History Comes Alive At Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site

History comes alive at Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site where Creek Indians, French Marines, and American Soldiers all left their marks

Good morning on the last day of May. Or is it June? Are we in 2022 yet? What is time? Honestly, the only thing we know is that it’s Saturday. Have a great weekend everyone—thanks as always for reading. 

Located just south of Wetumpka on a forested bluff where the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers meet to form the headwaters of the Alabama River, we enjoyed 165 acres of living history and natural beauty. The park showcases recreated Creek Indian houses, a 1751 French fort, the partially restored 1814 American Fort Jackson, a nature trail, and a campground. This historic site is operated by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Graves House Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After paying our $2/person admission fee, our first stop was the early 19th-century Graves House Visitor Center. Restored to its original appearance, the building now houses a small gift shop and museum.

Creek Indian houses represent two primary types of domestic structures used in the historic period. The fully enclosed buildings are winter houses and the open structure is for summer use. Until 1763, the lands within the park boundaries were home to the Alabama. This tribe was a member of the Creek Confederacy and eventually left with the French at the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). The state of Alabama was named after this tribe.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1717, when this region was part of French Louisiana, the French built a fort near the strategically vital junction where the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers form the Alabama River. The fort was primarily a trading post where Indians exchanged fur pelts for guns and household items. There were no battles at the post as French diplomacy forged allies with the natives. The surrounding Indians wanted peace so they could trade with both the French and British.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wandered Fort Toulouse, a re-creation of the last or 3rd French fort built between 1749 and 1751. A National Historic Landmark, the outside walls are constructed of split timbers that were not strong enough to stop a cannon shot but were ample protection against musket fire. Fences enclose the sides and rear of the building. On the inside, posts sunk into the ground were joined with mortise and tenon joints. There were two barracks in the fort each had four rooms for use by the troops. Along the southern wall is an igloo-shaped bread oven.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The French lost the French and Indian War and the fort in 1763. The site was abandoned by the French and the lands reverted to native occupation. Few vestiges of the French post were visible when a new large earthen fort was erected in 1814 and named by General Thomas Pinckney for his subordinate General Andrew Jackson.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following the French abandonment of Fort Toulouse in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, the river valley was peaceful as first the British and then the American nations claimed the region but few white men came to the area. Relations between the white settlers and Native peoples deteriorated in the first decade of the Nineteenth Century. The U. S. and Great Britain were at odds and by late 1813 the Creek War and the War of 1812 were underway. 

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Jackson had a moat that was seven feet deep and dirt walls ranging in height from 7 ½ feet to 9 feet high. When finished the fort contained barracks space to house 200 soldiers. A garrison was kept here as the focus of these armies changed to the war with the British and activities occurring on the Gulf Coast. During this time thousands of troops passed through the site on their way south.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In August of 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed officially ending the Creek War. The Creeks agreed to give the U. S. more than twenty million acres as reparations for the war. This land was the majority of what became the State of Alabama.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The one-mile-long William Bartram Nature Trail winds along the ridgeline and river bottoms at the southern end of the park. Of particular note along its path is a marker dedicated to Sergeant Jean Louis Fontenot who served at Fort Toulouse from 1735 to 1754. Next, we saw a cemetery just off the trail. Only one marker remains. There is also a marker dedicated to William Bartram, the famous naturalist who passed through this area in 1775, further down the trail. The nature trail offers wonderful bird-watching opportunities. During the spring and fall, migrants are present thought out the site. 

Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 39 site RV campground overlooks the Coosa River. Each site includes an electric and water hook-up, a grill, and a concrete picnic table. There is a centrally located shower and bathhouse, plus a refuse facility at the campground entrance. Current RV Rates are $20.00/night; $18.00/night for seniors age 65+ and active or retired military with ID.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

HGTV Home Town Takeover showcases Wetumpka

Known as “The City of Natural Beauty,” Wetumpka, Alabama is located just northeast of Montgomery on the banks of the Coosa River. The name Wetumpka is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters,” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city, dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart.  Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Designed by state bridge engineer Edward Houk and named after Governor Bibb Graves, it is reputed to be one of two bridges in Alabama to be suspended by reinforced concrete.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka has a population of 8,371 and has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride of late. An ambitious downtown revitalization effort was started about three years ago. Then in January of 2019, a powerful tornado swept through the historic downtown area causing widespread damage but thankfully no deaths. The tornado damaged 35 homes throughout Elmore County and destroyed or damaged multiple buildings in the city’s downtown including the police station and Wetumpka’s celebrated First Presbyterian Church. The city completed the revitalization a year ago to rave reviews.

