Fort Morgan Historic Site, Gulf Shores AL, Feb 16

We had explored most of Gulf State Park and decided we should check out Fort Morgan, before leaving the area.  It was about a 30 minute drive from the park. Fort Morgan is located on Mobile Point in Gulf Shores, AL. Originally, Fort Bowyer was built there in 1812. Later, the existing Fort Morgan was built between  1819 and 1833. It is most famous for its role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, after which Confederate General Richard Page surrendered the fort.  It was also used during the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II.  The fort became a State of Alabama Historic Site in 1946.

This fort reminded us a lot of Fort Sumter, in Charleston South Carolina, which we visited a few years ago.  My high school and college edication included very lttle about the civil war, so I have personally learned a lot about the the war and unimaginable loss of life and bloodshed on US soil, visiting these historic places. Fort Morgan has a great museum, which was much smaller than the museum at Fort Sumter, where we learned more about the difficult life of a civil war soldier and about horrible death and destruction. Amazingly,  the site is a very beautiful and peaceful place, now.

It was very chilly 37 degrees, plus wind chill. We had planned on temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s, but I was happy I brought warm layers, just in case.

Fort Morgan – Down coat and gloves required on this chilly day

Fort Morgan
Fort Morgan
Fort Morgan
Fort Morgan
Fort Morgan. Notice the Great Blue Heron and the distant oil platform

Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, AL – Feb 3 – 17

We arrived at Gulf State Park Feb 3. We checked into our first of  four campsites, which was our 2nd favorite of the four. Since this part of the trip was also a late add-on, we had to piece together whatever campsites were available. We are pretty sure that at least some of the cancelations were due to the US/Canada border closure, though we spoke with several people who were heading back north, early, so they could get a vaccine.

During our first days here, we both agreed we had never seen so many very active people over the age of 65. Everywhere in the park you can see very happy people running, walking, playing pickle ball and riding every type of bike – bicycles, recumbents, ebikes, tricycles. Aside from the young, homeschooling family that seemed to have followed us from the last park, we were the only people under 65. Most people were from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.

The park has two miles of beautiful white sand beaches, but it was too cool and windy to spend any time there. We spent most of the time riding our bikes, walking and running on the 28 miles of paved bike paths. Several of the days I was able to wear shorts without being too cold.  Dave, as usual, mostly wore shorts regardless of the temperature.

While planning the trip, we were dreaming of sitting on the deck at waterfront tiki bars. Fortunately we took advantage of the warmest and least busy days.  We were able to enjoy a beer, in the sun, at the Pink Pony and at the world famous Flora-bama.  We also had a microbrew at the open air bar at the Flora-bama Ole River Grill, located on the Old River. Both are in Florida, almost directly on the Florida/Alabama border. The week of Mardi Gras, the weather was quite chilly, with some rain. Mardis Gras is celebrated here, like St Patrick’s Day or Cinqo de Mayo. There were more people in town and the outdoor decks were closed, due to weather. They don’t have limits on indoor dining and don’t really enforce the mask mandate, so we spent our days in the park and cooked at home. We also spent an afternoon at Fort Morgan, which I will have a separate post for.

The wildlife at the park includes turtles, snakes, alligators, a wide variety of fresh and saltwater fish, crabs, armadillos, pelicans, hawks, bald eagles and many other birds.  There is a vast array of plants and trees, but the long leaf pine and southern yellow pine are what stand out the most.  The wind makes a very peaceful whispering sound as it blows through the pines.

Though there were a fair amount of people here for Mardi Gras week, it was clearly low season. Many stores and restaurants were closed until March. We learned that you can easily find very affordable Gulf-front condos during low season. We have seen footage from the Hangout Festival in May, so we know the beaches are absolutely packed during high season.

During the last few days, the weather was unseasonably cold, windy, and rainy. As we watched the national weather maps, we noticed we were on the dividing line between terrible and beautiful weather. We had met some people at the last park, who were heading west through Texas. We’re hoping they are staying warm! We spent our time working on taxes, the blog, reading and planning our fall trip. We absolutley loved this park, but were excited to move on to see new sights. We are hoping the forecast for warm, sunny weather at Fort Pickens, is accurate.

