Day 36, November 15, 1997: Longbeach, MS to Perdido Key, FL

A big improvement today over yesterday. The sun was out, the top was down, and there were things to see and do.

I left Longbeach rather late, 8:30ish, and headed east. The route I was on was a fairly congested highway through a touristy area so no speed was possible. Yesterday I mentioned casinos. Well, I had only seen a small sample of what was actually there. There are probably twenty large resort / casino / hotel complexes along that part of the coast. I had absolutely no idea that there was even one of them, let alone this whole strip of them. It seems strange that there has been no advertising about it, or at least none that I have seen.

While I was in Biloxi I decided to drop by the Keesler AFB exchange to buy some batteries for my hungry devices. This was another thing I wasn't prepared for. This place is actually beautiful. Everybody I ever talked to who had been stationed there described it as some sort of horrible hell-hole or worse. It is hard to believe that it could have been completely redone in that short of time but it sure must have been.

Next stop Alabama. The string of low sandy beaches and barrier islands simply continued into Alabama but I had to get off of the main highway and head south to follow them. This took me through a town called Bayou La Batre. It looked for all the world like part of the Louisiana bayou country transplanted minus the Cajun culture. Canals, shrimp boats, it was all there. Replacing the Cajuns were many Vietnamese (don't ask me how they got there; I just report what I see). I also notice that the CPM (churches per mile) figure was rising steadily as I drove along. This is my measure of how close I am driving to some mythical center of the south where the figure presumably becomes infinite.

I headed down to Dauphin Island, a sandy bar which shelters the western side of Mobile Bay looking for Fort Gaines, a pre-civil war gun emplacement. Unfortunately any pictures there would be spoiled by the presence of a horde of folks from the Society for Creative Anachronisms which had taken it over to do battle games. Seems that the entrance to this fort is close enough to a medieval castle to make things interesting. Unfortunately having costumed actors about dressed 500 years out of time ruined the effect for me. Never mind, there is supposed to be an even better fort of the same era on the eastern side of the bay and that is just a ferry ride away.

The ferry proved to be rather slow and expensive even though it did arrive soon after I queued up to wait. The ride was 40 minutes and a bit bouncy but certainly preferable to driving all the way around and through the city of Mobile itself.

The fort on the other side was really spectacular. Surely it must be one of the best-preserved of the era. Fort Morgan was built in the 1830s and served as a gunnery site and garrison to protect the bay from a different angle. I was struck by the ancient design of the fort at first sight. It is laid out as a five pointed star, identical in almost every respect to virtually any medieval European fort created after the introduction of gunpowder. There is one other striking anachronism there: the sallyport could have been lifted intact from an ancient castle. The huge timbered doors and the ports that were called "murder holes" (if I remember correctly) were all there. The only things missing were holes in the ceiling for the boiling oil. This is a great site for war and history buffs if I've ever seen one. For example, it was here (well, a few hundred yards from here out on the water) that the words "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" were uttered by Admiral Farregut.

The rest of the drive continued through similar terrain. One exceptionally nice part was Orange Beach, Alabama. As I was driving through here I kept getting thoughts about real estate prices so I sped up. The whole area was so pretty with the pine trees, dunes, and beautiful views that I was sure I couldn't afford anything. In any case, real estate where stilts are de rigueur on houses to handle storm surges would probably make me nervous before long, no matter how attractive it is.

The area where I finally stopped is similar to what has gone before for several hundred miles. I took a ride out to a point which hosts a national seashore to try to catch a good sunset picture. I didn't manage that too well but did see some wildlife. A heron was pacing up and down the beach, never letting me get too close but not flying away either. Oh for a longer telephoto lens!

Before I knew it I was in Florida. Seems that the states down this way are kind of tall and narrow and they pass quickly. Tomorrow also promises to offer some interesting features. The weather is also slated to be clear as I am in a gap between two weather fronts. Perhaps it will be another good day as the13,000 mile solo journey around the edges of the USA continues.

A whole bunch of pictures today. First is the battle scene being created at the old fort. The second is inside the sallyport at the second fort showing the timbered doors and murder holes. Third is a view in the >moat of the fort between the eathworks and the star fort. Fourth is the heron on the beach. I'll try to keep it down to one or two from now on, promise.


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