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Friday, February 9, 2024

Dune Trail on Santa Rosa Island

Friday, February 9, 2024

Hi Blog!

On Wednesday, we left Sopchoppy and made our way west along the Florida Panhandle to the Navarre Beach Camping Resort. After spending a week in a state park, we needed most of Thursday to take care of those pesky RV chores like dump and fill, laundry and grocery shopping. Today, with the tanks empty and fridge full, we turned our attention to exploring the area.

We had last visited Navarre back in 2013. We checked our blog to see what we did back then so we could find something we missed. While we had driven through the Gulf Islands National Seashore on the way to Fort Pickens, the poor weather prevented us from stopping and exploring it.  Although it was not raining, the weather was not exactly beach weather, so we decided to hike the Dunes Trail.

The Dunes Preserve is managed by the University of West Florida and the Santa Rosa Island Authority. The Dunes Trail is also part of the Florida Trail. Normally, conservationists advise against walking on sand dunes, as it will damage them. This trail follows conservation guidelines and meanders between and around the dunes that make up this preserve. 
With the condominiums of Pensacola Beach behind us, we began our trek out into the dunes.

We left Dusty all alone at the trailhead.

In September 2004, this part of Santa Rosa Island was the site of landfall for Hurricane Ivan, a strong category 3 storm, which dramatically altered the landscape. The majority of the dunes and some of highway 399 were washed into Santa Rosa Sound. The trail was designed to give researchers from the University access to the ever changing environment so they could monitor the recovery of the dune system. 
PVC pipes with bright orange trail blazes lead the way through the dunes:

We did our best to stay on the beaten path. However, there were several spots where we lost sight of the posts and the beaten path and had to work our own way around the dunes until we spotted the posts again. However, we were never more than a few hundred yards from both the Santa Rosa Sound, to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. At times, we could see cars driving down the highway. Other times, we felt like we were hiking on a deserted island.

The wind can be harsh out here on the barrier island. Below, Kathy stops to admire a windblown bonsai:

Surprisingly, there were a number of pine trees growing between the dunes. Each area between the dunes was its own ecosystem. Some were wetter than others, so the plants changed.

We startled this great blue heron as we came around one of the dunes. He watched us for a while before walking around to the other side of the dune.

He did his best to hide in the brush.

He finally had enough of our predatory behavior and took off toward the beach.

There were a number of low-lying areas at the base of the dunes where water gathers and grasses grow tall. A small boardwalk helped us get through a particularly wet spot. Pictured below, Dave is doing his best blue heron impression.

The trail swung close enough to the sound that we could catch a photo of Pensacola across the way.

We had the trail to ourselves for most of the morning. We did run into one fisherman making his way through the dunes to the Sound. We watched as he walked all the way out to where the water was deepest.

We detoured along the beach for bit. It was just so pretty we didn't want to leave. And, Kathy kept looking for sea glass!

We spotted this little starfish-like plant. This time of year, it can be had to identify what it is, but it was cool.

We are still a few weeks away from spring, so we were surprised to see so many berries on these bushes. It turns out these are Youpan Holly.

The recent storms have not been kind to the trail. This little boardwalk needs a little love. Hopefully, the Florida Trail Association has it on their list.

Coastalplain Goldenaster typically flowers from late summer to fall, but can flower all year round.  It was lucky for us that this little guy wanted to flower mid-winter!

Before starting on the trail, we read several blogs that warned the trail can get pretty wet after about two miles. Just as we reached the two mile mark, the trail disappeared into a bog. We decided not risk getting our feet wet and made that our turnaround point. 

The way back was a little easier. For one thing, we could follow our own footprints. Also, we were getting better at figuring out where the trail posts were. As we neared the trailhead, we ran into a family group taking photos of a frog. We stopped and took a few of our own photos.

As soon as we got back to the Jeep it began to rain. As we drove over to Pensacola Beach, the rain became a steady shower. We had dozens of restaurants to pick from for lunch. Since Tuesday is Mardi Gras, we choose NOLA Cafe. After four miles of sandy hiking those Abita Andygators tasted great. Nothing like a little boudin and seafood gumbo to satisfy a hungry hiker.

With more rain in the forecast, we're not sure when we'll get out again. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.

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