Florida Panhandle driving offers landscape treat

In last week's column, I framed my trip to the lovely Gulf Coast destination of Anna Maria Island with an uncharacteristically unpleasant tale of traffic gridlock in downtown Tampa.

So, in the spirit of equal time, this week's dispatch will focus on a heavenly stretch of roads that connects Interstate 10, west of Tallahassee, to the spring-break capital of Panama City Beach and the more peaceful shores of the beaches of South Walton.

There's no shortcut to the drive from South Florida or the Orlando area and that stretch of I-10 in the Panhandle can become tedious, especially at night when there's not even the distraction of the forests of tall pines. It's a six-hour drive from Orlando to Panama City Beach and the trek is even longer to Pensacola, near the Alabama border.

Fortunately, my Panama City excursion allowed me to escape the I-10 tedium about 25 miles west of Tallahassee, where westbound State Road 12 took me through several scenic locales that rarely turn up on tourist brochures.

Greensboro. Bristol. Blountstown. Clarksville. These communities along State Road 12 and State Road 20, west of the interstate, offered views of cozy main-street business districts, farmland, grazing cattle, exquisitely weathered barns along red clay roads and rolling hills.

Even to the native Floridian, the landscape didn't look much like the Florida of sand and surf, tropical towns or gleaming cities such as Miami or St. Petersburg.

Along the way, rural bridges would take me over the Chipola or Apalachicola rivers, the latter offering the time-travel experience of transporting me into the Central Time Zone. Somehow, that added to the timelessness of the scenery and conveniently cut an hour (by the clock, at least) off the Orlando-Panama City commute.

This trip was one of those reminders that the Sunshine State is more than beaches and its often possible to see different sides of Florida's personality on one afternoon trip. A former colleague, for instance, once devised a sunrise-sunset trip from St. Augustine to Cedar Key that passes potato fields in Hastings on State Road 206 as well as other roadside charms in roughly a dozen other towns on rural county roads.

Maybe it's about time to retrace that route for a future column.

In the meantime, I'll savor the scenery north of Tallahassee.




Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette