On February 16th (yes, I know this post isn’t very timely is it?), we hit the road again, leaving Topsail Hill State Park in Santa Rosa Beach FL and headed for Gulf Shores, Alabama where we had a 14 day reservation at Gulf State Park (see our review). We were looking forward to staying there again not only because of the beautiful beaches, backcountry biking trails, fresh seafood and the wide variety of restaurants, but also because we would be meeting up with Rob’s aunt & uncle, Linda and Herb and our friends, Jim and Joan from Oregon, who recently sold their condo to return to the world of full time RVing.
Since we were already on the coast, instead of heading north to pick up I-10 we opted to follow US-98 along the shore. Although somewhat slower, this route was the most direct and the most scenic. Pretty uneventful drive until we were on the Pensacola Bay causeway. We were just commenting on a sign that said “Move accident vehicles from bridge” trying to figure out how someone could move a damaged vehicle on a two lane bridge with no breakdown lane. What to do – push it over the side of the bridge into the water or what? Good thing Rob was paying attention because suddenly the traffic totally stopped.
Bam! Oh, oh, what was that? Did our toad get hit? Luckily not. A driver in the left lane apparently wasn’t paying attention to the slowdown and rear ended the car in front of him. Caught some of it on the dashcam. Luckily no one was hurt and we were relieved that he didn’t swerve into us. You can see the video here. As the traffic slowly crawled along, we realized the cause of the slow down. Apparently a barbecue grill had fallen off of a vehicle. Some good samaritan in a utility truck stopped to move it out of the way hoping to prevent an accident, but unfortunately he actually caused one! Once past that bottleneck, traffic started moving again at the speed limit.
After that little bit of excitement, our journey continued until we finally arrived at Gulf State Park.Since we’ve been here before it didn’t take us long to register, find our site and settle in for the evening.
It was a busy two weeks. Lots of biking on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, finding new geocaches, walking the beach and making friends with a very photogenic pelican while taking in the vistas from the nearby fish pier were just some of the things that occupied our time.
We covered most of the six bike trails except for one section which was closed for a controlled burn. On the Rosemary Dunes Trail we were hoping to catch a close up glimpse of “Lefty”, the resident American alligator who lives in the marshes. Guess that gator fascination never goes away despite how many you see! Lefty is so named because she lost her right foot (claw? paw?) and her right eye during a fight with another alligator. Rumor has it that she was rescued by the staff in the park, nursed back to health and then released along the trail. Yes, she was still there but she was too far off in the distance for us to really see her (photo on the right was taken in 2014) although we did see several of her “babies”, both several feet long submerged in the water beneath some marsh grass near to the road.
One afternoon we biked to the Nature Center where a park volunteer was giving a talk on endangered sea turtles. In May of each year, female sea turtles make their way onto the beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast to lay their eggs, each laying an average of 110 eggs per nest which have an incubation period of 55 to 70 days. She explained that hundreds of volunteers (herself included) spend countless hours as part of the Alabama Share the Beach Sea Turtle Program identifying, marking, building predator screens and monitoring the turtle nests. Using stethoscopes they even listen to the nests through the sand to determine if the eggs are hatching. Their efforts have helped over 40,000+ hatchlings from 80+ nests to enter the Gulf of Mexico from the Alabama beaches.
One of many conflicts between humanity and these ancient critters is light pollution. If the eggs hatch at night the hatchlings get disoriented by artificial lights near or on the beach causing them to lose their way to the water. To help the little critters, besides lighting curfew’s for beachfront buildings, the volunteers dig a trench from the nest to the water, then install a black tarp fence along both sides of the trench to shield any stray lights and also to keep predators away. It was so interesting listening to her talk I was disappointed when she stopped.
Yes, we were having fun, lots of it! But I guess Mother Nature decided to add a bit of extra excitement. Nothing seemed amiss on the morning of February 23rd although there were storms in the forecast for later in the day. Well, it escalated fairly quickly so by afternoon we were under a severe storm watch. OK, I can deal with that but then it changed to a tornado watch, followed by a tornado warning. Gulp! Didn’t Alabama do this to us once before when we were at DeSoto State Park in northern Alabama?
Glued to the TV listening to the local weather by around 7 pm we thought we were going to be okay but then we lost the TV signal. Not a good sign. Luckily between our phones and our weather alert radio we could still track what was happening. Suddenly the heavens opened up with torrential downpours coupled with brilliant flashes of lightning and loud claps of thunder. By now, Sparky who isn’t fond of t-storms had assumed the fetal position and curled up into a tight ball of fur. Does he think that is going to protect him I wonder?
We knew it was time to evacuate when we heard that the radar had picked up a rotation (tornado) only about 8 miles offshore of our location. Throwing the kitties into their cat carriers, we made a mad dash out to the van and headed over to the nearest bathhouse (concrete block building). After parking the van, it was another run through the puddles into the very crowded ladies room, getting totally drenched on the way. Jeesh! Only place to put the kitties down was in the first stall where they were a little bit out of the way, apparently not enough though as several very curious and very wet dogs just had to get up close and personal to them. We were there for about an hour until the danger passed and the rain subsided somewhat, then headed back to the van. But our adventure wasn’t over yet – as Rob tried to back out of our rather sloped, grassy parking spot, the wheels just spun and spun. Great, were we stuck now? Fortunately due to experience from years of driving in slippery conditions we finally found traction and made our way back to the coach. Whew, that wasn’t fun! Luckily (for us) the tornado came ashore at Perdido Key about 10 miles east of us. Later, it unfortunately destroyed some apartments in the Pensacola area.
Back to a more pleasant topic – food! For several years, we had heard about Joe Patti’s Seafood Market in Pensacola but never had the opportunity to stop there. Since we needed to stock up on supplies anyway and there was a Sam’s Club nearby, we decided to add a visit to Joe Patti’s to our itinerary for the day. Wow, quite the place with many varieties of fish, shrimp, lobster, oysters, crawfish and so much more.They also offer specialty foods from around the world as well as products made locally such as oils & vinegars, meats & cheeses, fresh baked breads, and caviars & pates.
How could anyone walk out of here without buying something? Certainly not us! Several pounds of lobster claws (be aware they don’t have these all the time) at $6.99/lb, two pounds of cooked shrimp (lightly seasoned) and a pint container of fresh shucked oysters came home with us. Even though it was relatively warm outside, transporting it all back to the coach was no problem as they pack it in ice for you for no charge. What a fantastic supper of lobster and shrimp we had that evening. The best part is that I didn’t have to cook anything (well, except for the very difficult chore of melting the butter)!
In fact, we enjoyed it so much a few weeks later we headed back there. Unfortunately though they didn’t have any lobster claws this time – apparently they are only available when they do a big batch of steamed lobster and some of the claws are accidentally broken off. We did however buy more cooked shrimp and several pounds of uncooked headless Royal Red Shrimp and a pound of Amberjack fish. We had bought some Royal Reds several years ago at Billy’s Seafood but somehow it swam it’s way to the bottom of the freezer never to be seen again! Not this time though, that night we had a shrimp fiesta! It was our first time cooking/eating Royal Red’s and boy were they good! Much more tender and sweet then expected for such a large critter. They have a pleasant flavor similar to shrimp (but better) and vaguely reminiscent of lobster – of course anything dipped in butter tastes yummy!
Besides our shrimp and lobster dinner at home, we had other dining experiences in the area but we’ll cover that in a separate post. Stay tuned!