RV Trip 2.8 Gulf Islands National Seashore – Fort Pickens – Jan. 7-12

In our last few days at Grayton the nights were below freezing and the one night our water hose froze. We should have drained it and taken it in overnight and used our onboard water but we forgot, lesson learned;-) On our last day at Grayton we decided to do another MTB trail. It was tricky due to all the rain we had overnight. The trail was called the Flatwoods trail with a side cut to Western Lake and we did about 20 KMS of riding on sand and through creeks so it was a challenge and here are some of the shots. That night we enjoyed our dry Blackberry wine we got from the Florida Winery and it was very similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot blend.

On our first day in Gulf Islands National Seashore we rode around the grounds and we went on a Ranger guided walk through Fort Pickens as well as a self-guided tour. This area had 4 different forts to protect the harbour and Naval base in the 1800’s. Their canon shooting range overlapped such that they could hit any invading ships trying to enter the harbour. It was amazing to see how much was still standing after all this time. The fort walls were incredibly thick and Fort Pickens itself was built with 21.6 million bricks! On the guided walk we saw a 15” rodman gun that could shoot 300-400 pound cannonballs up to 3 miles out. Fort Pickens itself was famous because it remained in Union troop control while the other forts were taken over by the Confederates. The naval base is still used as a fighter pilot training area so we constantly had planes going overhead in training maneuvers. The fort had canons on the top but it also had them in the arches below. The ranger explained how they loaded and fired the canons and how there was so much smoke after firing that they had these diamond shaped openings in the top to let the smoke out. In addition the arches were constructed of a double arch pattern so it could support the weight of the cannons on the top walls. Inside the fort walls was a second fort called Battery Pensacola that was built in 1898 as the gun technology evolved. The 12” rifle could fire 1070 pound shells up to 8 miles out to sea and would disappear below the walls when not firing! The fort and batteries were extremely interesting to see and learn about.

The next day we started off with the Blackbird Marsh Trail and it was incredible how tall the Sea Oats were growing. We saw both live and dead versions of the Live Oak trees and their branches are gnarly to see. On the dead one there was a knot that reminded us of the eye of a whale;-) We also saw a few bunches of the wild Muscadine grapes which we had sampled several wines made from this grape. The freshwater marsh was a unique ecosystem on Santa Rosa Island. We saw lots of Osprey nests but couldn’t catch any good shots of the birds in the nests, not sure if it was the wrong time of year. 

In the afternoon we rode around the grounds again to see the various Battery structures and guns remaining on the property including: Battery Langdon, Battery Worth, Battery 234, and Battery Cooper. We also went through the Museum where they had lots of historical information about the fort structures and also about the impacts of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Santa Rosa Island is so low it is massively impacted when storm surges come ashore.

The next day we did a 4 hour beach walk starting on the Pensacola Bay side and ending up on the Gulf of Mexico side. We saw a small shipwreck in the water, an eagle on a nest platform, a Great Blue Heron taking off, and Battery Trueman. As we approached the outlet of the bay to the Gulf I saw a Yellow Bellied Slider Turtle and the waves from the incoming tide had flipped him on to his back and he couldn’t get flipped back. After I flipped him over he scooted quickly back into the water and swam away, my good deed for the day;-) We also saw lots of Brown Pelicans flying around and dive bombing for fish. On the shore we collected lots of seashells and found two dead Moon Jellyfish that almost looked like hands. Back at our camp site we found an armadillo looking around for some dinner.

On the day we left Fort Pickens to go across the bay to Big Lagoon SP we stopped at the National Naval Aviation Museum which is one of the world’s largest aviation museums with more than 150 restored aircraft. We had used our GPS to go to the address on their brochure but it turned out they had changed which gate you had to enter to get to the museum so we had to circle around (under military guard) to the west gate. We spent just under 6 hours at the museum and still didn’t get to see everything!!! In front of the museum they had an anchor from an aircraft carrier and it weighed over 30,000 lbs! The first plane we saw was the Curtiss MF-Boat which was the first plane launched from a ship so really started the idea of an aircraft carrier. Next we went on a great 2.5 hour tour of the facility with an actual fighter pilot who had retired in the late 70’s. He explained in incredible detail how his jets were launched from the aircraft carriers and even scarier how they had to land the planes on the ship! Every landing was graded by the flight captain and if you missed one of the 4 braking cables how you would have to take off again and circle around for another landing. In the café they had brought all of the display boards from a bar in the Philippines where the navy officers and crew would hang out while on Western Pacific tours. We sat right underneath the sign labelled Joel & Ron’s Excellent Adventure from 89-90;-) Next we saw the NC4 which was the first plane to cross the Atlantic, notice the huge wing span and the wooden propellers on the 3 engines. There were several planes with cut away views to show the internal construction, not much to those early planes! The next shot shows Sharon beside Richard Nixon’s Airforce One Helicopter. In Hangar Bay One they also had a replica of the Apollo spacecraft as well as an exhibit for the Coast Guard. We also saw the Truculent Turtle that held the world record for miles flown without refueling; they delivered a baby kangaroo from Australia to a zoo in the US. They also had lots of fighter jet cockpits that you could climb in and we went in the Blue Angels 4D room where it was like you were flying one of the planes in the Blue Angels show with 3D glasses, seats that moved and air blowing all around you based on the moves. We saw several Airship components and a scale model of the USS Enterprise (we thought you’d like that Dwight). Lastly we saw a WWII Pacific exhibit with some shower rules that could still apply when you’re showering in an RV;-) What an amazing museum that I know Pete, Ray, and Sandra could spend days exploring.




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