A couple of months ago we started discussing branching out and visiting state parks that are further away. Chris had already visited the southernmost parks, the northernmost are only a couple of hours from here, and the westernmost seemed like the best place to start. Rob and Chris's work schedules would be easing up after the July races, and we decided mid-July would be the best time for our visit. I scheduled a vacation day from work and began planning the details of our Friday-Sunday visit.
We decided to camp at Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola. It is close to two other state parks, Perdido Key and Tarkiln Bayou Preserve, and we thought it would be a great central location. Our plan was to try and find some way to assist with the oil cleanup efforts in the Panhandle while also visiting the state parks. We wanted to show Olivia how important it is to protect our environment and its beauty. Unfortunately, 6-year-olds aren't allowed to get the proper certifications for oil cleanup, and we had other difficulties trying to...of all things...volunteer. Plus, Chris was still on the injured reserve and ended up not being able to make the trip with us. Xandra, who had paddled the Alexander Springs run with us not too long ago (tantrum, anyone?), wanted to join us instead, and so we began what is now known as Camp XPOR TedKroh.
Our first actual stop was the city of Orange Beach, Alabama, and Gulf State Park. The first two beach pictures are from there. We completed the requirements for an earthcache while waiting to be able to check in to our campsite. This is where we got our first glimpse at the effects of the oil spill. Tar balls were very present at the beach, and I could smell something in the air. Although the beach was closed to swimming, families (with small children!!) were still playing in the water. It made me sick.
Pretty soon it was time to leave Alabama behind and check in. Big Lagoon is just that...on a lagoon, protected by a barrier island. It is mostly scrub and still manages to get an ocean breeze. Our campsite was quiet and had afternoon shade, so we weren't complaining. We set up our tents, grilled up some veggie burgers and chicken dawgs, and even had a visitor:
Man, the locals sure are friendly! He even came back in the middle of the night to give Xandra a goodnight kiss!
Saturday morning came with my own personal victory: I finally succeeded in making campsite pancakes! My first attempt, on our first camping trip, were not edible. Now I have some good Lodge cast iron and a great set-up:
After visitor-proofing our site we made our way to Perdido Key State Park. It is not much more than a stretch of beach, boardwalk, and restroom facility, but it is still beautiful. And yet, we still couldn't go in the water. A few photo highlights:
We left Perdido Key and made a quick trip back into Alabama for provisions. From there we went to Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park. It has a couple of walking trails, a few geocaches, and is home to a rare type of pitcher plant.
After finding a geocache near the parking area...and many thanks to Xandra for getting it loose of its hiding spot...we hit the trail. A little ways down the trail is a geocache geared toward kids, so we let Olivia go find it:
A few other highlights:
After Tarkiln Bayou we went back to camp. Bathing suits were donned and eventually we made our way to the Big Lagoon beach. First we made a stop at the observation tower:
The beach spot we chose was quiet. There were a few families around, but we were spread out and had our own area to play in. The water was only about calf-deep and very warm, so it was a little weird to us. It was also full of hermit crabs, which we had great fun playing with:
And then Rob found a tar ball in the water. The park ranger, when we checked in, was adamant that the Big Lagoon beach was free from danger since it has a barrier island, but I'm afraid she was wrong. *sigh*
Back to Camp XPOR TedKroh and dinner: shepherd's pie, made in my Dutch oven with just some hot coals. It was great! After dinner we took a walk down a trail near our site. A few photos from that walk:
Sunday. Homeward bound.
And finally, what would visit to three state parks be without stamps?
Three days. Three parks. Three different experiences. No, a lifetime of experiences, really. We relaxed, joked around, frolicked, and let go. But also, we saw an environmental catastrophe that left us saddened. It also left us with a sense of hope. The next generation cares, I've discovered.
She told me so.