We set out from Florida Caverns for Gulf Islands National Seashore, getting underway at about 10:50. It was less mileage than our other travel days, a little over 150 miles, bringing our odometer reading to 2463. However, on both ends of the trip we were navigating some comparatively narrow in-town streets. The Dutch Star is not a nimble vehicle, and right turns in town are adventurous. Nevertheless, we made it without mishap to Gulf Islands.
Back in our planning stages, we had purchased an “America the Beautiful” National Park Pass, so our admission to the park was free (staying at the campground was extra, however). Anticipating a crowd due to the weekend, we had made reservations for the park. Their website was a huge pain, but we figured it out enough to reserve a site long enough for the coach. However, when we got there, they apparently paid no attention to any of that, and assigned us a different site. When we got there, it was clear that the Dutch Star was not going to fit. Luckily, there was a Camp Host in the vicinity who recognized our predicament and helped us get reassigned to a site that was large enough.
It was cold and windy the entire day, and after going out to dinner at the Grand Marlin on the island, and then crossing the bridge to Pensacola to pick up some groceries, we pretty much stayed inside for the evening.
The park has electric and water hookups, but doesn’t have sewer hookups, so we went into water conservation mode for our two-day stay, using the park restroom sometimes, taking quick showers, and washing dishes with minimal water usage. That worked just fine for two nights, three would have been more challenging, but probably doable. The park is apparently quite popular and was just about completely full. It’s on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island about 20 miles long but only about ½ mile wide.
The next day, we headed to the visitor center, which is at Fort Pickens, inside the park. The fort was built in the 1800s for border defense of the Pensacola area. Although it’s in the deep south, it was held by Union forces throughout the civil war, and exchanged cannon fire with two other forts in the area that had been taken by the Confederates. It succeeded in destroying the other forts and stayed in Union hands. After the civil war, it became somewhat obsolete because newer artillery was capable of demolishing its brick walls. A “fort within the fort” was built of reinforced concrete and outfitted with 12” rifled cannons capable of shooting targets 15 miles away (previously, the smooth bore cannon used 15” round shot and were limited to an 8 mile range). It continued in operation until the 1920’s when naval patrols took over coastal defense.
There was also an interesting small museum talking about the evolution of the island – it is continually changing shape in response to currents in the Gulf of Mexico and hurricanes and other weather.
In the afternoon, we went out onto the beach for a short time. The morning had been very comfortable – temperature around 70, with a slight breeze, but in the afternoon it got quite windy again – windy enough to blow sand around. So we pulled the plug on it after about half an hour and headed back to the campsite.
Therese spent some time trying to get reservations at campgrounds in Utah, where we’re hoping to visit Arches, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. It was a frustrating experience, since the web sites were uncooperative and nobody answered the phone at two of the three campgrounds.
At least our cell phones and cellular data worked more consistently here, so I was able to post to the web site.
Tomorrow, we have a longer drive to Natchez Mississippi, where we’re staying at the Natchez State Park.