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was 14 months before the tornado ripped through the town that we visited Wetumpka. Proceeding across Bibb Graves Bridge to the largely residential west side, we first stopped on West Bridge Street, across from the First Presbyterian Church organized in 1834. It was the site of the gathering of the Wetumpka Light Guard as they departed their families when they went to do battle in the Civil War on April 16, 1861. We discovered a number of historic and beautiful homes within a five block area mainly on Tuskeena Street (one block north on West Bridge and to the left down Tuskeena). 

First United Methodist Church, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our next stop was the First United Methodist Church at 306 West Tuskeena Street. The building was completed 1854. In 1845, an historic session of the Alabama Conference delegates voted to become part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and so it remained until 1939.

Wetumpka L & N Depot© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directly behind the church we noted the L & N Depot. Established in 1906 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the station served as a passenger and freight depot until 1973. Used for several years as the first home of the Wetumpka Depot Players, at the time of our visit it was used as a place of worship and for youth activities and owned by First United Methodist Church. Next door to the Methodist Church stands a house built by Benjamin Fitzpatrick, a local attorney and circuit solicitor and son of 9th Governor of Alabama, Benjamin Fitzpatrick.

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing the Bibb Graves Bridge to the largely historic business district east side we wandered this area before proceeding to the Wind Creek Casino. Overlooking the beautiful Coosa River, Wind Creek is the home of a new hotel.

In July 2020, Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s Home Town, reported that they were taking over the entire town of Wetumpka for their home-renovation show. As a spinoff of the network’s popular home renovation show “Home Town,” which features Ben and Erin Napier renovating old and sometimes neglected homes for new owners, “Takeover” is also focused on renovations but this time the couple revamps a town. When it airs later this spring, “Home Town Takeover” will showcase 12 renovation and upgrade projects in and around Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district. Viewing dates are yet to be announced.

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka was selected from among 2,600 entries to be the subject of the new HGTV cable TV program called “Home Town Takeover.” The six-part documentary will show Ben and Erin Napier leading a team of renovation pros to breathe new life into Wetumpka including several homes as well as some locally grown businesses and historic treasures unique to the city.

The experience was special for the film crew. Producers, directors, camera operators, audio, and lighting specialists and others spent six months in Wetumpka not just working but living there from August 2020 through January. Months on-site is nothing new for them, but many were surprised by what they found when they arrived in Wetumpka.

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“You never know what to expect, but right when I got to town, it was so pretty,” Carissa Sison, line producer for the show, told Alabama Newscenter. “Our offices had the Coosa River right behind them and it was such a tranquil setting. But the best thing was the people. They were so happy to meet us. I’ve never experienced that kind of friendliness in my life and definitely not in my career.”

Liz Kerrigan, the show’s executive producer, agrees, saying the residents’ community spirit added an extra layer of charm to a city that had already impressed her. “Looking at photos, I knew the town was adorable,” she said. “But a city can look one way and then feel different. Not here. The good vibes just make Wetumpka even cuter.”

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrigan was taken aback by leaders’ open arms and residents’ desire to pitch in. “I just didn’t expect people to be so grateful and so willing to help,” she said. “It was actually an emotional experience. Everyone was thrilled to work with us.”

Sison stressed that the city’s reaction inspired her and the rest of the show’s team to get more invested than normal. “Their outpouring of love motivated us to really want to help this town,” she said. “We’re always passionate about our work but this was different. I don’t think I speak for just myself when I say we felt like we were a part of Wetumpka.”

