Gulf Shores National Seashore is the 2 protective barrier islands that protect the eastern edge of Mississippi and the western panhandle of Florida. It was foggy as we left Topsail Hill and slowly crawled thru the growing throng of cars starting to fill the streets in Destin and groups of teens already heading to the beach. In Navarre we turned south and drove out onto Santa Rosa Island and Navarre Beach. Between the small beach towns were the open areas of foggy white dunes and struggling clumps of sea oats. Wind blown sand edged out onto the roadway as we entered the vast emptiness of the National Seashore. Six miles inside the boundary sign we finally reached the campground check-in building. Once settled, H lost no time in wanting to get out and explore – after all – we’ve never been here before! With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Pensacola Bay on the other, this long narrow band of sand at the end of the island encompasses the restored Fort Pickens and its adjoining buildings and (of course!) fishing pier. Fort Pickens was built between 1829 and 1834 and used until 1947. Interesting facts about the fort include: it took over 21.5 million bricks and was built by slave labor brought in from New Orleans. Union soldiers manned Fort Pickens and the Confederate soldiers held Pensacola on the mainland during the Civil War. In 1884, Geronimo was held prisoner there. The one corner of the fort was destroyed when a fire began in the warehouse area reached a black powder magazine that contained 8,000 lbs of powder. The explosion showered debris 1.5 miles away!
From the fishing pier you could easily see the opposing shoreline and see the large gray hulk that was some kind of Naval vessel, and to the left a tall black stack that could be a lighthouse. In that dark shoreline silhouette we knew there was the Naval base, the National Naval Aviation Museum, another fort and the town of Pensacola! According to H’s GPS, the Naval Air Museum was 1.9 miles from the campground. By road it was 25 miles! On the way, we passed thru “historic” downtown Pensacola and paused in the waterfront park to wonder at the large red ocean vessel that was tied securely to the dock. It was the Boa Deep C – an ocean construction ship registered to Norway!
Four of the famous Navy Blue Angel jets still hang high in one huge glassed in atrium in the museum and the collection of over 150 airplanes and exhibits still shine and look new. A whole new Hangar of planes has been added since we visited last! We were extended an invitation to experience being on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier - complete with the wind, the smell of jet full and the roar of helicopters and jets landing and screeching to a halt with the aid of one small hook and one REALLY big rubber band! All from the comfort of a theater seat!
Near the Museum we found the 1859 Pensacola Lighthouse with its tall black stack atop the white base and the well-preserved keeper’s house nestled by its side. After touring the vast collection of airplanes in the Naval Museum we were both too pooped to even think of climbing up in that lighthouse!
Just a short way down the road was the next on our list of places to explore. The 2nd of the 4 forts in the area – Fort Barrancas, was built between 1839 and 1844. From this fort you could the white sand that outlined the edges of the tip of Santa Rosa, the dark bulk of Fort Pickens, the white houses that are home to the out buildings and museum and the trees that sheltered the cozy loop of campers in the campground-behind the ever present, protecting dune!