Pensacola to Crystal River, FL

Today was pretty much a driving day. Due to the weather (would you believe it’s raining?) we were not really able to hang out on Florida’s beautiful Panhandle beaches. Pensacola, Dentin, Panama City and Mexico Beach all have beautiful white sugar-sand beaches and dunes. There are long, skinny islands off the coast with houses built right on the sand. If we had a sunny day, we would be sitting on these beaches, getting some sun. But because it’s 22 degrees back home in CDA, we figure we’re supposed to be happy with 70 degree temps and to not complain that there isn’t any sun. Sigh.

The first half of today’s drive down the Florida Panhandle

Our destination today is Crystal River, FL where we plan on swimming with the manatees, rain or shine. Last night we sat down with maps, calendars and weather forecasts to work out the next two weeks. It’s difficult as there is only 2-3 days of sun coming up in the next 10 days. Our decisions were based on where we want to be when that sun comes out and where we don’t want to be when it is raining. Spring break pricing has added to the decision making. Our original plan of just finding hotels along the way can be very expensive or even risking the NO VACANCY sign.

Our plan now is to continue down the Gulf Coast towards Jim’s brother, Dave’s, house near Ft Myers, FL. The manatees are waiting for us between Pensacola and Ft Myers. So we hit the road, sticking near the coast making it as scenic as possible. We had no idea that we would find devastation along the way.

This is, or was, Mexico Beach, just south of Panama Beach. It was hit by Hurricane Michael in October of last year and it looks like it was hit yesterday. This poor town has a beautiful white sand beach but those Easter Egg homes that we saw yesterday up the coast have been wiped off their foundations and stilts here by the Category 4 hurricane.

Of the 2,700 homes in Mexico Beach, only 500 are now habitable. Boats are still scattered along the shores. Piles of debris are piled along the streets for miles. The sounds of construction are everywhere, but some areas seem to be poorer and have had no clean-up done on their neighborhoods.

Demo and construction crews are camped all over the area

We drove through Elgin Air Force Base and the trees were all snapped off, much like our trees on the Colville property. And then — poof! — the area was clean and green again, with a very distinct line where the 155 mph sustained winds stopped. The road along the shoreline had many areas where it was washed out and many houses had shingles missing from their roofs, but nothing like the devastation of Mexico Beach. We want to come back when they reopen and stay here. It is a BEAUTIFUL beach.

We had lunch further down the coast at St George Island, where Lisa found her first east coast lighthouse.
We planned to eat at Harry A’s but it was closed for repairs. We ended up at a beachfront restaurant by the lighthouse called the Blue Parrot which had a great deck on the sand.

The rest of our 320-mile trip today got us in late to a little EconoLodge in Crystal River. We have a total of 4,100 miles on our Subaru so far in this trip. We gotta get some sleep for tomorrow we swim with the manatees!

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