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Dream Drive: Hwy 180, Fort Morgan, AL

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Years ago, I remember reading one of the major travel magazines that did a piece every month called “Dream Drives.” It featured a beautiful place to take a road trip, and what to do, see, and eat along the way. Hwy 180 is a dream drive that can be done in a day and is hidden from the hustle and bustle of Gulf Shores.

Hwy 180, or Fort Morgan Peninsula, is a 22 mile stretch of land with Mobile Bay on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other side. I can’t tell you the countless people I run into who have visited Gulf Shores, some several times, and have never driven down this road to see what Fort Morgan has to offer.

Fort Morgan map view

Map view of the Fort Morgan Peninsula

Why should you go? Fort Morgan’s remote location makes it seem worlds away from the busy condo buildings, souvenir stores, and restaurants. It is natural, beautiful, and since building has been restricted to a minimum, it is sparsely populated and untouched in many areas. There are also some very special spots along the way you must see.

Cycling and Biking: If you are an avid cyclist, you need to bring your bike. There’s a bike lane that stretches from one end to the other, and with the small amount of traffic driving this road, you can feel totally safe. Not to mention, down and back is a flat 44 miles, so getting several miles in is easy. For those who like to bike, but aren’t as comfortable riding on the road with cars, or prefer the more relaxed beach cruiser way of getting around, there is a winding bike path adjacent to the road on the right side of the highway that extends part of the way down the peninsula, about five miles. Riding along the golf course, under the Spanish moss, is a great way to stay active while enjoying a leisurely ride. If you have a large group going and can’t fit all your bikes on your rack, you can rent from a local company that will deliver them to you. To pick up the path, park your car at the grocery store at the corner of Hwy 180 and 59.

Fort Morgan bike trail

A view from the bike trail on the Fort Morgan peninsula

Bird Watching:If you are into bird watching, the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail Fort Morgan Loop, offers several opportunities, since much of the Fort Morgan Peninsula is in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The birding trail and sites are well marked with signs along Hwy 180, and here is a site that lists the locations and species most often in occurrence at that location.

Little Lagoon: Little Lagoon is situated between the land that is West Beach and a 10 mile portion of Fort Morgan. It is about ½ mile wide and consists of brackish water from Lake Shelby and the water that comes in at the pass from the Gulf of Mexico. There are three opportunities to see the lagoon up close on Fort Morgan: Lagoon Park (pictured below), Pine Beach Trail or Jeff Friend Trail, with the last two also being on the birding trail. The day I took this photo, it was overcast and the lagoon was perfectly still, like glass, mirroring every object.

Lagoon Park

Lagoon Park is beautiful no matter the weather.

Shipwreck: Continuing down Fort Morgan, turn left at mile marker 6, make a right at the end of the road, and you’ll find the Rachel, aka The Mystery Ship. The Rachel is a 155’ Schooner believed to have been built around 1923. As you can imagine with any old relic, there are so many stories surrounding it. Many say the ship was a Civil War era ship called the Monticello that left Mobile Bay in the 1860s. Other legends say it was a rum runner and call it the “Whiskey Wreck” trying to smuggle liquor during Prohibition. Depending on shifting sand and weather conditions, the ship may or may not be exposed, but it is definitely a sight to see. It’s lying flat on the beach in someone’s backyard. Literally, it’s almost right under their deck. There isn’t any parking, and it’s located in a residential area, so remember to be respectful when walking through the area. You can park a few lots away, and you’ll see signs posted in the areas where you cannot park. Currently, there is a vacant lot of open sand you can walk in without walking under a private house. Again, just be respectful, and remember, this isn’t a tourist destination, it’s a residential neighborhood.

mystery shipwreck

They call this mystery shipwreck the Rachel. Find it on the beaches of Fort Morgan, Alabama.

Eat: You must try Tacky Jacks 2 at the Gulf Shores Yacht Club and Marina at Fort Morgan. This two story structure, which looks like it was once a house, sits right on Mobile Bay. In the summer months, the sun sets in Mobile Bay. In the winter it sets in the Gulf of Mexico, and both are equally beautiful. Tacky Jacks is a chain around Gulf Shores, but we love this off-the-beaten path location. Upstairs is the restaurant, downstairs is the bar, and from either level you can see the water. They have some of the best bushwhackers on the Gulf Coast, and if you’re brave (and you must be) order one with a floater. If you go in the summer, as I mentioned above, you will be treated with this breathtaking view from the deck.

