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

10 Amazing Places to RV in February

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

February is a great time to travel. If you’re looking for someplace warm with ample sunshine, there are some great destinations to consider especially for the RVing snowbird escaping the ravages of a Northern winter.

The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and continues to impact snowbird travel. Canadian snowbirds won’t be flocking south this winter to escape the cold and snowy weather. With their wings clipped by border closures, Canadian snowbirds have traded in their golf clubs for snow shovels.

Naturally, RVers—and, in particular, Canadian snowbirds­—are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January and March. Also check out our recommendations from February 2020.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson is a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, and art gallery. It features two miles of walking paths traversing 21 acres of desert landscape. Get to know various Sonoran Desert habitats featuring flora and fauna native to the region, 16 individual desert botanical gardens, Earth Sciences Center cave featuring the region’s geology and showcasing the Museum’s extensive mineral collection, and admission to live animal presentations and keeper-animal interactions where you can watch animals being fed or trained. A visitor favorite, the Raptor Free Flight, a birds-of-prey demonstration where visitors view from the birds’ flight path occurs seasonal mid-October through mid-April.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and St. Marys River, Georgia

At over 400,000-acres, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge protects most of America’s largest blackwater wetlands sheltering a vast mosaic of pine islands, serpentine blackwater channels, and cypress forests that provide habitat for an abundance of wildlife. The largest refuge east of the Mississippi River, Okefenokee is home to a multitude of rare and declining species. Roughly 15,000 alligators ply the swamp’s placid waters. Wood storks and sandhill cranes frequent the skies. And gopher tortoises find sanctuary in underground burrows. From this vast wetland ecosystem is born the St. Marys, a blackwater river that meanders 125 miles before reaching the Atlantic. Largely unspoiled, the St. Marys River shelters the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, an ancient species that once reached lengths of up to 18 feet.

Manatee at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

Meet a manatee face-to-face without ever getting wet at Florida’s Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish as they swim by—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory floats in the main spring and allows visitors to “walk underwater” beneath the spring’s surface and watch the manatees and an astounding number of fresh and saltwater fish swim about. The park also features a variety of captive animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingos, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park. The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5 acre water park, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp store, and Castaway Cove pool. 

Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These Gulf view sites offer water and electricity. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Scenic Loop, Texas

Touring Big Bend National Park and experiencing endless vistas straight out of an old Western would be reason enough to make this trip. But you’ll also have plenty of fun along the way exploring quirky small towns that are definitive road-trip material. Unforgettable experiences in West Texas include minimalist art installations, nighttime astronomy parties, and thriving ghost towns. Start your road trip in El Paso, a border city that’s wedged into the farthest-flung corner of West Texas and wraps up at the popular art installation—Prada Marfa. Highlights include Fort Davis and Terlingua, a one-of-a-kind thriving ghost town.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile. Alabama

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.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and 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, historical sites, and great fishing.

The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years. Be it sportfishing, bird-watching, seafood, shopping, the arts, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here revolves around Aransas Bay.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Just outside Las Cruces, the tiny town of Mesilla is one of the most unexpected surprises in the entire state. Formerly part of Mexico and the focus of more than one border dispute, Mesilla is rich in culture and fosters an independent spirit while still celebrating its heritage. Mesilla Plaza is the heart of the community with the twin steeples of Basilica of San Albino as the most identifiable landmark. The church is more than 160 years old but still welcomes the public for regular mass. The heritage is also represented in the shops and restaurants in the Mercado district. Eat dinner at the haunted Double Eagle or stick with traditional Mexican cuisine at La Posta.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities in the Coachella Valley of Southern California are a desert area with abundant artesian wells. Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. You might not find gold during your visit but you’ll become entranced with the golden opportunities to experience the beautiful and rugged area known as the Superstition Wilderness accessible by trails from the Park. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. The four mile mountain bike loop trail is another great way to enjoy the park’s beauty.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you may be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a week of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit. 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) are available in the park.

Worth Pondering…

I’ve never gotten used to winter and never will.

