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Winter Wanderings Day #13, Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, AL, Ocean Springs Beach, Davis Bayou Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Ocean Springs, MS

Saturday, it was rainy and 34 degrees in Gulf Shores. The weather on the Gulf Coast had, certainly, not been our friend, except for our one 60 degree day at Gulf State Park for which, we were so grateful. We left the park, making a stop at the fabulous Gulf Coast owned, Rouses Grocery, where we bought groceries for the week and a king cake, because we could not resist the festive display. We hit the road west toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mississippi would be our 20th state to have camped in. We were excited to be adding a state sticker to our travel map in the van.

We used bringfido.com, as we often do, to find a dog friendly beach near our campground destination in Ocean Springs, MS. We parked Happy right on Ocean Springs’ Front Beach Dr. close to the yacht club. There were beautiful historic and newer homes, overlooking the beach. There was heavy use along the really nice Front Beach Walking Path, used by walkers, runners, dogs, and cyclists, but we walked in the sand by the shore. We had great views of the Biloxi Bay Bridge, Deer Island, and the Mississippi Sound. There were fun, concrete, bonfire pits along the beach, every so often, as we walked. Halfway down the beach was a fishing pier. Across the street was Fort Marpaus Park with shade covered playground, splash pad, and nature preserve. The whole stretch of beach was an impressive, city enhancement project. What we saw of Ocean Springs, we liked. The charming, historic, beach downtown had quaint cottages, restaurants, galleries, and shops. I looked forward to exploring more in the next few days.

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Winter Wanderings Day #9, Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach, FL

Well, things took at turn for the worse…We woke Tuesday morning to 29 degree weather with a “RealFeel” of 20, not taking into account the wind, where we were camping on the narrow strip of land between two bodies of water. Yes, I’m speaking of Florida temperatures. It was just unbelievable. To say I was over it by that point, is an understatement. Being the wimp that I am, I stayed in the van most of the day. Not exactly what I had planned for the trip to Florida. It has been in the 40’s and 60’s in South Florida too, so it was happening state wide. There is talk of stunned iguanas, falling out of trees in South Florida due to the cold. So it’s not just me. LOL! The high Tuesday at Gulf Islands National Seashore was 46. I was staying hopeful, that the warmth would return soon, as promised. Please!

Well, our puppies are so lucky that Wiley is their dad. He layered up at lunchtime at 36 degrees, taking them on a more than generous hike on the Florida Trail, while I stayed in the warm, toasty van. I could not believe how long they were gone. Felt guilty, but not guilty.

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Winter Wanderings Day #8, Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach, FL

When I woke, Monday morning, there was an osprey in a tree, just behind our campsite. Great way to start the day! Especially, since it was a shocking 34 degrees with gusting wind outside. I was glad to be watching it from inside our toasty van, under the down comforter. It was so cold, both puppies ended up cuddled up with me, touching one another, which rarely happens. So, it was willing to put loathing aside for warmth, cold. Yes, that cold!

I opted out of the midday hike. I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to brave the cold and wind. Wiley and the puppies hiked on the Florida Trail towards the fort, then on the Marsh Nature Trail. They returned chilly and happy to be back.

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Winter Wanderings Day #7, Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Beach, FL

Sunday morning we woke before the sun, so we decided to go to the bay beach to watch sunrise. We layered up to face the 40 degree temperatures, along with heavy, gusting wind. We arrived at the Bay beach, under heavy cloud cover, to a pretty disappointing sunrise. Oh, well, we tried. We hiked back to the Florida Trail, which we took into campground loops B-E to take a look. We had, originally, booked E9, so wanted to compare it to where we ended up, thanks to WanderingLabs. Well, it was plain to see why there were such strong opinions online, that Loop A was the most desirable. Campground B-E was, basically, a huge field with very few trees, more like an RV parking lot than a campground. Campsite E9 was in the middle of the field with no trees or brush, right on top of the next campsite, which was jammed full with two trucks and a travel trailer. We definitely would not have been happy in that spot. What a find https://reserve.wanderinglabs.com was. Thank you, Christine for recommending it!

We hiked back to Happy and chilled until lunch time. We looked on Yelp and chose to try Flounders Chowder House. We drove 20min into Pensacola Beach, early to beat the Sunday brunch crowd. The restaurant is an institution, having operated since 1979. We got right in and sat on the huge enclosed heated patio, overlooking the beach. We got a great table. We ordered the Shrimp Boat Platter and Fred Flounders Flash Fried Favorites. We had enough for a couple of more meals, for sure. It was, absolutely, delicious. Just perfect! We had a three tiered key lime pie for desert, which will last us a week. It was, literally, three pieces of key lime pie stacked on top of one another, two yellow with a green one between. I’d never seen anything like it. It was ridiculous, but delicious!

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Winter Wanderings Day #6, Chewacla State Park, Auburn, AL, Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach, FL.

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.

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