Monday, July 09, 2007


For the week of July 4th, we made the 7-hour drive again to the western panhandle of Florida. Our destination: Santa Rosa Beach, 10 miles to the east of Destin (or halfway between Pensacola and Panama City), where Carley's parents had rented a condo for a couple of weeks.

It was family vacation, and Rowan loved getting to spend so much time with his MeMe! We were glad for all the help from Carley's parents - it's always nice to get little breaks from parenting. We also appreciated getting to eat at a few really excellent restaurants - especially Cafe Thirty-A. (Elaine liked it so much that she's wearing their t-shirt!)

Also truly excellent was the condo where we stayed - right on the beach, with an awesome view from our balcony. The combination of the sugary white sand and the clear, emerald-tinted seawater was just gorgeous.

Rowan was definitely intrigued by the sand - especially the way it sticks to every part of your body. This was one of the only things he didn't try to put in his mouth!

Later we went down and checked out the waves.

In typical Florida fashion, late afternoon often brought thundershowers. Nevertheless, most of the time, the weather was fantastic.

Just in case we might have forgotten that we're in the south, the SEC football fans made their presence known right in front of our condo. Note that in this part of Florida the vacationers aren't Florida fans! Quite a few of the license plates in our condo's parking lot were from Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Shark! That's the last thing you want to hear at the beach, right? But wait, that's just a little baby shark. And in fact, the shark photo is not from our camera - Rob swiped it off some other website. BUT...the shark in this photo looks almost exactly like the shark that cruised up on Rob and checked him out - in about 4-1/2 feet of water! Rob says "the beach is pretty shallow here, almost like a sand bar, and I was probably a good 40 yards out. All of a sudden something bumped my calf and I looked down and WHOAH! I started swimming for shore, got about halfway back to the beach, stopped and stood, and BOINK, there he is again bumping my ankle with his snout. At this point I was a little panicky - I didn't know if a shark this size (about 2 feet long) could do any damage, but I wasn't about to find out." Ultimately the shark followed Rob all the way to about 7 or 8 feet short of the beach, where the underwater sand came up to a little shelf, and Carley could see the shark for a couple of seconds before he turned around and sped off. This definitely made us think twice about going too far out in this water!

As it turns out, there are plenty of sharks in this area. Fortunately, the big ones tend to stay pretty far out, and there are very few big shark sightings at the beaches. However fisherman have caught some really big ones in the area, and just a couple years ago in 2005, a girl was killed by a shark just a couple miles from where we were staying.

However, it turns out that sharks were not the only thing to worry about.

What is that purple thing floating in the water?

A jellyfish! These little guys can put quite a sting on you, so it's best not to touch them.

These kids were catching jellyfish with their little nets, and then dumping them in the weeds at the back of the beach where nobody would get stung by them.

The Jellyfish Graveyard.

And even more alarming than the jellfyish...

...what is that washed up on the beach up there?

A Portuguese Man O'War!! These things deliver a really nasty sting, occasionally even fatal! Not only that, they can still sting you long after they're dead. Needless to say we did not touch it. However, Rob poked it with a stick a couple of times - it was still squirming!

With all the wildlife on the beach, we decided to spend lots of time at the pool, which Rowan really enjoyed!

His favorite thing to do in the pool is splash, splash, splash!

He also likes to blast off like a rocket out of the pool.

A couple miles away was Grayton Beach State Park, with a nice hiking trail through the sand-dune, pine forest and lagoon ecosystems.

All over Florida, these little Palmettos grow everywhere. Combined with all the other sharp, pointy things that grow wild in Florida, it's extremely hazardous to try hiking off-trail around these parts.

Rowan learning about nature, checking out a 'sea oat'.

It just so happened that Tupelo-based artist and Carley’s friend from high school, William Heard (center in the photo above), was also in town for an art show. So one night we took advantage of our built-in babysitters and met up with him and his crew for a night out at the Red Bar down the road in Grayton Beach. The Red Bar is a hip restaurant and bar with live music, couches and very cool posters including a 3D Iron Maiden poster that Rob loved! We also got to check out William’s exhibit at the Satellite Gallery in Seaside. In addition to creating beautiful paintings, William also writes poetry with many of his pieces. Check out his website for more on his inspiring story and his artwork.

Here’s one of William’s paintings from the exhibit. Others included nudes, abstracts and a self-portrait that some say looks a lot like Jerry Garcia! (although Rob disagrees with that assessment)

On July 4, as we grilled out on our balcony just after dark, the beach below us was full of people setting off fireworks, lighting up the sky right in front of our eyes.


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