—Jamaica Kincaid

The Ultimate Guide to Interstate 10: 32 Delightful Stops

This coast-to-coast highway spans America from Southern California to Florida

Interstate 10 is the southernmost cross-country highway you can take in the US. It runs about 2,500 miles from Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, Florida, and passes through major cities including Phoenix, Tucson, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, and Mobile.

This southern US route is perfect for full-timers or snowbirds who don’t want to stay in one spot all winter. Interstate 10 passes the RVer’s haven of Quartzsite and lots of scenic parks, wildlife refuges, RV resorts, and campgrounds.

These are 32 of our favorite stops along the way that you will want to take the exit for.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California 

Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, once an inland sea and now a desert area with abundant artesian wells. Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Continue eastbound and you’ll reach the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. This vast park has a rocky desert landscape best known for its twisty Joshua Trees. Joshua Tree has several trails you can hike for closer views of the trees and various desert plants. The hikes range from easy, doable trails for the entire family to more challenging treks that should never be attempted on a hot day. There are numerous options for camping in the park including Jumbo Rocks, Indian Cove, and Cottonwood campgrounds.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite, Arizona

Not far from the Colorado River, this dusty Arizona outpost expands to hundreds of thousands as RV folks arrive every winter for the largest rock hound exposition in the United States and free camping. Quartzsite attracts over a million and a half visitors each winter who converge on this sleepy desert town of 1,900 people in a wave of RVs during January and February when over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix, Arizona

This state is beloved for its awesome sunsets and one of the most unique ways to watch an Arizona sunset is by viewing it through the famous “Hole-in-the-Rock” at Papago Park, a naturally-formed opening in the red butte. Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the area is known for its massive buttes. Papago is also home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you’ll see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of Mexican poppies and other wildflowers. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views. The campground includes 85 sites with electric hookups.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson, Arizona

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, Mission San Xavier del Bac, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterwards, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, Tombstone grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners after a long shift underground. The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox, Arizona

This southeastern Arizona town attracts visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, to hike in Chiricahua National Monument, and to see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Home to a mere 2,196 people, the town of Mesilla in Southern New Mexico is a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Shaped like giant waves, the dunes in the park are part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The area was once part of the Permian Sea where an ancient lake evaporated and left the gypsum deposits behind. If you just want to see the dunes without getting dusty you can drive the eight-mile-long Dunes Drive. But the best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand (you can bring your own plastic snow saucers or buy them at the gift shop).

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Franklin Mountains State Park, Texas

Shortly after crossing into Texas, you’ll reach El Paso and Franklin Mountains State Park. The park’s trails attract hikers and bikers while the mountain peaks and cliffs attract rock climbers and photographers. The Aztec Cave Trail (a steep 1.2 miles) and Tin Mines Trail (about 6.5 miles) are worth exploring. The campground has a few RV-friendly sites but the sites are unlevel and have no hookups. You can also find more camping options in El Paso.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum as well as picnicking and camping and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Caverns of Senora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caverns of Senora, Texas

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long with two miles of trails developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth form 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are small German towns including Kerrville, Boerne, and Fredericksburg nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Next, you’ll want to stop at Guadalupe River State Park where you can camp by the river and spend your days enjoying various water activities including kayaking, tubing, swimming, and fishing. The campground offers big-rig friendly sites with power and water hookups. From here it’s less than an hour to San Antonio.

Mission San Jose, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. There is much to see and do in San Antonio from visiting the missions to the Alamo and touring the River Walk or Natural Bridge Caverns. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

This flavor-packed smoke town is a must-stop. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. Order meat by the pound and sausage by the link! Barbecue sauce? Some places have it, some don’t; in the best of them, sauce is inconsequential. Beef is what matters. Your itinerary includes at least tackling the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). Proceed in any order you please. 

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas

Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Founded in 1909, the little brewery has recently undergone a major expansion. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, Texas

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka  Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring.

St. Mary’s Catholic Churcj (Praha) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Cookies ’n Cream and Pecan Pralines ’n Cream and the newest flavor to temp your taste buds, Fudge Brownie Decadence.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is home to numerous attractions 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!

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

The Creole Nature Trail meanders 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges. The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. This is the Louisiana Outback with plenty of wildlife and bird watching.

Bayou Teche at 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.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and 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. 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.

