What a place to be in winter. Look at the snow drifts, I mean white sand drifts!
You drive beside the ocean more than 3 miles from the gate for this National Seashore before you get to any civilization. In many places, the road is just feet from the surf, and never more than a foot higher in elevation! The big storm last week that brought so much snow to the north brought us mostly wind….which blew a lot of sand onto the road….but also blew the waves MUCH higher than usual, and that washed sand onto the road. It closed our road!
They used two Michigan loaders the next morning to move the accumulation out of the way.
This island is little more than a long sand bar that hangs way out into the Gulf….it barely rises above sea level!
The stuff that does stick up at this end is man-made. Or Army made. I took this picture of the island landscape while standing on top of the huge concrete structure pictured next.
It’s a battery, Army talk for a really big gun placement. This one, with another at the right end of its huge mound, shot 12-inch projectiles 17 miles into the Gulf! The gun barrel stuck out from under the rounded concrete canopy, where a dark metal wall now blocks access to the structure. An information panel at the site reports “Lots of boys [on the gun crew] … would bleed from the mouth and ears because of the concussion of the guns.”
So, enough of warfare. We traveled 25 miles to the far end of the island, and found a large fishing pier. What a fun walk! Notice the jackets and down vests? Woo hoo, it was in the 40s! Saw the remains of a shark caught earlier in the day…spare you the picture.
It’s hard to go wrong with family at the beach on Christmas.
Ross and Ryan love to walk on different surfaces, especially ones that resonate! So piers are a favorite, and the salty breezes here are a fun extra.
Of course, the pelican overseers of this pier are the REAL fun extra. Probably best the twins didn’t know they were so close!
We climbed all over Fort Pickens. Fascinating to see the effort made to protect our shores prior to the Civil War and up into World War I. Immense brick facility that was improved by a reinforced concrete inner fort. These huge cannons were everywhere!
And so were the little creatures. We found this little snake crawling around one of the huge batteries that lay outside the Fort but within its boundary walls.
At various times, particularly around the Civil War, Pensacola Harbor had four forts around its perimeter. This Fort Pickens was the most fortified and easiest to defend. At the time Florida seceded from the Union, the fort was occupied by US Army…and they successfully maintained control throughout the war, deep in the heart of Dixie!
The installation where Jared stands was built to support two rapid-firing guns that could be fired in any direction….and its fortification includes the side away from the Gulf, in case fire might come from an enemy in the bay or even on land. There are even larger installations farther from the Fort where huge cannons were placed, capable of firing 12-inch, 800-pound projectiles at ships more than 10 miles off shore!
But I digress….we do this unusual lifestyle so we can maintain sanity while we meet the constant needs of two very special boys, sometimes with the very special assistance of their really great big brother!
Funny day with rain this morning, sun for a couple minutes in the early afternoon, overcast and fog at sundown.
All at 70 degrees. It’s a strange lead-in to Christmas. And check out our strange little visitor 80 feet from the coach!
The lighthouse is located on Naval Air Station Pensacola, where the Blue Angels are based. I can see it if I climb on the roof of the coach.
Campground staff came around this afternoon with a handout about possible extreme weather tomorrow. Not only is there a risk of 60-80 mph winds and hail to cause us damage, but our road back to civilization could be overwashed by the Gulf. Thus ends another day of twists and turns in paradise for our family!
We already showed you our brush with ancient history, when the Niña and Pinta replicas floated past us in Alabama.
We ate brunch beside them yesterday! They are anchored on the Pensacola shore for 10 days.
The Pinta is anchored behind me in the picture. It is actually 50% larger than the original, in order to accomodate some educational displays below-deck.
But wait, there’s more…did you know the earliest settlement in America by Europeans was on Santa Rosa Island off-shore from Pensacola? In the early 1500s. It didn’t last, so it tends to be passed over in favor of Jamestown or the Pilgrims.
For our family history, it’s nice to spend Christmas with Jared. Here, he walks with Ryan. The other picture is from Baltimore 11 years ago, of Jared walking with Ross.
Finally, look at the Niña floating by itself below: can you imagine traversing the Atlantic in that authentically small ship?
Leave it to Florida to trot out the hot-shots of nature for us!
We left our quiet, idyllic spot alongside the river in Alabama, drove down to Mobile, and turned east to Pensacola.
As lovely as that was, we didn’t stop, but went across the Bay Bridge (6 miles long…they caution you to check your fuel gauge before starting it), across the spit of land called Gulf Breeze, and across a 2 mile bridge to Santa Rosa Island.
We were interested in the western end of this 40-mile-long barrier island, Fort Pickens Campground, a part of Gulf Islands National Seashore which will be our home for nearly two weeks. We were surprised to learn this is the most-visited national seashore, and in the top ten most-visited national parks!
Today we spent our exploration time on the side of the island facing Pensacola Bay and the mainland….and look what we found!
Dolphins were cavorting, and pelicans were as numerous as pigeons in Chicago!
And you know what Ross and Ryan think about sand!
Robyn just had to take Ryan up all the stairs on an ancient fortification, and he spent forever testing all the railings.
Our friends, Rich and Laura, also made the trip down from Alabama….so we could all share Christmas again this year! This evening they cranked up the fire….
We end tonight’s post with another example of nature taking over the landscape here.
For the past month, our campsites have been close to significant civilization. We’ve probably put 2000 miles on the Lil Taxi as we’ve explored the nearby cities!
But not here….nothing nearby. Not true, there’s actually a Walmart only 3 miles away! Yeah, but that’s it.
