Enjoying and NOT enjoying Gulf Shores, AL
While writing this post, violent thunderstorms were hammering us again – the worst either of us has ever seen. We were right in the path as severe storms and even a few tornadoes moved through the area, and at one point there were reports of over 70,000 lightning strikes and 5 inches of rain being dumped per hour. We had our slides in and did not sleep that night, as the sky looked like a flickering light bulb as lightning struck the ground all around us and the wind blasted for over 5 straight hours. This was truly an epic weather event that broke all rainfall records for the area, and something we don’t care to experience ever again. But we weren’t about to head north as originally planned, since tornadoes were occurring and predicted to continue in the Montgomery, AL area. We thought it would be best to hunker down here, since only moderate storms were predicted, but when the weather spiraled out of control we weren’t so sure. By the time the “experts” realized how bad it really was, the roads were impassible and we were stuck in the park. Not a good feeling!
We feel very lucky to have apparently come out of this with only one wet compartment, and both of us cranky after almost no sleep for 2 nights. But our new friends Bob and Rox, whom we met through RVillage, were not so lucky. Their 5th wheel was struck by lightning and suffered some damage. They are both OK and in the process of having their rig fixed. We wish them and their doggies all the best!
In between storms and while the sun shone brightly, we ventured out of Gulf State Park. There’s much to do in the Gulf Shores area, and the city seemed to be “party central” during spring break. We obviously avoided those crazy kids – we never acted like that when we were their age 😉 – and went where they usually don’t. Our main focus was on daily biking and walking, to burn off calories from the lumpia and bread we consumed. And most importantly, we made the most of our last few days to walk on the beach, since there will be no more of those in sight as we head north.
The only “new” outdoor activity we did while here was a visit to Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog. This is a reserve where fascinating plants like the Gulf Coast Pitcher Plant thrive. A bog is a unique habitat formed by a combination of water, soil and environmental conditions that are low in the nutrients needed for plant growth. Because of these poor soil conditions, many of the bog plants have developed interesting and unusual ways of obtaining necessary nutrients. Carnivorous plants like the Pitcher Plant, Sundew and Bladderworth obtain nutrients by capturing and “absorbing” insects – a fascinating adaptation!
Walking along the extensive boardwalk, there were a few Pitcher Plants starting to bloom. The White-topped Pitcher Plant is considered a true beauty of the bog, and is rare in the sense that it occurs naturally only in a very restricted range between Apalachicola, Florida to near the Louisana state line. Its tubular leaves are death traps for insects. The other unusual plant here was the Purple Pitcher, locally known as “frog britches.”
The pitcher plant bog is a rare habitat, and many bog plants are habitat-specific. That’s exactly why the Weeks Bay Reserve exists – to preserve the habitat for future generations.
We also revisited the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat. Like last year, we didn’t see anything spectacular except that it remains a natural oasis of wildlands where wildlife can exist without harm. The name Bon Secour comes from the French meaning “safe harbor”, which is exactly what it is for the plants and animals here. And, it’s a great place to walk several miles without encountering many other people. Oh, and it’s free!
The refuge consists of approximately 7,000 acres of coastal lands, ranging from constantly-changing dunes to rolling pine-oak woodlands. We followed the 4-mile long Pine Beach Trail, which starts in a maritime forest, then we continued on to a pristine beach.
We were bummed that we couldn’t take the 2-mile Centennial Trail, which would have connected us to the Jeff Friend Trail and added some distance to our walk. It was flooded from an earlier storm, so we turned around and drove to the trailhead at the other end and walked the 1-mile loop from there. That gave us another nice view of Little Lagoon.
Finally, we took our last walk along the ocean, knowing we won’t be seeing any more of these sugary-white sand beaches for many months to come.
With that we bid our final farewell to Gulf Shores, Alabama. It was an interesting stay!