Since I am a former cruising sailor, when I found out my journey was going to take me by St Marks Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, I figured I had to stop. After all, what does a sailor like better than a welcoming light at the end of a passage?
The Refuge is at the end of a long road down to the coast of the Big Bend area where Florida makes the turn west to the Panhandle. Since I was on passage, so to speak, with my 5th wheel trailer, I had to know if I would have space to turn around once I got in there. I knew there wasn’t any campgrounds in the area like so many other parks. I called and talked to the woman who worked in the visitor center and she was very helpful. She suggested I park at the boat ramp near the lighthouse, which was a perfect area with very easy access. There were multiple spaces, so visitors with boats were not turned away.
It was a quick walk to the lighthouse and the grounds, which have been kept very nicely. There was a trail along the Gulf, ponds on the other side, with signs warning about alligators. I was hoping I would get to photograph an alligator. I kept hearing their grunts, but it took me an hour or so to find one willing to be photographed. I got a few shots, but he didn’t want to pose, so I had to get him on the move. I went back to my camper at the boat ramp and had lunch before more exploring.
After lunch I took my bicycle up the road to a couple trailheads. This park is typical Florida wilderness, with swampy ponds full of lily pads next to palms, all teeming with wildlife. As I stood on an overlook perched in the swamp, I was looking out at a pond with lilypads and other vegetation. I took a few photos and was staring down at the water when I noticed there was a small alligator sitting motionless in the water directly in my line of sight from the platform. He was young enough to still have his stripes. He remained motionless while I took multiple pictures of him, hoping that he would yawn so I could get a good shot of him. Fantastic, two alligators in one day!
I was happy with my photos and decided to take the other trail. This was through the woods with tall live oak trees and palms. It was a great trail through typical Florida terrain. By the time I finished that loop, it was time to head back and continue on to my destination about an hour down the road.
St Marks National Wildlife Refuge is a great stop to see typical Florida – the Gulf of Mexico, a lighthouse, marshlands and ponds, not to mention all the wildlife you can see if you look hard enough.