Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Johns River, JAX to Palatka

Before we continue our Great Loop trip, we've decided to take a side trip up the St. Johns River.  "Up" the river actually means "south" from here or "down" Florida as the St. Johns is one of the few rivers in the US that runs north.  So, keep that in mind any time I refer to our direction of movement.  

And before we leave, meet our friends from Alabama, Bob and Barbara Hopson.  We met them many years ago at Lindsay Lane Baptist Church at which time they noted that they were boaters and kept their sailboat at Bay Hill Marina.  Guess what, Bay Hill Marina is home port also to "Help Me Rhonda" and where we have our condo on the TN River, so a match was made and we've been friends ever since.  We've traveled by boat and car together and played many games of dominoes in between.  This picture was actually taken 4 days from now at Blue Springs but we'll use it now to introduce our friends and guests for this portion of our trip.

From Harbortown Marina on the ICW to the St. Johns River is 5 miles, then another 163 miles to our destination up the river, Sanford.  Here's the junction of the ICW and the river, mile marker "1."

The first major landmark heading upstream is Dames Point Bridge on I-295.

The cruise ship and container ship docks were empty.  I guess all of the cruise ships were broken down somewhere!

Rhonda and Barbara were doing a fine job getting us to downtown JAX.  In case you are wondering why Rhonda has a kangaroo-looking thing named Gowalla on her hoodie, that's the company our older son, Adam, worked for before Facebook bought it out.  Rather than move to CA to work for Facebook, he decided to stay in Austin and now works for a pretty cool company called "Map My Fitness."

Here's The Gator Bowl on our starboard side, also home to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And, downtown JAX ahead.  

JAX has three major bridges across the St. Johns River, all painted a different color - red, green, and blue.

Jacksonville Landing downtown, all in all a beautiful riverfront city.

Our first stop on the river was Green Cove Springs, about 44 miles upstream.  Don't forget - we're heading south "up" the river.  The city has a very nice riverfront park and it was packed on a Sunday, St. Patrick's Day weekend, but we had the docks pretty much to ourselves.

The centerpiece of the park is the actual spring from which the town gets its name.  

The water flows from the spring through the park and into the St. Johns.

Lots of very nice facilities for all types of activities including playgrounds for the kids and a great setting on the river.

We took a quick walking tour of the city and noted many really pretty churches.  This one was our favorite - St. Mary's Episcopal, also right on the riverfront.

We grilled burgers on the boat for dinner, got in our first dominoes contest of the trip, and prepared for day two to our next stop, Palatka.  I should note that the "lower" half of the river is mostly open water which surprised Rhonda.  She was expecting a narrow river the entire trip.  We docked at Boathouse Marina which is located right downtown in Palatka.  Most of the marinas from this point up river are let's say "rustic" but we kind of like that.

There are literally small cruise ships that provide tours of the St. Johns. We passed one on our right approaching the marina. Here she sits with a full moon later in the evening.

Shortly after docking, we got a phone call from two of the passengers, John and Judy Gill.  They saw our looper flag, looked up our info on the looper website, and called us to say hello.  They made the loop trip around 2004.  We walked over and visited with them for a few minutes before heading in to town.  It's always fun to meet fellow loopers since all of us members are interested in the same thing and have lots to share about our individual travels and experiences.

Our first stop in town was Angelo's Diner, claiming the famed status of "Florida's Oldest Diner."  Not sure exactly how they got a railroad dining car to downtown put it's there and "famous" to boot. 

Palatka has numerous wall paintings on the sides of their corner buildings downtown.  Here are a few and yes, the last one is a tribute to Billy Graham. 

As we were checking out the town, we checked out possibilities for dinner.  While checking out the menu at an Italian Restaurant, Rhonda also asked what there was to do in the town.  After a quick perusal of our group and without hesitation, the guy said there was a gun range a few blocks away. That was his only recommendation for us so not sure if that was a statement about us or the town!  Anyway, here's the gun range.  

Palatka has a very pretty riverfront with the clock tower as a focal point.

The city has a very defined historic district with lots of churches like Green Cove Springs and many beautiful homes.  The historic district is defined by cobblestone/brick streets. 

We finished our walking tour, DID NOT GO TO THE GUN RANGE, and headed back to the boat.  Since Rhonda had not had much of a chance for a bike ride yet on her new bike, we took a riding tour of the town and found a very pretty cemetery on the south side of town.  Most of the tombstones noted birth dates in the early to mid 1800s and lots of deaths in the mid 1800s, particularly newborn babies and young children.  Rhonda was in tears before we left and it was truly sad to understand and realize how common this was in those days.  We are blessed to live in an era with so much medical technology and advances in healthcare available to us.

For dinner, we decided not to hold a grudge against the Italian restaurant's gun range recommendation and returned there for dinner.  It was the number one recommendation by everyone we asked and it really was good.  My number one all-time favorite soup is clam chowder (and I sample it every chance I get), followed closely by Olive Garden's pasta e fagiole, but there's new competition for those after "pizza soup" from "Viva! Italia Pizzeria."  Outstanding.

No dominoes that night, just conversation and enjoying our friends aboard.  Big day to Georgetown in the morning.  Gonna see some gators, all kinds of bird activity, and some beautiful scenery as the river narrows and we enter some of Florida's most undeveloped land.

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