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrigan and Sison hope the emotion evoked in the show’s creation comes through TV screens and that viewers get a sense of the Wetumpka they came to know and that interest in the city keeps rising. “It’s going to be great when the show airs. I hope even more people fall in love with Wetumpka, Sison added.”

But it’s also part of the show’s wider vision, Kerrigan said. “The entire intention behind this series was to create forward momentum for change, to be a catalyst for an even bigger transition,” she said. “The desire was that the city would take this ball and run with it. What’s so awesome is after being there we know that Wetumpka will do just that. They will build on this and take it 1 million steps farther. Seeing what we imagined fulfilled is really rewarding.”

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if watching Wetumpka’s journey on “Home Town Takeover” spurs other small towns to pursue their own progress, that’s the ultimate prize. “We’re showing how positive change in small towns everywhere is possible,” Kerrigan said. “We hope this causes a national movement for small towns across America to come together and do the same thing, even if it’s on a smaller scale.”

But this spring, eyes will be focused on one specific small town and while Wetumpka leaders and residents have made their enthusiasm obvious, the show’s team seems every bit as excited as the city.

“We just feel so lucky to be able to shine a light on the people and the places of Wetumpka,” Kerrigan said. “We want a huge spotlight on them.”

Coosa River, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the summer, you can visit the city’s River and Blues Music & Arts Festival. In the winter, bundle up and gawk at its New Year’s Eve “Asteroid Drop” (via The City of Wetumpka). If you have a thing for golf clubs, granaries, barbecue places, nature trails, and botanical gardens—or if you need to visit the place that the Hollywood epics Big Fish and The Rosa Parks Story were filmed—Wetumpka, Alabama is your place. And it’s exactly this small-town magic that drew the Napiers to Wetumpka in the first place.

Wind Creek Casino Hotel, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

Spotlight on Alabama: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Known for its beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains, meandering blackwater rivers, and pristine white Gulf beaches, Alabama has become a popular vacation destination

This Southeastern state bordered by Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida is often overlooked as a travel destination in favor of its more crowd-pleasing neighbors but that’s what makes it so special. It has a raw and authentic edge which lacking in some states and is also home to some gorgeous scenery too. Known as “Heart of Dixie” and being synonymous with the American Civil Rights movement, Alabama packs a punch with its collection of proud historic buildings, Franco-Caribbean architecture, stunning forests, and lakes, and jaw-dropping beautiful coastlines and beaches.

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Alabama. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Bay

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is a perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Everyone loves a good long drive and there is nothing like a spellbinding and coastal route. For these reasons the Alabama Coastal Connection is one of the treasured places to tour not just in Alabama but in the whole of the US. A National Scenic Byway the Coastal Connection connects the places and people of the Baldwin and coastal Mobile counties. It is also a true testimony to the diverse and rich culture of the state’s Gulf Coast region.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

A stunning place to visit, 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.

Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orange Beach

Orange Beach is a small and stunning coastal city located on the Gulf. Nicknamed as the water sports hub, it has a huge fishing pier and several picnic areas. The scenic coastal city has a museum named Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum and you can explore the history of Native Americans and fishing. A mesmerizing vacation is on your cards, if you choose this stellar place. Some other places if you wish to look around Orange Beach are Backcountry Trails, Canoe Trail, Waterfront Park, Public Boat Launches, and Disc Golf Course Park.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile

Mobile is more than 300 years old and from that fact alone 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. Mobile is the home to the oldest carnival or Mardi Gras in the United States.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small town ambience with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores

As it goes by the obvious name, the city is located on Alabama’s Gulf Coast and all you beach lovers, this is your chance. 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.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.
Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism. Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Bon Secour 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.

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Here are 10 states that will make your winter warmer

It’s winter! Welcome to the season when conversations center around the weather and how unbelievably cold and miserable it is outside.In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills. It’s horrible.Growing up in Alberta, I have experienced the personal hell that is winter’s awkwardly long, frigid embrace. That’s why I’m a snowbird.

No. 10 is a state that might not come to mind when thinking of a safe haven from cold temperatures.

Golfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Utah

Below the rim of the Great Basin sits Utah‘s warm-weather retreat, the town of St. George. And there’s good reason they call this area Utah Dixie. Like New Mexico and Nevada, you can generally count on the fact that winters will be packed with sunshine. 

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. New Mexico

Did you know that New Mexico is basically southeastern Arizona? I mean, in the sense of topography. They both have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, and basins.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Nevada

Other than in the northern reaches of the state, Nevada’s generally pretty well protected from the worst aspects of winter.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mississippi

While North Mississippi can get hit with a little blizzard action (snow tornadoes!) it’s far from the norm. And even when a cold snap does hit, people are generally back to porch-sittin’, sweet tea-sippin’ weather in no time. There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches in Mississippi without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And, unlike the other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi and Gulfport have casinos. And don’t overlook funky Bay St. Louis. Overall, Mississippi is a state with reasonably painless winters.

Alligator in southern Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Louisiana

You think they’d have Mardi Gras in February if that wasn’t an ideal time for a party?!?!! Wait—what do you mean “it’s set by the church calendar to always fall the day before Ash Wednesday?” Well, you think they would’ve petitioned the pope for a change by now if that humid subtropical climate didn’t laissez les bon temps rouler?!?  Yeah, I have no idea either, I guess. 

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Boudin at Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’ boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling) and nature abounds.

Alabama Gulf Coast near Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama

The people of Alabama asked the Lord that He make the climate of Alabama suitable to play football outside year-round and He listened to the people and granted them a mild winter climate for which to play His game. Except up in Huntsville. While mostly known for college football and slow cooked ribs, Alabama is actually geographically diverse with the rolling foothills of the Smoky Mountains in the North, open plains in the center, and the Gulf Coast’s sandy shores in the south. This makes Alabama an excellent destination for RVers.

Corpus Christi Bay, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Texas

According to a quick eyeballing of the globe, Texas is roughly the size of South America or something, and you can’t speak on the weather in Brazil like it’s the same as Chile, right? West Texas is mostly arid desert and you can get the occasional blizzard that shuts down Amarillo. East Texas is subtropical and humid even in the winter. At a spot where the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico meet sits Brownsville. Warm winds blowing off the sea on 70-degree days make for an ideal scene in the wintertime especially if you’re dealing with stiff, frigid winds blowing feet of snow against the front door back home. With all that said, outside of the Northern Plains, the average temps in Texas in the winter usually stay in the mid-60s during the day, and that’s pretty darn nice.

Lovers Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Florida

It goes without saying that the warm weather is a major draw to Florida in December, January, and February. Look out the window… if it’s anything other than sunny and 75 degrees, you probably wish you were in South Florida right now. Just think—you could go from freezing in the cold to boating, golfing, or laying out in the sun. And Key West is the furthest from depressing Northern winter you can get in the Lower 48.

Near Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

Yes, California has issues and does a lot of things wrong. Lots of ’em. Let’s talk for a minute about how this state has every single kind of scenic beauty you could possibly want. Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches set against towering cliffs. Then move inland to the moon-like desertcapes in the Mojave and Joshua Tree. Then it’s a short drive to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and the other desert cities of Coachella Valley where the winter weather is near perfect.

Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arizona

Ah, Arizona. Occasionally, retired executives from the northeast will accidentally move to Flagstaff and get very sad and angry when they realize the average winter temperature is somewhere in the 20s. But most of Arizona offers up that dry desert day heat (it was 75 in Phoenix last week) that is good for arthritis. Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the young and the not-so-young. From eroded red rock formations to large urban centers, from the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to small mountain towns, from Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and from professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Remembering Hank Aaron (1934-2021)

The Hall of Fame slugger, known as much for his graciousness as his 755 home runs, died at age 86

Baseball is but a game. The consequences of wins and losses are trivial but for the emotions of joy and sadness they leave on their fans. Those who play it well are renowned for their ability at this skill-specific endeavor. They are master craftsmen. When age and illness take them, we lose part of our youth and hold onto the memories of how they could excel in their sport.

