Park and Walk

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Sunset on High Bridge, captured by Marley

There was the time where we stumped the map lady. Really. We were zipping along, following her directions, trying to be patient when she loudly interjected herself into our conversation (“Turn LEFT onto BROAD STREET in ONE CORDER MILE!”) (Have you ever noticed the map lady has trouble saying “Quarter?”) and then out of the clear blue, she informed us: “Park vehicle and walk to your destination.”

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“You have arrived!”

 

 

Beg pardon, map lady? Park and walk? We are in the middle of the Lower Alabama countryside without any kind of landmark or visible destination and you just abandon us here?

To reinforce her point, while we kept driving, she turned herself into a stubborn little blue stripe that refused to move. Anywhere. We were moving, and she was pouting. I mean really.

And THEN map lady turned herself into a STICK FIGURE! I kid you not! She took herself out of her little invisible parked vehicle and turned herself into what she must have intended to be a walking stick figure! She wasn’t speaking to us, but it was okay…by then we were laughing so hard we wouldn’t have heard her anyway. Note to self: map lady/stick lady does not respond to hoots of laughter and demands for more directions.

While we were still driving, a little more slowly because #ABANDONMENT, Jenessa spotted a sign. We headed toward it. And found this:

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But the destination that map lady stubbornly refused to get us to? So, so, so worth it.

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Waiting to be discovered…

Five buildings of architectural salvage. Big buildings. Barns full of old doors, and shutters, and ironwork, and furniture, and hardware, and all kinds of treasures from all over the world.

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No one hovering as we wandered from one building to the next, marveling like moonstruck extras from “American Pickers.” (I know. They don’t use extras on there. But still.) The best part, apart from the amazing selection? They don’t bother you.

They let you wander around forming half-words, hauling out a tape measure, squinting at various pieces jammed cozily against each other, tapping thoughtfully on drawer fronts and table tops, exploring dovetails and cubby holes and wear patterns and ingenious solutions to needs of years and cultures gone by.

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I discovered a large stack of sturdy grain bags with a beautiful purple stripe down the center – how perfect is that for fall! – and resisted the urge to buy them all. Barely. Mostly because I was reminded by a more practical family member that we don’t have grain in that kind of quantity, and they don’t all need a new home with us. Ditto on the dough bowls, cast iron bathtubs, shutters, and doors made from 1870s French lumber. I know. France, even! The thing is, old captures me in a way new never will, because, as my beloved best girlfriend says, “New doesn’t have a story.”

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Fairy tale inspiration

Everything at this place had a story. You could hear the murmurs of conversations before you ever entered a building. The whole property fairly thrummed with it.

We’d probably still be there, except some of us got hot and some got hungry and some encountered banana spiders and got discouraged and then we ended up turning the map lady off completely because we found our own way out and made tracks to a gas station where we could not, to save our lives, find one single healthy piece of food. There was no fruit, no salad, no fresh made deli sandwiches. It was a shrine to all things processed and preserved, and we were lucky to escape with cheese puffs, corn chips, a single bag of Bugles (“Corn! There’s corn in them!”), a couple king size candy bars (“They’re healthy! They have peanuts!”) and some cans of soda that I didn’t even know was made any more. (“It’s not like it goes bad, Mom.”) The girl at the counter just grinned hugely when we assured her it wasn’t dinner. “I know,” she nodded. “This here’s SNACKS.”

Will we go back? You know we will. Map lady can find her own way. We’ll stick to our own off-the-beaten-path.

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Veterans Memorial Park

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An overview of Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park. Photo by Allen Jones.

Located at the site of a former minor league baseball field known as Admiral Mason Park, Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park is a monument to military service and sacrifice. A peaceful, perfectly-manicured respite nestled against the sparkling waters of Pensacola Bay, this pedestrian-friendly park is home to monuments to those who served our country in various wars and conflicts. Lives lost in World War I and II, the Korean War, and the Global War on Terror are all honored here. There’s a Purple Heart Memorial, a monument to submarine veterans, a Marine Aviation memorial bell tower, and monuments to minutemen as well as children of service members. Larger-than-life bronze sculptures fashioned by local sculptors keep silent vigil throughout the park. It is a place to take your time, pay your respects, and remember.

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Never forget. Photo courtesy Veteran’s Memorial Park Pensacola.

One of the most striking monuments is the Wall South, the nation’s only permanent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is 256 feet long, and built to exactly half the size of the original memorial. All 58,219 names of those killed in action or missing in action are engraved on its granite face.

The park is located at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway. Want to know more? Visit their website: veteransmemorialpark.org/page/VietnamWar.

Quayside

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Pensacola’s Quayside Art Gallery, with a mural of the old firehouse on the building’s east side. Photo courtesy communitymaritimepark.com

Ever visit a place only to realize, hey, they just had a gigantic outdoor arts festival…last weekend…and we missed it?! There’s a fix for that in downtown Pensacola. Quayside (pronounced “key-side”) Gallery, the largest artists’ cooperative in the Southeast, offers three floors of arts and crafts by more than 200 of the area’s most talented creatives. That’s three floors of clay, glass, fiber, precious metals, wood and more, in addition to oils, watercolors, photography, inks, and mixed media. I think there’s even some jewelry and batik in there.

