What I am about to tell you is a big secret — that is among the winterers here. You are not to share this destination with anyone for fear of overpopulating this hidden gem during the months of January, February and March. However, if you can handle moderate temperatures — sometimes chilly, mostly not — a steady breeze, almost constant blue skies, white sand, tons of uninhabited state and federal lands, bayous, birds, blue-green Gulf waters, seashells, dolphins, large barges, nary a crowd, low-key local culture and lots of other intimate worldly and historical culture, then you should come here to
Perdido Key the southern part of Florida’s panhandle during the off-season. It is incredibly affordable, wildly beautiful, peacefully chill and utterly delightful. But don’t tell anyone that we told you. We have been sworn to secrecy.
Perdido Key The community just southwest of Pensacola, Florida, near the Alabama border was not on our list of must-see places. It happened to be where our family of retirees spend their winters, and we just happen to be crossing their paths as we emerged from West-Central Florida on our way out West. As slow travel has become part of our program, while staying as warm as we can be and by the beach, a month-long stopover on the water with accessible local food became very appealing. It also helps that our moms try to meet us wherever we are. So, finding ourselves in Florida’s “Lost” Key made perfect sense. If you happen to know the Spanish word for “lost” or “hidden,” then you, too, can find your way here.
We have become quite familiar with the historical goings-on of America’s Southeast during our travels. Native cultures, foreign conquerors, white settlers, racial strife, melting pots and lots of natural beauty. As we turn westward in the U.S., the tapestry is weaved slightly differently, and we see this change more overtly in the area from Pensacola, Florida, to Mobile, Alabama.
The Florida panhandle once was occupied by the Muscogee, or Creek, Indians. Originally spelled “Mvskoke,” this group of Native Americas are descendants of the Mississippian peoples, who inhabited the southeastern woodlands. Like the Indian cultures we found in Savannah and other southeastern areas, Muscogee created earthwork mounds at each of its chiefdom locales. The Muscogee Indians were part of a larger community of tribes with an intricate and complex network of languages. Although George Washington considered the Muscogee among the five “civilized” tribes, Andrew Jackson felt otherwise after an internal Muscogee battle enmeshed the Creek branch, who ceded its land to the U.S. and inevitably were swept out during the Indian Removal Act. (Wikipedia) Like many of their forcibly-removed kin, Muscogee are based now in Oklahoma.
It is said that early explorers like Hernando de Soto encountered the Muscogee. However, the region is named after the Panzacola (later “Pensacola”) Indians — another Muscogean-speaking tribe — which means “the village of hairy people.” During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Spain and France laid heavy hands on the region, both vying for territory. Initial attempts to settle the area proved difficult for the Spanish especially, who began settling there in 1559. At that time, a hurricane obliterated ships and supplies and killed hundreds of people; about one thousand remained to carry on efforts for settlement. A few years later, another storm destroyed anything and almost anyone that remained. The Spanish abandoned the settlements, returned to their outposts in Mexico or sailed to Cuba, and left with the idea that La Florida was “too dangerous,” a legend that lived for over one hundred thirty-five years. (Wikipedia) Meanwhile, France was creeping up the Mississippi through Maubila (Mobile) to continue the efforts of colonizing La Louisiane, which we discussed in our Mardi Gras post.
By 1693, Spain gave Florida another go by searching for a mysterious hidden passage along the coast just west of Pensacola. It was Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora — a well-known cartographer, scientist, advocate of New Spain and one of Spain’s first major intellectuals — who was sent by Spain to find it. For as long as anyone knows, passageways along the barrier islands of the panhandle shift as a result of hurricanes or man-made efforts. According to legend, this was the plight of Sigüenza y Góngora, who continued to fail to locate the “moving” passage. A local Indian chief spotted the challenged ship and offered to steer the Spanish men toward deeper, safer inland waters through the “hidden” or “lost” — perdido — passage en route to the tranquil bay at the present-day Florida/Alabama border. Thus,
Perdido Key this special winter hideaway was born.
And this is where we call home for all of February 2016. Although this location has seen its share of natural and man-made trauma, such as segregation and Hurricane Ivan,
Perdido Key this quiet resort town seems peaceful and content with its national seashore/Margaritaville feel. Its website says “Welcome to Paradise.” We get it.
Our little off-season winter home is much different than our digs around in-season West-Central Florida. Prices are different, people are different, the pace is completely different, the landscape is different and the weather, too. We understand the draw to head to Tampa or further south: It is warmer and we were all about that. But busy, in-season southern Florida challenged us in many ways, mostly in the form of accessibility: The closer one moves toward the coast, the more costly it becomes, and crowded. Up here in the panhandle, we have found the best of both worlds and a little more. We are surrounded by white sand and water and miles of beaches. We are among quiet, small neighborhoods. We are a short drive to Pensacola and about an hour from Mobile, and historic sites abound. In many directions, fresh, locally caught seafood from the Gulf is in our vicinity. Large pelicans, herons, osprey and more soar confidently from branch to water. There is a generous local library and a sweet little overstuffed hardware store. The drawl is long, the oysters are fresh, there are no lines and propane is inexpensive. Really, truly, what more can one ask for as part of a tiny living and travel itinerary? Perhaps only a few more dolphin sightings, but nothing else comes to mind.
We feel fortunate to be camping at a small, clean, quiet campground and marina resort consisting only of fifty-six sites. It is situated on the intracoastal waterway under the bridge that connects the barrier islands of
Perdido Key our temporary winter residence with the rest of the continent. We are among many Midwesterners here; Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota are represented. Our resort hosts are unlike most we have met: They are accessible, involved, interested and keep a neat and intimate place with a neighborhood feel. Although this pool is not heated, we have access to warmer waters down the road at the condos where family stays. We are enjoying lots of family time, quality work time, lots of sunny blue skies, local food, scooter-walks and strolls on the beaches and boardwalks. And although our sights are set West, we are more appreciative of and attentive to the present and its gifts. In fact, we feel revitalized.
So I could spend time describing more that goes on in outlying areas, but really, those options are here for your choosing. Go if you desire, see what you want — farm markets, battleships, museums, sunrises, sunsets, immense views of the stars, flora, fauna, wildlife — but make your pivot point here at
Perdido Key the small town nestled among Gulf Islands National Seashore and a few state parks, right next door to Alabama on a little barrier island. Take your time, relax and just be. You cannot go wrong.
Oh! Remember, this place is top secret. Come quietly, tell no one. We prefer to stay out of trouble. This message will self-destruct in five, four, three …