Destin, Florida and Beyond

November 28, 2006

We hope that all who read this had a wonderful Thanksgiving Weekend. We certainly did. However, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

We found Destin, Florida to be one of those “destination” places where anyone can find something to do. We also found it to be under construction. I cannot remember being anywhere where there were so many high rises under construction at the same time. It was incredible. I suspect that a lot of low lying older buildings were destroyed by the various hurricanes that ravished the area last season and for two or three years before that. The developers were probably camped on the sites each wanted to develop before the water had drained away. I suppose I could be wrong, but it sure seems that a lot of these sites opened about the same time.

Anyway I was going to talk about the attractions in the area. We happened to be in town for some sort of high speed boat races that are staged on the intra-coastal waterway. When not racing, the boats sat on trailers in parking lots so the race fans could see them up close, talk to the owners and pilots, buy souvenirs, etc. It looked to me that there was a lot of money in the boats and the industry that supports them. The area also supports several very good looking golf courses and amusement parks. There are countless fishing boat concessions or you can just fish from the shoreline. The number of high end resorts was incredible. For night life there were nearly unlimited selections of restaurants that would satisfy any cuisine desired and any budget. But the activity that was most dominate was SHOPPING. The area hosts a huge outlet mall and endless stretches of strip malls with one of a kind shops mixed in with chain boutiques. There is one of those new style town centers in Destin with another going up just East towards the outlet mall. So, shopping will remain a top economic factor in the area in the future.

In the area there are two military installations with Base Exchanges, Eglin Air Force Base just north of the intra-coastal waterway and Hurlburt Air Force Base to the West. Of course we had to explore both of those bases and their respective shopping areas. Both have Family Campgrounds referred to as FAMCAMP. We explored them as well, just in case we need them for future trips. The FAMCAMP at Eglin is really nice, but it is so far from all the activities in the area.

We stretched our exploration to the West to Pensacola, Florida. I had attended Officer Indoctrination School at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in September of 1983 and wanted to see if I could remember any of my surroundings while there. Well, we may have been in “Ten Buck Two” for all I knew. I may have recognized the ball field we played softball on. There was also a Bachelor Officers Quarters building that looked a little familiar, but that was it. The base took a hard hit from Hurricane Rita in 2004, but that should not have made such a difference that I would not recognize the place. I guess the short stay coupled with the long time made it impractical for me to remember much of the base.

To the East we went as far as Panama City to see Naval Support Activity Panama City, the home of Navy Diver Training. We had been there years ago to visit a former shipmate and his wife. Our combined memory of this small base was only marginally better than my memory of Naval Air Station Pensacola. However, we were able to drive to the Navy Exchange and the on base campground. So it wasn’t a complete memory loss. We had differing memories of the campground.

Our loose plan while in the Destin area would have had us doing a lot of bird watching, shopping and resting. We were very successful in the shopping area, less so in the resting and even less in the birding.

We had a few shopping goals that sort of expanded out of necessity while we were there. Our little camper-style barbeque grill failed on the second night we were in camp. It would have failed the first night, but as that was Connie’s birthday I took her to a nice restaurant to celebrate. Anyway, with our grill down for the count, we had to put some energy towards finding the appropriate replacement. We had been window shopping for grills for months before and had narrowed our search to two or three different makes and models. My criterion was really quite simple. I wanted a small grill that had all the features that our former large grill had without having to buy a trailer to drag it around in. Needless to say that grill does not exist. However, there does exist a series of grills made by Weber that come close. They all feature compact size, cast iron grilling surface and reasonable burners. The one that caused me to drool was just a bit too big for the space I have available for underway storage. It featured two burners which give you much finer temperature control and therefore increased versatility. Backing down one model I found a very acceptable substitute. Now, if you count the gas burned and the wear on the car from all the miles driven to find this grill, I could have bought a much fancier model at a close in store. However, the opportunity did not present itself and of course that storage issue would still reign supreme. We finally found our new grill at Camping World and it was on sale. As I was reaching for the grill Connie stopped me dead in my tracks to show me that they also had the failed component from our old grill. Now I had a big decision, replacement part for $18 or new grill for over $150! It was a tough decision, but I was finally able to justify the additional expense for the new grill. First, the replacement part represented one third the value of the old grill when new. Second, was I able to get off so light now, I would figure out a way to justify a bigger grill that we really do not need when the old one failed again. I went for the new grill.

All this is important for two reasons. First, we spent an incredible amount of time and energy working this issue. You would have thought we were world famous grillers and trying to get to the next level or something. Second, we grill a lot and for practical reasons. Our kitchen is small, very small. So by me taking the main course and often times the vegetables out of the kitchen an on to the patio the process of making dinner is simplified and much less chaotic. It also allows both of us to participate in the meal preparation process without running into one another all the time. And, dare I say it; we eat less micro-waved food due to the grill. So, the urgency to return to grilling was somewhat real.

Now, to close this point I must say that I could not be happier with our decision to buy the Weber Baby Q gas grill. It is a wonderful little grill and had remarkable temperature control. We have had several great meals cooked on it already. You will have to stop by some time for a sample.

The search for the grill and the near overwhelming opportunity to shop continuously made it hard for us to get any serious birding done while we were in the Destin area. We decided that eleven days was not long enough and therefore we need to go back. We will and we will enjoy it all over again.

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get from Destin to Kings Bay. We drove a rather long day the first day ending at White Springs, Florida. White Springs is a small town North of Lake City, Florida. It is close to the Suwannee River and has amazingly avoided commercialization.

We spent two nights there affording ourselves an opportunity to do some birding in the area. We picked a couple of places we wanted to visit. The first was a small lake on the edge of Lake City. There are walking trails around the lake that are very well maintained, so this seemed a good place to start our day. The lake was so rich in birds that we spent some four hours circumnavigating the lake spotting some 44 species of birds. We had a great time and had the opportunity to sharpen our spotting and identification skills, both of which had suffered from too long a lay-off. We were eventually met by a woman who was visiting from Northern Virginia. She stayed with us for the second half of the lake and added to the adventure.

If there was a disappointment in these last several weeks it was that we simply did not do enough birding. We need to rectify that in the future.

We are now in Kings Bay where we will stay until December 20th. I suspect I will Blog very little during our stay here. However, that does not mean we won’t be active. The RV Park is nearly full and the temporary residents are full of energy and stories. As they used to say “There are a million stories in the naked city”. Well, there are at least that many in a military RV Park and I intend to hear some of them. We will also be spending quality time with our friends in the area. So, all in all the next several weeks should be a lot of fun.

Christmas will be on the western coast of Florida. Stay tuned.


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