Leaving Ocala, we drove directly back to the coast to Cedar Key, happy to get back to the water. As we traversed the bridge to Cedar Key, we saw the most beautiful sight, miniature islands rising up all around.
Cedar Key was a new experience for us, it was the first low key, step back-in-time fishing village we had visited. The population is 702. But for some reason we were taken by the whole scene. The street scene pictures and pix of the library, the Arts Center, City Hall, Country Store, the Bank and house and restaurant on pylons give the image of a slow paced, old fashioned place to live. In fact, we visited some condos there in our search of a winter home.
One of the restaurants there, Tony’s, has won the World Championship for their clam chowder three times. We tried Tony’s chowder and understood why he won. If you want to try it, it is available on the internet and in some grocery stores in Florida.
Back in 1995 Florida declared a statewide ban on net fishing to protect fish stocks. In return, the government retrained the local fishermen to farm clams. One morning as we walked along the dock, a clam boat came in so we watched as the fishermen brought the boat, loaded with bags of clams, to shore. We noticed right away the motor was not in the back of the boat, but in the center near the front! Having never seen such a thing, we asked the obvious question and learned the fishermen need an open back to drag in the nets full of clams, so the motor had to be placed elsewhere in the boat. You can see this in the picture below.
Before leaving Cedar Key, we drove through the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge where they were having a prescribed burn, then headed up the coast to the town of Carrabelle another fishing town.
Carrabelle is much larger than Cedar Key with a population of 2800! The town runs along part of the Carrabelle River and the Gulf Coast making it so beautiful. We were so taken with this town, we looked at several condos right on the river but were not ready to make a decision. There is a small river walk and long dock where we enjoyed our morning walks. Note the Turtle Rescue Net on the River Walk Pavilion with instructions on how to rescue the animal. We also walked along the beach in Carrabelle.
Another favorite place we visited several times was the frog pond. This small area is across the road from the ocean so the water in the pond does not get deep and is a great bird viewing spot. We saw immature Ibis, which look so different from the adults, lots of Egrets and our first Tricolor Heron. On one trip to the frog pond, we saw some women on the corner holding what I thought were protest signs, which seemed a bit out of place in that quiet little town. I took a picture and on closer look, I read the signs were about God and Jesus – that made much more sense for Carrabelle!
Carrabelle is home of the World’s Smallest Police Station, a tourist attraction which sets on the sidewalk and was formerly a telephone booth. When the public phone was removed, the police phone was installed making the booth the Police Station.
St George Island is very close by so we spent an afternoon touring. One end of the island is a State Park and the other end is a beautiful beach community.
Tate’s Hell State Forest and swamp are in Carrabelle. This huge area protects the bay from rushing fresh water from the connecting rivers which begin with the Chattahoochee in Atlanta. The swamp acts as a retention pond so the fresh water can seep into the bay. A very interesting feature of this forest is the Dwarf Cypress Forest. It is not known why the trees do not grow to normal height, and is the only dwarf forest in the country. The trees, some as old as 150 years, grow only 15 feet tall. If seeds from these trees are planted elsewhere, the trees grow to normal height. We walked the long-raised boardwalk into the forest which looked eerie on the gray day we were there.
The Legend of how Tate’s Hell got its name is fun to read and a copy of it, taken from their website, is below:
The Legend of TATE’S HELL…
A tale that has been told for many years recounts how Tate’s Hell Swamp got its name. Local legend has it that a farmer by the name of Cebe Tate, armed with only a shotgun and accompanied by his hunting dogs, journeyed into the swamp in search of a panther that was killing his livestock. Although there are several versions of this story, the most common describes Tate as being lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drinking from the murky waters to curb his thirst. Finally he came to a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” Cebe Tate’s adventure took place in 1875 and ever since, the area has been known as Tate’s Hell, the legendary and forbidden swamp.
We enjoyed our visits to Cedar Key and Carrabelle as indicated by our looking for places to live in both. We are not sure how/where we want to live when we come off the road, but we do know we will spend time in both these towns again next year.
On to Port St Joe…