For the drive from New Orleans to Pensacola, we took the scenic route along the coast and boy was it worth it! This was the first time in a long time that either of us had visited the Gulf Coast and even longer for Kirk being near the ocean. We made a pit stop in Gulf Shores, AL to visit Kirk’s aunt and uncle. They were kind enough to take us out to lunch on the beach and show us their oyster farms. The bay that their house backs up against is polluted and Auburn University has been cleaning it up with oysters since they are a natural filter. Kirk’s aunt and uncle are volunteer oyster farmers for it. At the present the oysters that they take care of aren’t fit for consumption due to the pollution but the University has tracked declining levels in the bay!
The campsite Kaila chose for us (B6) at the Gulf Islands National Seashore was superb; it had an overhanging tree perfectly shading the tent pad. As is our routine, once we got to the site we immediately set up the tent. After moving it when Kaila noticed an ant hill we researched when sunset occurred and checked the park map. We decided we had enough time to get down to the beach to watch sunset so we poured some beer (giant plastic cups for the win!) and walked over. There was a path near our campsite that we assumed led to the beach. Ten feet down the path we ran into a snake that was not thrilled about being disturbed. Kirk is sure that it was poisonous and it might have been a copperhead. We realized that this path didn’t lead to the beach and had to walk along the road for a bit to get to the correct path, which was a boardwalk beauty. There were sand dunes all along it and cute grass patches. After helping to set down a blanket and securing her beer, Kaila went straight for the water. The sand was white and the ocean was gorgeous blue. The water was warm and felt refreshing. After taking in the sunset we walked back to camp, cooked up dinner, and headed to bed excited for the full day of beach activities to come.
The next morning we made and ate breakfast and took our coffee to-go for a walk on the beach. There were plenty of watersport rentals on our drive down the island, so we picked one that looked like a nice spot to launch off of. Unfortunately we chose one that had a poor business model. There was no one there to rent equipment, instead we had to call a number and wait “15 minutes” for someone to come down and help us. It was closer to 30 minutes. Eventually we got our paddle boards and cruised through the bay, gawking at all the expensive boats and houses we never plan to own.
After enjoying the time on the water, we needed a respite from the heat and decided that a haunted pizza joint in the basement of an old hospital was exactly what we desired! The food was good and beer was cold. Plus when Kaila had to find the restroom she got spooked by a display case and then a door closing down the hall! We wandered around the old hospital for a bit reading about the history before heading back to the island to rent snorkeling equipment. Kirk has an open water certification for scuba diving and Kaila thinks fish are gross (to eat and to see). Since there were several reefs around the island we knew we had to try this out while we were here. After getting equipment we headed to a reef 500 feet off the beach. The reef was artificial and we were told to keep two signs on the beach on top of each other to know we were going to the right place.
Neither of us were quite prepared for what getting there would be like. Kirk felt confident since he had related experience. Kaila was a swimmer growing up and wearing a mask to breathe was weird. While heading out, every time she put her face in the water she would breathe out her nose, lifting her mask from her face and filling it with sea water. Which made her slightly panic before remembering she had a snorkel. The waves were probably the biggest surprise for both of us though. From the beach it looked to be relatively calm but once we got a few hundred feet out it didn’t feel calm. We lost sight of each other between waves and they pushed us off course more than we anticipated.
Kirk had been looking down consistently the whole swim out and motioned that he thought we were at the reef. When Kaila looked down she saw a big all-white jellyfish and immediately started backpedalling. After getting away from it and constantly looking down to make sure it wasn’t following her or she was swimming into a swarm of them we continued along the reef. There were some zebra fish and other fish that were smaller and we didn’t recognize. Kirk dove down to get a closer look at the reefs. Then he taught Kaila how to but by the time she felt confident we had drifted about 50 feet from the end of the reef and had to swim back. When we got back we saw a purple streaked jellyfish that was as big as our heads. Kaila decided screw it and swam back to shore. Kirk followed at a more leisurely pace but we both agreed that was enough sea life for the day. Our legs were surprisingly tired and we were wet so we drank a beer and dried off in the sun before heading back to the campsite for dinner and another gorgeous sunset.