Tacky Jack's sunset

Tacky Jack’s can always be accessed by land or by sea.

And while this isn’t a tourist destination, one of the most recognizable houses on Fort Morgan is the very last house on the left as you head down where the fort property begins. In different light and weather conditions, it reminds me of the perfect setting for a romantic movie or a scary, psychological thriller. The location, the isolation, and the size all come together to make a perfect setting. As you drive towards the fort, the house is concealed until you are past it, so once you make it to the clearing as you enter the fort property, look back over your left shoulder and out towards the water. And by the way, that really was the sky that night. This was taken with my iPhone and no special editing or filter.

Fort Morgan sunsets

This house has a great view, and you can too on your dream drive down the Fort Morgan peninsula.

Fort Morgan: This is the main reason you drove down this road and will be the highlight of the drive. Fort Morgan State Historic Site is a Civil War fort. It is not to be missed and neither are the views. The fort is located at the very end of Fort Morgan Peninsula, and don’t be fooled when you drive up to the parking lot. You can’t see a bit of it from the outside. It’s protected by a sloping grass wall, a common engineering feature of many forts. After walking through the arched tunnel, you’ll see the entrance. At the top of Fort Morgan, you have the best view of the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island and the Gulf of Mexico. You can do a self-guided tour and spend as much, or as little time as you like, but exploring the rooms and grounds is fascinating for all ages. The entrance and grounds are all protected areas, and from the parking lot, you can walk out onto the beach where the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay meet. The museum is free and houses many relics and past lenses from the lighthouses around the area.

Fort Morgan entryway

The historic Fort Morgan is located at the very tip of the Fort Morgan peninsula.


Now you’ve come this far and you have an option to extend your day by chartering a small boat for a couple of hours to explore Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

If you decide to charter a boat at Gulf Shores Yacht Club and Marina at Fort Morgan (back at Tacky Jacks), be sure you plan in advance by calling the marina, as boats aren’t always available on a walk up basis. It is a small marina with only a few boats there at certain times. I recommend allowing yourself the morning to drive and get out and explore all the locations and schedule a boat ride in the afternoon. You could even do the fort before heading to Tacky Jacks for lunch, and then catch a boat after lunch. The picture taken below is the marina in off-season. You can see now why you need to plan ahead. As you can see below, even if you are there in off-season when the sun sets on the gulf side, the sky on Mobile Bay is still stunning at sunset.

sunset at Gulf Shores Yacht Club and Marina

Get ready to charter your boat! We’re going for an adventure through Mobile Bay.

Sand Island Light House: On a clear day you can see Sand Island Light, and it’s so hard to believe by looking at how far away it is, at one time, it was connected to land. You must see this lighthouse while you can. It is currently on Lighthouse Digest Magazine’s Doomsday List, a list naming the most endangered lighthouses in the country. You can’t go inside of it, but it is regarded as one of the last great masonry lighthouses on the Gulf Coast. Massive granite rocks have been placed at the base to prevent further erosion. When it was originally constructed in 1838, it was the tallest lighthouse ever built. The lighthouse also has so many stories to tell. It has been hit by several hurricanes and was even blown up when Confederate soldiers found Union soldiers in the lighthouse spying on Fort Morgan. The structure you see today was built in 1873 and is 125 feet tall. If you don’t make this portion of the trip, when you are standing on top of Fort Morgan, imagine if you can, walking from Dauphin Island to Sand Island Light. Dauphin Island residents currently own Sand Island Light and that was the lighthouse’s connection point.

Sand Island Light House near Dauphin Island

The Sand Island Light House is currently listed as endangered through Lighthouse Digest Magazine. See it while you can!

Dolphin Watching: Well, if you haven’t seen a dolphin at some point on your trip while sitting on the beach, I’m very surprised. They are all over this part of the Gulf of Mexico and in Mobile Bay, so you are just about guaranteed to see at least one during your trip. If not, there’s an even better chance you’ll see them on a boat. They are everywhere. The lighthouse is about 3 miles off shore, so keep your eyes open for dolphin when heading out there.

