Monday, March 19, 2012

Road Trip: Jacksonville, Pt. 2 (May, 2008)--St. Augustine & Fernandina Beach

As I rolled down US-1 toward St. Augustine, the clouds rolled in. By the time I made it to the parking lot in front of the Castillo de San Marcos, things were looking ugly to the west.

I didn't care about rain; I was more concerned about someone dropping the Tracker's plastic rear window and stealing my stuff. Didn't let that stop me from going into the fort.

Gorgeous place, well-preserved by the National Park Service. It's right on the waterfront of Matanzas Bay, bordered on the south and west by US-A1A. Across the bay is Anastasia Island, where the coquina stone for the fort was quarried. If you squint just right to the east you can see a sliver of the Atlantic.

It's not a big fort, but there's plenty to see. The entrance is protected by a ticket booth (I imagine British invaders shelling out five bucks a head to get in) and a pair of drawbridges joined by a ravelin in the moat before the south wall.

Once you're inside, you'll find a modest gift shop, plenty of centuries-old Spanish-style guns and architecture, and lots of room on top to wander around and enjoy the view. I spent most of an hour exploring the towers topping each corner and the arch-ceilinged rooms, snapping photo after photo [lost all but 4 in a computer crash a few months later]. Those clouds kept rolling in from the west, ever darker, and the winds rose. Thunder grumbled louder and louder.

By the time I got back to the Tracker, fat, cold drops of rain were falling; I had to pause, though, for one of the best pics I've ever taken--the Castillo behind its hill, crowned by clouds.

Then the bottom fell out of those clouds; I retreated to the car.

Time to head back north, to Fort Clinch near Fernandina Beach. The rain cleared as I got closer to Jacksonville. I knew better than to try getting onto I-95; it was close to rush hour and I didn't feel like playing "parking lot" with the other commuters. I'd planned ahead (once I found a store that sold freaking MAPS a few days earlier) and swung onto 9A north. I almost had the Dames Point Bridge to myself. The worst of the rain had blown past, but the skies were still gray.

I traded 9A for 17B, 2 lanes passing small communities and big marshes and places like Reni's Redneck Yacht Club. I barely noticed Yulee on the way through. All I wanted now was to get to Fort Clinch State Park, set up camp, and get some sleep before seeing the fort bright and early the next morning. My mind's eye imagining brick walls and graceful arches, I turned east on to FL A1A. It seemed like a long drive from there; but the road finally became 8th Street, took a hard left, and took me to Atlantic Avenue.

Almost there!

I got stuck behind someone who seemed to be sneaking up on her destination. Why, yes, there was oncoming traffic, so I couldn't go around her--how'd you guess?

When you're going slow enough for a Tracker to tailgate you in 3rd gear, you're going too slow. Just saying.

Then she stopped almost in the middle of the lane to let her kid out near a ballpark. I swear the kid was running faster than she'd been driving.

The folks in the westbound lane finally left enough of a gap for me to get past her.

Almost there! Over a causeway...past a stand of trees a few blocks long, on my left...missed the damn park entrance!

Got myself sorted out...and in short order, I was talking to the guy at the park entrance.

Remember that I'd planned to camp somewhere in the park--and remember that I mentioned a slight snag?

"I'm sorry, sir, all the campsites are full because of the Memorial Day weekend. But here's a list of other places that might have openings."

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