To Georgia and Back Series: Part 8
We drive down through the length of Alabama, all the way to the coast. Lot’s of trees, lots of trees, lots of trees…
…We check into our motel in Gulfport, Mississippi and begin the quest for Cajun food. We picked the wrong day, everything is closed. There is a pizza buffet down the highway. It’s pretty good, but mostly the variety makes the fun.
In the evening, we decide to check out the harbor and know where we’re going in the morning. We find our tour boat occupied, rented out to a group of drunken college age girls. They are lighting up the quiet night, belting out off key karaoke and rock anthems as they toast and gyrate.
As the racket fades, the coastal lights on the water’s ripples, with its still, bring a peaceful ambiance, as we stroll arm in arm.
In the morning we’re taking this tour boat out to Ships Island and an unofficial nude beach.
We’ve planned this for Sunday, the day that there are two shuttles and we can stay out there for the extended hours, from 9 to 5pm, instead of 2:30. The plan is to turn east where most visitors go and walk until we’re away from that crowd. We don’t know how far, nor how long. We don’t want our visit to be rushed.
The pictures look like white sand and tall grass, a flat gulf coast island. We have been sure to pack umbrellas to ward off any chance of sunburn. The word is that “the Ships Island sunburn” is famous.
The big boat pulls out of the harbor and into the smooth waters that head out a dozen miles to the barrier island. We’re entertained by the troop of sea birds diving and dipping off the stern of the vessel.
There are drinks to be had that are easy to handle, as the waters are relatively smooth. So goes the lumbering ride with its motorized droning.
We get up top and closer to the bow to enjoy the sea breeze and feel the warmth of the sun. We pass the time snapping a few pictures and considering the coastal landmarks that we are not familiar with.
I’m interested in the old fort, its construction and place in history. Its tall fortified walls rise above the island as we dock. The island has a feel, like we will be stepping off the boat and back into time.
It has the thick brick walls that were produced by a local contractor and ready for the naval artillery of the mid-1800’s.
There is a channel here that wraps around the western end of this island that allows deeper water vessels to not run aground and to port. Because of this, this island was used to colonize the area, including New Orleans. Later, it was a staging area for conquest, with troops and supplies stored during the War of 1812. It had been strategic during the Civil War.
The fort was started during secession. The island was used to house confederate prisoners of war. My eyebrows do raise, when I discover that those prisoners were overseen and guarded by black Union soldiers. Tables turned, that must have particularly stung many of those previously captured defending slave states. It also brought things closer to home, when I read that this same black unit was later reassigned to Arizona, becoming the famous Buffalo Soldiers.
We are given a thorough tour of the fort. It is the highest thing around, probably 25, or 30 feet up and the best view. There are some relics.
There are the huge iron apparatus to turn the big guns and even an intact monumental monster of iron ingenuity.
It is explained to us that what looks like a pizza oven to feed a battalion was used to make cannon balls.
This Island was cut in two and then put back together more recently, during the occasional hurricanes and their tidal surges. Gazing from up high, I’m amazed by the picture of tidal water that my imagination produces. The entire fort was buried underwater. Where I am standing, on top, the steel storage door once held a couple of very lucky survivors of that storm.
If you are interested, there is plenty of this fort’s history to be found on the internet.
With our tour complete, we look down a three fourths of a mile long boardwalk across the marsh and a field of the tall grasses that vegetate the island.
A building at the far end is the snack bar. It is the last icy cool drink and the first upon return…free refills.
The ramp opens down to the sandy ocean side beach. There are a line of umbrellas and chairs to use. Excited families are arriving and setting up. Kids can hardly contain themselves, dads are cracking open cans of beer, inflatable toys are meeting bulging cheeks.
Our plan is to detour east of here and walk until there are no more people, or we find a population of obvious naturists. This is a seven mile long beach. It is just plain flat, everywhere. We have at least a mile of walking to get out of …