st. marks national wildlife refuge

Day 84 – Gulf Coast Drive Along the Florida Panhandle

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Day 84 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

Today was close to an 8 hour travel day from Southeast Florida to the Florida Panhandle in the Northwest.  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!  That way, I could have avoided the “change provided” toll plazas as well!  So far, Florida and New York break the bank in the toll category.  On the positive side, at least I saw a bald eagle wading in a small marsh alongside the turnpike.  I sure would have liked to snap a photo!

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

I finally reached the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida Panhandle around 4 pm.   As a result, I had time for an hour of exploration before the sunset.  The dogs and I took the closest trail, a road the began next to the visitor center and traveled 3.5 miles to the abandoned townsite of Port Leon.  Of course my old mutts were not going make it 3.5 miles.  Consequently, we took a 30 minute walk/run along the tree covered road while saving some time to visit the lighthouse and the lighthouse levee trail seven miles down the road.

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.  As a result the lighthouse was rebuilt with solid walls in 1831.  Unfortunately, the solid walls trapped moisture in the tower and the walls began to crack.  Ultimately, the had to be held together with iron straps.

st. marks lighthouse in the florida panhandle

After a hurricane in 1837, the navy reported the lighthouse was “in a most wretched condition”.  Consequently, the lighthouse was rebuilt again.  This time is was set farther back from the water and featured hollow walls!  During the Civil War, the Confederates removed the whale oil lamps and lenses to use the tower as lookout.  They abandoned it after being repeatedly attached by the Union troops.  The lighthouse was repaired, raised to 73 feet high, and relit in 1867.  Now, the light guides ships to the opening of the St. Marks River.

Next to the lighthouse is a levee which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s. It forms a pond that attracts a variety of migratory birds for the winter.  I strolled along the levee, while keeping an eye out for the alligators, until the sunset. The blue sky gave way to salmon and orange as the sun dropped behind the trees and birds flew overhead.  What a tranquil way to end a long day of driving to the Florida Panhandle at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge!  ETB

Map of My Road Trip Across the USA

For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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