Ahh…the Good Old “Golden Years”…
Retirement does offer us some great opportunities. Last winter we took the opportunity to visit the Florida cities of Marathon Key and Key West and, while it wasn’t as warm as we had hoped, it was still warmer than our home state of Tennessee. This year, as the temperatures in Eastern Tennessee were hovering around 30°, I decided it was time for Florida redux.
The decision of which part of the Sunshine State to visit was made easier when Helen (adorable wife) received an invitation to join a girl’s weekend in the Destin area and I found a cabin in nearby Panama City available at the end of her trip through the Temporary Military Lodging catalog published by Military Living Publications. It was a textbook case of spur-of-the-moment retirement activity that makes our Golden Years so great.
Our cabin at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Panama City overlooked St. Andrews Bay and afforded us a lovely view of the rising sun. The cabin was small, cozy one-bedroom with a complete kitchen, sitting room, queen bedroom plus sleeping loft and a great screen porch. It was all you needed for a reasonable $70 per night. Our country takes great care of our active and retired veterans.
On our first morning there I heard the sound of sailors running in formation along the road beside our cabin. They halted at the waterfront to put swim fins on their feet then all ten of them went into the water (remember, it’s February) and completed about 50 push-ups before swimming several hundred yards to a boat out in the bay. I assume they were Navy Seals undergoing diver training and I salute them for their courage and dedication. After a leisurely breakfast and coffee on our screen porch we decided to drive the short distance to St. Andrews State Park to look for shells and walk the nature trails.
At the entrance to the park, we paid the $8 admission fee and parked in front of the Environmental Interpretive Center, an excellent presentation of the plants and wildlife found in the park and the steps being taken to preserve them. Several displays in the Center gave information about the gulf coast. I learned one very interesting fact about the white sand along the beaches from information on a display. The sand originated as quartz eroding from the Appalachian Mountains then traveled by river and stream to the gulf and deposited on the beach. I felt right at home.
After viewing a short video about the recreation activities available to guests of the park we were off. The wind had picked up in the time since our arrival and two men were unloading some kite surfing gear for a morning on the waves. Judging by their tanned skin and sun bleached hair; I assumed that this was not their first encounter with sand and surf. We walked out to the beach hopeful that we would have a chance to see them in action.
It was a glorious day to be at the beach…one that made the entire trip worthwhile. We walked to the end of the long fishing pier (no fish being caught) to take a few pictures and caught sight of our surfers unfurling their kites. We made our way down to the white sand just as a stiff breeze lifted the kite of one surfer and pulled him along the top of the emerald green water. Soon he was joined by his buddy and together they put on a show for the few folks fortunate enough to witness the display. I was correct in judging their skills–these guys knew their stuff. It was difficult for me to put down the camera. I have placed a few shots here and also in the Picture gallery following this post (Click here for gallery). The surfers continued to entertain beachcombers well into the morning. After they made several passes from deep water and back to the shore, we walked on to look for shells, finding several small ones.
Later in the morning we drove along the road leading from one end of the park to another and pulled off at several designated beaches along the way. We came upon several more kite surfers as well as a group of scuba divers at one beach. We toured a gun port on one of the beaches that remained from the World War II era when the US Government decided that large guns were needed to protect our southern coast. Fortunately the guns were never fired, but the foundation was left in place. (See gallery).
My interest in traveling by RV someday compelled me to tour the RV Park which was nearly filled with northern snowbirds who had traveled south to escape winter’s wrath. All of the campers seemed content and, on a day like this, it was easy to understand why they had made the journey. Many of the RVs were large and very impressive.
Our last stop in St. Andrews Park was at Buttonbush Marsh to see if we could spot a gator sunning in the swamp. We found no gators, but we did catch a few birds and made note of the interesting scene created by the buttonbush growing from swamp water. We headed back to our cabin before a gator found us.
That evening we decided not to venture out because there was one heckuva storm passing over us. We had eaten lunch earlier in the day at Hunt’s Oyster Bar in Panama City and consumed a few dozen oysters. We will take you there in a later post on Easin’ Along. We opted instead for the Main Deck Pub and Grill at NAS Panama City–located adjacent to our cabin and the marina–and were treated to a few surprises.
The first surprise was the discovery of how nice the Main Deck was on the inside. This pub was constructed to resemble an English Style Tavern with large beams overhead in dark wood. A well stocked bar was at the center with seating all around. There was a large deck outside with a view of the waterfront, but we did not go there due to the storm. On this evening (Tuesday night) there were not many patrons so we joined Pam, the hostess, and sat at the bar. Also at the bar we met Alex, a young Air Force Major and flight surgeon.
Alex was an engaging fellow who told us that he had served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and was now undergoing some training in the area. We had a delightful conversation while we enjoyed one of the surprisingly best hamburgers I have ever had plus a couple of adult beverages all prepared and served by Pam. At the end of the evening we traded calling cards with Alex and wished him all the best as he continued his career and cared for our soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
After Alex departed, Pam handed us another surprise…Alex had paid for our meals.
I love our visits to military installations, and I’m always overwhelmed by the young men and women in uniform that I meet when we’re there. There are a lot of great and good people serving our country whether they are Navy Seals diving in cold and dangerous waters to disarm explosive devices or service members like Alex sent on multiple deployments to treat the wounded. We salute each and every one of you while we live in the freedom we cherish and continue Easin’ Along.
Join us next time and we’ll take you to some great meals and to the charming old city of Appalachicola, Florida.