Among the nearly 20,000 Major League Baseball players, Hank Aaron was one of the very few who transcended the game. He was bigger than baseball. He was a beacon for civil rights, of humility, and of honest work ethic. The Braves organization announced his death at age 86 on Friday (January 22. 2021).

Hank Aaron Stadium, Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aaron was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron died as the all-time home run leader, at least among all players who played the game fairly. No one ever combined hitting for average and power over a more sustained period. Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Yet the numbers, great as they are, do not tell the story of the impact of Aaron. He is the most important baseball player in the 74 years since Jackie Robinson stepped on the diamond at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in 1947. It was also that Aaron conducted himself with hard work, class, and humility.

Hank Aaron Stadium, Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even when his glory days as a player were over, Aaron continued to dedicate himself to unselfishness, to helping others. He was a longtime executive with the Braves who grew the team’s minor league system. He established Chasing the Dream, a foundation that provides grants to children age nine to 12 to seek advance study in arts, music, dance, and sports.

In Mobile, Alabama, a home museum and a stadium complex honor Hank Aaron. Any time a famous figure’s childhood home is relocated to serve as a museum, you know that person is important. It’s even more compelling to learn that Henry Louis Aaron’s home is the only one ever relocated to honor a professional athlete.

Hank Aaron Stadium, Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum is the original Aaron family home built by Hank’s Dad, Herbert, in 1942. Originally, 25 feet by 25 feet, it consisted of just three small rooms. Later additions in 1962 and 1972 expanded it to its current seven rooms.

Hank’s mother, Estella lived in the home from 1942 to 2007. In 2008 it was moved from its original location to Hank Aaron Stadium. In 22 months it was restored to its original glory with the Grand Opening being held on April 14th, 2010. Seven MLB Hall of Famers and the Commissioner of MLB Bud Selig were in attendance.

Hank Aaron Stadium, Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2013, the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum was voted the 8th Best Baseball Museum in the Country—that directly speaks to the legacy of Hank Aaron. Memorabilia for this Museum comes directly from Hank Aaron, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the Negro League Museum.

“Hank” Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile. He was the third of eight children. His family could not afford baseball equipment so he used materials found on the streets—mostly bottle caps and sticks. His boyhood idol was Jackie Robinson who in 1947 became the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues.

Aaron’s high school had no organized baseball team, so as a teen, he played outfield and third base for the semi-pro Pritchett Athletics and then for the Mobile Black Bears. As a junior in high school, he earned $3 a game, the equivalent of about $30 today. Aaron quit school, and by 1952, when he was 18, he was playing for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns, earning $200 a month. He also received harsh lessons as a black man in a white society.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breakfasting with the Clowns one morning in Washington, D.C. in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium he was more than startled “hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating,” he later wrote. “What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: Here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”

To endure that kind of prejudice, he needed great mental strength, a quality he believed came from his parents. They instilled into their children “Faith in God, personal integrity, dignity, and a humble spirit,” according to a plaque in the museum.

In 1953 Aaron was playing for the Jacksonville (Florida) Tars in the South Atlantic League. The team’s new owner, Samuel W. Wolfson, replaced the Tars with a minor league club named the Jacksonville Braves which was affiliated with the Boston (soon to be Milwaukee) Braves. Wolfson brought in Aaron and two other black players thus integrating the team for the first time. At the end of the season, the 19-year-old was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Honoring Hank Aaron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then the call came from the majors. During a spring training game in March 1954, Milwaukee Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson fractured his ankle. The next day, Aaron made his first spring training start for the Braves. The new left fielder even hit a home run that day. Aaron signed a major league contract on the final day of spring training and was given a Braves uniform with the number 5.

On April 13, 1954, Aaron made his major league debut. “Hammerin’ Hank” had an astonishing 23-year career. He remains on many top-10, best-ever batting lists. Not to mention the fact that he hit 755 home runs. Hank Aaron’s other achievements include batting .300 or better for 14 seasons; first player to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits; 2,297 RBIs, the most in history; and selected for 25 all-star games, played in 24.

Back in those days, I was a huge baseball fan. First, a big fan of Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox and am still partial to the Red Sox. Then a big fan of Hank Aaron and the other stars of the Milwaukee Braves—pitchers Warren Spawn and Lew Burdette, catcher Del Crandall, third base Eddie Mathews, and first base Joe Adcock.

