Sunday, April 23, 2017

Five Rivers Delta Resource Center

We have been camped across the highway from what is one of the crown jewels of outdoor education in Alabama.  The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center just celebrated their tenth anniversary.
Sunset At Meaher State Park


The complex is situated where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley rivers meet and flow into Mobile Bay, forming the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.  About 20% of the country's water flows through this Delta.


Five Rivers Delta Resource Center










The center has exhibit halls, conference and classroom facilities, hiking trails and kayak launches.  It is built on ground created when the causeway was built across Mobile Bay.  This is from where we took  our wildlife tours.  We took two through WildNative Delta Safaris.

The first was a one and a half hour on their pontoon boat, Osprey.  Captain Chris one of the best interpretive naturalists that I've seen.  He not only knows about the natural world in the Delta, he knows and understands the history of the region.  He talks about all of this in a way that anyone can understand.



 

Captain Chris and Crew
There was an interesting family on the boat, that included three children aged 5, 3 and 1.  Captain Chris engaged these kids in a way that many could not leaving us very impressed with him, and the entire operation.














Our tour included a nice view of the Mobile skyline at sunset, and a lesson about the amazing  Brown Pelican.

Mobile


Brown Pelican























Several days later, we signed up for a two hour kayak wildlife tour.  We were joined by a woman and her three daughters who were on spring break.  This time, our guide was Jacob.  Again a young man who knows and loves the ecology of the Delta.  He was engaging and informative.

Jacob


This time we did see a small alligator, no where near as big as the ones who patrolled our campsite.  Alligators were a bit scarce.
Find the Alligator















The water depth in the Bay is predominantly effected by the wind.  The region has had a strong southerly wind for several weeks.  Since the Bay is a large bowl, the water level is higher at the north end.  Alligators hunt fish and turtles under water.  The deeper the water, the fewer alligators there are to see.

Paddeling the Alligator River
Most memorable was paddling the quite cuts and rivers for two hours.  We saw many Osprey hunting the water, and saw several nests in the bordering swamps.

Delta Spider Lily

Purple Iris

My Bride and I on Justin's Bay


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mobile Alabama

Street Art
Campground Allegators
We have spent the last week parked here at the Meaher State Park, in Spanish Fort Alabama.

We arrived at our waterside camping spot, greeted by four allegators patrolling the shore.  On most mornings they are there sunning in the shallow waters of Ducker Bay, which is a smaller part of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.


This is the little sister to the larger Mississippi River Delta.  It is home to a massive amount of flora and fauna, including those alligators, who prefer the shallow water and mud bottoms that make it easer to catch fish.  Better the fish than us.



Knowing nothing about this area we decided to take one of the several city tours which provide a good overview of Mobile.  We took the Trolly Tour with Gulf Coast Tours, hopping aboard at the Fort Conde visitors center.
Street Art













We spent the morning getting an overview of Mobile's historic districts, as well as finding our city bearings.  After the tour, we walked the neighborhoods, finding our way to Callihan's Irish Social Club, established 1946.  











Lunch

My Bride had a burger and a Fat Tire, I had a Shrimp Po Boy and a Guiness. How good those beers tasted in the south Alabama heat!


Street Art
















Mardi Gras Park
Mobile will tell you, that it is HERE that Mardi Gras was born.  They held the first organized celebration in 1703.  There is museum to Mardi Gras in town and a new Mardi Gras Park to mark that history.  We saw evidence in Spanish Plaza to the city's Mardi Gras roots.















Spanish Plaza
Mobile has a strong Spanish heritage, which maintains strong ties with Malaga, their sister city in Spain.  The Spanish Plaza honors those ties.








Hernando de Soto in Beads



Queen Isabella in Beads


























We strolled the Church Street Graveyard where some of the first settlers are buried following a yellow fever outbreak.  Many of the tombs are above ground crypts.  




I don't know if that was because it was their custom or because of a high water table.  











































In any event, it was a peaceful place to walk. 

Graveyard Oak

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blackwater River State Park, Florida

Blackwater River State Park
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself paddling alone up a coffee colored river, in the panhandle of north west Florida, and then hearing the strains of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer floating towards you.  A short time later you see "The Eagle Man" wearing a red "Make America Great Again" ball cap paddling down river with his wife, in their bright orange Wall Mark kayaks.  Welcome to the Blackwater River!
Blackwater River

We spent a day floating eleven miles of the river, after arranging a shuttle through Blackwater Canoe Rental and Outpost.  Paul, our driver, explained the necessary details about the float.  About how we will launch at a bridge, and not see another for about five or six hours and when you do, that is where you will haul out.  It is the Deaton Bridge, and the river is unnavigable below.

Several of our neighboring campers learned the hard way.  They took inner tubes and began their float at Deaton Bridge.  They left Monday afternoon, and weren't found until 4AM Wednesday morning.  They weren't reported missing until Tuesday evening.  That is a long time to spend in a Florida swamp in nothing but swimming trunks, t-shirts and flip flops.