Billy’s Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott, Louisiana

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bay St. Louis

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life meets 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.

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. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

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.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

I-10 only spans about 66 miles through Alabama, but it is worth taking another detour to camp by the beach on the Gulf Coast. This state park has a uniquely designed beach pavilion and the largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico. There are almost 500 RV sites available at the campground including full hookup sites that can accommodate large rigs. The campground also has modern bathhouses, laundry facilities, a swimming pool with a splash pad, and bike rentals.

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.

Worth Pondering…

Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind.

—lyrics by Thomas William Cochrane, recorded by Rascal Flatts

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

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

Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Mobile Bay is an incredible gateway to the Delta, a bird sanctuary, and boating, fishing, and kayaking

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. Fishermen and sailboat enthusiasts relish the bay itself. On the south shore, where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, white sand beaches lure swimmers, shell hunters, and sunset photographers.

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

Located in the wetlands of Mobile Bay near Spanish Fort, Meaher State Park is a scenic 1,327-acre park offering facilities for both camping and day-use.

The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is the 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. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish, which makes Meaher State Park an fisherman’s dream.

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

A 300-foot fishing pier with a 200 foot “T” and boat ramp make Meaher State Park an excellent location for fishing with Mobile Bay providing a productive estuary offering numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required; most common freshwater fish are abundant in the area. The boat ramp is located on the Blakeley River on the east end of the park. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

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

A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Enjoy watching the abundant aquatic bird life as well as alligators.

The day-use area features a picnic area and comfort station for visitors. 

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

Big-rig friendly Meaher State Park offers 56 modern campsites with 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections. Semi-circle pull-through sites exceed 100 feet in length. Most back-in sites are in the 60-65 foot range. The campground also features a bathhouse with laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. A tower is located on top of the bathhouse. There are also 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electric service. Current RV camping rate is $35/night; tent sites $22/night. Weekly rates for RV sites are $182. Monthly rates for RV sites from November through March only are $623. Reservations are available by contacting the state park.

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

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.

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

Also located near Meaher State Park, just north of Interstate 10, is the Five Rivers- Alabama’s Delta Resource Center which features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, and canoe rentals.

The 80-acre nature complex is the gateway to the Delta, a 250,000-acre wetland playground designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

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

Besides the more than 300 bird species, 126 fish species, and 500 plant species found there, the delta is the exclusive home of Alabama’s state reptile, the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle.

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

Begin at the Shellbank Visitors Center, where movies preview this free facility’s recreational opportunities. A stroll across an observation deck brings you to a museum filled with artifacts and displays depicting the delta’s rich cultural, historical, and ecological heritage. Picnic facilities, nature trails, and a gift shop occupy the site, too.

For up-close explorations, you can rent a canoe or kayak or launch your own. Canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat tours are offered.

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

While camping at Meaher State Park, take advantage of the abundant shopping and dining options in the Mobile metro area. The white sands of Alabama’s Gulf Coast are only an hour away. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and GulfQuest National Maritime Museum are also located nearby.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you plan to stay a week or a month, the area’s welcoming hospitality, sun-drenched climate, sparkling waterways, and wide range of activities will have you describing Mobile Bay as “the place where fun floats”.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © 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

Sweet Home Alabama: Mobile

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 says 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.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the oldest city in Alabama, Mobile has a rich past spanning centuries. French, Spanish, British, Creole, Catholic, Greek, and African legacies have influenced everything from architecture to cuisine, creating a miniature melting pot in the Port City.

Fort Conde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1711, the French erected a brick fort to protect their New World inter­ests and named it Conde. The site, now a 4/5-scale reconstruction of the original early 18th century French Fort Conde, func­tions as a welcome center. The original fort sat on 11 acres of land, therefore a full-size reconstruction was not possible because of the area it would cover in downtown Mobile.

Fort Conde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Museum of Mobile, a short walk from the fort, you can view a 14th-century dugout canoe and other artifacts from native peoples, relive the voyages of slaves who arrived in Mobile, and hear tales of Civil War soldiers. The museum occupies the old city hall/Southern Market building (circa 1867), a National Historic Landmark. Permanent exhibits span 300 years of regional history, and changing exhibits focus on various individuals and events that shaped the area.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The museum’s permanent collection contains more than 85,000 artifacts, which range in size from a button to a fire truck. The collection includes items gathered by 19th-century citizens in their travels around the world.

Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Street has served as the core of Mobile’s business district since the earliest days of the city. As one of the oldest streets, the name dates to Mobile’s French colonial past: the heir to the French throne is called the “Dauphin.” The street remained largely undeveloped during the colonial times, however, its importance increased once Mobile became an American city in 1813.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile emerged as the third busiest port in America during the boom of “King Cotton.” The late 1830s brought devastation to Mobile’s downtown as a series of fires destroyed many of the early frame buildings. Beginning in 1839, all structures along Dauphin and in the commercial districts were required to be built of brick.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, many of these brick buildings remain, although the storefronts have been periodically updated. Shopping trends of the 1950s and ’60s redirected retail activity to outlying areas of the city creating vacancies in the district; many of the buildings have once again been placed in service.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A stroll along historic Dauphin Street isn’t complete without a stop at A&M Peanut Shop (209 Dauphin St.), where peanuts in the shell are roasted hourly in a 90-year-old roaster.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known simply as the Garden District or Oakleigh, the lovely Oakleigh Garden Historic Garden retains the feel of an old neighborhood. Sidewalks and massive oaks line the streets graced by some of the most charming houses in the City.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Developed primarily after the Civil War, the district’s building stock clearly mirrors the City’s economic prosperity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The district’s name comes from the antebellum mansion, Oakleigh, constructed in the 1830s by James Roper.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (circa 1834) is the oldest Christian church in Alabama. The historic cathedral sits across the street overlooking Cathedral Square, a tree-shaded park whose design reflects the basilica’s floor plan.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. An aircraft pavilion is filled with over 25 historic planes and military vehicles including the Mach 3 A-12 Blackbird super-secret spy plane.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. Hammerin’ Hank was born in a section of Mobile referred to as “Down the Bay,” but he spent most of his youth in Toulminville, an historic neighborhood of Mobile. He went on to become one of Major League Baseball’s greatest baseball players ever and held the MLB record for career home runs for 33 years. He still holds several MLB offensive records.

Worth Pondering…

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

Going Mobile

Once called the Paris of the South, Mobile has long been the cultural center of the Gulf Coast and you’ll find an authentic experience like nowhere else in the southern U. S.

The water is a good beginning point to understand Mobile because the city is on a river, just north of a bay, south of a swamp, and has a storied history as a port. From the powdery white beaches of the gulf to the 800 square miles of alligator-­populated delta, you’re never far from water here.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile was named after the Mauvilla (or Maubilla) Indians who lived here centuries ago. Once called the Paris of the South, Mobile has long been the cultural center of the Gulf Coast and you’ll find an authentic experience found nowhere else in the southern United States. The birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States, the area’s sheer beauty, modern architecture, amazing museums, and famous seafood continues to impress visitors and locals alike.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1702 as the original capital of the Louisiana Territory and nestled along the beautiful Mobile Bay, few American cities boast a history as rich as Mobile’s. In 1711, the French erected a brick fort to protect their New World inter­ests and named it Conde.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The site, now a 4/5-scale reconstruction of the original early 18th century French Fort Conde, func­tions as a welcome center. The original fort sat on 11 acres of land, therefore a full-size reconstruction was not possible because of the area it would cover in downtown Mobile. The reconstructed fort opened on July 4, 1976.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later the British took ownership and after that the Spanish. In the 1820s, the U.S. Congress ordered its sale and removal and shortly afterwards it was demolished.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving the fort, history lovers should head across the street to the Museum of Mobile. Opened in 1857 as the Southern Market and used as City Hall through the 1990s, the museum boasts a marble lobby with six brightly colored murals reflecting the city’s landmark moments.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Permanent galleries detail Mobile’s story and include such artifacts as a 14th-century dugout canoe and the Colored Entrance neon sign from the Saenger Theatre, host to many famous black musicians. Upstairs are exhibits detailing The Great Fire of 1919 which left 1,200 homeless, 1979’s Hurricane Frederic which killed three and injured thousands, and the city’s contributions to the nation such as the 1969 World Series champions Mets’ outfield who were all from Mobile.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. These eight distinct personalities spread throughout the Mobile Bay area truly define the heart and soul of Old Mobile. 