What luck! We needed some rest.
So we’ve walked around the campground numerous times each day, soaked up sun, and watched with fascination as the towboats pass with their barges almost within arms reach of where we sit on the river bank.
We had a lot of rain for 24 hours earlier this week, and the river rose nearly two feet. There has been a lot of stuff floating in the flood waters….branches and logs, even great sections of grass with intact wildflowers!
Most amusing have been the egrets who use the floating logs as their platforms for fishing. They often slowly float past us standing backward to the flow!
For a couple minutes, we thought our river had brought us pirates!
Rich saw two boats coming down the river, and was so awe-struck that we might soon be boarded, he nearly forgot to get the camera and take a shot or two. As evidence. In case we were killed.
Turned out the boats were named Niña and Pinta….replicas of the boats used by Christopher Columbus to discover America! Who knew they were black?
Turns out they are touring America this year and next….and they are heading to our next stop, Pensacola! We’ll try to get pictures on board there.
Speaking of bandits, check out this dickens who climbed out of a tree where we were standing this evening!
We were standing in the dark beside the river because there had been no barge traffic all day but suddenly there were two tugs (why do they call them tug boats, when they actually PUSH the barges?) with strings of barges right here all jammed up waiting to get through the lock. We’d heard that a tug downstream had broken down and had blocked the channel so no traffic could pass up- or downstream. It looked like the “logjam” had broken and traffic was starting up.
I’ve borrowed an aerial photo from wikipedia to show you the low dam and lock structure. We’re upstream on the same side of the river as the lock, just beyond the bottom of this photo.
The boat pictured below has its spotlight shining ahead to illuminate the structure as it maneuvers into the lock. It has a Christmas tree on the roof out back!
We’re back with old friends.
A year ago, on Christmas morning, we were parked on the South Carolina coast. A lady knocked on our door, and offered us cookies she had baked just that morning at her nearby campsite. Not only were the cookies delicious, we ran across her and her husband a week later when we pulled into a Georgia campground. We became fast friends with Laura and Rich. Remember this picture?
That’s Rich splitting the wood he brought to our campsite in Georgia. Most people would dump it and leave, but not Rich!
They invited us to visit their farm in Michigan, and we did that last May. Knowing we were coming, Rich added a 50 amp receptacle next to a water spigot on their property, so we could have all the comforts of home while there! We had a wonderful time with Laura and Rich!
They travel during the winter months, and we arranged to meet them here in Alabama for a week, and then we’re all going on to Pensacola for almost two weeks over Christmas. We’ll actually be parked in a federal campground off the coast on a tiny spit of land in the Gulf Islands National Seashore….with white sand!
For now, we’re parked beside the Tombigbee River in a lovely, quiet park. Rich and Laura tow a boat, and they’re pictured here checking it out in our side channel before heading out onto the river.
Barges are moved up and down this river at all hours of the day and night. The one pictured here was carrying coal downstream. Its crew told us the coal was on the way to China! They were maneuvering for the lock that exists a few hundred yards downstream from us. That means tugs pushing barges going upstream are still accelerating out of the lock as they come by us…so the engines throb deeper and the water out the back churns higher. I’ll try to get a photo of one operating at night…with its mighty spotlight picking out the river banks ahead.
Our life on the road is sometimes more interesting than you can imagine…
We stumbled upon one of the so-called “cities of the dead” in New Orleans, and it turned out to be the earliest and most famous. Depending on which story you believe, these above-ground cemeteries began either because the water table in town was so high or because such burial was a common practice in France and Spain where many settlers emigrated from.
The one we visited was the St. Louis #1 cemetery, which opened in 1789. As you can see from the Google Maps satellite view, it’s named for the street along the one side. There are two others farther along that street.
My photo of a “street” inside the cemetery shows some of the range of conditions of the tombs. Some are so old their markings have been worn smooth, but others are brand new (a double tomb was being built while I was there). Some are built like houses, with a chimney out the top! So much more creative than a headstone….
We ate another late lunch in the French Quarter…that was fabulous partly because they make every dish in this town just a little different than anything you’ve ever eaten elsewhere, partly because the ambience was so much fun, partly because we were really, really hungry, and partly because this is New Awlins!
Then we spent half an hour walking four blocks with Ross and Ryan (they were such sweet little troupers, what with the bumpy & narrow sidewalks and all the noise and bustle!) just for a special dessert: bananas foster at Brennan’s, where it was created in 1951. Preparation of the dish is made into a tableside performance as a flambé! Ahhhhh…
And so we left town this morning. Robyn amused herself by taking a photo of me driving. Too bizarre.
Yesterday was like the twelve days of Christmas, all in one!
We drove in sunshine across Louisiana to New Orleans. On one stretch of I-10 and another of I-55, we drove for more than 10 miles on a bridge over water!
We parked in a lovely state park with lots of greenery right on the edge of town, on the banks of Lake Cataouatche (“cat-ah-watche-ee”). Drove two blocks to the six-lane road that swept us into town (I’m told it’s not “naw-lins”, but rather “new-aw-lins”).
Headed straight to the French Quarter. Traffic. Tiny streets like Europe. Tight, tight parking. Lil Taxi!
Ate late lunch at Copelands. Ahhhhhh.
Bourbon Street on a weekday night is manageable, but still nuts!
In the midst of all the commercial chaos, retail smash-and-grab, and high volume live music of the French Quarter: the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France. It has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States. The cathedral faces Jackson Square, a lovely park that is closed at night; both church and park were specially lit for the holiday season.
And we did it all on 12-12-12.