Our first campsite at Gulf State Park, in the very quiet, back section of the campground.
Cycling around Gulf State Park
Our buddy, Armie, the armadillo. He lived next to our campsite.
The beach at Gulf State Park
At the Pink Pony, finally! Notice this painting is a reverse of the one on the wall, at the Pink Pony on Mackinac Island – many fun times at that place.
The deck at the Pink Pony, on the deserted beach
Our first alligator sighting. He was sleeping, but we were still happy there was a fence between us and him!
A pelican visiting someone’s campsite at Gulf State Park
On the nearly deserted deck of the world famous Flora-Bama
At the Flora-Bama Ole River Grill. We are now officially in the “Redneck Riviera” aka “No Shoes Nation”
At the Flora-Bama
Campsite #2 at Gulf State Park. We were surrounded by Michigan people here.
We found a bench for Michigan Snowbirds.
Campsite #3, our favorite at Gulf State Park
Campsite #3 was in the quietest section of the park and had a nice water view (also a sign warning about alligators and snakes).
Our 3rd campsite at Gulf State Park
Slushie, viewing a photo of a Colorado campground. Booked for late August!

Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, FL – Jan 29 – Feb 2

We arrived at Big Lagoon State Park on January 29, the first day it was open after  Hurricane Sally clean-up and repairs. There were still several areas of the park that remained closed and there was visible damage to structures, boardwalks and trees. We feel very fortunate that we could be there, since we did not plan it very far in advance.  It was 70 degrees and we thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the warm Florida sun, at our campsite.

Our campsite was pretty secluded and the park was very quiet. There were 68 campsites, including rustic sites, but some of the campground was still closed. Most of the sites had a fair amount of plants and trees separating them. We were the youngest people in the park, except for what appeared to be a home-schooling family.

The high temperatures over the following days varied between 45 and 65. We hiked everyday we were there, in the park, as well as at Gulf Islands National Seashore and Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park. We would have loved to spend a day on Johnson Beach, but it was just too windy and too chilly on most days. I didn’t expect to see so many pine trees in Florida. They were mostly southern yellow pine. Hiking on the sandy trails was a lot like hiking near Lake Michigan, as we did all summer.

We spent an afternoon walking around the historic section of Pensacola and had a beer at an open-air place. It seemed pretty deserted, but a very nice town.

We found a great local fish market nearby and started working on our seafood cooking skills.  I will publish a seperate post on that later. Generally, we are avoiding indoor/non-open-air dining or drinking. Some people seem to be less careful about masks and social distancing here, but we are maintaining our own safety precautions. We don’t know when our age group will get vaccines and we don’t want to ruin our adventure by being sick.

We really enjoyed this park. It was a bonus leg of the trip, filling some of the time we should have been in Hawaii. Next stop – Gulf State Park, AL!

Campsite at Big Lagoon State Park

Boat Boat Launch area at Big Lagoon State Park

Johnson Beach – Gulf Islands National Seashore
Big Lagoon State Park

Great Blue Heron at Big Lagoon SP
Slushie enjoying his first day in Florida

Johnson Beach – Gulf Islands National Seashore
Hiking at Tarkiln Bayou Nature Preserve, Pensacola, FL
Tarkin Bayou Nature Preserve. Perdido Bay feels a bit like Lake Superior in the fall today, with a high temperature of 45 degrees

Rickwood Caverns State Park, Warrior, AL – Jan 28

January 27, 2021 was a cold sunny day, as we loaded up the RV and headed south for winter. We started planning this trip over a year ago, well before the pandemic. Our original plan was to spend 6 weeks at our place in Hawaii, then head south with the RV after my annual cross country ski trip in Canada, returning by Memorial Day. It is necessary to log on to the  Florida State parks website at 8am, exactly 11 months in advance of your planned arrival and try to book a site. (If we had been in Hawaii, that would have been 2am.) We decided we didn’t want to go to Maui during a pandemic and the US/Canada border was closed, so we decided to start our trip early. We were able to make reservations in the panhandle (aka “the redneck riviera”) during the colder, slow season.

After a long, but uneventful day,  we made it to our hotel, south of Louisville, KY, just as the snowfall was becoming pretty heavy. The next day we drove to  Rickwood Caverns  State Park in Warrior, AL. It was a small campground, with few campers, likely because it was pretty chilly at night.  We unhitched and did some hiking. We also had our own private guided tour of the caves, which was really fascinating. Our tour guide, Morgan, is a geologist. She taught us a lot about the caves.

It was a chilly night, but we have decent heaters and a very warm down comforter, so no problem. On to the Florida panhandle!

FYI – I plan to post 2-4 times per month, based on the weather.

Slushie is our new mascot and travel buddy. He is our favorite Christmas decoration and we didn’t want to put him back in the box. You can see he is very excited to head south.
Our beautiful campsite at Rickwood Caverns State Park.
Hiking at Rickwood Caverns State Park.
Cave tour at Rickwood Caverns
Cave tour at Rickwood Caverns
Cave tour at Rickwood Caverns
Fish fossil in the cave. So cool!
A tiny bat in the cave. Actually sort of cute….
Traveling with the boards is pretty easy. We left them inside since it was a one-night stop.