one of my long-exposure photos is featured in the CLICK section of the April issue of Modern Luxury Houston. Even if you’re not a Houstonian, you can still check it out on pages 22 and 23 of the digital edition.

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Thursday, April 9, I’ll also be on 88.7 FM KUHF Houston Public Radio from 5-6 p.m. representing Technip and matching donations during the Spring Fund Drive as part of our commitment to transparent reporting, sustainable development and community outreach.

And while I’m just promoting random stuff, I thought I’d mention that the crew of Gimme Shelter provides freelance copywriting, design, photo, video and translation services to fund our adventures. If you’re in need of any of those things, visit our photo site at www.fredfacker.com and like our Facebook business page Facker Media Services.