After we finished posting our blog we went out for a bike ride in the area. We went to see the Crooked River Lighthouse and it had a very different construction than what we are used to seeing on the Bruce Peninsula. The beach in front of the RV park (as well as the offshore islands) were used for World War II amphibious warfare training and there was a museum for Camp Gordon Johnston. On the beach they had washrooms marked “Bouys” and “Gulls”;-) That night we had another great sunset and got to watch the dolphins playing in the water again.
Our next stop was St. George Island State Park but on the way we stopped at an excellent exhibition called the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve and it was free to visit! The Chattahoochee and Flint River basins drain in to the Apalachicola River and in turn the Bay and this makes the Bay an incredibly productive and important resource. The water is a mix of fresh water from the rivers and salt water from the gulf and this is the perfect environment for Oysters. In fact 90% of the Oysters consumed in Florida and 10% of the entire U.S. consumption are harvested from this area. They had several live tanks in the centre and showed Turtles, Slipper Lobsters, Fighting Conch, Horseshoe Crabs, Stingrays and local fish. They also had the partial scull and some baleen from a Fin Whale that had beached itself and died. In order to keep the oyster population strong they actually dump the used shells and other artificial reef material on the bottom so the oysters can attach and form their colonies. The skeleton of the Green Turtle was quite fascinating to see, this area is a popular turtle nesting ground. The oyster boats are usually homemade 20 to 24’ skiffs with a flat bottom at the back and a board across the mid-section where the fisherman would stand to collect the oysters. They use a giant chopstick like apparatus with tongs at the end to collect the oysters and then they grade them by size. Interestingly they use old engine crank case anchors dragging behind the boat so they don’t drift too far and then use the tongs to push themselves along to the next section they want to farm. The bay in this area is from 6 to 9 feet deep. About 1000 people are employed in the oyster industry in the Apalachicola area. The next couple of shots show the Bay itself and the building where the centre is located. The roof is built so that all rainfall is collected and stored in giant cisterns under the building to use as their fresh water source. Excellent centre to visit.
We crossed the long bridge to St. George Island and visited the Cape St. George Lighthouse. It was the fourth reconstruction of this lighthouse (1833, 1848, 1852, 2005) due to various storms damaging the others; this one was reopened in 2008 after using bricks from the prior one that collapsed in to the surf in 2005. Once we got setup in the State Park we went for an 18 km MTB ride to the East End of the island. This area is only for biking or hiking now. Along the way we saw an Osprey (you’ll have to really zoom in and believe that it is an Osprey), Blue Herons, and even a sail boat ship wreck at the East End that didn’t make it through the gap between Dog Island and St. George Island. The sunset was hard to capture this night due to the brightness of the angle from the island.
The next morning we went to the park Interpretative centre where a park ranger did a talk on Sea Shells and we learned a lot about the various types. You can collect shells from the 14 km of pristine white sandy beach as long as there is nothing living in the shell, of course Sharon wanted to do this. Next we did the 8 km Gap Point nature trail which showed us how they did Turpentine collection in the early 1900s. They would scar the tree (called them “cat-face”), put metal gutter drip plates in and below a cup would hang to collect the sap. The majority of the pine trees had the markings on them and also showed burn marks as they do control burns to kill off the brush. We also saw tons of Monarch butterflies along the trail and we figured they decided that Mexico was too over crowded;-) At Gap Point there were a couple of walk in primitive camp sites and interesting dune formations. The tide was low so we could see some old oyster beds. The trees on the shore looked alien as their roots were exposed due to the sand washing out over time.
In the afternoon we did a 14 km bike ride to Rattlesnake Cove. Along the way we saw the dunes, collected sea shells from the beach, saw an aluminum boat wreck, saw the Oyster skiff display, a great blue heron, and a weird beach hole where whatever creature inside had used a dead bird at its entrance, food source? protection?
When we left St. George Island we went to Apalachicola and did the historic walking tour of downtown. Many of the downtown buildings had been destroyed in a bad fire in 1900 but those remaining were in various states of restoration. The first major industry in the area was cotton and there had originally been 43 cotton warehouses along the river but only two are remaining. The structure was interesting with granite framing the frontage and brick for the balance of the building. One had been converted to the city hall. After the cotton industry died out lumber was the main business and that was followed by the oyster business.
On the harbour front we saw some of the shrimping boats and a Christmas tree made with the nets and buoys. On one of the side streets they were digging up for some pipes and you could see the layers of oyster shells that made up the soil layers. The next shot shows the typical Greek revival house style and Sharon being tour guide with the walking tour pamphlet information.
The old city graveyard had a separate pamphlet to walk you through the cemetery and point out the historical significance of the people buried there. You can see three of the grave examples here. The Trinity Episcopal Church was built in 1838 and survived the 1900 fire. The sections were made in White Plains NY and reassembled using wooden pegs in Apalachicola. Dr. John Gorrie was very significant for the town as he invented the ice machine (air conditioning) which was used to cool the yellow fever patients. This section finishes with some very typical houses and trees from the downtown walking tour.
Of course with all this talk of the Oyster industry we couldn’t leave the area without trying some local seafood. We went to the Up The Creek Raw Bar (one of the few places open on Sunday) and it had a fantastic view of the river basin. Since neither of us had tried oysters very often we ordered a half dozen of the “Classic ” oysters first which was lightly cooked with Colby jack cheese, chopped jalapeno, and bacon. Then we shared the Gulf Shrimp Blackened main course which was amazing. Next we decided to get more adventurous and tried the “Mignionette” oysters (again half dozen) which were Raw with minced shallots, habanero pepper and white balsamic vinegar. These were spectacular on their own even without any crackers! We’re now Oyster converts when you can get them this fresh.