Two days ago, I returned from a fantastic photography trip where I finally met up with Terry Collins – another native Floridian landscape photographer who I’d been looking forward to meeting for quite some time. Our goal was to photograph the sand dunes of the St. Joseph Peninsula of Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” – the quiet and mostly untouched northern shoreline of the Panhandle. The terrain and landscape is almost alien when it comes to Florida, and is fortunately protected by the State of Florida as a 1650-acre nature preserve.
St. Joseph Peninsula is a 15-mile spit of land running parallel to the mainland shore, creating St. Joseph Bay. The most striking feature is the miles of shifting sand dunes that line the Gulf Coast, some of them attaining a height of nearly 60 feet tall! These massive and seemingly random hills form some of the most amazing valleys and peaks – all of which are dotted with native sea oats and cabbage palms. The opposite side of this narrow peninsula forms the southern shore of the bay – a shallow body of water famed for its wildlife viewing. Most surprising however is the narrow interior – a dense sandpine scrub – a stunted and windblown forest of twisted low pines, hardy palmettos, and fields of Florida rosemary. Among all of these desert-like features are the innumerable tracks of bobcats, the endangered St. Andrews beach mouse and white-tailed deer.
~ click to enlarge photo ~
Fortunately, these dunes are protected by responsible land management officials, and the land is protected from developers. Three or four passes are maintained for foot traffic (where this photo was taken) which is the only way to travel across the dunes toward the point. The deep, hot sugar sand is exhausting to walk over for any length of time (unless you are a determined/sun-addled nature photographer), and most who do make any headway up to the point stay on the beach. This keeps most of the visitors away from the highest of dunes, and keeps this beautiful wilderness an untouched gem in the Florida State Park system.