Thursday, November 25, 2010

Anastasia State Park

Anastasia State Park is directly on the Atlantic Ocean

We had been in St. Augustine, Florida, during the lighting of the City Christmas lights at the city park several years ago, and decided to travel over and see it once again. St. Augustine is one of our favorite cities and we thought this would a great opportunity to once again wander around the oldest city in the U.S. We found the nearby Anastasia State Park on line and made an optimistic, six-day reservation for late November, leaving the campground the day before Thanksgiving.  Friends of ours planned to met us there, but would only stay four days.

We arrived at the highly rated Anastasia State Park late on a Thursday evening just as dusk turned to night. The ranger at the entrance was still on duty even though the sun had long drifted below the dense canopy of Live Oaks and Red Cedars that make up the welcoming gateway to the park. We called ahead and said we would be arriving later than the scheduled gate-closing time of sundown. After properly identifying ourselves and confirming our reservation, we were given the four-digit code to the gate in case it was closed when we arrived. The gate should probably have been closed when we pulled off Florida highway A1A and made our way to the gate, but the friendly ranger was still there, waiting for stragglers like us. Not only were we running late, but so were the friends we were meeting at the campground. They asked us to also tell the ranger they might also be late. No problem, the ranger was patiently waiting as we pulled up in the fading sunlight.

“Are your friends close behind?” she asked. We didn't know, but Bill and Barb, the couple we were meeting for this camping trip, were actually only a few minutes behind us. They came in from Vero Beach on Florida's east coast, while we drove up from Port Charlotte, on the west side of the state. The timing worked out as we pulled in almost together. Sometimes things just fall in place.

We received our pink campground pass with our checkout date written on it and a map of the park. The ranger gave directions to our preselected site, mentioning that we would pass the three-lane dump station. Wow! Three dump stations lined up side by side, a modern-day RV three-holer! The smiling park ranger at the gate said there would often be a waiting line to dump out, even with the expanded facility. With 139 camp sites just hundreds of yards from the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean, this Florida State Park is one of the most visited campgrounds in the state. It is located less than three miles from downtown old St. Augustine, and just several hundred yards south of the famous St. Augustine lighthouse. After spending a week at this fabulous location I could see why this award winning park is so popular.

Wood Storks rest on the lagoon beach

As Bill and Barb picked up their paperwork at the gate, my wife and I, along with Taz and Daisy, our two dogs, drove into the campground looking for the Shark Eye camping loop and our reserved site 47. We hoped we would have enough light to at least back-in and hook up the water and electricity without using flashlights. There just wasn't enough available light! It all went well, though, taking us only 30 minutes to unhook, level the camper, and connect the electricity and water. I had never used a flashlight to setup the camper before, but the darkness proved to be no problem. Our first night landing, so to speak.

We wandered over to our friend's campsite shortly after getting set up. They were in site 50, just around the bend from us. They had set up in a little less time than it took us as they have a Class C camper and really only had to shut off the ignition to be officially “camped.” Actually they hooked up the water and electricity and lowered their landing gear, just as we had. Mundane tasks like setting up the outside sling chairs and putting out the carpets would wait until morning.

We ended up eating dinner separately, but then we took a ride together to the end of the park road where the gift shop is located. We took our Jimmy, of course, as the Class C was parked for the duration of the stay. Again, these are decisions a camper must make before committing to a specific type of RV, or Recreational Vehicle. While we like having a tow-behind that we set up and leave at the camp site, leaving us free to drive our tow vehicle whenever we want, others, such as Bill and Barb, like having a self-propelled, self contained Recreational Vehicle that is far easier to drive and setup than a trailer.

