We had a fantastic, though short, stay in Pensacola. We were able to get a great site at Fort Pickens, right next to some super friendly neighbors. I love people like them…interesting stories, quick to laugh, great fun to hang out with–but also involved in doing their own thing. They told us stories about some of the people who have latched onto them over the years…there’s definitely a fine line between friendly and over-involved, and I’m thankful that none of us crossed it. They’re Escapees too, which gives us a natural bond. Escapees is a multi-layered social organization for RVers, and we’re actually headed to an Escapees park now.
The Globetrotters game was everything we could have hoped for–great seats, lots of comedy and audience interaction, and we got to meet Flight Time and Big Easy afterward. As huge Amazing Race fans, we were thrilled to hear that they’ll be back on the show this season. Hope they do well!
Next up was a day at Fort Pickens. The fort was built for harbor defense in the 1820s along with Fort McRee, which is now underwater thanks to natural shifts in the barrier islands, and Fort Barrancas, which is on the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The three forts never really saw combat until the Civil War. The Union held Fort Pickens, while the Confederacy got McRee and Barrancas. They took potshots at each other, but did no real damage. Why? Because the forts are a mile and a half apart, and Civil War cannons were accurate only to a mile or so. Fort Pickens was later used to house Geronimo, the famous Apache leader, and several of his men, along with their families. They were given the run of the place and at one point even served as a tourist attraction.
A new concrete fort was erected on the grounds of Fort Pickens after the rifled cannon made the brick fort obsolete, but air combat made the new structure an obvious target. After World War II, all three sites were declared obsolete for defensive purposes.
Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas joined the National Park Service in 1971. Today Fort Pickens is a major tourist draw under the auspices of Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Just getting to Fort Pickens was quite an adventure. Our GPS sent us down a stunning and lightly traveled toll bridge. In a regular car, it’s not so bad–just $3.75. With the trailer, though, it was an additional $3.75 per axle, for a grand total of $11.25!! Nobody ever said RVing is cheap! Thankfully the main bridge is only $1.00, and only on the way in, not out again. We got half price camping with Dad’s Golden Access card, making it $10 per night, and we did not have to pay the normal $8 vehicle fee to access the park.
The road to Fort Pickens is on its 7th iteration. Originally a one-lane oyster shell path built in the 1950s, it was widened and paved when the National Park Service took over in 1971. The road was destroyed by Hurricane Frederick in 1979, Hurricane Opal in 1995, Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and, less than a week before its scheduled reopening, by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. Opened in 2009, the new road is intentionally below grade. This allows sand to wash over it and protect it from flooding damage.
There’s still quite a bit of obvious hurricane damage, as well as signs of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The water’s beautiful, but there are tar balls on the beach. Thankfully cleanup crews are on site, and the park is open for business as usual. Wildlife was everywhere, and seemed healthy.
Yesterday we went to Fort Barrancas and the Naval Aviation Museum. Both are on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station, so make sure you take your ID with you if you go.
The Naval Aviation Museum was spectacular! We did the second floor on our own, then took a 1.5 hour guided walk of the first floor, followed by a 50-minute trolley tour of the flight line. The trolley guide was a combat pilot, and happened to be one the pilot who took off from the Nimitz on Operation Eagle Claw. That was the rescue attempt for the hostages in Iran in 1980.
What was particularly cool about that for us is that Dad was stationed on the California, one of the guided missile cruisers that accompanied the Nimitz on that mission. Small world, eh?
If you’re into military history, the museum provides in spades. We could easily have spent the day there if we weren’t in a hurry to get to Fort Barrancas.
The fort tour was a lot of fun. The place is comprised of gorgeous brick arches, great fun for photographers like my dad.
There’s a steep, dark tunnel that connects the American fort to the old Spanish water battery, the last remnants of the original Spanish fort. The water battery was oddly reminiscent of the Mayan pyramids we climbed in Tulum, near Cozumel. Dad went all the way up, but he had the camera so I couldn’t get a photo.
We stopped by the Pensacola Lighthouse and got some photos from outside, but Dad’s back wasn’t up to climbing it after all the adventures of the day. Ah, well. That’s what next time is for.
We’re just outside Summerdale, Alabama now, where we’ll spend a week at the Escapees park. Not planning much sightseeing, I’m going to try to catch up on some work. Then it’s off to Mardi Gras!!