We said our final goodbye’s to family in central Florida the 3rd week of January and packed ourselves back into the truck and trailer to start our journey back to the west coast for February 1st. The Gulf Islands National Seashore sits on the Gulf of Mexico right at the southern border of Florida and Mississippi and looked like a fun place to regroup and reconnect as our micro family.
On the Florida side it is comprised of a series of barrier islands that border Pensacola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, with miles of white sand and dune grass.
We arrived on Weds late afternoon and happened to run into a Park Ranger who was just leaving work. He mentioned off hand that we should watch the weather as it was a fluid situation regarding the park closure. Huh??? Those comments caused some research and we discovered that there was a major storm about to roll through with high winds coming from the south, which often cause them to close the road as it is below sea level. It seems that it can be closed for days at a time while they clear the sand… So much for our plans for 4 days hanging at the beach surfing!
We got up the next morning and got a beach walk in – it was chilly and intermittently rainy but the winds weren’t bad. Fort Pickens is a Civil War fort that lays within the National Park. We found an armament on our walk and made plans to hit the rest of the fort in the afternoon while sticking around close to the park / campground in case of closure.
By mid afternoon the rains had rolled in so our tour of the Fort was wetter and briefer that normal, yet still fun. The best part for me (as mom and teacher) was hearing Hunter compare and contrast Fort Pickens with the other forts we have visited on our travels, both this year and two years ago. The old adage definitely weighs true – he excels at things that interest him!
Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola Bay and its navy yard. The fort was begun in 1829, completed in 1834, and used until 1947. Ironically, the only real action the fort endured occurred when the country was at war with itself. Fort Pickens was one of four seacoast forts in the South that remained in Union control during the Civil War. Preserved by the American people, Fort Pickens exemplifies over a century of homeland defense from the nation’s infancy through World War II.
After much debate by the park wardens they made the call to keep the National Park open on Thursday, even though we were about to find ourselves right in the middle of the red blob of weather warnings. Our first tornado was not something that I was all that excited about! We blew and shook all night long but thankfully nothing ended up airborne and nothing crashed into or onto us. The lightning show was spectacular!
After being up most of the night we finally nodded off to sleep around 4am when the main Tornado watch had passed (yes, I downloaded the weather app and spent a lot of time checking it while Tim mocked me). We awoke mid morning to chilly temperatures and high winds so decided to pull up stakes and move westward, with an afternoon stop at the Pensacola Naval Air Museum on our way out of town.
The Naval Air Museum is located right on the actual Naval Base, which was a pretty cool experience for us. We drove through the main gates, where the guards found our truck and trailer quite humorous, and then headed off in search of the museum. It was like a small city, complete with golf course and hotel. We have been to a number of military museums over the course of the last three years and while this one was good, we all agreed that it did not make the top three, which as of today are the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tuscon, the World War II Museum in New Orleans and the National Infantry Museum in Columbus.
Overall our visit to Pensacola was a bit of a disappointment, not because of what the area had to offer but more because we didn’t really get to experience it in our own way. Due to weather there was no surfing, no bike riding and no exploring of the beaches – all things that we had hoped to do. The Fort Pickens Campground is a great site with very affordable rates and we definitely recommend it as a stop for families. Hopefully we will be back some day to redo our adventures!