We left Chewacla in Auburn, early Saturday morning. We’re still not acclimated to central time, so we were up and ready to head to the Gulf Coast. We planned on driving to Pensacola and doing several errands, so we got on the road.
After a short 3.5hr drive, we arrived in Pensacola at lunchtime. It was drizzling. We ate in the van, then ran into Tractor Supply to get propane, needed for heat with the coming cold front. This was the third Tractor Supply in recent months, that let us down with no propane. We like several snacks, you can only get at Tractor Supply, so we normally fill up with propane and grab our favorite snacks. Well, we really struck out with this one, because they were out of my cinnamon bears then found out later that evening, they sold us stale kettle corn. Geez! We went to several other typical propane suppliers, but they did not carry it either. We have a space heater, so we just hedged our bets that that would be enough. We went to Petsmart, Petland, and Big Lots in search of replacement harnesses for the puppies, as the velcro had quit working on theirs. We were, sadly, disappointed, deciding to wait to order the Voyager ones we like on Amazon and have them shipped to the in-laws, to get when we return to Greenville in a few of weeks for meetings. Pensacola did have a Publix on the way to Fort Pickens. We went, not realizing it was a neighborhood Publix, not a full Publix, so they didn’t have a lot of what we typically get. Modify and adjust, that is the motto when traveling and in life. We rolled with it, got most of what we needed for the next five days, then got on the road out to Pensacola Beach and Gulf Islands National Seashore. I was so excited to get there.
Fort Pickens Campground in Gulf Islands National Seashore was on a list of the best campgrounds in every state. I had again used https://reserve.wanderinglabs.com to get a campsite in the highly sought after, Loop A supposedly, wonderful, canopied in the oaks. We scored with Campsite #A2, steps from the Gulf beach and Pensacola Bay. Thanks once again, Wandering Labs!
We crossed the $1 toll bridge from Gulf Breeze to Pensacola Beach. Despite spending years with my family at Seaside, just an hour away, I had never been to Pensacola Beach or the National Seashore. I had only been to Pensacola. We drove through crowded commercial and residential Pensacola Beach, then came to the end of the development to the Gulf Islands National Seashore entrance. At this point it’s raining sideways, but nothing could have detracted from the beauty and awe of the drive in. It is one of the most beautiful beach locales, I had ever seen. You are driving on a winding two lane road through hills of dunes with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Pensacola Bay on the other. The waves were huge and crashing high on the beach side due to the storm. The bay was choppy, dark, and angry. As we drove through, a stunning, huge Osprey with a fish in its talons, flew off a post, right in front of our van. It was incredible! What a welcome to the natural beauty of the park.
We parked to register. Wiley ran inside to check us in at the beautiful, old clapboard, camper registration building. Once checked in, we drove on past the campground towards Fort Pickens at the end of the island. You drive, right in through part of the fort to the parking lot, which was cool. The rain was really coming down, but enthusiastic to be there, we braved the rain to run into the fort to get a magnet to add to our collection, from the gift shop. We walked around the impressive fort, a little bit, but decided to return in better weather to do the full tour. We got a magnet, but I realized, my National Parks Passport was in the van, so I’d have to return later to get it stamped. I only rediscovered the 13yo passport this fall, so have been using it since our trip to Acadia. We’ll have to return to several parks that I didn’t get stamped in the years it had been out of use.
We drove back to the campground, thrilled to see the beautiful, oak covered campsites and our wonderful site, we had lucked into, under an oak tree, private, and across the street from the beach boardwalk. Yes! The proximity to the beach and bay was good for us, but sad for the puppies, as no dogs are allowed on the beaches (Gulf or Bay) or at the fort. Thankfully, just outside the entrance to the park, there was one of two Pensacola Beach dog parks, so they would get their beach time. Whew!
Well, just as we got settled in our site, the rain stopped. What good timing. We put on our boots and set out to explore this coastal wonderland. We hiked, just up from our campsite, to catch the Blackbird Marsh Nature Trail. It was a beautiful, little loop trail through a freshwater marsh. There were several osprey nests, but we didn’t see any ospreys. After we did the loop, we crossed the Florida Trail, which goes through the park, then hopped on another, unmarked trail, which led us to the Bay. As we approached the bay high up on a dune cliff, we saw a pod of dolphins wildly playing and feasting in a school of fish. It was amazing! Gulf Islands National Seashore was everything that had been promised and more!
After watching the dolphins for a bit, we took the puppies back to Happy, so we could go see the Gulf beach. There was a fabulous boardwalk through the dunes, right across the street from the campground. We walked down to the breathtaking, undeveloped, white sand beach. There were only a couple of others walking. The sky was black and threatening in either direction, but the sunset was trying to poke through the clouds, straight out over the ocean. As we walked on the beach, we saw lots of small, bright blue and pinkish jelly fish. Neither of us had every seen this type before. Wiley thought they were man of war, but wasn’t sure. They were vibrant and fascinating. We also, saw lots of huge sand dollar fragments, but none whole. We walked down to the next boardwalk, across the dunes, coming out at the entrance to the other campground loops B-E. It was getting dark, so we did not go check them out, but instead, walked up the road, back to our loop. When we returned, Wiley told the puppies, we had been at the vet, getting shots. Please do not tell them, otherwise. We planned on going to eat seafood and take them to the dog beach the next day, so they will get their beach time in. Could not wait to take them!