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Street is an historic district in downtown Mobile that consists of many buildings from the 1820s to the 20th century; architectural styles include Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Victorian. Dauphin Street was named after the son of King Louis XIV and this street became the main commercial street of the city.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1839, a fire destroyed many of the wooden buildings that had been built in the Federal style. During reconstruction, many structures were built in the Victorian style of architecture seen today.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bienville Square is a tranquil square with trees, benches, fountain, and a bandstand.

Downtown Mobile is a mixture of the old and the new. Modern office buildings and high-rise hotels are scattered among the historic buildings. The ultra-modern Outlaw Convention Center along the waterfront is an interesting contrast to the older buildings of the downtown area.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Oakleigh Historic Complex contains several buildings in one picturesque area. The Oakleigh Mansion (built around l833) is an old two-story T-shaped building constructed with slave labor. The bricks used in the walls of the ground floor were made by these slaves from clay dug on the property. The main portion of the house is of wood. The house is filled with antiques and original furnishings.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another historic building near downtown Mobile is the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and century-old live oaks are scattered over the grounds. The mansion is an antebellum home with more history associated with the Civil War era.

Mobile © 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

Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded

Chief Slacabamorinico would have been proud.

The Chickasaw leader was “reincarnated” by Mobile resident Joe Cain in 1866 as a rebellion against occupying Union forces.

The Civil War had brought a halt to Mardi Gras celebrations, and in April 1865, Union troops took control of the city.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile’s Mardi Gras festivities resumed unexpectedly the following year when Joseph Stillwell Cain, a local clerk and former member of the Tea Drinkers Mystic Society, led a parade through the occupied city dressed as a fictional Indian named Chief Slackabamarinico.

Cain exuberantly declared an end to Mobile’s suffering and signaled the return of the city’s parading activities, to the delight of local residents. He also succeeded in moving Mobile’s celebration from New Year’s Eve to the traditional Fat Tuesday. 

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During and after Reconstruction, Mardi Gras became the premier event of the city’s social elite and a way of celebrating the “Lost Cause.” New societies representing different portions of the city’s diverse population began to appear. The Order of Myths (OOM), established in 1867, chose as its emblem Folly chasing Death around a broken column, imagery that was seen by many as a symbol of the “Lost Cause.” At the end of the traditional OOM parade, Death is defeated, and Folly wins the day.

In 1870, a group of young men between the ages of 18 and 21 formed the Infant Mystics, probably because they were too young to join other societies. The Knights of Revelry, formed in 1874. Their emblem of Folly dancing in a champagne glass between two crescent moons remains a familiar site during Mardi Gras parades.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile has been doing it ever since and they mark the annual occasion with majestic parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies.

When people think of Mardi Gras, they think of New Orleans. But long before there even was a New Orleans, Mobile was celebrating Mardi Gras in the run-up to Ash Wednesday.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded. The raucous annual celebration originated in the Port City, not in the Crescent City.

Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday and Mobile comes to life. Elaborate themed floats manned by masked mystic societies, mounted police and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Many of the mystic societies hold annual formal balls. Some of the balls are private, open only to members and their families; others sell tickets to guests. Membership rules vary. Members need to be born into some societies; other groups invite residents to join, and still others accept anyone who pays the dues.

A specific decorum regarding gown design for royalty still prevails, according to the late Gordon Tatum Jr., former curator of the Mobile Carnival Museum.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“Cover the ankles,” he said. “It may be split to San Francisco, but cover the ankles.”

The cost for robes, gowns, and scepters, as well as full-out partying, is only governed by how deep Daddy’s pockets are. The museum’s least expensive outfit is estimated at $40,00.

Mobile has decreed that moon pies are the official throwing treat from Mardi Gras floats (too many people were being conked on the head by hard candy).

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry.

Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

The party has started in Downtown Mobile and will end with Fat Tuesday on February 13.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass -wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim