The Unseen Florida
|ARBORIAL GRAVEYARD: Dead Lakes State Recreation Area in late November (Nathan Borchelt)|
While it's perfectly understandable that you might never leave the balcony of your room at Watercolor Inn, if you stay sedentary you'll miss out on a few of the other choice attractions within easy driving distance. Instead, try to carve out a few days to explore the seldom-seen Florida panhandle. First, head east from the resort to Port St. Joe, a sleepy coastal town next to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. You could hike through the park onto Cape San Blas, a narrow stretch of sand that hugs St. Joseph Harbor, but to save on timeand get into the waterhop a kayak instead. From the put-in at the public beachfront, it's about an hour's paddle across the water to the park's pristine, undeveloped beach. During the summer, crowds on motor boats occasionally anchor nearby, but off-season you'll be isolated enough to believe you've found your own private islandsave for one thing; schools of playful dolphin typically feed and swim in the water between the mainland and this hook-shaped finger of sand. If the aquatic gods are smiling, your presence might even coax one of the mammals to launch out of the water and twist in a series of perfectly-executed aerobatics as you stand, dumbfounded, less than 20 feet away.
Don't let the name of the next locale fool you into pangs of morbidity. Dead Lakes Sate Recreation Area, about an hour's drive inland from Port St. Joe, may sound ominous, but this 83-acre lake is awe-inspiring. Formed when the current of the Apalachicola River created sandbars that blocked off the Chipola River and the high water killed thousands of once-hearty trees, today this watery land of tree trunks is populated by fox, raccoons, opossums, deer, rabbits, beaver, turtles, and egrets. While local fisherman troll these waters with some regularity, you're liable to be the only kayak on the glass-smooth water as you paddle through the maze of gnarled trees. Contact Seahorse Water Safaris (www.seahorsewatersafaris.com; 850.227.1099) or Scallop Cove (www.scallopcove.com; 850.227.1573) to arrange for kayaking tours of both Dead Lakes and the trip out to Cape San Blas.
To inject a bit of life into that ghostly experienceor to spread out the kayaking trips over a couple of days, visit Apalachicola, about 45 minutes east of Port St. Joe. This small town resides at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, and perhaps its biggest draw remains the eponymous oyster. Though every restaurant there offers all variety of preparation imaginable, nothing beats the raw, fresh-shucked Apalachicola oyster dressed with some fresh lemon juice, washed down with a draft beer. Bay scallops are also harvested from July through September. Drop into Boss Oyster (123 Water Street; www.apalachicolariverinn.com/boss.html; 850.653.8139) for the true Apalachicola experience. For such a small town, Apalachicola has a surprising number of antique shops, more than 200 buildings on the historic registry, and a fantastic array of restaurants and bed and breakfasts. Check into Coombs House Inn (80 Sixth St.; www.coombshouseinn.com; 888.244.8320) and give the town a few days of lazy indulgenceyou won't regret it (or forget it).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication