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    Sep 2000
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    Panama City Beach, FL
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    On the Way to 30-A...pt.1/from Panama City Beach


    If you're driving from Panama City or Panama City Beach to the 30-A area, there are a few places worth exploring before you reach Rosemary Beach, the first community on 30-A. Traveling west on the Panama City Beach Parkway, you'll pass Carillon Beach on your left and begin to climb high over the water on a long-arching bridge (Phillips Inlet Bridge) with spectacular views of the dunes and Gulf of Mexico. This bridge seems to beg you to speed (really), but resist the urge and make sure you stay within the 45-mph speed limit ("Big Brother" is often watching). Just as you leave the bridge and round the curve, you'll see a sign on your left for Camp Helen State Park. The entrance is fairly easy to miss, so slow down and be prepared to turn in for your first "pit stop" on the way to scenic 30-A. There's no camping at the park as the name would imply, but the beaches are pristine and the nature trails easy to maneuver as you wind through sugar-white dunes, scrub-oak forests and Camp Helen's rare dune lake, one of the largest coastal dune lakes found in very few places around the world. Dune lakes are particularly indigenous to this area and the sparkling "brackish" water, seemingly trapped by the tall dunes definitely adds to the drama of one the park. This 185-acre playground was once a family retreat before being purchased by an Alabama textile company who gave the park its name and used it as a resort destination for vacationing employees. Five distinct natural communities make up the park's unusual ecosystem, including mesic flatwoods (look it up), scrub oak, basin swamp, depression marsh and marine unconsolidated substrate-what? Well, that's what it's called, but more importantly, make sure you bring your hiking boots and flip flops as you'll be spending time traipsing 'round the woods and walking on the beach. Every time I've visited Camp Helen, I rarely see more than a couple of other people (if that), so it's particularly nice to have such a large park and beach to yourself. Hopefully you'll be equally lucky as you hike, fish or swim at Camp Helen. If you're lucky enough to be traveling with a boat (not a ship or yacht), boating at the park is allowed, as well as building camp fires in designated areas-particularly nice if you manage to catch a few fish and feel like having lunch? Just remember, there's no actual "camping" allowed and no lifeguards on duty, so use appropriate caution and "common sense" if you get into the water. No matter what you do at Camp Helen, it's really worth exploring before turning on to 30-A, which is only a mile or so down the road from the park's entrance! Keep your "beach gear" handy, as there's one more stop before you arrive at Rosemary Beach...and it's even easier to miss than Camp Helen, but even more spectacular. I'll tell you all about Deer Lake park (and how to find it) in my next post. How cool is this short trip from Panama City beach...and you haven't even reached your first seaside community on scenic 30-A...yet! More, coming right up...
    Last edited by Garth; September-27th,2013 at 11:01 AM. Reason: Make part 1 and part 2 clearer

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