Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Dive into history as you explore the “Mighty A”: 79 years strong and open to the public for tours

Visitors walk the decks and cabins in respectful silence. They read the historic papers and scan the old photographs and try to imagine what it was like. But it’s impossible to envision the roaring thunder and smoke, the ear-shattering shouting and scrambling, the unspeakable horror and death that happened on the USS Alabama, not once but through 37 months of active duty. She earned not only nine battle stars but also the nickname “Lucky A” from her crew of 2,500 because she emerged unscathed from the heat of each battle. The Alabama saw action in the Atlantic for a year before joining the Pacific Fleet in mid-1943.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There she fought at such key locations as Leyte, the Gilbert Islands, and Okinawa. The Alabama served in every major engagement in the Pacific during World War II. After the signing of the war-ending surrender documents in September 1945, the Alabama led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay. The sixth vessel to bear the name, Alabama, the battleship was launched February 16, 1942.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Alabama, a 56-ton Revenue Cutter built at New York and acquired in 1819 at a cost of $4,500, was active in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the 1820s. The second and third Alabama (1849 and 1861), both U.S. Steamers, also pre-dated the American Civil War. The Legendary Confederate Commerce Raider, CSS Alabama, captured or sank 69 Union ships during the War Between the States. The fifth Alabama, BB-8, was a battleship commissioned in 1900, and was a member of the Great White Fleet. She was the flagship for Division 1, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, during World War I.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Displacing more than 44,500 tons, the USS Alabama Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern, half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. The USS Alabama was built to fight.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1964, a campaign was launched to bring the “Mighty A” home to Alabama, as a memorial to the state’s sons and daughters who had served in the armed forces. Alabama school children raised almost $100,000 in mostly nickels, dimes, and quarters to help bring her home to her final resting place.

On January 9, 1965, the “Mighty A” was opened to the public as an independent agency of the state of Alabama. Since then, more than 14 million visitors have walked her decks and stood in awe of her majestic presence.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While onboard, see the museum displays and hear first-hand the remembrances of crew members who served aboard the Alabama. A continuous-running film showcases the recollections—some humorous, many poignant and painful—of the crew. The interviews are interspersed with startling footage of aircraft attacks.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The submarine USS Drum (SS-228), a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars, joined the USS Alabama on July 4, 1969. The USS Drum is credited with sinking 15 ships, a total of 80,580 tons of enemy shipping, the eighth highest of all U.S. submarines in total Japanese tonnage sunk.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2001, Drum was moved onto land for permanent display, the project winning several engineering awards. USS Drum is the oldest American submarine on display in the world.

At the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, the World War II battleship and submarine are the highlights of the bayside park. Many historic warplanes are also on display. A Vietnam Memorial and a Korean War Memorial honor veterans of those wars on the park grounds.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On self-guided tours of the 175-acre military attraction you can view the cockpits of some two dozen aircraft, check out tanks from years gone by, inspect a Vietnam patrol boat, and take the controls of a lifelike flight simulator.

Worth Pondering…

You can talk about teamwork on a baseball team, but I’ll tell you, it takes teamwork when you have 2,900 men stationed on the USS Alabama in the South Pacific.

—Bob Feller (1918-2010), all-star pitcher, Cleveland Indians

The Underrated Coast

So much more than the Redneck Riviera

Americans tend to forget they have a third coastline. Sure, they’re aware the Gulf of Mexico has beaches but they tend to lump those in with Florida which then gets lumped in with the Atlantic coast. And the whole rest of the coast from Alabama to Texas gets criminally overlooked. The Gulf Coast is much more than the “Redneck Riviera”, a label it’s long since outgrown. This is a land of magical swamps, remote white-sand beaches, artists, musicians, and colorful characters. And it is the best coastal road trip few have taken.

Ocean Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the end of Florida in Pensacola, driving west to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, you’ll skirt the turquoise waters of the gulf while dipping into lush marshlands and storybook small towns. You’ll discover a side of the south you never knew. Come along and see why the Gulf Coast truly is America’s most under-appreciated coastal road trip.

Although Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and other areas took a major hit from Hurricane Sally, the area has begun to recover. Be sure to phone ahead for destination updates.