Worth Pondering…

Failure is a part of success.

—Hank Aaron

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

Best Places for RV Travel this December

The seven best destinations for RV travel this December from Southern California to the Sunshine State

September, October, November, and December are where the names that derive from gods as people end and numeric-naming conventions begin. Thanks to the Roman rearranging the numeric names don’t correspond when the actual month appears on the calendar. Decem is Latin for the tenth month.

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in 46 B.C., the beginning of the Julian calendar bumped each of those months backward to create the calendar we all know and use today. Good thing the Roman Empire fell so they could stop moving months around.

Forget summertime: December just might be the best time of year to travel. There are the Christmas classics.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also check out our recommendations from December 2019.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona

The Grand Canyon State is a place where you’re amply rewarded for looking beyond the obvious. You’ll find dramatic geology beyond the Grand, rivers beyond the Colorado, and ancient ruins that you’ve probably never heard of. You may equate Arizona with desert but much of the state is mountainous and its home to six national forests. You won’t want to miss the mighty canyon in the state’s far north, but venture farther afield and you’ll find gentler canyon country near Sedona, mountain hiking near Phoenix and Tucson, and some ancient dwellings that are still inhabited.

Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida

You’re picturing white sandy beaches, and you’re not wrong: Florida has endless miles of picturesque sand. But it also has countless opportunities for adventure and discovery of Florida’s natural wonders. Everglades National Park, on the southern tip of the state, is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and an absolutely otherworldly landscape full of rare plants, alligators, and birds. The Keys are paradise for wreck diving while the interior of the state is full of crystal-clear springs ready for swimming and hiking and biking trails that meander through cypress forests.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas

Texas is divided into numerous climatic zones. Each zone has its own weather patterns. During the winter, most RV travelers choose the Texas Gulf Coast, Central Texas, or South Texas. The Gulf Coast and Central Texas typically have daytime highs in the 60s during the winter months, while highs average around 70 in the southernmost parts of the state. Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi have RV parks that are open year round. From Brownsville to Mission the Rio Grande Valley welcome thousands of Winter Texans looking for a warm winter home.

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern California

Well-known for weather that remains balmy year round, Southern California is an ideal winter destination for RV travelers. Temperatures in San Diego and Los Angeles rarely drop much below 70 degrees and precipitation is minimal. The beaches are open, as are all of the region’s attractions. Note that Southern California is a popular winter destination for travelers of all types, not just those in RVs. Expect crowds and high prices throughout the winter season.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama Gulf Coast

The Alabama Gulf Coast is warmed by sunshine, history, culture, and unspoiled natural beauty. You’ll find 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches made almost entirely of fine, quartz grains washed down from the Appalachian Mountains thousands of years ago. Once you visit the Gulf Coast area of Baldwin County, you quickly realize these are some of the finest beaches in the world and one of America’s hidden gem locations. You’ll yearn to return year after year to feel the sand between your toes, splash around in the turquoise water, smell the salty air and admire the jaw-dropping sunsets of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

The Old Pima County Courthouse in El Presidio, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Tucson is a city set in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The city is surrounded by several mountain ranges, such as the Santa Catalinas. You’ll find a strong historical heritage here with a number of restored historic mansions in the El Presidio and Barrio Historic Districts. The University of Arizona is based here and the area around campus has many unique shops, a variety of nightclubs, and quality restaurants. Saguaro National Park is easily accessible and offers stunning desert vistas with saguaro cacti. Winter is somewhat busy in Tucson with mild temperatures compared to much of the year.

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Eat your way through the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Lockhart is home to three of Texas’ most legendary barbecue joints: Kreuz Market (go for the sausage, stay for the smoky pork chops), Black’s BBQ (dinosaur beef rib, anyone?), and Smitty’s Market (lines form for a taste of its shoulder clod, brisket, hot links, and pork ribs). Why not try all three in a day? If you are a Texas BBQ enthusiast, all roads should go through Lockhart.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

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