MARCH 30TH, 2017 – CAMPING ON THE BEACH!
Total miles traveled on Dive and Drive USA in five days: 968 miles
Miles from Vortex on Day 5 to Topsail Hill State Park: 65 miles
On Day 3 (March 28th) of our Dive and Drive USA, Adam and I stayed at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in South Walton, Florida. I made the reservations online, but had never really heard anything special about it. We arrived in the evening on Day 3, so we only had an hour of daylight to set up camp, start making some dinner, then go to bed.
HOWEVER, on the morning of Day 4, we went for a walk around Topsail Hill. Oh my goodness. We found this INCREDIBLE park and right away knew we HAD to come back. So, after we dived Vortex, we made a reservation to tent camp at Topsail Hill again. Road trips are the BEST!
We got back to Topsail Hill on Day 5 in the afternoon and started setting up camp for the night as soon as we arrived. As we’ve already mentioned in other posts, people in this region have been talking to Adam and I A LOT whenever we get out (supermarkets, gas stations and campsites!) so I wasn’t surprised when I found Adam getting chatted up by our neighbor at the park. He kindly informed us that there was a lightning storm approaching. (what?) I went to put down some food at our site and saw the clouds coming in. They were coming in fast. Our night was about to take a turn rapidly. We originally returned to the park to spend the day at the beach in sunglasses, going out hiking and to watch the sunset over the waves but…well, camping holds all sorts of surprises, doesn’t it?
We hiked out to the beach in our rain gear anyway, but ultimately got soaked and returned to our site well before sunset. Romantic walk barefoot on the beach turned into wet dogs shivering and whining for hot food. That night, we spent a lot more time in the tent than anticipated and of course, had a great time. (And pizza for dinner. We sort of cheated and drove to a nearby pizza place. It was everything we dreamed it would be. No cooking that night.)
Topsail Hill will be the park I recommend for anyone visiting Florida for a long time. It is a super unique preserve with 14 natural ecosystems in one place, including freshwater coastal dune lakes, wet prairies, scrub, pine flatwoods, marches, cypress domes, seeping slopes and 3.2 miles of white sand beaches.
The sand is practically refined sugar and is like nothing I’d ever seen. The area seems to be teeming with wildlife. Female sea turtles come to the beaches here from May 1 through Octuber 31 to lay their eggs. If you like birds, snowy plovers and Wilson’s plovers and American oystercatchers nest here from March to August. The sound of birds singing fills the air in the tent each morning and is the best alarm clock imaginable to get up for a great day of adventuring. Adam and I went for a morning beach walk on our second visit to the park and found all sorts of natural treasures. First, we found a mermaid’s purse washed up in the seafoam. Their unique shape stood out from the sand which could have been an egg sack for a skate or stingray.
Then, a little further on our walk, we spotted a beached Portuguese man-o-war! We had never seen one before—looks like a clear dumpling filled with blue liquid detergent…just awesome. These things are so cool, and are not actually jellyfish, though they really look similar. The Portuguese man o’ war lives at the surface of the ocean and has a gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, which remains at the surface, while the remainder is submerged. The Portuguese man o’ war has no means of propulsion, it moves according to the winds, currents, and tides. Stings on humans from interactions with the tentacles can be extremely hurtful, but luckily we got to observe this beauty pain-free!
This was a wonderful stop on our road trip (twice!). Now we’re off to Fontainbleau State Park in Louisiana. The weather has been changing our route and plans, but has opened up so many new places! The adventure continues!
To see photos from the first few stops on our road trip including a fresh water spring FILLED with aggressive fish, click Dive and Drive USA!