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3/6/18 – 3/14/18 Fort Pickens National Park

Site Loop A #34; W/E;

The Campground.

There are two loops here. We chose Loop A, the much smaller of the two. Our site was across from the clean and useful bath/showers and unnoticeable dump station. Beach access was just a short walk down the loop road, across the street to a boardwalk.

Boardwalk to the beach.

The bike/hiking trail to the fort went through Loop B, which was much more open, less private, and had some sites rutted with truck tire marks from backing in with the wet soil. In fact, a park rule was that you cannot park on the grass. All 4 tires had to be on pavement. While there is a walk to the beach from Loop B, it could be a much longer walk, depending on your campsite, than Loop A.

Great Blue Herron track in the sand.

Capturing the sunset.

The Park.

Quiet, peaceful and separated from the view of hotels seen on the rest of the gulf shore, this park is home to many osprey nests within feet of the campground and the ½ mile loop nature trail. Bicycling is a mixed bag, with a nice firm sand trail about 2 miles from Loop A to the fort, but the road through the park – though extremely pretty – does not have a bike lane through most of it and we found most drivers ignore the 25 mph speed limit. We limited our time on the road.

Photo op on the nature loop.

Snapping turtle from the footbridge on the park trail to the fort.

The tour of the fort is worthwhile and there is a fishing pier that does not require a state license to fish, though the pier is elbow to elbow most of the time. Shore fishing seems more enjoyable with a license.

The park has a separate day-use area with beach access separate from the campgrounds. We drove there a few times giving us the availability of bathrooms at a covered pavilion should we need them.

The beaches were (ho hum – here we go again) beautiful with the white sand and turquoise water in the shallows that we have been seeing on the coast since Panama City Beach to the east.

A Heron was usually near our site at a small pond. Early one morning I caught him trying to nap, but overtime my camera shutter clicked I woke him up.

Hey two can play this game.

The Fort.

Fort Pickens has a free guided tour every day at 1:30 PM. Ours was nicely led by a park volunteer who gave a lot of background information and could answer questions – something you can't do on a self-guided tour.

Geronimo was imprisoned here as an attraction. He sold autographs and the buttons off his shirt. At night his wife would sew on more buttons. The fort is now one half mile further from the western shore than it was during the civil war. On this coast the islands shrink on the east coast and grow on the west.

An interesting fact was that at the time of the civil war the U.S. relied on French engineers, so the U.S. started West Point. One West Point grad was assigned to assist French engineers to design the fort. The fort has similar design features as Ft Sumpter and Ft Jefferson (both of which we have visited), and a couple others I can't recall.

There is an outer vertical brick wall and an inner brick structure that abuts (but is not attached to) the outer wall. The inner design is one of arches perpendicular (90 degrees) to each other. Every arch has a corresponding mirrored underground arch providing a very strong structure resistive to impact from cannon fire from above. The arches facing the walls contained cannon openings while those perpendicular to the wall created access between the cannon rooms.

The ceilings were vented for cannon smoke.

This was purposely dug out to show the subterranean arches under each visible arch.

The arches were not attached to the outer wall so that if the outer wall were fired upon from the sea and fell, the arches protecting the cannon and men would remain intact.

Showing how the roof and walls are not connected.

Between the Fort and the campground, there were gun placements that were positioned from the Spanish American War, through WW1 and WW2.

This gun was raised to shoot, and the recoil would cause it to fall back into this position behind the wall. They called it shoot and duck.

Nature Trail.

This ½ mile loop, though short, was remarkable in the number of osprey nests within view. On any given day we would see 3 to 4 pairs of osprey in nests. There was also a nest just behind our campsite, and another along the road to the fort. Twice we saw them mating – a very quick event. Either alone, flying, or as a pair, there was always osprey chirping to be heard. Peaceful and pretty. The trail also contained some trailside signs for the local fauna that we are seeing quite often, such as Florida rosemary and Yaupon holly.

The nature loop trail.

A few signs mark some of the flora.

We saw three armadillos at this park, one of which came into our campsite, one at the beach and one at the second loop campground.

Update - more photos from the nature trail.

Osprey with a needle fish.

I captured this osprey fly to a female - spring was in the air!

Lots of better osprey photos, but I like the setting here. Too bad the sky wasn't ideal.

I asked him to smile.

This is what he thought of me.

I loved this big ol' dead tree and spent an hour photographing it:

The next few shots are from the trunk of the tree.


Wasn't till our last day before I met our neighbor Jim Dill an ex Marine who in the course of an hour impressed me with his exploits. He has run over 100 marathons. He's climbed many of the highest mountains in the country. He even ran the Badwater Utlra Marathon that stars in Death Valley and ends 135 miles later at Mt Whiney, a 13,000 foot elevation gain.

But the most interesting story he had wasthe Barkley Marathon in Tennessee. It sounds like a cross between an ultra-marathon and a Tough Mudder. It is 60 or 100 miles of slogging through mountains, underbrush, and mud looking for hidden checkpoints. One section demands you access a tunnel. This is where Jim had trouble.

The instructions were to go in the far end of the tunnel to a check point and come out the way they went in. Jim and his state-trooper running mate apparently went into the wrong end of the tunnel. They got disoriented on exiting and were forced to stop when barking dogs at their heels and uniformed men with shotguns demanded they hit the dirt face down without speaking - or else.

Turns out they ran into the grounds of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. And, seeing that they were in a race, they did not have wallets or identification with them. I guess it took a good deal of explaining and someone to come to their rescue. Now running into a penitentiary in Tennessee is not something I would want to do. Must have been scary!


Peg Leg Pete's. Sandy's aunt Ann and cousin Sharon as well as Pepe the dog came to visit us. They were gracious enough to take us to Peg Leg Pete's in Pensacola Beach. Hey, if someone else is driving, I'm game to go anywhere! We got there pretty early and yet it was still over an hour wait. No problem, there were cocktails at the bar overlooking a small harbor with some incredible houses and a few just as incredible boats moored along side or at the docks of the restaurant. Sharon and I shared a dozen large raw oysters even though the specialty there seemed to be various baked oyster plates. I don't like fried oysters and so I never dared try the baked, but the options had me tempted.

Crabs on the Beach. I had been dying to get some local crab while in Florida, but the prices or availability kept me at bay. We singled this place out on the ocean side in Pensacola Beach to fulfill my wishes. Driving up we were laughing at the kitschy giant crab in front. A waitress in a booth outside directed another person to guide us to our second floor balcony table. Below us were other tables on the beach and a play area for kids. It was a great outside spot.

For an app we had fried blue crab claws. They were okay, but not worth the money except to say I had them. Not satisfied, I went for the Alaskan snow crab clusters and shrimp boil. Wow! The crab was outstanding and I needed Sandy's help to finish after she finished her crab cake dinner. Even the side corn on the cob was good. The shrimp and sausage were fine as well. Great meal!

Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Leaving Fort Pickens we drove east along Santa Rosa Island through Gulf Islands National Seashore. The beaches here were really the most beautiful on the coast. People talk of Destin, but this is the same blue water and white sand without a hotel or even building in site. Very remote and few parking lots. I had to pull over once to look at the water.

Thus ends our trip west on the Florida Panhandle. Now we head back east via I-10. Next up – DeFuniak Springs...

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