Friday, September 9, 2011

The Gulf Shores Trip

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Can any trip be more perfect than this latest trip to the Gulf Coast? Well, okay, you're right: the latest trip is always the best. But this one was particularly enjoyable.

We arrived in Opelousas, Louisana, on Friday, September 2, as Tropical Storm Lee wandered around offshore, unable to decide where it wanted to go. Growing up in Louisiana gives you a sense of what weather to fear, and this little tropical storm didn't quite rise to that level, despite the breathless hyperbole of the Weather Channel's presenters. We spent a pleasant evening with our friends, the Nepveaux, including a delicious seafood dinner at the Steamboat Warehouse, up the road in Washington. By the time we went to bed, the wind was picking up and the rain was starting to come down pretty steadily.

In the morning, the rain was pouring down and the wind was blustering, but it still wasn't enough to deter us. Although we had to creep down the freeway at 30 miles an hour for a good while — and occasionally even much slower than that — by the time we crossed the Atchafalaya Basin, the wipers were off. This storm was relatively disorganized, meaning that it had narrow bands of bad weather widely separated by areas of calm.

We picked up Nancy and Jeff at the airport in New Orleans, and after a stop for lunch at the Bulldog, we headed off to Alabama. That drive, which would normally take about three hours, took five, including a slightly scary stretch (negotiated at less than 20 miles an hour) along the Mississippi coast. But all we faced was heavy rain; the winds were strong but not dangerous, and there was no flooding on the roads. When we arrived at our condo, the parking lot was under about four inches of water, but we even managed to avoid having to deal with that. We got rained on a little while we unloaded the car under the portico. Big deal. Then I found the one parking spot that would allow me to get out of the car without stepping in the water. I felt lucky.

about 25' high
We spent the next day and a half sitting in our condo, mostly, watching the waves outside. Most of the time they were only around four to six feet, high enough to excite us City Folk, but not really anything to get worked up about; but occasionally, when the wind would pick up, some got much higher, though it's hard to tell how high from the shore, without a ship on hand for them to break against. All I had to go by was that I was on the second floor, 12 or 15 feet above sea level, and I'm about 6' tall. Some were higher than that. Bands of heavy rain and high winds continued to pass over us, including one that took one of the deck chairs from our balcony, never to be seen again. During the calm periods, we got out for walks on the beach and a trip to a local seafood restaurant for dinner.

Pensacola Historic District

NAS Museum
Pensacola Light
Once the storm passed, we had gorgeous, gorgeous weather for the rest of the trip: warm enough to get out on the beach, but cool enough to really enjoy it. First thing we did was drive down the shore to see Pensacola, Florida: their little historical district and the Naval Air Station's museum and lighthouse. From the top of the lighthouse, I could see Fort Pickens, across the bay, where I'd first met my friend Brian Kirby several years ago — we were both renting bicycles to ride out to the fort — and down the beach to the high-rise condos and hotels in Gulf Shores, 20-some-odd miles away. It's a fairly rare treat to have air that clear when I'm up in a tall tower.

Win, Place and Show

Another day-trip took us to Fort Morgan, one of the old defenses of Mobile Bay

Dauphin Island has an interesting little aquarium focusing on estuarial life

Bellingrath Gardens, which was once a private estate, is a famous botanical experience, created by the owner of the local Coca-Cola Bottling Company back in the 1930s
We also went into Mobile, where we saw the USS Alabama

and other military vehicles, like this B-52

Mobile has some charming older parts
After our week in Alabama, we spent a few days in New Orleans

Mostly in the French Quarter

Statue of Joan of Arc in Decatur Street

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