St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, FL Pristine beaches along the Gulf of Mexico

What do you think of when you hear “Florida?”

If you’re under 50 years old and have traveled to the state within the last 30 years, you might recall party beaches, time shares, Disneyworld, gators, Busch Gardens, Miami, etc. At least, that’s what we thought before this recent trip. This time though, we saw a different side of Florida– undeveloped beaches covered in saltgrass and goldenrod miles away from civilization, with an unadulterated night sky.

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We heard about St. Joseph Peninsula from a friendly couple we met in Lake Guntersville, AL. They recommended it for its untouched beauty and low(er) price of $24 a night, and since we didn’t have a strict schedule we gave it a go. We stayed there for 2 weeks, which at that point was the longest we had stayed anywhere with the camper.

An aerial view of the peninsula, found on visitflorida.com
An aerial view of the peninsula, found on visitflorida.com

Another state park has yet again proven our belief that natural settings are preferred to convenient (and costlier) ones. Our camper was right near the beachfront, about 100 yards away.  You can see the blue waters just on the horizon below.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is about 35 minutes to the nearest full grocery store, and roughly 12 from a smaller convenience store on the peninsula. Let’s be honest, the Piggly Wiggly in Port St. Joe is not exactly a stunner, so we did end up trekking into Panama City Beach for a trip to a health food store. Scott also had to visit a doctor for back problems he was experiencing, which were diagnosed as sciatica pains.

Unfortunately, due to Scott’s back problems, we weren’t able to do as much hiking and biking during our visit to St. Joseph. So the kids and I spent a lot of time playing at the beach and exploring the unfamiliar topography.

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One of my favorite moments of the trip was when we went to the beach one night, blanket and flashlights in hand, to view the starry sky. We laid on the beach, staring up, wondering aloud about it all. What are stars? How small is the earth? Where are we in the galaxy? Is it daytime in Asia? In my mind, these are the moments when real learning occurs–the natural progression of questions and answers and guesses and opinions that are not written in a curriculum or on a chalkboard.

This sky, this wisp of wind, this moment with the four of us laying on a sheet on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico will never happen again. Even if we all come back to this very park, we will be older, the sky might look different, and in fact, the very beach will have eroded to some extent. One day, not too far in the future, this park might be buried beneath the waters of the gulf. This moment should be viewed as nothing other than a gift–and a lesson in the beauty of living in the present moment.

Every day on this journey, this concept becomes more concrete. The facts that our lives are so brief and that circumstances constantly change make me very grateful we took this trip in the first place.

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More than anything, this journey has shoved us into the present. Whether we are overcome with beauty at a natural landscape, or dealing with the immediate need of repairing a furnace, or feeling the excitement of catching a large batch of live coquina shells, we are forced to deal with the now. This is it. This moment.

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When we set out, we knew we wouldn’t exactly be getting a lot of social interaction with people outside of our family. Moving so often makes it difficult to really connect with other campgoers and now that visiting people we know is pretty much over, we get that a bit of loneliness is natural. However, we think it’s more important now than ever that each of us gets alone time to do whatever the hell we want. One day, I took it upon myself to bike around the peninsula for awhile alone. At first, I reached for the headphones so I could listen to music or a book as I rode, but then I reconsidered. Maybe the quiet was the music I needed to hear; silence isn’t exactly abundant in my life!

It was so strange to be in such a remote spot, completely alone (I can almost hear my parents objecting at concern for my safety). But it was beautiful and I am grateful for this moment by myself.

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The water was a little chilly, but that didn’t stop Finn and Emery from jumping in.

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The bay side of the park was less than welcoming, due to the quantity of dead fish on its shore. This is a result of the red tide. The red tide is a common name for a phenomenon known as an algal bloom (large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms) when it is caused by a few species of dinoflagellates and the bloom takes on a red or brown color.

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But there were many trails to explore in the park.

Our next adventure was in the Smokey Mountains, where we met with old friends from Michigan!

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3 Comments

  1. Hello you nice People,
    I am Trudi and my husband Sigi we were your neighbours on St. Josephs Peninsula. We had nice talks together at the beach and on the campsite. We had a good time in Florida before we returned home to Switzerland the 28th of Novembre. It was a pleasure to watch your Pictures of St. Josephs.
    We wish you merry Christmas and a happy new year. heartily greetings Trudi and Sigi

  2. That night sky! How majestic!
    Algae Bloom! How fascinating!
    This needs to be a meme …
    ” We laid on the beach, staring up, wondering aloud about it all. What are stars? How small is the earth? Where are we in the galaxy? Is it daytime in Asia? In my mind, these are the moments when real learning occurs–the natural progression of questions and answers and guesses and opinions that are not written in a curriculum or on a chalkboard.”

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