Thursday, May 12, 2016

Finding Saint Andrews State Park: Or When A Map Beats A GPS

Saint Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach seems to be THE surf spot, or at least for swells that come out of the east. This is where I found the most surfers congregated, once I finally found the park. I had stopped at the PCB Pier and found about 3 surfers out and one of them told me to make sure I checked out the park before I went home. I got back in the car, shirtless with a towel wrapped around me (this was important later) and plugged in the information into Googlemaps. About an hour later, I found myself pulling up to the guard gate at Tyndal Air Force base. The guard asked for my ID and I responded by saying, "My guess is that this is not the way to the Inlet?" He then put his hand on his sidearm and took my driver's license. The missus smiled and looked innocent next to me, but he was having none of that. He had me make a U-turn and then gave my license back, and finally took his hand off his gun. Man, I thought the towel had to be wrapped around your head to make those guys nervous!
He was no help in finding St. Andrews, but looking at the map gave us a clue. The state park actually encompasses the inlet and both sides of the pass. Unfortunately, there are no roads on the east side of the pass and the surrounding land belongs to Tyndal Air Force Base. So, the instructions would have worked if we had been in a boat. About 45 minutes later, we found the park and realized that we had somehow managed to spend most of our time in Panama City Rush Hour Traffic for naught, except to say that it still wasn't as bad as Orlando.
We made two trips to St. Andrews State Park and I was happy both times to pay the $8.00 admission fee. There is camping, fishing, and some hiking. Mostly, I was in love with the beautiful water and the way the waves formed there. I'm not so sure about the hiking, but they did have a saltwater marsh and something they called Alligator Lake. The water clarity is better than anything I know, in fact I still had a memory of it from when I was 14 and surfed for the first time at the PCB pier. Ponce Inlet and Sebastian Inlet can have nice blue water sometimes, but this place seems to always have it. It is something that seems magnified when you are standing up on a board out there.
The dunes are made of a whiter sand that looks more like what I remember from Cape Hatteras than from the Florida East Coast.
I've decided that Panama City is a place that I must return to, and this park is on my permanent list of places to see when I come back. I considered getting the missus to go the camping route, but she saw the mosquito spray truck in the park, so I know that is out of the question. I noticed that many of the surfers I sawing getting in and out of cars had camping permits on the windshield.
Great for long walks, birding, surfing, paddleboarding, kiteboarding and something else I've been seeing a lot of: guys with those parachutes and a big fan on their
backs. I'm not sure if I'm seeing the same two guys everywhere I go, or there are many of them and they travel in twos.

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