Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Barrier Island

The Atlantic Ocean coast of the United States from Hilton Head Island, SC southward almost until Fort Lauderdale, FL is bordered by narrow strips of land of diverse lengths and widths which are known as barrier islands. They are separated from the mainland by what are variously called sounds, rivers, inlets or even creeks. The barrier islands are really nothing more than sand dunes and are distinguished from the rock formations found more prominently further north. "They are subject to change during storms and other action (such are hurricanes) but absorb energy and protect the coastlines and create areas of protected waters where wetlands may flourish."

The barrier islands we've frequented are Hilton Head Island, Tybee Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Amelia Island, St. Augustine Beach, Daytona Beach Shores and Jupiter Island. Though I prefer the smaller islands such as Jekyll Island (which we've bicycled around in about 1½ hours) they are all relatively small and uniformly quaint and intimate, each with its individual flavour.  On the Gulf Coast of Florida similar islands are Longboat Key (which we adore), Siesta Key, Sanibel Island and Marco Island for example. The island resorts are all connected to the mainland usually by one primary bridge only and it is not uncommon to see a road sign announcing there is no exit to the mainland.

Barrier islands provide a critical (and fragile) natural defense against wave action, swells, storm surges, and coastal storms. In the United States these unique geological features border the Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, while on the Atlantic Coast they can be found from Florida northward to New York State. They can also be found along portions of Mexico’s Gulf and Caribbean coasts as well as around Cuba. While found around the globe, long barrier islands do not seem to be quite as prevalent outside of North America.

Part of the reason for our attraction to the barrier islands in addition to their small-scale size is their remoteness and associated exclusivity. I suspect that in the past it was the same two features which afforded their allure to what were notoriously the well-to-do from northeastern United States of America. I'm guessing that the isolation of the resorts lubricated convenient alliances with local constabulary to operate high-end drinking establishments during the Prohibition and possibly to conduct other nefarious activity. In those early days of discovery and development it is very likely that the only means of access was along a railway line. Most probably the rich would even have had their own coach in which to travel on the rail line.  Even today there are still nearby railways in use.  Only last night for example I delighted to hear the distant blare of a train horn as it passed Daytona Beach Shores headed southward.

As the barrier islands are largely an ultimate destination (not just a "passing through" place) they suffer the mercurial waves of tourism and are distinctly subject to changing weather conditions (which sometimes reflect not just ambient temperature but also safety).  Recently we've endured the repercussions of the freezing temperatures in the northeast.  Understandably the local Floridians are ill-suited to such extraordinarily low temperatures (today for example the high was 47℉ only).  The combined effect is that public activity was seriously diminished today.  When I bicycled about five miles along the beach today on Daytona Beach Shores I encountered not more than five people - three of whom surprisingly were coming out of the Ocean after a swim!  And they were wearing bathing suits not wet suits!  The cold north wind was so strong that while I sailed southward the walkers on the beach were bundled in parkas and bent forward into the wind.  Those swimmers by the way were making a hasty retreat to their resort.

As we are here for six months (actually six months and a day) I amuse myself to imagine what the beach will be like as the temperatures modify (which they're predicted to do within a week by as much as a 30℉) and as we move into the commencement of the so-called "season".  When the crisp, cool air descends as it has one forgets the soothing effect of balmy, sea air.  It was not that long ago that I rode my bicycle upon the beach in nothing but shorts and sandals!  The serious tourist season had not however begun in October when we arrived here so I have yet fully to assess the effect of the wave of visitors which I expect will overtake nearby Daytona Beach.  Though the separation between Daytona Beach Shores and Daytona Beach is seamless on Atlantic Avenue there is preserved nonetheless a separation by virtue of the transformation from arcade entertainment to residential condominiums.  Ponce Inlet is at the southern end of the barrier island and is famous for its lighthouse which is the tallest in the area and the second-tallest in the nation. Though there are many visitors to this end of the barrier island the tourists generally alight only ephemerally. As such I am anticipating that Daytona Beach Shores will continue in relative obscurity.

Visited by over 170,000 people each year, the Ponce De Leon Inlet Light Station was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The lighthouse tower and museum are located 10 miles south of Daytona Beach and are open to the public year round. The lighthouse is close to Orlando attractions, historic St. Augustine, and the Kennedy Space Center. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the country second only to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Visitors can climb 203 steps to the top of the 175 foot tower and enjoy magnificent views of the World's Most Famous Beach, Ponce Inlet, and surrounding inland waterways from the lighthouse gallery deck.

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