This week I’ve been staying with friends at their beautiful condo Blu Vue on Okaloosa Island. Situated on the so called ‘Emerald Coast’ one of the best things about this condo is the view. Oh and the proximity to the beach. (Oh and the company of course!) On the Gulf of Mexico in the north west of Florida, the white sandy beach extends east to west for several miles. The blue-green sea laps gently at the shore, soothing the weary mind, and lulling you gently to a state of comatose relaxation. Except when there is a storm when it is more crashy and exciting!
The landscape all around is very flat and sandy. The land of the coastline is separated into ‘islands’, with sea, rivers, lagoons and bayous all around. There is evidence that Fort Walton beach (where we are staying) has been inhabited by humans since 12,000 BC, according to a local history website. After the melting of glaciers the landscape changed and native tribes settled into organised villages, trading pearls, conch shells and fish bones with outsiders for copper, iron and maize. The Spanish invaders in the 16th century probably hastened the extinction of the original tribes (disease and warfare..). For a while the area was settled by Europeans and their descendants, and people travelling to the area for a better life. The main trade in the mid 19th century was fishing, plus lumber and turpentine (derived from the Slash Pine tree).
The 20th century saw big changes to the area when land was given to the military and several air bases were developed. The nearest is Eglin Air Force Base, and it is fascinating to watch the aircraft flying overhead as you sit on the beach.
Tourism is, of course, another 20th century phenomenon, and is so successful that Florida residents pay no state income tax, as the state makes enough money from people visiting and holidaying. Nowadays the coast is lined with hotels, apartment blocks and restaurants, shopping malls, leisure activities such as golf, go karting etc etc.
So what is so special about this area that people flock to spend their holidays here? Of course the warm weather is a big part of it. But the main attraction is the beautiful sea, and the white sand. The sand is amazing. It is fine, white and cool to walk on even when the temperature soars above 30 degrees centigrade. It squeaks when you walk on it. It is composed almost entirely of quartz particles so fine that they cannot get any smaller!
The quartz originates from the Appalachian mountains, and was washed into the Gulf 20,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, down rivers (in particular the Apalachicola River) to the sea. In time the rivers changed course and new material stopped being deposited. Once the material reached the shore the action of the waves and tides weathered the particles and washed out the silty matter leaving behind just the quartz. (If anybody is interested in the geology of Florida here is a link for more information.)
Running on sand is hard work. I tend to go out early before it gets too hot, and before the beach is too busy. This week I have been out running twice and for a walk twice. The second run was really hard, my legs were like lead and I had to have several walk breaks. I think it’s just the effort of running on sand tires out your legs. But it is worth it for the sunrise. It is amazing to run right next to the waves, watch the sunrise, look at the birds and try and spot a dolphin.
The pelicans are incredible birds. They skim so close to the water and then soar above gliding on the air currents with their huge wings spread wide.
At the water’s edge the sandpipers scurry about, running unceasingly on their little legs, searching constantly for food while keeping an eye on the incoming waves.
On a lucky day you can see dolphins. The sea has been a little rough at times this week and the dolphins usually only swim by in calmer seas. One morning this week I was lucky enough to see several dolphins swimming past.
Yesterday there were a lot of jelly fish washed up on the beach. That’s quite off putting in terms of thinking of going for a swim later…😂 Last time I was here I did get stung by jellyfish larvae which was pretty horrible.
I am grateful for the opportunity to visit this beautiful beach. It is very special to see the sun rise at one end, and set in a blaze of glory (on a good evening!) at the other. Thank you Tracy and David for sharing your lovely condo.
Look out for American inspired baking posts in the next couple of weeks!
Thanks for reading!