Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blackwater River and Gulf Islands National Seashore

As I left Port St. Joe, I found out about my Uncle's passing (Great Falls National Park, Antietam Battlefield and Family). I delayed a little bit to see if there was anything I could do in Georgia to help and then continued west in the afternoon.

My first stop was to Greyton Beach State Park, which looked very nice and I'd like to see it one day, but it was full.  I continued inland and stopped to camp for the night at Blackwater River State Park in Florida.  I didn't have much time there, but it turned out to be very nice and would be a good place to return one day.  I was trying to camp places that were ~$10/night, which at the National Parks is generally doable for tent-only sites.  The problem is that people who camp, tend to come with their camper trailers/buses and need electric and water hook-ups.  So many campgrounds now have the nicer campsites and therefore cost more.  The KOAs were about $30/night and this state park was $20-25 I think.  They do provide nice shower and bathroom facilities though.  I definitely took advantage of that after two nights with no facilities at St. Joe :).

I liked these plants with purple berries :).
My fancy campsite - with clothesline and all!

In the morning I followed a trail from the campsite to the river.  It was on a very nice sandbar and made for a good swimming spot - well it's not too deep, so more like laying in the water.  I found out you can rent canoes, kayaks or tubes and spend a day down the river.  It's very clear with nice sand.  The water looks brownish red, but that is just from the tannic in the tree roots.  But I had to keep schedule and make it to Texas by Thursday so I could catch a flight home for the funeral.

In Florida and Mississippi are several islands in the Gulf which combine to form the National Seashore.  In Florida, these are on either side of Pensacola Beach.  If you recall in mid-October, there was a huge line of storms that swept across Texas and through Louisiana (I assume through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and maybe further north as well).  The day they were out of Texas and moving eastward was the day I headed to the Gulf Islands :). When you cross the bay to Pensacola Beach and the Parks, they have a flag up to indicate the hazard level of the water.  This day it was no swimming allowed - basically stay out of the water.  You could see the clouds in the distance and the waves coming in were huge.  It was impressive.  I did ask about camping, which is possible at Fort Pickens, but she quickly warned me not to consider it given the weather and I had pretty much concluded the same before I even asked.

I did go to Fort Pickens that morning though.  This was an old fort built to protect Pensacola Bay. It was the largest of four built to protect the bay.  It was started in 1829 and finished in 1834.  In 1947 it was no longer required based on the advancement of weaponry and eventually brought under the National Park Service for preservation.  Ironically, the only real action seen by the fort was during the Civil war - built to protect from foreigners, it was never used to fight foreigners. The fort remained in Union control throughout the war.

Here are some pictures from my exploring:

For strength, they used arches on the bottom of passageways as well as
on the top, to help protect from shifting sands under the foundation.

I saw lots of butterflies in Florida.

One of the giant cannons used.

A view of the Gulf and the clouds moving in.

One of the cannons inside the fortress.

 These mini passages were in the fort and filled with explosives so that if the fort needed to be quickly destroyed upon invasion, they could easily light up the sky.
It's hard to picture, but this is one of the fort walls from the inner
"moat" view. It is built in the shape of a pentagon. There are stairs
along the outer wall for soldiers to move up and down.

These were two reservoirs that held rain water. They haven't been
able to figure out how it worked due to the destruction, but the
fort had a system of gutters to collect and store rain water.

Then I headed towards New Orleans and into the storm.  I had planned to spend at least a day in New Orleans as I've never been before. But I figured the rain would spoil it and I couldn't really stay longer than 24 hours as I needed to move on to Texas.  I made it to central Louisiana where I found a hotel for the night and stayed dry. 

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