Some crazy things have happened to us on our journeys through the South. But I don’t think there is anything as crazy as what happened to us on the way to Carrabelle, Florida one December night.
I resisted the urge to start this story with “it was a dark night.” But it was. Steve and I were taking our first trip together to Florida’s forgotten coast. I had been a few times. You would assume I was prepared for what happened.
As things go, we got a late start. Since it was December darkness fell early.
Driving from Georgia to Carrabelle involves some back roads and small towns. By the time it got dark, we were in the middle of the Apalachicola forest. Despite the fact that I had no internet signal, somehow my trusty GPS was still guiding us through the dark roads.
We may have seen one car in 10 miles. Steve was driving carefully because I knew deer lurked in those trees. So we were shocked when we saw blue lights in our rear view mirror as we cruised at 35 miles an hour. We were even more shocked when the police officer didn’t pull in behind us, but drove up beside us. Steve slowly rolled down the window.
“Have y’all seen a bear around here? We’ve got a report one’s been hit by a vehicle.”
Bears! In FLORIDA! I had been to the forgotten coast a few times but I didn’t know about the bears.
The police officer was nice. We later saw him out with a vehicle that looked like it had a cage in the back. It as dark and we were anxious to get to Carrabelle so I couldn’t tell if it was a bear.
The next morning we started walking through town and noticed a statue at one of the town’s entrances. And what was on it? Yep, two playful bears. We had to find out more.
The first thing we noticed when we entered the Carrabelle History Museum was a basket of small stuffed bears. I am used to seeing these in the Great Smoky Mountains but in Florida?
We learned that bears often ramble out of the north Florida forests to the beach towns of the Forgotten Coast. You may also see foxes and deer. At least we didn’t have one show up in the inn where we stayed. The family in this article had one in their living room. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are 5,000 to 6,000 reports of bears each year with a lot of them coming from the state’s panhandle. Wow.
Of course, I had to buy one of the bears. It sits on our television stand.
Carrabelle is more than a place to spot a bear. It’s a little town rich in history and filled with friendly people who will say “hello” as you pass them on the sidewalks.
The Carrabelle History Museum is a must see if you want to know more about the area’s history. As a baseball fanatic, I loved learning about John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, a Carrabelle native who was the first Black Major League coach. He also played with the Kansas City Monarchs, a successful team in the Negro Leagues.
Inside the museum is the World’s Smallest Police Station. It’s really just a telephone booth set up by local police officers in the 1960s. A replica of the police station sits at its original location on U.S. 98.
We later visited the Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum. Carrabelle was a training site for the military and civilians during World War II. Carrabelle Beach is just across the street.
I couldn’t leave without seeing what is perhaps the town’s most famous landmark, the Crooked River Lighthouse. You can climb up the 103-foot tower of the lighthouse. It wasn’t open when we visited and I am not sure if I would have been brave enough to make that trek.
And of course, there are the beaches and fishing boats of Carrabelle. We spotted dolphins but they were too quick for me to get a picture.
We love the Forgotten Coast and plan on making more trips there. The best way for you to experience its beauty is to visit the beaches and cute towns yourself. And when you are in Carrabelle, beware of the bears.