I have been living in Florida for almost twenty years now and continue to discover interesting new locations for photography.
This summer I took my first visit to the Florida “Panhandle”. My original plan had been to drive from Naples, about a 9-hour drive, but at the last minute, friends offered a ride on a private plane and who can say no to that?! Thank you, Lou and Marie! The plane, a Columbia 350, is small aircraft, not well suited for photography as doors and windows have to remain shut, and shooting through the window has a lot of limitations with angles and glare. But it is always a wonderful experience to see the world from the “over-view”. For example, I had never realized how vast and seemingly untouched the coastal mangroves are around Crystal River. Maybe my next trip will take me there?
My main reason I wanted to visit the panhandle was the "Dead Lakes". I had seen beautiful images by other photographers of cypress trees logged in water and wanted to see for myself. The pilot was kind enough to detour over the Dead Lakes before approaching Apalachicola airport, which allowed me to scope the area I wanted to capture.
Base camp was Apalachicola, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico (2-traffic-lights-town), but with an airport and a few simple hotels. It is also the commercial center of the panhandle. I had booked the iconic “Gibson Inn”, which is well over 100 years old and the best place in town.
The Dead Lakes are near the even smaller town of Wewahitchka ("Wewa", a one-traffic-light-town), a good one hour drive from Apalachicola (or “Apalach”, as the locals call it).
The ongoing building boom is insane. Partially, to re-build from the destruction of hurricane Michael in 2018, but also many new developments. The demand for beach front property is insatiable.
Thankfully, parts of the barrier islands of St. George, San Blas, and St. Vincent are now protected parks. This fragile dune ecosystem is also habitat to a large number of sea birds.
The history of the panhandle is also a history of economic cycles. Before the boom in tourism, seafood was the key economic driver. It ended when the BP Oil Spill in 2010 and Hurricane Michael in 2018 made big dents in the seafood industry in this region. Only a small fraction of its former size remains. This once self-proclaimed former Oyster Capital of the World now produces no oysters at all.
To go back another step in history, before the now-defunct seafood industry, the main economic driver was timber, until timber was logged out.
Storms visit frequently and in 1889 during the Georgia Hurricane, the neighboring town Carrabelle took a heavy beating. It had been the economic center of the timber trade but its port and the international fleet in the harbor were completely destroyed. Recent hurricane Michael unearthed one of the shipwrecks from 1898 near Dog Island and it is now a tourist attraction.