Monday, June 27, 2011

The Redneck Riviera

Beaches of South Walton
Disclaimer - Let me make it clear, I am likely risking the scorn of fellow Southerners for sharing this information with such indiscretion. Many of our friends from the northern states are not privy to the region we affectionately call the "Redneck Riviera," a place where you can still enjoy a peaceful beach sunset with no one but loved ones by your side. A place that knows no crowds. A place with emerald green waters, fine snow-white sands, and daily magical sunsets. Regretfully, I feel obliged to introduce this tropical paradise to all our friends, regardless their latitude relative to the Mason Dixon line. So, my Southern brothers and sisters, please forgive me. I mean well.

Walton County spans the Florida panhandle from the Alabama line to the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. You'll see no high-rise condos in Walton County. There is an ordinance that restricts such construction. The beaches of Walton County are stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of nearby Panama City Beach and Destin. But don't expect shacks. This portion of the Panhandle is very much up-scale, in a Panhandle sort of way.

Most visitors of Walton County stay in rental units and beach houses. The beaches are pristine and remarkably NOT crowded. Renting a beach house for a week isn't cheap, but a much better value for a large family than a hotel. Having a kitchen will save a fortune alone. The popular beaches long Scenic Route 30A are Rosemary Beach, Seagrove, Seaside (The Truman Show), Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain, Santa Rosa, and Dune Allen. The beach/golf resort town of San Destin defines the western-most part of Walton County.

An affordable alternative to hotels and beach houses is camping. On the West end of Scenic Route 30A is Topsail Hill Preserve, a beautiful state park with miles of unspoiled beach and giant blinding-white sand dunes. Camping at Topsail Hill is very affordable. It is, after all, a state park. One big bonus of this state park? FULL HOOKUPS!   Read the rest of the story.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Richardson Tribe in LA (Lower Alabama)

Florala State Park, Florala, Alabama
As a child (60's and 70's,) and throughout my teenage years, my family visited Florala, Alabama regularly. My mother grew up here. Even now, my mother and father, both in their 80's, attend the annual family reunion here in July. This quaint old town is situated on the Florida/Alabama state line. In fact, the family property was actually located in both Alabama and Florida, which made tax-time very interesting. On this particular extended PB&J Adventure, I thought it would be a good time to introduce my children to this part of their history.

One feature that sets Florala apart from many similar towns is Lake Jackson, the largest natural lake in the state (500 acres). I'm not sure about that claim, seeing as how half the lake is in Florida, but I'm not one to argue. When I was young, there was a municipal park here. A beach and an old pier with a diving board. There were rumors of alligators, but I never saw one.

Since those days, Alabama has made a state park of the property. We love state parks, and we were passing through anyway, so we made it a layover on our Florida Panhandle adventure.

When we arrived at the park, the public areas looked great. As we approached the campground, we were a little worried about the entrance and the appearance around the office and RV storage area. Those worries were quickly tossed aside as we passed the entrance and into the campground. It's small, but very nice. I would have normally selected a lakeside site (which was available), but the Jeep trailer made a pull through more desirable.

After setting up, I took the bikes off the racks so we could explore a little. We discovered a boardwalk that wound through the trees and wetland for a while before becoming a paved path. It was an easy and enjoyable ride. The kids were anxious to reach the playground on the beach, so we went straight there. They played for a while until we started seeing lightning in the far distance. We sprinted back to the campground.

While camping/RVing at Florala State Park, we rode bikes several times, fished, and watched the exotic ducks, geese, and all their babies wander around the campground looking for food. I also have to mention the sunsets. Anyone that knows the Richardson Tribe knows we love sunsets. The combination of peace and quiet, water, sun, and cypress trees with Spanish moss is very relaxing. We will return. Click here for lots more pictures and a park overview.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tannehill Ironworks - The Home of Birmingham's Iron Industry - More

Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is a 1,500 acre piece of history located about 25 miles Southwest of Birmingham, Alabama. The park celebrates Birmingham's iron industry with a museum and a restored furnace and multiple buildings from the era. If you like camping, nature, and history, you will thoroughly enjoy this park.

There is a very large campground at Tannehill State Park with a handful of full hookup sites. There is also a creek, a cold clean spring, miles of biking and hiking trails, a small gauge train, a sweets shop, a restaurant, 19th century cabins to rent, rockhounding, fishing, and much more.

Tannehill has a great facility for events, and there are are a good many that take place here. On the third weekend of every month from March to November, the park hosts Trade days, a sort of swap meet. Then there's the Dulcimer Festival, a Civil War reenactment, a rock an mineral show, a major archery event (state championship), and a woodcarvers show. Frankly, it seems there is always something happening at Tannehill.