Florida Vacation
July 1-8, 2005

The Moores joined up with the Smiths and the McBrides for a week-long vacation trip to the Florida panhandle during the first week in July. We left Van Buren on a Friday morning, and drove all day before stopping for the  night in Richland, Mississippi. After checking in at a motel, we had an excellent dinner at a local barbecue joint. From there it was straight back to the Super 8 for some much-needed shut eye.
The next day’s drive to our destination, near Destin, was supposed to be a relatively short 6 hours. But we got caught in several traffic jams and it was close to dinner time before we finally arrived at the beach house we’d rented for the week.
After a fast-food dinner, Brad, Cait, Cliff, Grant and I drove to Destin Commons mall in hopes of catching a fireworks display. It seemed as though we’d missed the show, so we went back to the beach house, only to see fireworks lighting up the sky behind us on the drive back. The boys talked me into accompanying them down to the beach, while Stacey was out grocery shopping. Before she’d left,  Stacey had made us three guys promise not to get in the water. Yeah, sure.
My favorite times of the week  were the peaceful evenings that I sat on the beach at sundown, camera in hand, as the boys played in and around the water.
The bedroom Stacey and I stayed in had patio doors opening up to a small deck facing the ocean. Every night we left the doors open enough to let in the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach. Sleeping to that sound was every bit as nice as I’d always thought it would be, and I slept in almost every morning because of it.
Stacey began most mornings sitting out on the deck that was one floor below our bedroom. Our first morning there, she hollered at me to wake up and stick my head outside the patio doors and see several dolphins swimming near the shore. She did that to me several mornings during the week, but I never did see any dolphins. I either didn’t make it out of bed in time, or just went back to sleep!
One thing that did get my attention was on Monday morning, when Stacey yelled up to me that there was a funnel cloud nearby. I stuck my head out the door to spot it, safely way up in the clouds above the beach a couple of miles away.
We all fell into a daily routine of hanging out on the beach until lunch, then braving the heavy traffic to check out the local tourist attractions. On Monday, Bass Pro Shops looked promising from the outside. Inside Stacey snapped these shots of the boys at the big aquarium.
That evening we enjoyed several heavenly displays. During the always-stressful ordeal of supervising the boys while they shot fireworks, God put on his first show of the evening with a huge rainbow. He then followed with a spectacular sunset, that served as the backdrop for the photo of Darrel at the top of this page. We were then treated to the combined effect of hundreds of vacationers up and down the beach firing their own Fourth of July fireworks, along with Destin’s professional display miles to the west.
Tuesday after lunch Stacey and I accompanied James and Melinda on a sightseeing drive, and somehow we wound up stopping and walking around a luxury shopping area under development named the Village of Baytowne Wharf. Later that afternoon Cait went with Stacey, the boys and I to the Gulfarium, where we enjoyed a couple of fun shows with dolphins and sea lions.
Tropical storm Cindy came ashore overnight, and Wednesday morning the beaches were closed due to the strong ocean waves. The beach was covered with brown seaweed brought in by the storm. It was cloudy, windy and rainy, so most of us went to the mall in the nearby town of Mary Esther.
That afternoon the sun came out and the winds and waves grew even stronger, but it made for some fantastic scenery. For dinner we all walked down the beach to a nearby seafood restaurant, Pompano Joe’s, that had a view of the ocean.
Every night I went to bed with the intentions of getting up early the next morning to go take sunrise photos somewhere. I finally overcame the power of the ocean sounds on Thursday morning and drove out to a spot west of the Destin bridge, but there wasn’t any color so I just drove  back to the beach house and went back to snooze a couple more hours. After lunch the boys and I went for a long drive up into the panhandle to hopefully check out some the state’s springs and caves. The drive was longer than I expected so we skipped the planned visit to Ponce De Leon Spring and instead drove straight to Florida Caverns state park.
On the drive back to the beach I got a call on the cell phone from Stacey warning me to fill up the gas tank before I got back into town. Word had spread along the coast that Hurricane Dennis was on its way, and vacationers were already leaving early and causing long lines at the gas stations.
By Friday I’d had enough of hanging out on the beach, and stayed indoors playing Monopoly with the boys. The ocean was at its calmest that day, and I snapped the picture below from our deck. By sundown most of the area businesses were closed and were boarding up their windows. After dinner, we all spent a while on the beach trying to take family photos.
We packed before going to bed, so that we could be on the road by 4 a.m. the next morning. Being caught in a traffic jam sounded much scarrier than a hurricane! We drove straight through and got back to Van Buren around 7 p.m. Saturday. We watched Hurricane Dennis coverage on CNN the next day.