Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Winter Sojourn 2013 - St. Augustine

For the first part of our winter sojourn, we spent the month of January at an ocean front condo at St Augustine Beach. We had a lovely 2 bedroom townhouse unit that had recently been renovated.  The beach was less than a minute walk.  We spent many days on the beach being near the water and enjoying the warm sunny weather.

View from our balcony

My usual position on the beach
St. Augustine Beach
St. Augustine Beach is a small laid back beach community.  It’s a vacation destination that’s not heavily developed.  Its sort of a surfer / beach bum hang out with quite a few young people drawn to the wide flat beach.  This was the first time we been here in January and it appeared to be somewhat of the off season.  Warm days brought out a quite a few young people and surfers to the beach, but most days, the beach was fairly deserted with only a handful of walkers. 

Smokin D (Daryl) Making Our Lunch
There’s a good collection of small eclectic eateries.  One of my routines in the afternoons was to walk about 1 mile down the beach to A street and get a Purple Haze smoothie (Banana, Blueberries, and Apple Juice) at Stir It Up and them walk back on the beach.

The best lunch to be had is at Smokin D’s BBQ (a couple miles off the beach near Rt 1).  Daryl (the owner) makes the best barbeque I’ve ever had.  He starts smoking the meat early each morning, opens at 11:00 am and closes when the meat is gone.  There’s no left over’s served at Smokin D’s.  Everything is cooked fresh from scratch that day.   

Beach Bucket Lunch
My favorite is the $7.50 beach bucket lunch - a pint container with southern yellow rice on the bottom, a layer of homemade baked beans on top of that, and then chopped barbeque pork on top.  Wash it all down with Daryl’s sweet tea.  I get hungry just thinking about it.

One of my objectives for this trip was to visit state and national parks that I hadn’t been to.  We took a day trip up to Jacksonville to visit the Ft. Caroline National Memorial and the Timucuam Preserve.  Ft. Caroline was the first French settlement on North America.  It was started in 1562 near the mouth of the St. Johns River but only lasted 3 years when the Spanish decided they didn’t like having a French settlement near their Caribbean trade routes.  The Spanish raided the settlement and massacred most of the settlers.  That was it for the French in North America for awhile until they started settlements in Canada and down the Mississippi River.

Fort Caroline National Memorial
The Timucuans were the native people of northern and central Florida.  They lived mostly along the coastal areas.  There were about 10,000 Timucuans prior to the Europeans arriving.  The Timucuans were friendly and initially helped the settlers.  But things turned bad for them when disease struck and the European’s started taking what they wanted from them.  By the early 1700’s, they had all died or been killed. Today there are no Timucuans.

I like going down to Daytona to visit the Daytona Flea Market and to visit “Mecca” for racing fans - the Daytona International Speedway.  During January, NASCAR was holding special test sessions for a new race car that would be used in the 2013 season.  All the key drivers were at the test sessions.  For $10, we got to drive into the infield and visit the garage area and watch the drivers drive the new cars around the track.  We got to get up close to the drivers and watch them drive test laps throughout the afternoon.  It was almost as good as watching a race with all the sights, sounds, and smells.  Even Anne, who's not a race fan, had a good time.  It was going pretty good until Dale Earnhardt Jr. caused a massive wreck on Turn 3 and ended up trashing about a dozen of the new cars.

In the Fan Zone at Daytona
During our stay, I happened to learn about one of St. Augustine’s darker moments its recent history.  It was a brutal unsolved murder of a socialite that happened in 1973.  Athalia Ponsell was a former New York model, dancer, television personality, and fiancĂ© of Joseph Kennedy Jr. who retired to St. Augustine in the 1970’s.  Within 2 months of arriving in the city, she married the mayor, James Lindsley, who was known to settle most disputes with his fists.  The marriage didn’t go well and within a few weeks they had separated and were living in separate houses.  Athalia was an outspoken political activist and took a strong interest the city’s affairs.  She ended up being very critical of certain county and city officials and rustled a lot feathers.  Early one evening she was found hacked to death on the front steps of her home in one of St. Augustine’s upscale neighborhoods.  The murder weapon was a machette.  Her neighbor, the county commissioner, who she was having an ongoing feud with, was charged with the murder.  Even though a blood trail was found leading to his house and one witness saw him leaving the crime scene, he was acquitted within 2 weeks.  No other persons were charged and the murder remains unsolved.  Pretty strange for this to happen to a mayors wife and go unsolved.

