Florida Panhandle

After staying local for a weekend following my big Virginia trip, I hit the road again for the Memorial Day weekend, but this time, I stayed in Florida. I just happened to go as far away from south Florida as I could as I ventured over to the Panhandle. I’ve been over there twice before, in 2003 and 2006, so I was due for another trip out yonder. Not only was I going to visit a really good friend who lives out that way, I was also going to play the newest disc golf courses and check out six more lighthouses. I left for the 10-hour road trip on Friday evening after work. After driving six hours, I camped out in Madison, which is an hour east of Tallahassee.

I woke up early Saturday morning for the 4-hour trek to Milton, where I got in a few rounds of disc golf at the three courses in that area. I next drove over to Pensacola for a fun round of golf at the University of West Florida. I then hit the Pensacola lighthouse, which is on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station. I was actually at this light back in 2003 but I wasn’t into photography back then like I am now and I didn’t take any pictures. I do remember walking around it though, and wishing it was open to climb. Seven years later, my wish came true as I was able to go to the top for some stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico and the naval base.

I then went to a Civil War-era fort on base called Fort Barrancs. Attached to the fort is a white Spanish fort built back in the 1770′s. I really enjoyed this fort the last time I was here and I was glad to go back and explore it again. I then made my way to National Naval Aviation Museum, that seems to have every single kind of plane and helicopter ever built inside in enormous building. And since this area is known for the Blue Angels, there was also a cool display of the Blue Angel jets. I could’ve spent hours and hours here like I did last time but the weather was starting to get a bit iffy and I wanted to get in a couple rounds of golf at the nearby Blue Angel Park before the storms hit. I didn’t quite make it in time and got rained on while playing, But at least the lightning stayed away, and the skies cleared towards the end of my first round. I next headed back east along the beaches to Fort Walton Beach, where I met up with my good friend. We had a nice dinner at Floyd’s right on the beach and got all caught up since our last visit 4 years ago.

After staying at her place for the night, the heavy overnight rains opened up to bright sunny morning skies and I played the Ferry Park course right down the road from my friend’s place. I then continued east along the coast to another disc golf stop at the course at Joe Moody Harris Park in Panama City. It was onto a lighthouse tour afterwards, with the first one in St. Joseph. I was a bit disappointed to see that the light had been removed this house, but I was informed that there are plans to put the light back on it. I then drove down the road to the Cape San Blas lighthouse. Figuring I was just able to snap some pictures of it, I was pleasantly surprised to find it open for climbing, so of course, I went to the top.

My next lighthouse was about half an hour east on St. George’s Island. The light was actually a rebuild of the 1852 one. It had collapsed in 2005 due to the pounding hurricanes over the years. I was able to go up in this one too and the top was unique in the sense it was just a small opening with a light, where normally you would around the top out on a balcony.

I then continued further east to the Crooked River Lighthouse in Carrabelle. I had another pleasant surprise here as it was also open for climbing when normally it is closed on Sundays. Luckily, they opened it for the Memorial Day weekend. My last light of the day was the the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. And even though it wasn’t open to the public, it was still a marvel to view and the refuge itself was absolutely gorgeous and had many great hiking trails, a few that I even ventured on.

Since I was so close to Tallahassee by now, I made a b-line up north to one of my favorite courses in the state – Tom Brown Park. A beautiful and a super-fun course, I was really glad I made it there in time to get in a round before darkness. I had planned to camp out at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, but the pouring rains thwarted that plan and I ended up getting a hotel room not too far from the music park.

Greeted by another beautiful morning, I went over the Suwannee park to play the fun course there. The last time I was here, back in 2007, I camped out in a tropical depression with hurricane-like rain showers that eventually flooded my tent and forced me to leave at 4 in the morning to head back home. So I was happy to erase that as my last memory of the park, and I thoroughly enjoyed the course’s new layout. I also stuck around a bit to get in some cool photos of the park itself. I then continued south over to High Springs, where I visited O’Leno State Park, which I’ve been to a few times before but not in a while. This park always make me think of Jay’s Irish relatives, but I forgot how beautiful and cool this park (just like Hillsborough River State Park) was as I got in some great hiking and photos.

I then hit the nearby course at Camp Kuluqua. Since I had only heard of this course online, I wasn’t sure if the course was still there or even if I would be able to play it since it was located on a private youth camp. Luckily, the camp’s administrator let me stay and play the cute and very short 9-hole course. And I even got a hole-in-one on the first hole (my second one in two weeks). I next drove to another new 9-hole course in Gainesville. After a quick round there, I hit the main course there at Northside Park that I’ve played a few times in the past. It was then onto another new course in Ocala, this one being on an old ball golf course. The layout was fantastic, and it was especially fun riding around in a golf cart. I then hit my last course of the day at Ocala Greenway course, which I’ve also played a few times before. As I made the four hour drive back home, I reminisced about my fun trip and how I wish I could get up to the Panhandle more often.

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