Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fort Pickens, Gulf Island National Seashore, Pensacola Beach, Florida

We decided to step back in history a bit and explore the Historic Fort Pickens in nearby Pensacola Beach, Florida. While we were there, we thought we'd check out their campground as well. We had considered visiting there last year but decided on staying on in Destin instead so we missed checking it out then. We decided to visit Nevarre Beach first and come in from the East. From there, it's a long drive along the seashore to Fort Pickens which sits at the very end of the peninsula. This was also nesting season for many sea birds and sea turtles. As a result, the entire drive along the peninsula, some 35 miles, was limited to 25 mph or less. However, we did finally reach our destination and enjoyed the area around the Fort a lot. Unfortunately, we did not find the campground  suitable for a rig of our size. Following are some pictures of the Fort and surrounding area. It was well worth the trip.

Fort Pickens is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore which contains most of the barrier islands along the Florida and Mississippi coastlines with the Gulf of Mexico. Interestingly, some of the islands off the southern coast of Alabama were considered for inclusion but as yet, are not. The reason is unclear.

The entry road along the seaside is beautiful. It is home to many species of shore birds and turtles make it their home for breeding. The white sugar sands are perfect for breeding grounds. To understand how soft the sands are, we saw one species of shore bird dive right into the sand and disappear. Very interesting, but unfortunately I have yet to identify which species it was. They were tiny white birds and I'm still searching.

Fort Pickens has an interesting past.  It is a pentagonal, meaning five sides and angles, military fort on the Santa Rosa Island in Florida. It was completed in 1834 and remained in use until 1947. It was built to fortify Pensacola Harbor. Built with over 21.5 million bricks by African American slave labor,  Fort Pickens not only protected the island but the harbor as well. 

As you approach the fort, it's size alone is immense. Several cannons still adorn the walls sitting silently as though still protecting the fort, the island and the harbor. It was the largest of a group of forts built to protect this area and the islands.

Fort Pickens was manned by the United States forces during the American Civil War. In 1861 the Confederates mounted several attacks on the fort in an attempt to overcome the Northern army. Their attempts failed and Fort Pickens remained under the control of the Union forces. It was one of the few southern forts to remain in the hands of the Union army throughout the war.

Imagine the stories these walls could tell and the men who stood inside them to protect the surrounding areas.

In the mid 1880's Fort Pickens was used to house prisoners from the Indian Wars. Captives from the West were transported to the East and held in the Fort. From October 1886 to May 1887, the Apache War Chief, Geronimo, and several of his warriors were housed here.

I felt it important to include the entry gate into the Fort. Be sure to visit this interesting place if you're in the area.

How important was the Fort to protecting Pensacola Bay? From Fort Pickens, looking across the bay we see the Naval Base at Pensacola, home of the famed, Blue Angels. Keep this in mind if you're in the area as they practice weekly during the summer months, weather permitting and the viewing is free. Arrive early though as seating and parking is limited and it's always a popular event.

We saw many of these shore birds nesting in the soft white sands along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Be sure to stop in Pensacola Beach on your way back to the mainland. While the trip along the Peninsula is quite long entering from the east, there is a quick exit near the west end of the Peninsula. This exit does take you across a toll bridge but for the $1.00 toll it's a perfect ending to a wonderful time spent in the area.
You'll find great shopping and fine seafood dining here.

Of course, no trip would be complete without some interesting items we found while out cruising, so I've included this picture and the one below it. I thought the architecture of this condominium complex was very interesting. It reminded me of a cruise ship.

At the entrance to a Skating rink, what better way to advertise than this way over sized skate shoe?

It appeared to be able to be driven, perhaps in parades.

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