Athalia Ponsell's House at 124 Marine Street
The Castillo de San Marcos is a key landmark that dominates the waterfront of St. Augustine.  The Castillo is an large diamond shaped fortress that the Spanish built in 1672 to defend the area.  Its been fully restored and is now a popular National Park Monument.  I’ve visited it a few times and on this trip wanted to revisit to review it’s period as a prison for Native American Indians.  When Spain ceded Florida to the US in 1821, the Castillo became a US Army fort and was renamed Fort Marion.  The Army used it mostly as a prison.  After the Civil War, it was as a prison for Native American Indians.  When Geronimo’s band of Chiricahua Apaches surrendered to General Crook in 1886 they agreed to be incarcerated in the east for 2 years with understanding that they would be returned to a reservation in the west with their families.  President Grover Cleveland didn’t agree with the terms Crook offered and had the Apaches sent to Florida to be held indefinetly as prisoners of war.

Castillo de San Marcos
The main band of Chiricahua’s along with Geronimo’s family was sent to Fort Marion.  A total of 491 Chiricahua’s were held at Fort Marion with all but 85 of them being women, children, and non-combatants (even the Apache scouts who helped the Army track down Geronimo were imprisoned).  Geronimo and fifteen others were sent to Fort Pickens outside of Pensacola.  The Chiricahua’s didn’t fair well at Fort Marion.  There was little space for them and most had to live in tents on the upper walls of the fort.  During the two years there, 24 died and all the children were taken from there parents (without their consent) and sent to Carlise PA.  After two years at Fort Marion, the Chiricahua’s were sent to a prison in Alabama for 6 years and then incarcerated at Fort Sill Oklahoma for 20 years.  They were released in 1914 by an act of Congress, 28 yrs after they had agreed to a 2 year imprisonment.  Pretty bad treatment given that most were women and children and who had done nothing wrong.

At the Castillo, there is one room with two small plaques about the Western Native Americans held at the fort.  When I asked one of the interpreters about the Apaches that were held at the fort, she new very little.  There are only four pages of pictures in a book at the front desk that you have to ask permission to see.  The park service pamphlet on the Castillo has only 10 words mentioning that Indians captured in western military campaigns were held at the fort.

Our month at St. Augustine was relaxing and the weather was pretty good for January.   We had a couple overcast days, but most were sunny (it is the Sunshine State).  Doing a little biking, eating out, sitting and walking on the beach, and some day tripping to Palm Coast, Flager Beach, Ormond Beach, Daytona, and Jacksonville was how we spent most of our time.  Anne shipped back two boxes of shells she picked off the beach.  I read four books ("Boomerang","The Quiet Hero - the Untold Medal of Honor Story of George Whalen","Heat Wave", and "Tuesday's with Morrie").  I also taught myself a new song on the Mandolin (Chris Thile's version of "Silver Dagger").

We left on Jan 31st and headed south to begin the camping part of the trip.  The first destination was camping for 8 days at Ft. Myers Beach.  We had never been to this area of Florida and wanted to spend some time checking it out.  On the way down, we spent the night outside of Sarasota at the Turtle Beach Campground.  This is a municipal campground run by Sarasota County.  Its a small campground of about 40 sites that sits right on the ocean on the southern end of Siesta Key.  Will post some pictures in the next posting.

Up next, camping at Fr. Myers Beach and at Fort Desoto Park in St. Petersburg.

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