Paul explained that the Eagle Man had discovered a Bald Eagle nest close to the fish hatchery.  It made for easy pickings for the Eagles.  He explained that the trip added another hour to the 4 to 5 hour float.

Upon encountering Jim and Jane, a couple a bit older than us, they insisted on guiding us to the nest, though explained that it was empty.  The pair had already bred, and headed north.  The eaglets will usually fledge in mid March.  We enjoyed anchoring on the "Gondola Tree" directly across from the nest, and having a leisurely conversation with the couple.  They were excited to learn that we were from Colorado, and more excited about the State's policy on pot.

Jim explained his music.  He repairs sells, tunes and repairs pianos.  He also plays them.  He records about an hour of music to listen to, through his Bluetooth speakers,  while he paddles the river. When he hears a missed note, he erases the piece, records it again after fixing it.  Jim is particular about his music.  He says that he can play the Moonlight Sonata in a way that will bring tears to your eyes!

Jim and Jane were off ahead of us.  We watched them paddle their orange kayaks down river, Jim's music, mixed with a little bit of pot smoke carrying upriver to us.

Juniper Lake
Meander would be the best way to describe this river.  It took about 10 minutes to drive the six miles to our launch point at Bryant Bridge.   It then took us six hours to float the 11 miles down fiver to our takeout which was right next to the campground.  That included a very enjoyable lunch on the white sand beach, about halfway through.

We saw very few people, and fewer wildlife.  To my disappointment, and my Brides joy, we didn't encounter any alligators.  We did see quite a few River Cooters, or turtles sunning themselves on logs in the river.

Lunch Break Beach
After lunch we did paddle for a time in a Florida Panhandle thunderstorm, before seeking shelter under a tree on the bank.  The rain soon let up, and we continued on downriver.

We enjoyed our stay at the state park.  There is a white sand beach, along the river, within walking distance of the campsite.

The river itself is coffee colored, stained by the tannins it picks of from decomposing vegetation as it flows into Florida from it's head waters in southern Alabama.  The river bottom is mostly the white sand, you see on the beaches, and the water an average of three to four feet deep.
Cypress Forest




The park has a cypress forest, as well as the Florida's predominate conifer, the long leaf pine tree.  We had a reminder of home when we checked in, as they conducted a controlled burn in the park the day after we arrived.  Our river guide said that they conduct the burns by sections routinely to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Controlled Burn

Monday, April 10, 2017

Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama

The Red Road Trail
Oak Mountain State Park
We have spent almost a week here in Oak Mountain State Park, outside of Pelham, Alabama.  It is described as the largest state park in Alabama.


Dogwood and Pines
We delayed our arrival by a day to avoid some rather severe weather which was forcast along the way down from Georgia. We arrived and had a day of nice weather, before the sever weather moved in again.  We were inundated by Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, and Tornado Watches.  While we got a lot of rain, and some strong wind gusts, we avoided the tornado's and large hail that was reported all around us.
Oak Mountain Lake








We spent the day in AIROSMITH looking at our weather apps, and following weather radar, and storm tracks.  We could have passed as a mini Emergency Operations Center!

Dog Cat Snake Trail
It does raise the question about how one handles dangerous weather while living on the road.  I had already committed to leaving the area of a forecasted hurricane.  Hopefully in enough time to avoid the crush of the mandatory evacuation order!  But what to do when you, and the five surrounding states are under the threat of dangerous weather?  "Be Storm Aware" as the campground host told us. And park near the storm shelter (we were nextdoor).  Have good insurance.  And be lucky.  Always good to be lucky.

Chicken Wire on Wood Bridge

Once the weather cleared, we had the opportunity to explore Birmingham a bit.  I also took an 11 mile mountain bike ride among some tall pines, rocks and rolling hills.   Many of the shelters and bridges in the park were built by the men of the Civilain Conservation Corps, or the CCC's.  Here they used local materials to build shelters and bridges, many are still visible and in use today.  My dad served in the CCC's as a young man.  He spent his time working in Montana.
The Rock Garden
















My ride took me along the Dog Cat Snake Trail, through The Chimneys and The Rock Garden.  Finally climbing through Garretts Gulch and Thunder to the Red Road, and a bone rattling downhill to the North Trail Head and the Campgound.  Much of this park has infrastructure that was built by the men of the CCC's.



Stone Bridge - CCC Built
And my bride and I finally got the kayaks into some southern water, taking a several hour paddle around Oak Mountain Lake, seeing Herons, and large turtles sunning themselves on logs.  These are now what make up our backyard.
The Chimneys


The nice weather and the weekend brought out other campers with whom we could visit.  The couple from just outside of Toronto who were here for a wedding.  They were playing golf along the way.






The police officer from nearby Homewood, who just got a brand new A-frame camper.  And the young couple, and their 3 month old German Shephard who were on one of their first trips with their new 5th wheel camper.  She was in love with Airstreams and we were happy to give her a tour of AIROSMITH.  It turns out that he grew up just outside of Maher State Park, where we will visit in a week or so, and he had great recommendations for places to eat.
Box Turtle 






We always like that!  Hopefully, these are folks that we can see again somewhere down the road.