Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fort Pickens

We wanted to visit a beach one more time before leaving Florida.  One reason we chose this city is that our nephew Michael is down here for flight training on the naval base.  On the second day of our trip north from Ocala I started noticing large patches of wildflowers along the roadside.  I was especially intrigued by some white ones which I could not identify from our rig windows.  John was kind enough to stop so I could look at them closer and take a few pictures- no small feat on a busy highway.  What a surprise, wild Easter lilies!
We are now parked northwest of Pensacola.  What should have taken us about 2 hours Thursday took us four.  Traffic was horrendous on the coastal highway from Panama City to Pensacola, as it is spring break time for many people across the nation, as well as locally.  Friday we choose to go to the beach and discovered that many tourists do not go so far as the barrier islands west of Pensacola.  The beach area I am referring, and was our final destination, is the Gulf Island National Seashore.  At the fee gate to this park we were informed by the guard on duty that there would be a tour of Fort Pickens in an hour.
European colonization as well as American expansion in the early 1800s created a concern regarding threats of invasion for our young country.  Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola and its navy yard.  Building of the fort began in 1829 and was completed in 1834.  Over 21.5 million bricks were required, which were made locally.  The work force was provided by African-American slaves, their pay went to their owners.  The picture above of the fort shows only a small piece of the total structure.
Our guided tour took us to the officer's quarters, gun rooms, mine chambers, and tower bastions.  We also viewed the parade grounds as well as a dry moat which surrounds the fort.  I could see how construction of this fort was no small feat!  Pictured below is one of the rooms.
Water  seeps down the walls now, mold and grass is growing, as well as stalactites.  Ironically, the only real action this fort saw was when the country was at war with itself.  Fort Pickens was one of the four seacoast forts that remained in Union Control during the Civil War.  In 1886 our government imprisoned Geronimo and 15 other Apache men here for about 18 months.  By 1898 the fort was past its prime. New rifled artillery could penetrate its walls and another fort was built within its walls using reinforced concrete.
After a good two hours at the fort I was more than ready for a walk on the beach.  We had a beautiful walk, among large sand dunes of glistening white sand, which is typical of the beaches around Pensacola.  You may also notice the concrete battery above, one of many on the island where the fort is located.  While looking for shells, of which there are not many to be easily obtained as the tide was in, we came upon a young dead deer- something we would not usually expect to see on the beach!   I will spare our readers that sight, and instead post here a picture of what I think is possibly a laughing gull.

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