The building itself, once the headquarters of the Germania Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company, once housed a horse-drawn fire engine. It’s a historian’s delight – built in 1873, it stood just one block north of the wooden “quays” or wharves where sailing ships from all over the world once moored. Believe it or not, the building stayed put and the waterfront actually moved – several acres of land were created by ballast offloaded from ships that came from distant countries and didn’t need the ballast once they reached Pensacola. Plaza Ferdinand, across the street from Quayside, has a low fence made of ballast.

But I digress. (Shocking, I know.) Back to Quayside. Are there other local galleries? Yes, absolutely. Is this one of the best? Again, absolutely. It’s staffed by local artists who volunteer their time and know their stuff and even offer free tours. There are workshops throughout the year for hands-on one-on-one time in a variety of artistic mediums.

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One of Quayside’s popular hands-on workshops. Photo courtesy cbslocal.com

If you love Pensacola so much that you need to take some of it home with you and hang it on your wall or set it on your shelf or table or wear it around your neck or wrist, or you need a really nifty non-traditional gift for a special occasion, start here: http://www.quaysidegallery.com.

 

Gulf Islands National Seashore

If you prefer your Florida relatively remote, unpopulated, and wild, you might enjoy visiting a unique national park. Stretching 160 miles from Mississippi’s Cat Island to the eastern tip of Florida’s Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a great way to explore the Gulf Coast’s natural and historical features.

Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo courtesy pinterest.com

Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo courtesy pinterest.com

You can be as active as you care to be while setting your own pace: opportunities for swimming, bicycling, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, beachcombing, wildlife watching, boating, and camping abound. The seashore offers well-maintained trails and picnic areas, comfortable campgrounds, and museums and visitor centers at Naval Live Oaks, Fort Pickens, and Fort Barrancas.

The wild, windswept naval live oaks preserve near Gulf Breeze, FL. Photo courtesy filmnorthflorida.com

The wild, windswept naval live oaks preserve near Gulf Breeze, FL. Photo courtesy filmnorthflorida.com

What is Naval Live Oaks? It’s the country’s first federal tree farm in the Florida panhandle. President John Quincy Adams wanted to preserve the timber found in the stand of sturdy live oak trees for shipbuilding purposes, so he established Naval Live Oaks in 1829. Markers along the trail that meanders through the preserve identify sections of trees that were particularly valuable in the era of wooden ships. Some of the timber from the early 1800s is still preserved underwater in Commodore’s Pond, and some was used during a recent restoration of the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.”

A week-long pass to the seashore will set you back just $8. For $25, you can buy a pass good for a whole year, which is popular among the locals. For more information: nps.gov/guis, or thingstodo.com/states/FL/nationalparks/gulfislands.html.

Fort Pickens

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Pensacola’s Fort Pickens. Photo courtesy Northwest Florida Outdoor Adventure.

The largest of a group of coastal forts built to protect Pensacola’s harbor, Fort Pickens was constructed between 1829 – 1834 on the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island. The fort was named for Major General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, a Revolutionary War hero known as “Wizard Owl.” Slave labor laid about 22 million bricks in the fort which was designed to be impenetrable. Fort Pickens was the only coastal fort held by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1886, it was used to house Apache prisoners, including their chief, Geronimo.

 

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Inside the fort. Photo courtesy tripadvisor.com.

A free 45-minute daily tour by park service rangers gives insight into the fort’s features and history. You’re also free to explore the 850-acre park. If you’re intrigued by features like casemates, sally ports, dry moats, cisterns, chambers, tunnels, reverse arches, and bastions, Fort Pickens is a must-see. And even if you’re not, the cool, shadowy brick-lined passageways and dim interior rooms whisper volumes about the people who once manned the fort and lived their lives within its defenses. I’ve never seen it in person, but there is a particular view of the broken-away edge of a brick wall that is called “Geronimo’s Profile.” It’s only visible when the light is just right.

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier

 

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A favorite place to catch the sun, whether rising or setting. Photo courtesy Charlotte Aguilar.

Extending 1,471 feet (that’s more than a quarter mile!) into the Gulf of Mexico, the pier is a vivid salt-water panorama of sea life, birds, fishermen reeling in a variety of local seafood, and even a pierside restaurant and gift shop. On summer Sunday nights, if you’re there at just the right time, you can spot the Navy’s Blue Angels flying in formation along Pensacola Beach back to their home base after a weekend air show.

Most days, the pier’s Facebook page captures a morning and evening view of Pensacola Beach – so if you’re needing a Pensacola Beach sunrise/sunset ‘fix,’ here you go! http://www.facebook.com/gulfpier.

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Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier. Photo courtesy skiffingtonbrogan.com