By the time we hit the Florida border, the fog had burned off and it was promising to be a beautiful, if somewhat hot, day. We made our way through Pensacola, which we didn't love as much as we loved Mobile, but it was still cool. You could see the Pensacola Bay on the horizon, and it was really pretty. Other than Walmart, we didn't make any stops in the actual city of Pensacola, but just went straight through town, across another huge bridge, to the town of Gulf Breeze, which is out on a small peninsula.
After driving for what seemed like forever down the length of Gulf Breeze, we got to our first stop for the day, the Gulf Breeze Zoo, and were greeted by the official welcoming committee. This guy was just hanging out in this tree in the parking lot, crowing out a welcome to everyone who drove in.
The zoo was another one of our splurges, but while we enjoyed it, it wasn't as awesome as we'd hoped it would be. So far, no zoo I've ever been to can compete with the Albuquerque, NM zoo. Ethan felt the same way. Erik just knew that it was hot and he wasn't so excited to be out in the sun. He did seem interested in the animals, when we could get close enough to them. He and this little cow spent several minutes studying one another, and both seemed a little disappointed when we finally moved on.
After the zoo we hit McDonald's for lunch. After being out in the heat and the sun Erik was WAY thirsty, I think he drank half my cup of water.
We climbed back in the car, and across another massive bridge, this time heading for Santa Rosa Island, the 40 mile long barrier island that separates the Pensacola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The island isn't quite a mile wide at its widest point, and when we first got off the bridge we were surprised at the amount of buildings and people everywhere. It reminded us of being around the beaches in San Diego. People in bathing suits were everywhere, with lots of touristy shops and restaurants all over the place. I was kinda disappointed that we were going to have to share the beach with such a crowd.
We were people on a mission though, so we forgot all about playing on the beach for a few hours and started searching for the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which was our last major stop of the trip. We had to pay a small fee to get into the park, and once you got into the fee area it was empty and we had all the beaches we could want pretty much to ourselves.
First though, we drove clear to the end of the island to check out Fort Pickens.
This fort was built in the early 1800's to protect the natural deep water harbor of Pensacola Bay and the Naval Shipyards located there. There was no specific threat to the area at the time, but the people in charge just wanted to be ready if anything ever happened. It took 400 slaves 4 years to build this brick fort, which by the end of the Civil War was outdated and had to be modified repeatedly over the ensuing years to keep it usable. It was an active military base off and on until the end of WWII, when it was handed over to the National Park Service. The only time it ever saw any action was during the civil war, when it was one of only 4 southern forts that never left Union control. After Geronimo surrendered, he and his people were put on a train and shipped off to Florida. They were originally destined for St. Augustine, FL, but when people in Pensacola notice the crowds he drew at every train stop, they petitioned the government to let them pull Geronimo off the train and keep him in there. They won and when the train stopped for water in Pensacola, Geronimo and 15 of his men were taken away from their families and dumped out at Fort Pickens which was semi-abandoned at the time. They were left there without their families for almost two years, and attracted an average of 20 visitors a day, who just came to stare at the famous Indian medicine man.
Here's Erik and I checking out the teeny tiny little guns they used on top of the walls to repel enemy ships.
We took a guided tour of the fort, and then wandered around and explored for ourselves. It was really neat! After that we hit the beach. We chose to play in the water on the side of the island closest to the mainland because the surf was smaller and we thought that would be better for Erik. We got him slathered in sunscreen and then hit the waves. Or not. More like we dipped his toes in the water and he went NUTS. He thought we were trying to kill him and screamed accordingly. Granted the water was a little cool, and he hadn't had a nap pretty much all day, but he really HATED the ocean. (This pictures doesn't really do his reaction justice, but we didn't get a better one.)
We tried just sitting in the sand and letting the waves come up to us, but that wasn't any better. Then he put sand in his mouth, which was a bad idea, and he was pretty much miserable all the way around. It didn't help that there were little moon jellyfish ALL OVER the place and we had to keep jumping up and moving around to avoid them. At first we thought there were just one or two, but once we looked closer we realized they were all over the place. They were almost clear, and the biggest ones were about the size of my fist, so they were really hard to see until they were almost touching you.
Luckily none of us got stung and we got out of there before the jelly's had a good chance to get us. We took Erik over to some water spigots a little ways from the beach and stripped him down and washed all the salt water and sand off him and out of his mouth. By this point he was completely traumatized and it took us forever to get him to calm down.
When he'd finally quieted down, we drove over to the gulf side of the island, hoping the bigger waves would keep the jellies away. It worked. It took just a few minutes to get exhausted Erik to sleep, and then Ethan and I played in the surf for more than an hour while he slept on a blanket shaded from the sun nearby.
When the baby woke up it was time to go. We rinsed off in the water spigots as best we could, but it just didn't come close to removing all the sand. We still had one more full day of Spring Break we could've taken advantage of, but with Erik wanting nothing to do with the beach, that left us with not enough stuff to fill up a third day, so we decided to head back home. We left Pensacola just in time to see the sunset over Mobile and the bay.
We took turns driving and made it home shortly after midnight. Those two days were some of the funnest two days I can remember having. I hope we get to go back there some day.