Thursday, April 16, 2009

Horseshoe Beach

One nice thing about the vacations that Carole and I take is that we allow ourselves all kinds of wriggle room to change our plans according to the situation. Initially, we wanted to canoe the Suwanee River, but the flood waters prevented us from doing that. So instead we opted to use Manatee State Park as a base camp from which we explored the surrounding countryside.

One day, we headed down a lonely stretch of highway to a place called Horseshoe Beach. We'd been told that there was a good recreation area near it called Shired Island where we might be able to canoe in the marshes and a little on the Gulf. It was with Shired Island in mind that we headed toward Horseshoe Beach, as we had only vague directions to Shired and only knew that it was on the way to Horseshoe.

However, we never saw the connecting road to Shired and continued all the way down the seemingly straight-as-an-arrow road to Horseshoe Beach. The road (CR 351) is about 20 miles long. It heads right into the woods and just keeps going, pretty much in an unswerving line until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly we were out of the woods and driving into a very small and very strange little town.

CR 357, off of CR351. See anything coming? Nope. Not likely to, either.

There's no other way to describe Horseshoe Beach than "weird". I'm not knocking it, and I don't mean that as a pejorative. It's just strange to see this little fishing/resort town seemingly daubed onto the end of that road. It's a series of classic lowcountry grid-designed streets, with the village surrounded on three sides by the Gulf of Mexico and the other by scrub woodland and swampland stretching those twenty miles back toward Highway 98 and the Fanning Springs/Manatee Springs/Cross City vicinity.

This is not a boat (at least not anymore). It's a house. In downtown Horseshoe Beach.

I'm told that the permanent population of the town is somewhere between 80 and 100 humans, but the number swells on the weekends. There are a lot of resort properties in the town, along with exactly one restaurant. That single eatery was doing a very brisk business the day we drove past it, and we'd have tried it out if we hadn't already had supper earlier. There didn't seem to be much else on the island in the way of commercial interests.

As for the "beach", there didn't seem to be any! We drove up and down the waterfront and never saw anything that could be considered a beach. Yes, the Gulf of Mexico lapped at the shore, but where one would hope to see a beach there was only concrete groins and wooden piers. Maybe there was a beach once upon a time, but no longer.

This little island is just offshore from Horseshoe Beach. Power lines lead out to it, and it has at least one house. Apparently someone's nice, private island. Cool.

At any rate, it's a quiet and very interesting spot on the map. We'll probably go back for a more extensive visit to try out that seemingly popular restaurant. More likely, we'll go back one of these days to hit the Shired Island Campground which we finally found two days later.

As we discovered when we looked at our detailed Florida Atlas, we'd missed the turnoff to Shired on the way to Horseshoe. If the Beach is out in the sticks, Shired Island is pretty near wilderness. It sits at the end of another long, narrow spit of asphalt that juts into the surrounding swamplands and scrubby hammocks. Everywhere you look all you see are pines and oaks and palmetto. No houses. This is all timber country and wildlife sanctuary.

The road was very recently paved--I'd say within the previous month. It leads to basically two things:

The Shired Island Campground which seems to be part of the Lower Suwanee Wildlife Refuge; and the Fish Bone Cemetery Nature Trail.

View from near the Fish Bone Cemetery along the namesake trail.

Every once in a while Carole and I discover a gem of a place that we almost don't want to tell anyone about. Something that we want to keep as a secret so it doesn't get used too much. But we decided to spill the beans about Shired Island Campground. You'll find it at the end of a little side road (CR 357) off the main highway (CR 351) leading down into the wilderness. For $15 a night you get a dumpster where you can dispose of your trash, and a beachfront campground that consists of three series of covered concrete pads. These are divided into section with picnic tables. You also have water and power hookups. There's a rustic-looking bathhouse with flush toilets and a pair of showers (men's and women's).

Full moon through the pines at Fish Bone Cemetery. Brrrr....Owooo!

And, of course, your campsite, no matter which one you pick (there seem to be about a dozen), is beachfront. I'm not talking about ocean view. I'm talking right on the freaking beach. Step out of your RV or tent and walk a few paces and you're wading in the Gulf of Mexico. You're that close to the water.

For $15 a night, it can't be beat. What I'm looking forward to some day is to stand there at night and look up at the skies. Since the spot is so totally isolated I feel certain that the night sky must be something to see. I hope to find out one day. (Night, rather.)

6 comments: said...

looks like ya never made it to steinhatchee, the next town north of horseshoe beach. we have about 6 places to eat n 4-5 places that serve beer n alcohol. and still pristine in nature , many trail and protected lands. we have steinhatchee falls, the road to no where, dallus creek, hagans cove, n much much more. a few marinas and a public boat ramp. extraorinary fishing, scalloping, n hunting...
Next time ya wanna visit give me a call! I will show you some neat river caves, n such :-) I do a lot of photography here in the hatch, so come on down !!!

HemlockMan said...

We'll make it back down that way, eventually. We really liked the area, so we'll meander in that direction again.

duckbill said...

Unfortunately, steinahatchee has become commercialized. They ran all the mom and pop camps out of town to build condos for the rich. There are no beaches here either. Just extremely overpriced seafood joints.

James Robert Smith said...

Alas! That seems to be the way of things.

J Moore said...

I very much enjoyed reading your descriptive blog and surmised that you were already an author. Imagine my surprise when I read that you are writing a novel. Best of luck!

My husband and I would love to find Shired Beach for our RV adventure. Any additional cues as to the turn-off from Horseshoe will be greatly appreciated.

James Robert Smith said...

Shired Island Campground is a part of the Dixie County government. It is mentioned in this Dixie County government website:

I can't recall the exact directions, but it should be easy to find via maps. Or call the Dixie County parks department.