st. marks national wildlife refuge

Day 84 – Gulf Coast Drive Along the Florida Panhandle

Day 84 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways in the USA

Today was close to an 8 hour travel day from Southeast Florida to Northwest Florida.  I think in the last five days I’ve donated at least fifty dollars to Florida tolls.  I imagine I could have purchased the Sunpass and paid for it through reduced tolls already!  I could have avoided the “change provided” toll plazas as well!  So far, Florida and New York break the bank in the toll category.  Along the turnpike, I did see a bald eagle wading in a small marsh.  That was exciting, though I would have liked to snap a photo.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

I arrived at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge around 4 pm, so I got to enjoy an hour of hiking before watching a brilliant sunset.  We first took the trail aside the visitor center which was a 3.5 mile road to the Port Leon town site.  We walked/ran for about 30 minutes along the tree covered road to burn off a little energy, but also, to save some time to visit the lighthouse and the lighthouse levee trail 7 miles down the road, also located in the refuge.  Ok, that felt like a sentence in a legal document…going and going.  Needless to say, only spending 30 minutes on the trail, we didn’t make it to the abandoned town, but the dogs were happy to run free of leashes.

St. Marks Lighthouse

The St. Marks Lighthouse was first built in 1828 of hollow walls.  The construction didn’t pass inspection as the contract called for solid walls.  The lighthouse was rebuilt with solid walls in 1831 and was illuminated by 15 whale-oil lamps.   The solid walls trapped moisture in the tower, thus the walls cracked as the tower settled.  The lighthouse needed iron straps to hold it together.

st. marks national wildlife refuge

After a hurricane in 1837, the navy reported the lighthouse was “in a most wretched condition”, and the lighthouse was again rebuilt in a new location set back from the water, this time with hollow walls.  During the Civil War, the oil and lenses were removed and the Confederates used the tower as a lookout, but stopped after being repeatedly attacked by Union troops.  The lighthouse was repaired, raised to 73 feet high, and relit in 1867.  The light guides ships to the opening of the St. Marks River.

A levee which forms a pond was built next to the lighthouse in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp.  The pond attracts a variety of migratory birds for the winter.  After a walk along the levee, again watching for alligators, I backtracked along the road past several marshes to a site where I could admire a salmon and orange sky as the sun dropped behind the trees and birds flew overhead. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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