After we left Texas, we decided to head back along the Gulf Coast and spend a little time relaxing along Florida’s Gulf Coast. With the recent oil spill disaster that is unfolding there, we are not only glad we did, but also painfully aware of the potential for massive ecological damage to an area that has already seen more than its share of both manmade and natural disasters. The Gulf Coast is already an enigma of pristine eco-systems and manmade trash. The oil industry is everywhere, and the sights and smells of its business are strewn across the land. The fishing industry, that has more to lose than anyone, has also made its footprint visible here. While virtually all of the small private fishermen cherish the waters from which they draw their livelihood, many of the larger commercial operations have poorly maintained facilities that can be an eyesore along the waters.
While we were there however, before the foul stench of crude oil and the heartbreaking sight of dead and dying birds, fish, and other wildlife began to become an almost inevitable certainty, the Gulf Coast was basking in the beautiful spring sun and the glistening white sand beaches were nearly devoid of the tourists that would soon come to enjoy the fine weather. But even then, before the spill, everywhere we went the double whammy of back to back hurricanes combined with an economy that has been pummeled not only by nature but by the winds of change in America, has left empty shells of businesses, vacation and retirement homes, and shattered dreams scattered along the coast like so many broken seashells.
As we left the populated areas around New Orleans and headed east along the coast, we decided to visit an area that has been dubbed “The Forgotten Coast”. Legend has it that the nickname came about as a result of a tourism brochure printed many years ago that extolled the virtues of Florida but completely neglected to mention this area that stretches for over a hundred miles from Panama City to just south of Tallahassee. With miles of sugar sand beaches, barrier islands, wildlife refuges, marshes, swamps, and teeming with wildlife, this area should probably consider itself lucky to have been forgotten. While there is certainly plenty of development, the economy managed to bring most of it to a screeching halt before the endless rows of condos and beachfront developments that plague much of the rest of Florida’s coast could completely envelope the area. This has left an area that with the exception of a few pockets where the ubiquitous beachwear and t-shirt shops, factory outlet stores, and scooter rentals have managed to take hold is still fairly quiet and holds a few treasures like the little town of Apalachicola, that we made the center of our visit there. Over the next few days, we would learn more about the people, the history, and the future of this paradise teetering at the tipping point.