50 Hikes 50 States–Alabama
Flying into New Orleans, we headed to Alabama to hike our first state of three for the weekend on our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. I wanted to experience the Alabama gulf coast’s Dauphin Island, getting a sniff of ocean breezes and perhaps seeing my first alligator in a while.
But first, we stopped at Waffle House. At 8 pm a night, two poached eggs and some capped, diced, and scattered hash browns with a biscuit screamed my name. We dropped a dollar into the juke box and quickly learned that 80s rock might not have been the best choice for the Waffle House audience. But everyone smiled and I’m sure thoughts of “she’s not from around here” rang through their minds.
Another hour’s drive, and we found a room in Pascagoula for the night. In the morning, a quick trip down the back roads of Alabama landed us on Dauphin Island at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. We nearly passed the tiny parking lot and non-descript sign. This would be our first hike of two for the day; the hubs and I were eager to get started.
Hello Live Oak, Gator, Bats
I hadn’t been in the Live Oak/Pine savanna in a long time. Many moons ago, I lived in Pensacola, and I frequently hiked this ecosystem. Soon my favorites started to appear. Majestic Live Oaks. Fanning palmetto. Sand dune sage. I grinned when we came upon a lovely interpretative sign denoting the difference between slash pine and longleaf. It made me remember good friends in Pensacola–one is now a muckety-muck at the Nature Conservatory, one is a highfalutin research scientist at the University of Florida. I vowed in my mind to reach out once I got home.
As we made our way on the hard-packed sand covered in pine needles, we came to an overlook of a bayou. And just like that, as if Disney were there with an animitronics machine, a gator came cruising toward us. In its gator-ly sort of way, we watched it swim toward us, its tail lolly-gagging behind it in a slow S movement. It seemed like she was coming right toward us. Then a turtle between us and the gator jumped from a log to avoid her choppers. The gator couldn’t care less about us.
The Oily Viewsheds of Alabama
The trail took us out to the Gulf. Sadly, viewsheds in Alabama include oil rigs. In Florida, I had fought long and hard successfully with several friends to keep rigs off Florida’s shorelines. I only hope the future looks cleaner for Alabama. Along the shore, though, we were able to walk easterly to Fort Gaines.
Damn the Mosquitos, Full Torpedos Ahead
Fort Gaines, where we damned the torpedoes, holds sentry to Mobile Bay. Climbing the parapet, we could see for miles in all directions, showing the fragility of the barrier island and the ambition of sailors and sea merchants heading out for bigger seas. Giant tankers arrived with Christmas goods for everyone.
Throughout the hike, the Audubon Society did a nice job providing identification of flora and fauna. I’m sure I should have found several birds, but not being a birder, I simply didn’t see any. We did see a Great Blue Heron, and as a local friend of mine in Denver says, lots of Little Brown Birds. I focused more on the beloved flora I learned about many years ago and was thrilled to find long-time friends, the sand dune goldenrod and tickseed.
Our hike wasn’t long, maybe 2.5 miles. The sanctuary is small. We arrived back to the car to find ourselves the newest addition to the Dauphin Island Christmas Parade. We giggled and waved, then turned out of the parade as soon as possible to head back toward Mississippi to get in our second hike of the day.
The Heart of the South Has Greek Food
And as we made our way into the approach to our Mississippi hike at the Sand Hill Crane National Wildlife’s Fontainbleu trail in Gautier, MS, we came across our second parade of the day. But instead of becoming locals in that entourage, we stopped for lunch at the Country Gentleman Family Restaurant.
It was all four.
And it also had wonderful Greek food. I ordered up some of the best hummus I’ve ever had and topped it with some creamy, crunchy, delicious spanokapita. What a nice find in the deep heart of the deep south.
With full bellies, a parade that had now passed, and legs itching to walk off lunch, we headed to our next hike. This one, we’d find, brought the memories pouring back. Read about Mississippi.