I’ll start off with a map for this blog to orient you. I’ll do the full GPS logger at the end of the trip.
On this trip we just planned one stop in Alabama and that was to Historic Blakeley SP. Before getting there, we stopped in Loxley to go to Burris Farmers Market which was south of I-10. We said we didn’t need anything but the deals on fruit, vegetables, and preserves were so good we couldn’t pass them up. We also visited the bakery and decided to have cobbler lunches, Joel had pecan cobbler with butter pecan ice cream and Sharon had blackberry cobbler with chocolate ice cream, yumm. We were both totally stuffed after this sweet delicious lunch!
Historic Blakeley SP covers a very large area (2,000 acres) and is famous as one of the last battles in the Civil War (also the largest Civil War battle in Alabama). Fort Blakeley was a three mile long series of interconnected Confederate (3,500 men) earthen fortifications that surrounded the river community of Blakeley. The Union forces (16,000 men) skirmished with the confederates for about a week before the final attack on April 9th, 1865 when they defeated the confederates. There are walking and biking trails throughout the park where you can see all the earthen fortifications which really made you feel like you were taking a step back in time. On the afternoon we arrived it was raining but it let up so we did a 5 km hike to the Union Batteries, unfortunately it started pouring rain again before we could get back to the campground. They had an interesting way for you to self guide through the park. You called a number and keyed in your stop and they provided you the history of that location.
The next day the weather was cool but sunny, so it was perfect for an 18.5 km MTB ride around the park. They had a specific route laid out for bikes (and a different one for horses) so we tried to follow it. It was a combination of dirt roads, single track trails, and some wooden boardwalks. We started off with the location of the historic town of Blakeley and went to the hanging tree and the hiding tree. They have weekend boat tours on the Blakeley River but with all the rain the riverbanks were flooded so you couldn’t even get to where the boat launched.
The bike trail loop took us to several of the Confederate redoubt locations and we also saw a rustic cabin that you could book. The trails had some wet sections due to the rain and some of the boardwalks had collapsed and were ramshackled together so you could still follow them. At one point we followed the Breastworks trail which was parallel with the Confederate line and you could imagine the Union forces firing towards you. We also completed the Champion Tree trail where there were several state champion sized tree species. Along the way we used the cell phone service to learn more about many of the stops, but we certainly didn’t find all the locations in the park. This was a long but very rewarding day.
The next day on our way out we stopped at 5 Rivers – Alabama’s Delta Resource Center, a spot recommended to us by the tourist office. The Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers all flow into this delta, the second largest in the US (the Saskatchewan River Delta is the largest in North America). This Delta is known as America’s Amazon due to the collage of habitats and biodiversity of plants and animals. After checking out the gift store we walked the trails to the Nature Centre (3 km loop). They had exhibits on the watershed, delta animals (both live and taxidermed), native Indian history and a movie on the Delta. For example a display on the American Alligator indicated that they have 70-80 teeth in their mouth’s, during their 50 year lives they will grow about 3,000 teeth as they lose some, and the bone plates on their backs (osteoderms) have blood vessels and act like solar panels to warm their blood. We walked around the park area enjoying the sunshine before heading through Mobile and in turn to leave Alabama for Mississippi. We stopped at the Mississippi visitor centre which had some interesting art exhibits before heading to Shepard State Park.
Shepard SP had a lot of hiking trails, so we spent a couple days exploring the park. This is a large park with some interesting features, two 18-hole disc golf courses and an archery range with 28 different targets, all different lengths. Some of the trails were a bit wet so maneuvering around the trail was required. Luckily no soakers!! We’re not sure why but all the trails were named using the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie…) Joel’s favourite trail name of course was Whiskey. We did 14 kms of hiking on the first full day and then 6.5 kms the following day which allowed us to cover all the trails in the park. We were stumped by these strange mounds of mud along the trails we were seeing but thanks to google we learned they were created by crawfish who dig burrows and pile the mud.
The next morning, we went to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1975. We had seen Sandhill Cranes in New Mexico but this Mississippi sub species is quite rare, and they don’t migrate out of this refuge. We went to the exhibit area first to watch a video and see the displays. The Mississippi Sandhill Cranes mate for life and they typically lay two eggs so the refuge will leave one egg for them to incubate and then they take the second egg to a rearing center to make sure the crane population can be increased. They’ve had great success so far as the population was down to 30 pairs and now is closer to 135 pairs. They say the crane is the oldest surviving bird on earth as they have found crane fossils estimated to be 10 million years old. The habitat of the refuge is also unique as it is a wet pine savanna or grassland, and this is what the cranes like. They can feed in the grasslands and then have their nests in the wetter areas. The grasslands are also home to several carnivorous plant species which we were able to see on a 2 km loop trail we did after the center. A guided tour group returned and told us where on the property we could see some live cranes, so we drove there after. We did get to see two cranes but they were feeding quite far away in a field so we couldn’t get great shots of them.
On our way to Gulf Islands National Seashore Davis Bayou Campground (repeat from RV Trip 2) we stopped for lunch at Mickey’s on the Bayou. Definitely known for its seafood and not the décor!!! Sharon had fried Crawfish and Joel had a Blackened Snapper Po-Boy. We could only get our site for one nite so first thing in the morning we moved and set up again at a new site for two nights before heading out to walk the trails (9.3 kms) and go to the visitor’s center, passing the alligators and turtles along the way. The first time we were in this park we were very excited about seeing the alligators here. However, after all the gators we’ve seen on this trip we weren’t quite as excited this time around. Davis Bayou is an estuary so a combination of fresh and saltwater. The decaying marsh grasses form the basis for the food web in this area. There are over 700 animal and plant species that reside in the Bayou. We liked a saying in the visitor center that said, “Those who contemplate the beauty of earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts”. Our last day was grey and rainy so a good day for blogging.
Tomorrow we head into Louisiana for several weeks visiting new State Parks for us on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain.