Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Our last stop in Florida

Wednesday May 8, 2013
Site 33, Fort Pickens Campground
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida


The last two days have been déjà vu except for a great visit.

Both Monday and Tuesday at Henderson Beach State Park were a replay of Saturday and Sunday.  In sum, we were unable to spend any time at all on the beautiful beach because of the horrific winds and unable to sit out in our sweet site because of the 6 lanes of traffic running through it.

Actually I did sit out with my music in my ears one day.   But THE best thing that happened was that Mui and Erin of Two To Travel’s Phaeton Journeys stopped by to see us yesterday afternoon.   They are at the Fam Camp in Niceville for two weeks (now wouldn’t that be a sweet address….where do you live??  I live in Niceville).  But I digress….


It’s great to meet another water rat and forget all about the noise.

They stop by to visit us and check out the park.  We take a windy walk down to the water and Mui declares it a winner.  Mui is like me in that he loves the water and loves to be in it.  Sadly, it’s too windy for us to stay there long so we head back to our site and sit on the patio talking.  They are so interesting that they distract me from the traffic noise the entire time they are with us.   Now if they would just have come and stayed for the entire 5 days perhaps I would never have noticed it.  :-))

But Erin explains that being from D.C., they are used to that sort of noise and it actually doesn’t bother them while I am from 23 miles outside a small town and had a 3/4 of a mile drive way.  So I’m used to total complete quiet except for the natural sounds of nature.  And she’s absolutely right.  It was even unusual for an airplane to fly over the farm.  I would look up and exclaim.  Wow, wonder if they’re lost.

Sadly for me, Erin and Mui were so captivating that I totally forgot to get out my camera to mark the occasion so you’ll have to imagine us sitting in our 4 chairs under the awning next to Winnona.  Hope we’ll see them again so I can get that picture.   Thanks so much you two for coming by to see us.  It was a wonderful time.


TODAY is moving day.

Another super move, not quite as short as the 20 miles from Grayton to Henderson but almost.  A whole 50 miles from Henderson to Fort Pickens in the Gulf Island National Seashore.  This is our last stop in Florida until next winter.  It’s an easy ride up Route 98 to Pensacola where you turn west to Pensacola Beach.  David goes ahead with Winnona and I take the car so I can stop at the bank and transact a bit of financial business.  He calls me and tells me to stop at the Visitor Center just past the bridge.  But there is no Visitor’s Center there.  So instead I fill Ruby up with gas at $3.389.

But there is a Visitor’s Center shortly before the toll bridge going over to Pensacola Beach and the barrier island.   So I stop there.


The National Park Visitor’s Centers are terrific.  I learn so much in them.

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For instance, although I did know the Gulf Island National Seashore is divided into two districts one in Mississippi and one in Florida.  I did not know the Florida district has three areas with three visitor centers.   The one I have stopped at is the Naval Live Oaks Area.  I think this is wonderful serendipity since I have long been a lover of oak trees, particularly the white oaks at the farm and during my time in Florida I have come to feel equally fond of the Live Oaks here.

I walk inside and they have a live oak inside the building. Its branches are spreading out along the ceiling.  Its trunk is massive.  Not a real Live Oak mind you but it is a great simulation.  There is spanish moss hanging from the limbs and very healthy looking resurrection ferns along the top of the limbs.  I just have to smile at this.  What a great idea.  The educational displays are placed all around the tree.  This picture doesn’t do justice to how real this tree looks. 

I learn that this area is called Naval Live Oak not because there is such a tree but because it was set aside by President John Quincy Adams in 1828 to reserve live oak timber for the U.S. Navy.  It was the Nation’s first tree farm.

Live Oaks are characterized by long curving branches , sturdy trunks, low crowns and deep root systems.  They ride out hurricanes more successfully than any other native tree species.  There is a photograph of a giant live oak still standing amid the rubble of houses in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Just amazing to see that tree standing there.


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There are many interesting exhibits like this one in which you can see just how dense live oak wood is by using a pulley to hoist three different blocks of wood.  All blocks are equal in size, the yellow pine weighs 44 pounds per cubic foot, the white oak weighs 56 pounds pcf and the Live Oak 75 pounds pcf.   No wonder the Live Oak resisted those canon balls so well.

Live Oaks are also resistant to rot, fire, salt spray and wind.  Thus they thrive on the coast.  Their acorns feed many animals and they protect our shores.  The land masses that Live Oaks grow on shelter coastal communities from extreme weather, reducing wind speed by as much as 15 mph.  Now that’s just amazing. 

And like all other green plants and trees, they replenish the air with fresh oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.  How to clean the planet and our air?  More trees of course.  They breathe out what we need and breathe in what causes us problems.  That’s amazing too. 



I pick up some information about the other areas of the national seashore and a National Park Bumper sticker

I actually don’t do bumper stickers but I love my national parks and I’m distressed at the amount of funding they do not get from my tax dollars.   Now who gets to wear it?  Ruby or Winnona??  I’ll post the picture when the lucky winner is chosen.  Or better yet, I’ll find one for my equally favorite National Wildlife Refuges and then each of the girls can have her own.



It seems that Fort Pickens is experiencing water problems.

When I am back on the road, David calls again to say he is at the campground registration desk and it turns out that there is a problem with the Pensacola Water and they are advising that people boil their water before drinking.  Something about not enough chlorine.  Well I hate chlorine in my water anyway but I make another stop to pick up some water.  We have about a gallon and a half already so I pick up 3 more.



But they are not experiencing any beauty problems that’s for sure!


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As I come over the bridge onto the barrier island in Pensacola Beach, I can see the Ferris wheel going round and round.  This must be a happenin’ place.  I turn right down Fort Pickens road and in about a mile or so all of the development is gone and the barrier island stands alone spread out  in front of me.  As far as the eye can see, sand dunes.   I heave a big sigh of relief.  I can feel myself relax. 





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I discover that Fort Pickens has 2 campgrounds.  Loop A is 42 sites separate by at least 1/4 mile from Loops B-E which have another 160 sites.  We are in Loop A in Site 33 and I am very glad to be in the smaller and more treed section.  I made these reservations so long ago, like most reservations in Florida, that I’d forgotten what I’d chosen. 

The campground is not as nice as Henderson Beach in that the sites are closer together and not as private.  But I think it is a sweet place and seems like it will be very quiet.  A great site in a noisy area is less appealing to me than an ordinary site in a quiet one.  I come for the natural setting and what is most important to me is the area surrounding the campground.   And here it is beautiful.  My eyes and ears are both resting in it.



David has most of the set up already done when I arrive and wants to go to the Visitor Center before it closes.


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We can’t find any information about how much further down the road it is and with 5:00 looming, in an unusual move for us, we take the car.  We find it is about 3 miles so next time we’ll bike.  The road doesn’t have any bike lanes unfortunately but there is little traffic at least on a Wednesday so I think it would be safe.


The Visitor’s Center is located in the actual Fort Pickens right through that archway.  It’s only an hour before closing so we do a quick look around, find out that the ranger guided tour is at 2pm every day and take in the 20 minute informative movie they have.


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We stroll around the fort built in 1834 although it actually saw most of its action during the Civil War.


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  Amazing the millions of bricks made locally to build this fortress.   And the size of the canons.  I seldom visit military installations of any kind because it makes me sad to think of all the life and time and resources we have spent as a species making war on each other.   All of that could have been so much more productively used in living our lives peacefully.  I know it’s a pipe dream but theoretically it should be possible.




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There were so many HUGE canons.  Inside, outside…rows of them.


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But up here on top of the fort now the cannon mounts have different residents and uses.


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I am surprised  and pleased to see a killdeer is hunting his dinner in the grasses at the end of cannon mounts. 

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We head back to Winnona and stop on the way to check out the beach just across from the campground entrance.



To Fort Pickens 050They too have a boardwalk, not as grand or as long as Henderson’s.  But a nice path to the water.









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And when we arrive,  GORGEOUS!!!   As far as the eye can see.  Just water, beach and sand dunes.  I’m a very happy camper.






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After dinner we walk back down to the water to see the sunset.


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But we don’t get out in time and it is a giant orange orb as we leave Winnona.  Even though we hustle, by the time we get to the water, less than 5 minutes later, it has sunk into that cloud line at the horizon.  But it still makes me feel wonderful seeing the fabulous colors and being in such a quiet and lovely natural setting again.





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I am just as pleased as punch to see an old friend here.

As we turn to leave, a Great Blue Heron flies in and stands staring off in to the distance looking regal and just right.   A very good omen for me.

I wonder if he’ll be here for sunrise tomorrow.  I wonder if I will.  It’s at 6:00 in the morning.


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The End

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  1. Looks like Henderson will not make the list, but Fort Pickens is a winner. Nice to hear you relax...now go enjoy this beautiful place!! We'll be watching;o)

    1. Definitely looks like a winner Nancy. From where are you watching? I checked and your blog says leaving Cheraw May 5. Are you lost? :-))

  2. So how was that Apple Fritter? And where do you guys head too now...

    1. Well the apple fritter was fantastic. I don't have a lot to compare to and only got one bite but David said it was the best. We'll be here for 4 nights and then we're going around to the other side of the National Seashore in Mississippi. Hope we can get a spot in the Davis Bayou walkin campground. Wish us luck

  3. It looks like Fort Pickens is a beautiful place. Glad to hear that there is no traffic noise. I'm looking forward to seeing it with you. The sand looks so soft and white.

    1. The sand is like sugar all along the Panhandle. It's wonderful. Glad to have you with us. Wish it was in person. Come on up there's plenty of room. Or at least it looks like there is.

  4. I just knew you'd love Fort Pickens! We fell in love with it when we were there and are looking forward to another visit soon. It's so refreshing to see such a large area of unspoiled, undeveloped beach. It's a great hike to go from the gulf side around the point to the bay side on the other side of the campground :)
    There was little traffic on that road even on the weekend when we were there. I'd feel very comfortable bike riding through there. Enjoy!

