Fort Pickens is located on Santa Rosa Island, in Pensacola Beach and is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The park includes a campground, day use areas, hiking trails, miles of beaches and an historic US military fort, It is managed by the National Park system.
I’m posting this almost two weeks after leaving Fort Pickens, which has given me sufficient time to miss what I really loved about the park. Our site was in the smaller and likely older campground loop. We had one of the most private sites, with a great view out of our side and rear windows. Backing in without driving off of the pavement (a three-inch drop) was quite challenging, but we were successful. We avoided some fairly low branches driving in, though some other larger rigs sustained some damage while we were there. Our section of the campground was very quiet, compared with the larger campground loop, which was more open, with sites closer together.
The beach and hiking trails were beautiful and uncrowded. The rest of the park was fairly empty. It wasn’t high season, yet, with daily high temperatures in the 60’s. The main bridge from Pensacola was stiill closed, due to damage from Hurricane Sally. We are pretty sure that affected how many people were in the park and also around Pensacola Beach. There was a fair amount of military air traffic and the occasional boat. Otherwise, all we could hear was the surf and birds.
Most of the other campers were retired military couples. We met several people from Michigan, including an FCA design engineer, who was working remotely, and a couple from Traverse city. There was a couple from Owosso, MI who was spending winter in a pop-up trailer, with their very sweet 18-month old German shepherd named Skallywag. They were friends with another camper from Colorado. The guys would spend all day fishing on the beach together and the wife would play with Skallywag in the campground. It was great to meet such nice peole who were truly enjoying retirement. As in every campground we got to meet many very cute dogs. Here we saw several cats on leashes, which was a real treat for me.
A couple of days we drove to the resort area of Pensacola beach. We checked out Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, and watched part of a corn hole tournament on the beach. We discovered the outdoor bar at a restaurant called Red Fish Blue Fish. It was uncrowded (probably due to the closed bridge) and had nice view of the water. The area reminded us of both Maui (nice beachside dining and palm trees) and St Clair Shores (boats, docks and corn hole tournament).
We walked and ran all of the hiking trails in the park. We also rode our bikes everywhere. It was a great way to explore all of the fort. Fort Pickens was built in 1834 and named after American Revolutionary War hero Andrew Pickens. It is very much like Fort Sumter and Fort Morgan, as it was built in the same era. The fort remained under Union control throughout the Civil War. After the Civil War, the US Army added several gun batteries outside of the Fort. It was an active military installation until 1947, after World War ll. In 1886 Apache Chief Geronimo and his men were imprisoned there. This was a reminder of another part of US history that I didn’t enjoy learning about, but feel it’s important to know.
During our last few days it was very cold and rained pretty heavily, most of the time. It was a good time to do our laundry in the park’s excellent laundry facility. The machines were likely just replaced, following the hurricane. The forcast at our next location looked promising and I was hopeful that the restroom and shower facilities would be better, there. We have had water hook-ups at all of our campsites, but no sewer. We have been using the facilities as much as possible to avoid running out of black tank and gray tank space. Over the past year, we have been learning that the facilities at state parks are cleaner and better maintained than at the national parks.
As we drove away, we were looking forward to new scenery and new adventures, but were a little sad to leave this quiet, beautiful place. I was also a little sad to leave Skallywag, the Owosso couple and their friend, but it’s quite possible we will cross paths again. Afterall, that is how the three of them met and became friends. This reminds me of the quote by Bob Wells, full-time, real-life camper and traveler, in the movie Nomadland: “One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road.” And I do. And whether it’s a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again.”