Near Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flora-Bama (Florida-Alabama state line)

One of America’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida line. About half an hour south of Pensacola this honky tonk has long been a landmark on its famous location. The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance, and beach music. Check back in during the annual interstate mullet toss in late April where competitors line up to see who can throw a fish the furthest across the state line.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

After responsibly enjoying the Flora-Bama head west on Perdido Beach Boulevard about 10 miles for the sweeping gulf views to Gulf State Park. Here you can immerse yourself in the sand dunes and Spanish moss that made Alabama’s beaches so beautiful before the condo boom. If you’ve got the gear, the park’s got plenty of RV, tent, and car camping sites. Or reserve one of the fully-furnished cabins that sit along Shelby Lakes. Take advantage of the park’s free bike-share program where you can hop on its 28 miles of trails and roll under live oaks then over a boardwalk to the area’s only stretch of sand not lined with condo towers. Nothing but sand dunes, pelicans, and the lapping waves to join you.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy, but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The city of Fairhope (population, 16,000), founded in 1894 by a society based on cooperative community ownership, was named for its members’ belief that their enterprise had a “fair hope” of success. Ever since, it has beckoned artists, writers, and other creatives, and today, it draws visitors searching for good food, great shopping, and a bit of outdoor adventure. Galleries and studios pepper downtown streets along the waterfront, alongside more than 80 antique shops, small boutiques, and locally owned restaurants. Visit once and you will be back.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved\

Mobile, Alabama

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful skyline reflecting off the bay; Mobile is more than just incredibly good-looking. Mobile is more than 300 years old, and that fact alone ensures there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life collides with folk art. Catch the Arts Alive event in March when dozens of artists’ studios collide for a community-enriching arts festival that features local works, live music, theater, literature, and lots of food.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Back in 1799, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux Breaux built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. In 1817, Firmin’s son, Agricole, built the first vehicular bridge. Breaux Bridge and crawfish have become synonymous. Restaurants in Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish on their menus and it was here that crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as the crawfish capital of the world. Breaux Bridge hosts the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state’s finest festival.

Tabasco Factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Seawolf Park, Galveston Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge on Galveston Island. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

At the final stop on our coastal road trip you’ll discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, and historical sites. The Coastal Bend’s natural resources and moderate climate remain the primary attraction for visitors to the Rockport-Fulton area. Be it sport fishing, bird-watching, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here still revolves around Aransas Bay.

Worth Pondering…

I do like to be beside the seaside.

—John A. Glover-Kind

Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

There are numerous attractions along Alabama’s Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Whether you are a lover of history, nature, or adrenaline rushes, we’ve got you covered.

The Coastal Connection Scenic Byway runs along the Alabama Gulf Coast and is a unique way to explore the Gulf Shores area. As you drive, you’ll find yourself immersed in history and nature. 

Here are six favorite experiences along this scenic byway.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Sink your toes into the fine, sugary sand, fish, bike, kayak, or canoe. Birding, hiking, and biking are other popular activities. The park also offers a Segway tour. Even if you’ve never ridden one, the tour guides will keep you upright and make sure that you enjoy your experience. RV campsites, cottages, cabins, and lodges are available in the park if you decide to stay the night or longer.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores Museum

Gulf Shores Museum features several permanent exhibits including “Portrait of a Fishing Village”, “Drawing a Line in the Sand”, and “Hurricanes: What You Need to Know”. Rotating special exhibits are also on display. Butterfly enthusiasts will love the museum’s butterfly garden. Benches and tables are nearby so visitors can rest their feet while they observe the colorful butterflies.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geocaching

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure-hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called caches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. There are caches all along the byway. This is a great activity for travel parties of all sizes and a great way to connect with fellow treasure hunters across the globe.

Bon Secor National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

The Jeff Friend Loop Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the area for bird-watching and observing other critters. Park in the refuge’s parking lot and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring bottled water, binoculars, and camera. The trail, a mix of crushed limestone and a boardwalk, is a relatively flat 0.9 miles. Allow 2 hours to explore this sliver of paradise. You’ll love the colorful birds that frequent the area!

