Enjoying and NOT enjoying Gulf Shores, AL

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Brown Pelican

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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!

Gulf State Park

The calm before the storm?

Gulf State Park

Yep, looks like it!  The lake came to within about 5 feet of Betsy, and we were watching it all night.  Large areas of the park were flooded out, but fortunately we were on high enough ground.

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!

Nature Center, Gulf State Park

The park’s amphitheater before the storm…

Nature Center, Gulf State Park

…and after the storm – we’ll pass on those front-row seats!

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!

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Heading out to find me a Pitcher Plant

Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog

There are many wooden walkways at Pitcher Plant Bog

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.

Pitcher Plants

Pitcher Plants

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!

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Little Lagoon, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Pine Beach Trail

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.

Jeff Friend Trail

Taking a break on the Jeff Friend Trail

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.

Gulf State Park Beach

Under the Gulf State Park Pier

Gulf State Park Pier

Gulf State Park Pier

Gulf State Park Beach

Rough seas on the day before the big storm

Gulf State Park

Goodbye, Gulf Shores!

With that we bid our final farewell to Gulf Shores, Alabama.  It was an interesting stay!

 

Next up:  How do you catch a snake?  A GBH knows how!



Southern Sojourn -Gulf Shores, AL

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Mobile Bay FerryWe did something a bit different upon leaving Dauphin Island for our next destination, Gulf Shores, AL.  You see, the ferry is taking only cars and motorcycles right now; no RV’s.  So, Steve had to drive Betsy 85 miles along the Alabama Scenic Byway (not a bad gig) while I simply hopped a ferry ride across Mobile Bay to Gulf Shores – 29 miles total for me!  The Mobile Bay Ferry connects Fort Gaines at Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan on the Gulf Shores side.  Luckily, there was no threat of torpedoes during my crossing, or I guess Steve would have had the last laugh after all!  It was a fun ferry ride as I got a closer look at some oil rigs along the way and watched seagulls trying to catch a free ferry ride.wpid11134-2013-03-19-AL-1360645.jpg

Once settled in at the RV park, we hopped into our dinghy to check out the area.  Gulf Shores is a popular resort destination, hence more frenetic compared to the quite slow-paced life at Dauphin Island.  And add to that, it’s spring break!  The beach and nearby restaurants at Gulf Shores were busy with spring breakers.  Fortunately, most of our desire for long walks on sugar-white beaches and sunny days had been satisfied while we were on the Island.

Not only were the beaches packed, the RV parks were also booked with snowbirders from northern States.  We wanted to stay at either Gulf Shores State Park or Meares State Park (both with over 100 sites), but snowbirders apparently booked their monthly sojourn months in advance, keeping them full until April.  We managed to snag the last spot at Island Retreat RV Resort (love it when they call their park a “resort”) for a few days.  Here, many of the guests were from Michigan, while the rest were from Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky.  There are no RV parks on the beach here, but the Gulf Shores State Park is very close.

For several months now, we have been using the site RV Park Reviews as a resource for our upcoming trip stops.  Steve is now contributing reviews to the site for each park we use.  Although we realize these reviews won’t be helpful to everyone because “different strokes for different folks” and the fact that conditions at parks can change fairly often, we will create a link to our reviews in case you want to take a look.  For now, click here to read Steve’s recent park reviews.

Although the 32 miles of white sandy beaches is the main attraction at Gulf Shores, there are a lot of other things to do here.  For historians, Fort Morgan Historic Site and Museum is at the tip of the western peninsula, where I disembarked from the ferry.  Alabama is a birding paradise – on the coast alone there are six Alabama Coastal birding trails.  When in this area, fresh seafood is king when it comes to restaurants.  With the help of one local dude we found one to satiate our taste buds.  At Tacky Jacks, the atmosphere is casual and the food to die for is the Cajun Shrimp Pasta.  Jason was so right, it was simply the best shrimp pasta we had tried so far.

Mifi set up

New WiFi setup, and it works!

Since we were now near civilization, we took care of some business. With the big “T” day approaching, we gathered all tax docs and did a conference call with our tax preparer, did some banking changes and most importantly we trashed errr… I mean cancelled our Verizon MiFi contract.

Nina’s thorough post about their wifi set up and a personal tour of the setup used by Hans and Lisa at Metamorphosis Road finally pushed us to abandon our appalling Verizon MiFi device and move to Millenicom’s device.  It also uses Verizon service, but the old device never worked correctly and after replacing it multiple times we gave up.  Steve’s blood pressure is almost back to normal now!  Using a micro-to-mini cable to charge the MiFi from the Wilson cradle as Hans suggested also helped clean up the wiring, so everything looks nice mounted to our power panel.  Thanks for the help, all!

Fort Morgan Road Trail

Fort Morgan Road Trail

With all of our business completed it was time to relax and act like retired people!  Our RV park was along a nice paved bike trail, so we took an 11-mile ride along Fort Morgan Road Trail.

Hiking and viewing the birds along the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge was a good way to get away from the crowds.  We walked 10 miles along the interconnected Pine Beach Trail, the Jeff Friend Trail, Gator Lake Trail and the Centennial Trail (all part of the Fort Morgan Loop .)

Here are some of the resident birds.

Osprey

Osprey gathering twigs to build a nest

The south is known for its  hospitality and I felt it here, for I was addressed as “ma’am” at the store, restaurants and most other places.  That’s much nicer than what Steve usually calls me!  I’m beginning to like this place.