Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gulf Islands National Seashore: Fort Pickens

We drove into the campground at Fort Pickens after dark last night, so this morning I was really excited to see what our temporary home for the next day looked like.
I started with a quick walk on the trail that led out of our campsite
and to the beach. It is a nice spot with a view overlooking Santa Rosa Sound.
I even found a few interesting seashells.

We ate breakfast at our campsite and then headed over to Fort Pickens to explore.

The fort is old and parts of it are a bit creepy.
I found it to be really interesting with lots of secret passageways leading into the dark unknown.
Among the highlights was the big gun mounted on top.

While touring the fort, because we happened to be visiting on a Tuesday, we got to see the famous Navy Blue Angles in action.
I'm not the biggest fan of airplanes, but I have to admit seeing the tricks they performed and seeing them fly so close to each other in formation was impressive. After a morning at Fort Pickens we headed back to our campsite for lunch.

Post lunch it was time to head to the beach! We walked the short nature trail through the dunes to the impressive white sand beach. The water had a tropical turquoise color.
It was much different than the cloudy gray liquid I grew up swimming in off the coast of New Jersey. We dipped our piggies in the Gulf of Mexico and got splashed a little bit by the waves, but it felt too cold to go all the way in. Sierra's favorite pastime at the beach was playing in the sand.
We helped her build a small sand castle, but she really like climbing up and down
(and sometimes sliding down on her belly)
a little hill that had formed at the high tide line. She also enjoyed rolling in the sand. As far as wildlife, we saw some pelicans that flew right in front of us.

After spending a good portion of our afternoon at the beach we headed back to the campsite for dinner. After dinner we headed back down the trail from our campsite to the Santa Rosa Sound beach. We looked for shells
and were treated to a view of a heron fishing in the shallow water. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tuskegee National Historic Sites

We arrived in Tuskegee just as the sun was starting to peak through the clouds. Because it was the first sign we saw, we decided to visit the Tuskegee Airmen site first.
We arrived to find no picnic area and so we spread out some beach towels on the grassy median of the parking area and had our lunch there. We then went inside Hangar #1 to check out the exhibits. The stories of the obstacles these men had overcome was pretty inspiring. I can't imagine having to deal with the racism these men faced. Among the highlights of the exhibit were two restored vintage airplanes.
There was also a flight simulator module that Sierra seemed to enjoy.
When then went over to Hangar #2
and checked out the exhibits there,
before moving on to the campus of Tuskegee university to visit the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site.

At the Tuskegee Institute NHS we walked through a portion of the very nice campus
to the George Washington Carver Museum.
Like most Americans, I knew about Carver's work with peanuts. However, I did not know about some of his other agricultural experiments and certainly did not know that he was an accomplished artist! After touring the museum we hit the road again. This time we would be headed out of Alabama and into Florida. When we told Sierra that we were no longer in Alabama, but had moved on into Florida, her response was "Daddy changed it!"

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

From Cheaha State Park we headed south on Alabama Highway 49 to Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. It was raining when we arrived and so we went inside to check out the exhibits and learn more about what had occurred here. It turns out it was the site of a battle between the US Army, led by Andrew Jackson, and a large confederation of Creeks. Aided by some Cherokees, the US Army was victorious. As their reward for assisting the US, the Cherokees got ...... sent to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

After checking out the exhibits we drove the short loop road. We had wanted to do the short nature trail hike, but didn't want to get wet. I did get out of the car to check out a cluster of monuments located near Stop 2 on the loop road.
From Horseshoe Bend we headed further south on Highway 49 to Tuskegee.

The Highpoint of Alabama: Cheaha Mountain

It was perfectly clear when we went to bed last night in our tent in the primitive camping area at Cheaha State Park.
We watched the sunset through the trees,

and the summit of Cheaha Mountain glowed in the waning sunlight.
However, it rained pretty hard last night with some thunder and lightning. We awoke to a light rain and decided to find the lodge restaurant to eat breakfast. The restaurant was closed, but it was close to the summit area of the mountain. Since we were there we decided to head over and bag the peak. We hit patches of fog as we made the short drive to the observation tower at the summit.
I found the benchmark on a rock near the foundation of the tower.
Then Noelle and Sierra joined me for a walk up to the top of the tower. The stairs were a bit damp and dark. We took a family photo at the top
and then headed down into the thickening fog.
We drove back to the campsite and packed up our wet tent for our drive south.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Little River Canyon National Preserve

After a great night's rest and delicious breakfast at our friends' house, we hit the road again. This time we headed over to the Little River Canyon Preserve near Fort Payne. Our first stop was the picnic area near Little River Falls. We ate a picnic lunch there and then hiked over to check out the falls.
With spring water flows the falls were pretty impressive!
We checked the falls out
from two different vantage points
and then headed over to the visitor center. There were not many exhibits in the visitor center and so after stamping our Passport books we moved on for a hike on the Beaver Pond Trail.

The hike on the Beaver Pond Trail was pleasant,
even if the pond itself was a bit of a disappointment.
We found a clump of animal fur that was interesting.
We think it came from a deer. When we had returned to the parking area, I took a quick walk across the road to check out the view from the Lynn Overlook.
We then hit the road on our way down to Cheaha State Park and our campsite for the night.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Russell Cave National Monument

Last night we packed up our car and hit the open road. We made it to Chattanooga where we spent the night. This morning our long awaited road trip vacation began in earnest. We drove from Chattanooga down into Alabama and the Russell Cave National Monument. We met an old friend of ours, Dana, who we had worked with at Carlsbad Caverns NP back in 2002-03. Dana brought along her husband and their young son, who is just a little bit older than Sierra. Sierra really enjoyed playing with her new friend!
We walked to the entrance of the cave,
which is a major archeological site, and checked out the exhibits just inside the entrance.
Then we hiked a short portion of the nature trail
and saw some spring wildflowers in bloom
and the rocks and sinkholes
associated with a karst landscape.

As we were preparing to leave,
the volunteer at the front desk offered to let us try out our skills with an atlatl. Sierra would not make a very good hunter as she demonstrated she would rather groom the deer with the feather flights on the spear,
than kill. After "brushing" the deer's fur for a bit and checking out the enormous pine cones near the atlatl demonstration area,
we hit the road for lunch and a night at our friends' house!