We parked in the brilliant moonlight next to the dormant gift shop and walked the path through the sand dunes to the Atlantic Ocean. Absolutely beautiful! The full moon was still two nights away, but the moonlight was brilliant in in the cloudless sky. The park is located just south of the St Augustine Lighthouse and offers a beautiful, unspoiled view to the north of the wide, sand beach. The mid-November evening temperatures were mild, in the high 60's as we walked to the waters edge. We headed back to the camper reminiscing about the many past beach experiences of our youth, and remarked how long it had been since we experienced a moon-lit walk along the relentlessly pounding surf.

The rental concession on the lagoon beach

It was 8:00 in the evening when I took our dogs out for their overdue potty break and realized how absolutely beautiful the night was! I asked my wife to join me in a moonlight stroll through the Live Oaks. The moon was one night shy of being full, and the sky was absolutely clear in the warm Atlantic salt air. Shadows were so sharp and crisp it appeared as if our colorful world had simple turned to black and white! We walked the half-mile or so to the edge of the campground without once turning on our flashlight. A warm and beautiful Florida night in November.

The next day we took our two Pungo 140 kayaks with us to the lagoon  for an easy, laid back paddle.  Hauling them to the launch point was no problem. Bill and Barb rented kayaks from the concession on the beach, having left their own kayaks at home, and we all paddled together.  We were soon all on the water, paddling easily, chatting and just taking in the sites. I took my old spinning rod for the first time and rigged up a Gulp plastic bait and waited for a chance to cast for whatever might be in the lagoon. I was curious to see if anything would strike my plastic bait.

We paddled down toward a marina, through a mooring field littered with sailboats of all shapes and sizes. Some were pristine, others were in dire need of tender loving care. The far side of the lagoon was deeper, and porpoises rolled along the far shore.

I cast one time into the lagoon with the porpoises and had a strike almost immediately. After a brief but ferocious battle, well, as ferocious as a ten inch Spotted Sea Trout can put up, I reeled in my first fish of the trip. The season on Spotted Sea Trout was closed, and he was no where near the 15 inch minimum size anyway, so it was in no danger of being dinner. It was still fun to catch, especially from a kayak. As I unhooked the spotted sea trout, my slack mono-filament fishing line began to tauten, as if my loose floating fishing line had snagged a tree limb or some other submerged obstacle. I released the beautiful, undersized trout, called “Specs” over on the west coast, and pulled in the taut line by hand that by now was headed in front of the kayak! My strange obstacle was quite alive! I still had the rod in my lap, and the Gulp-baited jig head in one hand as I finally got enough leverage to swing my “obstacle” back toward the boat. It was a needlefish that had ensnared itself by wrapping its needle-like bill around my fishing line! Two fish on one lure, or more correctly, one cast.

The city park during the Christmas lighting ceremony
My wife paddled over to help me open my tackle box which was solidly wedged behind my kayak seat. She had followed Bill and Barb into the shallow water and had to get out of her kayak and drag it through two inches of water over an oyster bar before she could come to my assistance. Ironically, I needed a pair of needle-nose pliers to untangle the needlefish. Trust me, you can't make this stuff up.  Unwrapping the ten inch needlefish was a task in itself, but finally freed, it swam off as if nothing had happened.

Time was about up on Bill and Barb's rental kayak, so we followed them back to the beach, and twenty minutes later were headed back to the campsite. A quick decision about a beer and a nap met everyone's approval, and we decided to leave for town and the City Lighting Ceremony about 4:15pm. We should have gone earlier.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse seen from the dunes at Anastasia State Park

The lighting ceremony drew crowds from all over the area. We parked in a church parking lot many blocks away from downtown and walked in with a crowd carrying chairs and coolers. We wandered around the crowded center of town, and decided to grab a quick dinner before dark. We settled on a great Cuban restaurant right in the heart of downtown, and after a great dinner, (we all had different entrees), we checked our watches. Dinner had typically run on Cuban time, and we had missed the lighting ceremony! No problem, we headed for the beautifully lit park and joined the festivities already in progress. Next year, we'll just eat earlier!

Next: Our first outing in the new trailer. A trip to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, FL,at:


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