We left Fort Pickens really early, stopping at the Pensacola Beach Dog Park for a quick playtime on the beach, despite another cold, blustery morning. It was so chilly, Pippa was extra frisky, doing zoomies all over the beach. She does not typically do that, so it was so cute. I was glad to get a short video of her in action. Nigel did his regular ball fetching with Wiley, which makes him a happy puppy. We left after a little bit to head to the Alabama Coast, just over an hour away.
On our way to the next campground in Gulf Shores, AL, we stopped at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. We had gone there, because they had a dog friendly beach. Gulf State Park, where we were headed, had a no dogs on the beach policy. We worked in the van in the parking lot until lunch, then went on a quick walk down to the tiny Bay beach and through the gorgeous grounds of the very impressive Arts Center. Nigel played ball. At almost 50 degrees, he got in the water a little bit, even though I did not want him to. Pippa hunted under some tree roots on the shore. Wiley and the puppies returned to the van for a phone conference. I toured the beautiful, mansion art gallery then popped into the first studio building, where there was a painting class going on. The second building was a pottery studio, where some folks were also working. The final building, called “The Hot Shop” was a glass blowing studio. There, I met the artist and his high school senior apprentice, who had been training with him for four years. They were working together to create a stamen and petals for a glass flower. They made two of them while I watched. The artist told me they were to be part of a larger piece that would be a vine with these flowers along it. I enjoyed talking to him and watching his process. He was a great guy!
After Wiley finished up, we drove up the road to Gulf State Park. We were blown away, by the sheer size and how spread out the park was. The amenities are unbelievable for a state park. It was more like a nice, private resort. It has several huge boating and fishing lakes, canals, 2mi of Gulf beachfront, beach pavilion with restaurant, tennis/pickle ball, heated swimming pool, nature center, lakefront amphitheater, activities center, dog park on the lake, fitness facilities, the Hilton run Lodge with restaurants and conference center, the National Geographic honored Eagle Cottages and lakefront cottages, all on the lake, an almost 500 campsite campground, butterfly garden, interpretive center, another restaurant, boat, SUP, and bike rentals, Segway tours, miles of hiking trails, boardwalks, and 27mi of bike paths. All that said, it is obviously a snowbird paradise. Campers are set up here for the entire winter. There is a full calendar of workshops, fitness classes, social activities, ranger activities, etc., daily, all winter. Whoa! This is some state park.
We parked the van in our large semi-private, partly wooded campsite #213 then hit the massive trail system. We reached the Alligator Marsh Trail from the Bobcat Branch Trail. We saw several alligator “slides” into the marshes, but no gators due to the cold. They were hunkered down in the water. As we were walking along an elevated boardwalk with high gate like sides, Wiley was looking hard for armadillos, because the puppies love them and get so excited when we see them. Instead of an armadillo, he spotted a bobcat, frozen, crouching, watching us right over the side of the boardwalk. It was not afraid. It did not flinch. It just sat and stared at us. Pippa didn’t see it. Nigel either smelled or saw it, pulling on the leash towards it, but Wiley pulled him back, and miraculously, he did not squeal, like he usually does. We moved a little further down the boardwalk, so the bobcat moved too then sat upright, further from the boardwalk, still watching us intently. It was an amazing experience. The cat was so big, beautiful, and close. It, basically, made my life. Thank you, Gulf State Park and Mother Nature for bestowing such a beautiful moment on us.
After our bobcat encounter, we hiked back to the van, turning in for the evening. I was still just in awe and overjoyed by what had happened with the bobcat. So grateful for a life that put me in a position to have this experience. Traveling, camping, and hiking has given me so much. I do not ever take it for granted. I am so fortunate. My heart is full and happy.