With the beginning of our third year of seeing America we are finally traveling pretty much north and south from Alabama. The past two years have been traveling northeast, first along the east coast up into Maine and then further inland. This past year we visited a few more sites in Virginia, saw western Pennsylvania and New York, and a little of Ohio and most of West Virginia. Unlike the first year where we added Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, we only added two new states this past year. Our plans for this year will do a little better as we intend to visit Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Our tally of the National Parks was also much less as we added only 13 National Park locations and 3 National Wildlife Refuges. Of course, the National Park Sites are much more concentrated along the east coast and they will be more scattered as we continue west. In addition we checked out 20 state parks and 10 private parks and museums. We visited a number of amazing natural areas ranging from cascades in the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, and hikes in many state parks and along the old canal systems in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Historic sites included battlefields and forts dating from the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Other historic sites included Presidential homes, the history of the Women’s Movement, and more recent disasters at Johnstown and Flight 83. For me, the most notable were Niagara Falls, the Alleghany Portage Railroad, and Watkins Glen, in that order. We may not have seen as many locations or traveled as far this past year, but it was still a memorable experience and I look forward to the coming year.
Before we got started on our journey to Lake Superior this year, we spent an additional month at Rainbow Plantation near Foley, Alabama. Even though we were at the same RV Park, the new year started off with us having to move to a different site on New Years Day. The move was only a few hundred feet, but we still had to button up the RV as if we were going a hundred miles. The only notable occurrence was the weather which started our raining with the prospect of more all day. So we pushed ourselves to be ready to move by 10 in the morning in between showers. We got moved without it raining and as it turned out it did not rain again all day, so we did not have to be in such a hurry!! I suppose the most exciting thing that happened all month was the weather. We had a couple of nights with the temperature in the 20s overnight, which is VERY cold for the Gulf coast. There was even a chance for snow or ice which stayed north of I-10, but still we were within 30 miles of some bad winter weather. Following this cold snap, we had a week and a half with temperatures up to the low 80s, which was great except the following cold front brought severe thunderstorms and isolated tornadoes to our area. There was a tornado warning in Mobile one evening, followed by another warning the next morning outside of Pensacola. Even Foley had reports of 1-1.5 inch hail. Thankfully, this severe weather managed to miss our location and other then heading to the clubhouse during the evening storms, we faired well.
We also spent the month playing trivia every Sunday evening and managed to win the trophy almost every week. Of course, since Kal and I were on separate teams most of the time and there was only two teams, this is not saying much. In any case, their miniature “RV” trophy (which is actually a toy motorhome) spent most of the month in our RV. We also went to the Wind Creek Casino every week and managed to lose most of the money we had won in December. I also went and played disc golf a couple of times and did fairly well, although I did spend one day hitting every tree in my path. A few times I got so upset with hitting the only tree in the way less than 50 feet ahead of the teebox that I retrieved the disc and tried again. Three times I managed to hit the same tree again and twice a hit another tree further down the fairway. Suffice it to say that I was not having a lot of fun that day, but since the purpose was really to take in the beautiful weather on a sunny afternoon, it was all worthwhile. We also finally got our “new” bikes fixed up at a local bike shop and rode them a few times around the RV park. It is still to be seen if we are going to do a lot of riding, although there are some great bike paths along the rivers in the mid-west.
We did get out a couple of times to see some local sites in the area. On one Saturday we met up with our friend Chris from Pensacola and took the ferry from Fort Morgan across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island.
Since the ferry left at 8:30 in the morning we arrived at Dauphin Island just as The Estaurium was opening. We had heard about this from Doug and Lynn Hileman who knew the aquarium very well and it was good advice. The Estaurium is an amazing place with multiple small aquariums highlighting each of the ecosystems surrounding Mobile Bay from the freshwater rivers to the salt water Gulf. There is a lot of information about each of the ecosystems as well as displays of the multitude of water animals and plants. A fascinating place, especially with Chris along who would use his I-phone to look up additional information when we had questions. Even though the entire museum is not very large we spent over 3 hours wandering around. We even had the chance to watch them feed the sting rays that are kept in a pool where you can reach in and touch them as they swam past. It was especially nice at feeding time as they would race around the edge of the pool giving multiple opportunities to touch them briefly.
