We spent the entire month of November at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and we absolutely loved it. In fact, we loved it so much, we changed our plans so we could stay longer. I have an entire article in the works about this fantastic state park, but in the meantime, a visit from Kevin’s parents for Thanksgiving gave us good incentive to check out some stuff in and around the park that we might otherwise have missed. Plus, Thanksgiving meant TURKEY!!
Frank Brown Music Festival
The weekend before Kevin’s parents arrived, we headed out to see some performers taking part in the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival. We had no idea this event was even happening until our friend, Laurel, mentioned it in a comment on my last post. As an aside, writing this blog and engaging with this community of bloggers has offered the extra benefit of learning about all kinds of places and events we would have missed. We’ve received numerous helpful tips and suggestions from the people we’ve met through this website. It’s another reason I’m glad I started this blog and I can’t thank all these folks enough for further enriching this experience.
Anyway, the music festival is an annual eleven day event which features various singer/songwriters at local venues along the Gulf Coast (as far east as Pensacola, and as far west as Gulf Shores). As soon as we researched the show schedule, we made plans to take in some of the performances. We stopped by Lulu’s one evening and Big Beach Brewing the next.
Our favorite of the performers was Runaway Home, a Nashville based group who’ve been writing and performing for 25 years, but all the musicians we saw were worth watching. Given that the entire event was free, we were duly impressed by the level of talent.
If you find yourself in this area of the Gulf Coast in late fall, add it to your to-do list. You won’t be disappointed!
Thanks again, Laurel!
Gulf State Park owns several miles of prime oceanfront property on the Gulf including a huge fishing pier that locals and tourists head to all year long.
We’d visited the pier earlier in the month, just to take a walk and watch the sun set over the ocean, but had held off on buying fishing poles because we weren’t sure we’d actually use them. However, my father-in-law loves to fish and offered to bring several along with him, so we figured this would be a perfect opportunity to go. Fishing is serious business out on the pier with fishermen hauling large wagons containing multiple poles, coolers, nets, and tackle boxes up on the pier and setting up for hours at a time. Everyone is really friendly toward one another, chatting and even sharing supplies. (Reminder: I’m from the northeast. I still find this ‘southern friendliness’ thing disconcerting).
Warm in the sun, cool in the shade, bright blue skies all around… Awesome…
Unfortunately, the fish weren’t biting.
Or, well, they were biting, but oftentimes they were just running off with the bait….
For the fish, it was like a free, all-you-can-eat buffet.
But I had the last word…. I finally caught one! And I was the only one of us who caught anything!
And yes, he was small…. and yes, my father in law helped get the hook out of my catch’s mouth (on account of him being worried I’d stab myself… he knows me well).
But that fish was MINE!
Vanquished! Defeated!! Conquered!!!!
Shut up. He’s bigger than he looks.
The Gulf Coast Zoo
We also spent a couple hours at the Gulf Coast Zoo, a small facility just a few miles from the state park. The zoo gained notoriety when it was the subject of a 13 part series on Animal Planet back in 2006 called “The Little Zoo That Could.” The series documented the staff’s efforts to safely evacuate the animals to higher ground as Hurricane Ivan bore down on the area. The storm destroyed the zoo and it had to be rebuilt over the following year. Here’s an article about the whole story and the zoo’s current plans to move to a new, higher elevation, location.
I’m always a bit leery of smaller zoos because some of them have bad reputations for how they treat the animals, and even big zoos like the Smithsonian in D.C. have had issues. And I’m still not sure about them even after our visit. From what we saw, it looked like a clean, well-maintained, well managed facility. The employees we spoke with were knowledgeable and seemed absolutely dedicated to the welfare of the animals. And, most importantly, the majority of the animals seemed healthy and energetic. However, there were a couple habitats that seemed small for the animals that were in them, and we saw a few animals pacing around and appearing stressed. So, I don’t know….
I think there’s an argument to be made that allowing the general public to safely observe and engage with animals can breed a culture of respect and perhaps encourage conservation efforts. On the other hand, caging animals for the entertainment of anyone seems wrong on its face. On another hand, many of these animals have been rescued from other situations or bred in captivity and could never live in the wild on their own. On yet another hand, many of those other situations involve humans being terrible and these practices will never stop until the market for them is destroyed.
Ugh…I’m out of hands to count on and I have no answers. I just don’t have enough information one way or another to draw a conclusion. If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.
On a lighter note, the zoo offers the opportunity to learn about and interact with a couple different animals. We chose to hang out with the sloths, who were exceedingly sloth-like while we were there.
My mother in law feeding the sleepy furball…..
Also sleepy, but slightly less cuddly and therefore not subject to individual meet and greets, was Chuckie the alligator.
This eleven foot alligator went missing for several days after Ivan made landfall. Apparently the zoo had evacuated almost all of the animals, but figured Chuckie would be safest staying in his habitat. However, when waters rose higher than expected, he was able to swim right over his enclosure’s fence and take a wander through the park.
The zoo has a pretty large collection of big cats.
All of which made me wonder: Big cats…. laser pointers????
I was thinking no, but figured it would be hilarious if the answer was yes.
Google says: Sometimes, but not usually….
(Seriously, what on earth did people do before Google???)
Anyway, there were also a number of very cute kangaroos.
The zoo obtains the kangaroos from a facility in Florida and raises them until they reach their teen years, after which they are sent back.
Turns out kangaroo teenagers are just like human teenagers… meaning they are totally obnoxious…
This is a kangaroo in mid-kick.
He would hold onto various staff members’ arms and then kick them with his feet.
The staff were exceedingly patient with him. Probably because they knew his butt was getting FedExed back to Florida soon.
For those of you around since last year, you might remember the Great Bacon Debacle of 2016. That would be where Kevin was 95% of the way done making a bacon bomb – (peppers, onions, and cheese, wrapped in sausage, wrapped in a bacon weave, coated with barbecue sauce, and then smoked) when he accidentally lit the whole thing on fire.
Well, this year, Kevin redeemed himself by getting it completely right…
We also did the traditional (for us, not the Pilgrims) Bloody Mary bar and deviled eggs.
And that terrific looking bacon on top of the eggs was homemade by Kevin….
He had a banner holiday!
The rest of the Thanksgiving meal came out great as well…. Two smoked turkey breasts, homemade gravy, smoked mac and cheese, greens, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cheesecake for dessert.
The important things are: No one went hungry; no one got food poisoning; and nothing ended up on fire. 3 for 3!!
The rest of the week Dixie enjoyed the ridiculous amounts of attention…and toys…and treats… that her grandparents bestowed upon her. Given how distrustful she is about outsiders, it’s shocking to see how quickly she relaxes around them. I’m pretty sure they could stab us right in front of her and she’d just shrug and roll over for belly rubs. Traitor.
And, as if that weren’t enough, at the end of an entire day of attention and treats and turkey and snuggles, off she went to sleep. In my bed. On my side. Under the covers. With her head on my damned pillow. (She usually sleeps at the foot of the bed….)
I came in and found her and Kevin like this, both of them snoring away in unison….
2018 in View
And just like that, it’s December. As much as we may have started living in the RV in August of 2016, we feel like we really started traveling full time in January of 2017. Before that, we were spending most of our time in the company of family and friends on the east coast. So, as we make our way into this last month of the year, we are spending some time looking back on a truly fantastic twelve months. It’s gone better than we ever could have hoped, and we’re super excited to see what 2018 has in store. More on that soon…