    1. Thanks for the tips Gail. You were so right. It is wonderful for the eyes to see the long unspoiled beach. I can't get enough of it.

  5. I knew you would really like it there. On Sundays we would take our bikes and start at the Pensacola Beach Visitor Center just after you cross the bridge, then ride out to Ft. Pickens and back. There never was much traffic once you entered the national seashore, probably because you have to pay. You will also love the trail on the intracoastal water side. So many birds. Enjoy!

    1. That sounds like a great bike ride Gayle. I'm looking forward to that trail and all the birds. I do really like it here. Love waking up to bird song and not traffic noise.

  6. Thanks for a great visit ... hope to meet up again somewhere along the way. I knew you'd love Fort Pickens. There may be some military jets flying over occasionally, but no more Blue Angels flights. And if the wind is blowing right, you might hear the anthem and reveille in the a.m -- about 8. You can make a great walking loop on the beach by exiting from the trail (I think it was near site 15) to the Pensacola Bay side, walk all the way to and around the tip of Fort Pickens and back along the gulf. When we were there, most of the bird life was definitely on the Pensacola Beach side. There's also a nice wetlands trail that connects A to B-E, and on the far end of E, a short trail to one of the batteries. We biked there a lot ... never a whole lot of traffic, but that was in January. Sunset from atop one of the batteries overlooking the tip of the island. Have fun.

    1. Makes me smile that everyone knew I'd love Fort Pickens. Guess I should ask what you think about Davis Bayou since that's hopefully our next stop. Thanks so much for all the great suggestions and specific directions. It's wonderful to have the comments from folks who have been here. Hope we can connect again.

    2. Sites looked tighter there ... not too dissimilar from Loop A. You might call them Sunday before you take off to see what the availability of sites look like. They can't confirm there will be a site, but they should be able to tell you if your chances of finding one to fit your size are good.

  7. Fort Pickens was our introduction to Florida. I had never been to FL at all..what a great introduction! We really would love to camphost there, but I think the jobs are taken up by the long-term camphosts..wouldn't you want to be there forever!? We stayed in loop E. There is a bike trail that runs from Loop E to the Fort. Not much riding on the road at all. We found the road to be easy though. Make sure to walk from the bay side to the gulf side around the beach..it is wonderful!

    1. It is such a peaceful place Laurie. I could stay here a LONG time that's for sure. But I still might get hitch itch. There are so many more wonderful places. But what an introduction for someone who had never been to Florida. Many folks see it through Mickey and Minnie first. David didn't want to come here because he thought the whole state was wall to wall "old folks". :-) After all our state park visits, he knows differently now. Can you put in your application to camphost and get on a waiting list? People do get tired of being the same place some times.

  8. That was quite a clever Live Oak display in the VC. Did you give it a hug?

    Don't you need now to retire that Virginia state flag and replace it with one from Florida? ;c)

    1. I gave it a pat Paul. They had displays all around its trunk so hugging was not possible. Virginia flag? What Virginia flag? You mean you don't recognize the EARTH flag?? I always knew that secretly you were from another planet. :-))

  9. Gee, two of my favorite bloggers, as yet unmet in person, meet in person in a great sounding place. Off to the pinboards....I guess I had better get busy with next winter's reservations!

    1. Oh Sue do get busy for next winter; reservations go fast. Would love to meet up in Florida.

  10. This sounds much nicer and natural. Those white beaches so inviting. NPS visitor centers are awesome. Maybe I'm a little biased.

    1. This is a wonderful place. We just spent the entire day on the beach. I'm so relaxed I may melt. You are not biased at all Gaelyn. I don't work for them and I think they are fantastic! Big difference between them and state parks VCs.

  11. Glad the weather is looking good for u guys. While on your next outing check out site 10 in the A Loop. Heading that way soon and hope its a good site... we too like loop A.

    Have fun and an enjoy the peace it has to give.

    1. Jana, I don't suppose you'll be here in the next 3 days will you? I'll take picture of site 10 and post it for you tomorrow. I've had just a super day with PERFECT weather.

  12. Wow, lots of great info about Fort Pickens from you and your readers. We will have to plan a longer stay there next time. Happy that you were able to meet with Erin and Mui, sounds like you had much to share. Enjoy those beautiful white sand beaches.

    1. We should all meet up here. What a beautiful place and at least at this time this year, NO BUGS! Erin and Mui were terrific and we didn't have nearly enough time with them. I'm doing all I can to spend every minute on these gorgeous beaches.

  13. Oh, my most favorite place!!! To be back there in your pictures and words is just wonderful!! Now, you WILL see LOTS of shells there!!! I stayed 3 months at the Emerald Bch RV Park in Navarre...

  14. Walking in the Fort felt a little bit like walking in a cave. Enjoy the peace and quiet.

  15. Fort Pickens looks great with all the history and the beauty of the beach. I'm certainly glad it is quieter there than at Henderson. The facts about the Live Oaks are amazing!! Trees in general are amazing. Sounds like a good place to return next summer :)


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