When it’s minus 40 degrees and the wind is howling, I always say it’s time to look for a warm spot with lots to do. Last winter I discovered the thirty-two mile stretch of Alabama’s gulf shore around Gulf Shores/Orange Beach. With The Beach Club in Gulf Shores as my central point, I set out to discover the area.
I was ready to stretch my legs and enjoy the sunshine when I arrived, so I headed out for a hike. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge was perfect. I took the two-mile hike (one way) up the Pine Beach Trail, which had lots to see and learn on the way.
The first thing I noticed was the unfamiliar sound of locusts–while I’d heard of them, I’d sure never actually heard the hum of a swarm.
Some other amazing things included: wind-bent Sand Live Oaks, a ghost crab, a beach mouse, the Piping Plover, different varieties of cacti, reindeer moss and saw palmettos, along with the alligator slide. Panting my way right to the end of the trail, the wind-swept dunes were a great reward for the exertion.
When you’re from the prairies, like I am, everything on the Gulf is new and exciting, so I found myself an educational tour. Janet & Skip Beebee at Sailaway Charters were some of the best teachers I ever met! A group of us boarded the “Miss Janet” for a tour through the estuaries and backwaters of Longs Bayou and Wolf Bay on the Gulf.
In a few short hours Janet taught me the basics of life on the water: shrimping, farming oysters and crabs, and more amazing, what lives in the water! I was able to get up-close to all kinds of sea creatures, such as the puffer fish, silver eel, sea robin, croakers, jelly fish and mud flounder. She pointed out the different kinds of birds, shore grasses, and gave us a run-down of rules and regulations as well. This was the best nature tour I’ve ever taken–bar none!
While I’m in an area I always have to check out the history too–and discovered Fort Morgan. My Living History Interpreter, Bill Matthews, did a fabulous job of telling us why the Fort was important for more than a century, and what it was like to live in the Fort. A site of defense through the: War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, and World Wars & II, the Fort is located at the end of a peninsula, protecting the US from invasion through the Gulf waters.
Fort Morgan flies a variety of flags to show all of the Nations that have claimed it through its tumultuous years, including France, Spain, and England. From the men’s living quarters to the powder magazines, the areas of the Fort are in exceptional condition—the Fort isn’t a replica, but rather a well-preserved historical structure. Part of the reason can be explained by the fact that the Fort wasn’t occupied on a full-time basis, but only when there was a threat of invasion. For much of its life it was occupied by solitary maintenance men assigned to walk its empty walls.
I was in for some great Gulf shore meals too! King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant in Gulf Shores was fabulous. I enjoyed sampling the crab claws with cocktail sauce, an oyster platter, and thick gumbo–with a sumptuous bread pudding for dessert. The Gulf Bay Seafood Grill offered meals just as tasty in nearby Orange Beach.
Try the Jumbo Shrimp stuffed with crab meat, along with steamed zucchini for a memorable dinner. Doc’s Seafood Shack served up a great plate of one of the local specialities, royal red shrimp.
And I have to admit I spent some time just laying on the sugar white beaches, soaking up the sunshine, building sandcastles and watching the kids have a great time.
After all, the beach was right out the back door of The Beach Club. From my sitting room I watched waves lap against the shore and enjoyed a fresh fruit breakfast from my kitchen. When the sun set, music and the king sized bed were all I needed to drift away.
There was only one flaw to my Gulf Shore visit–it didn’t last nearly long enough. Before I knew it I was back to winter.
If you visit:
Area information: Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau: 800/745-SAND.
Gulf Shores is the last point on Alabama’s Hwy #59. It is about an hour from Mobile, AB, and Pensacola, FL
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge: 12295 State Highway 180; Gulf Shores, AL
Sailaway Charters: 24231 Gulf Bay Road; Orange Beach, AL
Fort Morgan: 51 Hwy. 180 W., Gulf Shores, AB
Restaurant Guide: http://www.al.com/gulfshores/cityguide/index.ssf?dining.html