Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Western Panhandle

Denny, Linda and Marilyn on the beach at Ft. Pickens
As I sit with my toes in the floury, white sand, I think of family and friends back home weathering yet another snowstorm.  In three weeks, we will be back home in Ontario, and we will have to trade our shorts and bathing suits for long pants and coats.  How will we manage?

It takes us two and a half days to drive from Corpus Christi, Texas to Pensacola, Florida where we stay at Big Lagoon State Park first for a few days then at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens.

Big Lagoon State Park is on the Intracoastal Waterway, not the Gulf, so we drive to the ocean beach at Perdido Key only 10 minutes away.  The beach here is beautiful, unlike in Texas; it isn't littered with garbage and seaweed and the sand is like flour and almost pure white.  There is a crew on the beach gathering tar balls from the recent BP oil spill, although we don't see any tar on the beach or oil in the water, so they're either doing an excellent job or their work is all for show for the tourists.  The beach is a bit steep, so the waves are pounding and it seems to be high tide.  The water is about 75F so Brad and I decide to finally take a swim.  The waves are kind of fun; Brad, the 12-year old, has a lot of fun playing in the surf.  As I enter the water, the first big wave knocks me on my ass and I tumble along the shore.  Well, that makes it easier to get wet anyway.  At least four dolphins swim by about 400-500 feet offshore.  We can only see their fins but I do glimpse one breach in a wave much further down the beach; unfortunately we can't get any photos of them.  During a walk along the lagoon beach we find numerous hermit crabs.  Brad puts two close together and one tries to pull the other out of its shell; at least that's what we think they're doing.  Brad does pull them apart before either crab is harmed.

While checking out the beach at Big Lagoon State Park one afternoon, I hear something to our right and instinctively do the "mom move" on Brad, thrusting my arm across his chest to stop him from moving forward.  As I look down to the right toward the rustling noise, a large snake moves across our path.  It is dark brown with black markings; it hastily slithers in front of us and moves off into the trees.  As we move towards it, the snake keeps moving away.  It's about two feet long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter at its widest girth.  A ranger later tells us it is a cottonmouth snake and it IS poisonous, but they prefer to run away from humans like a big chicken.  Thank goodness for that.  A sign near a small pond also announces "No swimming.  Alligator."  No problem.  And yet the campsites (not ours) are so close.

Have you ever heard of the Blue Angels?  They are the elite team of Navy fighter pilots who perform stunts and fly their jets in tight formations at air shows.  Well, they practice a few miles down the beach from us.  Apparently we can go watch them on Wedensday or Thursday mornings, but they start at 8:30 am and that's too early for me.  We can see them from our campsite anyway and certainly hear the roar of the jets.  Brad and I saw the Blue Angels at the Hamilton Air Show about 25 years ago and they are an amazing team.  Of course, we have the Canadian Snowbirds, also an incredible team of formation flyers.  We've heard that Hamilton will be having an Air Show again this year after about a 10-year hiatus; wonder what the star attraction will be.

Dolphins in the Gulf at Fort Pickens

After four nights at Big Lagoon State Park, we move to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens.  Driving there is like driving in a big letter C turned clockwise 90 degrees so the opening of the C is in the south.  We essentially have to drive around Pensacola Bay.  At Fort Pickens, we will be meeting up with our new friends, Denny and Linda from Ohio, whom we met at Padre Island.  Denny and Linda are a hoot, and we have a great time with them - more campfires and chats on the beach.  Again, we see dolphins in the water, closer this time than at Big Lagoon so I do manage to get some photos.  We take a night walk on the beach and hunt the ghost crabs, which Linda learns to enjoy handling.  Myself, I'm too girly and let a few screeches pass my lips when some of the large white crabs get too close to my bare feet.

As the name of this park suggests, there is a fort here, built shortly after the War of 1812 and used during the Civil War.  Brad and I tour it during a bike ride.  This fort was one of three used to protect Pensacola Bay during the Civil War; one other was on the western Gulf Island near Big Lagoon State Park where we just were, but it was destroyed during that war, and the third was on the mainland in Pensacola; the three forts forming a triangle.  Fort Pickens was fortified for WWI although never used.

Then once again, before we can say "Florida Panhandle", the sand in the hourglass has run out and it's time to move on.  We bid adieu to Denny and Linda, and to these Gulf Islands and head east.

1 comment:

  1. the beach looks great. I'd be jealous, but we're in New Orleans, which is a different kind of fun!!