After a great lunch at a local seafood cafe, we explored the remains of Fort Gaines on the east end of the island. Fort Gaines is the sister Civil War fort to Fort Morgan on the other side of Mobile Bay that protected the entrance to the bay. It was in 1864 during the Civil War battle known as the Battle of Mobile Bay that Admiral Farragut of the Federal Navy was suppose to have said the words “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” Of course, during the Civil War, torpedoes were the name of water mines that in this case we laid out in the bay. One of the federal ships was sunk by a torpedo at the beginning of the battle when they mistakenly veered into the minefield. Rather than retreating, the Admiral ordered the other monitors and ships to maintain the attack on the Confederate fleet in the bay. The cannons at Fort Gaines were not used effectively since a land force was at that time attacking them from the west. After the defeat of the Confederate fleet, Fort Gaines was surrendered as well and has survived with little damage. Following the Civil War it was upgraded with two emplacements of the the “disappearing guns” in anticipation of the Spanish-American War, but never saw action. This upgrade involved two concrete bunkers installed within the walls of the fort, which gives this brick-and-mortar fort a strange look. Kal, Chris and I had an enjoyable afternoon exploring the fort which is in amazing condition. Unfortunately, the fort may not survive much longer since the Gulf is in the process of reclaiming this barrier island, which is the nature of barrier islands. One more major hurricane could spell the end to the fort.
On another Saturday, we met up with our friend, Ramona, the professional photographer we met on the ferry out to Cumberland Island National Seashore over two years ago. Kal has kept in contact with her since then through Facebook and we really enjoy her company. She met us at Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park near Pensacola for a hike in the woods. There are two trails in the Preserve, which is the largest remaining longleaf pine/pitcher plant bogs in the state. The first is a half mile trail to the bayou that is wheel chair accessible, which meant it was a concrete sidewalk and raised wooden boardwalk over the wetter areas as you approach the bayou. We don’t often have the luxury of hiking along a concrete pathway as it meanders through the woods with nothing but trees and water on both sides. If you haven’t experienced such a thing, it is certainly strange! The other trail is a sandy woods road to some beaches on Pensacola Bay. However, this trail is over 3 miles to the beaches, so we went until it got too wet about a mile down the trail. In total, we walked nearly 4 miles that morning, before we grabbed our trucks and went to a local cafe that Ramona recommended. We had a good lunch and then proceeded to talk for the next few hours before returning to our campground. I think we talked about just about everything we could come up with and had a great time doing it. We could certainly use some more friends like Ramona on our travels.
Finally, Kal and I checked out another location that was suppose to have some good boardwalks only 15 minutes from the campgrounds. It is amazing that after staying in this campground for months over the past 3 years, we had never heard about Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which was so close. It took seeing the site on a map at Fort Gaines that we learned about it. It turns out they have a small Visitor Center where we had a good time talking with the volunteer working there. We he found out I had retired from Auburn, he asked it I knew Dr. Harry Larson, who I had known at Auburn before he retired. After retiring from Auburn he did a lot of volunteering at Weeks Bay identifying the many tree species and even setting up an arboretum for them. We had a good time talking about Harry before we took in the many short hikes they had available. From the Visitor Center there is a short half mile boardwalk that goes through a tupelo swamp to the bay with a nice overlook of the bay. There is also another short boardwalk through a pitcher plant bog to the Fish River that empties into the bay a short distance from the Visitor Center. After these two short hikes we ate lunch at the picnic area and then walked a confusing series of trails in their upland oak/pine forest off the Fish River. All total we did about 2 miles of hiking which was a nice way to spend a beautiful day in Alabama.