Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gulf Shores National Seashore

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!

Since we’ve literally come to the end of the road – the realization that we have no choice but to head north towards home has set in.  Across the wide spance of the 2 bridges to the mainland, we maneuvered thru Pensacola to Ft Rt 29 and then Rt 31.  From then on it was Interstate 65 in the northbound lane.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Florida Panhandle


I feel like we’re going backwards!  And I keep saying: “ the last time we were here” or “See Previous Florida Blog”! We’ve come down thru Alabama to the panhandle before and worked our way around and then over to Ocala.  We’re doing it all in reverse – Chiefland and the “springs” state parks and now up and around the “big bend”, thru the deep woods that feels just like Michigan.  Past the signs for Wakulla Springs State Park where we met Dick and Sharon the year we went to Texas!  Past the road to Tallahassee where we toured the capitol building!   We even stopped in Apalachicola to stretch our legs and revisit the quaint 1880 shops, fishing docks and parks. 

Cape St. Joseph State Park
 And now Mexico Beach!  This small beachfront town has added a few more tall 2 and 3-story, pastel houses that stand at attention on their stilted supports behind the dunes that line the white sandy beaches.  There are a few more shops and seafood eateries and there were more folks on the beach by the fishing pier that still stretches out into the blue green gulf.  Rustic Sands RV Resort looked a little different – there were no cute inflatable Santa Claus in a bathtub or his sleigh and reindeer or any other Christmas decorations this time!  Remember - We were here on our way down in December before.   On our day out exploring we wandered back along Fl Rt 98 and then out onto Cape San Blas to the St Joseph Peninsula State Park.  It was a long thin strip of land with a quiet cove and small harbor with a boat launch and small store.  Across the bay you could see the mainland and Mexico Beach.  I “earned” my state park patch when we walked the beaches, and explored the back roads of the park but the campground roads were way to small to navigate comfortably if we had been pulling a trailer, so we won’t return.

It’s Spring Break in Florida.  Finding a campsite anywhere along ANY coast in this state is now hard to come by.  We were hoping for either St Andrews State Park at Panama Beach or Henderson State Park near Destin but both gorgeous parks were full.  Topsail Hill Preserve used to be a RV Resort but the state took it over several years ago and H got us 2 nights at the last moment!  Just what we needed – 2 nights!  Well groomed, yet woodsy, each campsite had full hookups plus cable, a white globe yard light, cement pad and a patio. The main park areas included several small fishing lakes, a swimming pool, Camp store, gazebo with wifi and Azaleas!   A half-mile winding, narrow blacktop roadway led to the dunes that always border the beautiful Gulf.  Only bikes or those who chose to walk or the campground shuttle were allowed on this road.    The first time we ventured down this way, it kept getting colder and colder and foggier and foggier, the closer we got to the dunes.  Sea fog had rolled in!  It gave an eerie white glare to the entire sandy scene – or was it really snow?  Later that day the sun had burned thru it and the sky was now a bright deep blue reflecting off of the pale blue green sparkling water.  The last remnants of any fog were just a puff in the distance.  The gentle waves and rippled sandy bottom made a dancing kaleidoscope on the water.   Splashing thru some deeper areas we reached a shallow ledge and played like small children on holiday instead of two old retirees with bad backs and bad knees!

Destin was 12 miles to the west.  8 years ago this was a small seaside town with a quaint little harbor area that had the neatest lighted boat parades at Christmastime!  They still have the parades, however the harbor has turned into an entire
Destin Fl.

shopping mall - complete with entertainment, a light house, bars and restaurants.  There are now 2 tall towers for zip lining from one end to the other and lights are strung everywhere.  The boat docks are still gaily lit and the condos across the waterway shine in the setting sun.  And then there’s the traffic!

We’ve only got 2 more days on this gorgeous “Emerald Coast” before we must head north.  We are going to go to the very end of the road before we must go tho!  It is a long way from Topsail to Ft Pickens campground in the National Seashore at the end of Santa Rosa Island.  It might take all morning to get there!