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Bay Ferry

The Mobile Bay Ferry boards near Fort Morgan. This is one of the easiest ways to travel to Dauphin Island which is a continuation of the scenic byway. If you have never driven your car onto a ferry, this is an experience you will want to make time for. If you want to ride the ferry and leave your car in the parking lot, you can do that as well. The hours vary by season, so it’s important to check the website before your trip.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Making the Most of your Byway Experience

Alabama’s Coastal Connection offers something for everyone from the birders to hikers to photographers. There are a few measures you can take to make the most of your experience. Be flexible, since volatile weather can force you to change your plans. When traveling along Alabama’s Coastal Connection, have your rain gear and jackets handy in case you need them. Memories can just as easily be made in rain boots and under an umbrella!

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is home to miles of beauty that you can only find along Alabama’s Coastal Connection. Don’t be afraid to slow down when you see something that piques your curiosity. After all, this is why you’re taking a scenic byway instead of flying down the interstate at 75 miles per hour.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Beauty, History and Adventure Come Together in Alabama

It’s time to take an Alabama road trip

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Beauty, history, and adventure all come together in Alabama, a state rich in experiences for visitors to savor. It’s a place where you can take in all the sights, sounds, smells, flavors, and sensations that you’ll always remember.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour the historic Alabama State Capitol in downtown Montgomery. Visit Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Step inside museum after museum where the history of Alabama is displayed. Among the most visited are the Rosa Parks Museum, the Hank Williams Museum, and Old Alabama Town.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham is a major medical center and a hub for science and technology.

To the city’s west is Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama and its Crimson Tide football team. The 100-year legacy of the Tide and its most famous coach is honored in the Paul W. “Bear” Bryant Museum.

Auburn Tigers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Huntsville, the U.S Space and Rocket Center, the largest space flight museum in the world, houses more than 1,500 space exploration artifacts and numerous permanent and rotating exhibits. It is also home to IMAX and 3D theaters, the Davidson Center for Space Explorations, Space Camp, and Aviation Challenge.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s oldest city, Mobile claims America’s first Mardi Gras, a celebration that began in 1703. Every year the streets of Mobile buzz with parades and festivities for the entire family. Uncover the fascinating history of the area at the Museum of Mobile, climb aboard the USS ALABAMA battleship, and discover the 65-acre Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

Mobile and Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama became a state in 1819 but the first European explorers discovered it when the Spanish sailed into Mobile Bay in 1519. However, the French were the first to establish a permanent settlement in 1711 at Mobile.

Alabama’s music heritage and Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Economically dependent on cotton and the slave labor that produced it, Alabama was the fourth Southern state to secede from the Union, in January 1861. The Confederate States of America were organized in Montgomery and Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as its president.

Hank Williams Stadium and Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state came into the national spotlight during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, sparked by Rosa Parks’ courageous stand against discrimination on public transportation and led by Martin Luther King, Jr., was a seminal event in the movement. The violence-torn marches in Selma and the church bombings in Birmingham in which four little girls lost their lives were other key events. If there is a nerve center to the civil rights movement, this is the city.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the state has faced its past and proudly established numerous historic sites, monuments, and museums that honor the role of its African American citizens in their struggle for equality.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama was home to sports greats like Hank Aaron and Joe Louis and musical legends Lionel Hampton and Nat “King” Cole—all are honored in Halls of Fame. Iron production in Sloss Furnaces is another reminder of the city’s past.

Alabama’s natural beauty stretches from the gentle Appalachian foothills of the north to the Gulf coast’s sandy shores in the south.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beaches of the Gulf Coast to the Appalachian foothills, Alabama’s 22 state parks reflect every facet of the state’s rich natural landscape.

Rickwood Caverns State Park is located in Warrior, near Birmingham. This unique recreation area boasts a “miracle mile” of subterranean caverns with limestone deposits dating back an astounding 260 million years. The park also offers more typical amusements—a big swimming pool, walking trails, and a miniature train tour.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Guntersville State Park is a favorite destination for anglers, boaters, campers, hikers, and golfers. Birding enthusiasts flock here to observe fall and spring migrations and to glimpse the park’s population of nesting bald eagles. Features include 35 miles of foot trails, an 18-hole golf course, boat launches, a swimming beach, 322 campsites, 35 cabins and chalets and a rustic 100-room lodge set on the bluffs above the 66,000-acre lake.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beauty, history, and adventure all come together in Alabama, a state rich in everything from world-class golf to white-sand beaches. It’s time to take a road trip to Alabama.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you