Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fort De Soto

On August 19, 2016 at midnight, Tim tried to reserve a campsite in the popular Fort de Soto campground on the beach near St. Petersburg, FL.  But by 12:01 a.m., all the spots had been snapped up.  So he tried again the next night, only for this attempt, he was posed to quickly tap his way through the reservation web site.  

And this time he was successful!  That's how we came to find ourselves in this beautiful place on the Gulf of Mexico.  I guess it pays to plan ahead, especially when such primo places can only be booked six months in advance. 

Fort de Soto County Park sits on five interconnected keys (islands) at the mouth of Tampa Bay.  

From its white sandy beaches, we've had a ringside seat to watch the shipping trade headed in and out of the Port of Tampa.  

With over 37 million tons of cargo logged in 2016, there's been plenty of shipping activity for us to see.  But that's all taking place beyond the breakers.

We've stayed much closer to shore, instead enjoying the park's two swimming areas, North Beach and East Beach.  These are very popular on the weekends, but during the week, we've been part of a small crowd made up mostly of snowbirders and families with preschoolers.  

The park also has seven miles of hiking and biking trails and even a canoe trail for kayakers.

The historic Fort de Soto stands at the southernmost point of the park on Mullet Key.  First surveyed in 1849 by Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, the famed Civil War general, the point was occupied during the Civil War by Union troops who were stationed there to blockade Tampa Bay.

During the Spanish American War, Tampa became the port of embarkation for U.S. troops and supplies going to Cuba.  Consequently, in 1898 at the onset of that war, a military battery was constructed here and named Fort de Soto in honor of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto.  Later the fort was turned over to the Marine Hospital Service and became a quarantine station, inspecting people arriving from foreign ports for disease and infections.  During World War II, the War Department decided to turn Mullet Key into a bombing range.  After the war, the area was sold to Pinellas County and in 1963 finally became a public park.  

Last weekend we enjoyed watching reenactors bring a portion of this history to life.

Our campsite sits on St. Christopher Key on the east side of Mullet Key Bayou, a popular location for kayakers.

There is heavy vegetation here which creates privacy screens between the campsites.

We were fortunate to snag a site right on the bayou which has been a great location for watching the sun set over Shell Key.

Of course, our main activity, if you can call it such, has been lounging in our beach chairs with a book to read.  Tim is working his way through The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.

Meanwhile, I've finished--
1.  Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson;
2.  Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, finds the inhabitants of the village of Rye tested as they prepare for WWI, a novel that is reminiscent of Downtown Abbey;
3.  Hero of the Empire: the Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard;
4.  What Alice Forgot gives her the chance for a do-over after a fall during her spinning class at the gym leaves her concussed, a novel by Liane Moriarty; and
5.  Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, a fictionalized account of a New York socialite cum charity worker Caroline Ferriday during WWII.

However, in Tim's defense, I must say that he has spent much more time swimming in the surf than I have.

Fort de Soto is the second county park campground we've stayed at this year.  We are fast becoming fans of Florida's county parks, finding them to be scenic, spacious and close to biking trails and waterfronts whether it's a lake as at John Prince campground or the beach here at Fort de Soto.

I don't know if life, as it says on so many kitschy tourist souvenirs, is truly better at the beach, but we've found that to be so here.  


  1. Another great post, Cindy. You and Tim have explored so much more of Florida than we have, even though we are full-timers and not snowbirds. We did make it over to Sanibel Island a couple weekends ago and have the shells to prove it!

    1. We like your adopted state! It's on our list of Places To Consider Living once we come off the road. How fun that you and Patty weekended on Sanibel Island! It's gorgeous, isn't it? Enjoy making this state your own!

  2. Of course, I like your sunset photos. The sun and sand look wonderful, too, and I'm jealous of uninterrupted reading time. Enjoy!