Many of us go on vacation to park our butts in the sand and do nothing. We rush around at home, why would we want to do anything on vacation, right? I hear you. I promise you, even if none of the other stops along the way interest you, at least drive down to the end and see the fort. It is a remarkable place, and you don’t need to be into history to enjoy it. I guarantee it will be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. Relax and enjoy the drive!

All information and photographs were provided by our guest blogger Cassandra Buckalew.

Entrepreneur and designer, Cassandra Buckalew, is an Atlanta native. She and her husband own a home on Fort Morgan and fell in love with the area after their first visit in 2006. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta and owns a trolley company, a pedicab company and a ghost tour in the metro Atlanta area. She has traveled all over the world but spends her down town rejuvenating on Alabama’s beautiful coast. She enjoys the Gulf Coast lifestyle and friendly laid-back attitude. A lover of photography, travel, design, food and fashion, you can follow her images and adventures on her instagram account at: cassbuckalew or her Facebook design page: Cassandra Buckalew Interiors. She can be reached at: cassbuckalew@gmail.com.

Cassandra Buckalew

Bald Eagle Bash 2012

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Have you purchased your tickets yet for the Bald Eagle Bash? It will be held this Saturday, June 2, and there is still time to plan to attend. You can even get your tickets at the gate, so last-minute guests are definitely welcome.

Bald Eagle Bash, fundraiser, Weeks Bay Foundation, National Estuarine Research Reserve

Great benefit for a small price! Delight your taste buds and your dancing feet while sharing financial assistance with the non-profit Weeks Bay Foundation.

What makes this so special? Let’s start with what you get from being there. Your taste buds will be tickled by delectable goodies from a dozen area restaurants, with fresh gulf shrimp as the theme. Your ears and your dancing genes will be delighted with the music of Locust Fork Band, who will infuse the evening with energy via their originals and covers of your favorite rock and country songs. And appearances by two area celebrities—Shelby Mitchell of 95KSJ and Darwin Singleton of NBC15—will keep the enthusiasm and laughter going strong.

Even more special is how you will be helping raise funds for the non-profit Weeks Bay Foundation. Their mission is to protect the natural resources of coastal Alabama while supporting the goals and programs of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. By attending, you’ll have a great time and feel great about playing a role in the conservation efforts of our coastal wetlands.

Tickets are $30 in advance (online or any BBVA Compass location in Baldwin or Mobile county) or $35 at the gate. You’ll find all the fun from 4 until 7 p.m. at the Tonsmeire Weeks Bay Resource Center, waterfront at the Fish River Bridge on U.S. Highway 98 west of Magnolia Springs.

If you love our coastal areas, you may also love a house or condo along our backwaters for your next getaway. With properties available from one bedroom to seven, you can come alone or as part of a large group. Either way, relax with us and explore the coastal area from a different perspective!

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Vacation Rentals on TwitterFacebook and MySpace.

Weeks Bay Ornament 2011

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

The environmentalist. The volunteer. The nature lover. The person who has everything. The proud local. The appreciative visitor. The ecotourist. The science teacher or student.

Weeks Bay Foundation ornament 2011, kayak, fisherman, fishing

Your gift to a friend or family member also supports Weeks Bay Foundation programs.

Many of us fit into at least one of those categories. And we know of one particular gift item that will satisfy any or all of these folks.

When you give someone a 2011 Weeks Bay ornament that commemorates the 25th anniversary of the designation of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, you give much more than a simple gift to a friend or family member. You also support the natural environments of our area and beyond.

Current programs of the Weeks Bay Foundation include submerged equipment, weather stations and sampling projects to monitor water quality. And their ongoing objective is to purchase land in the Weeks Bay watershed that may be added to the National Wildlife Reserve, or be set aside with a conservation easement such as to preserve a wildlife habitat, or create a buffer to conservation lands.

You have four options for securing this decorative item that depicts a fisherman in a kayak. The best value is a combination ornament and one-year membership in the Weeks Bay Foundation for just $50. Send an ornament with a holiday card that includes your personal greeting for just $20, shipping included. Ornaments alone are $15 online, or you may purchase them in person for $12 at Fairhope Pharmacy’s Christmas ’Round the Corner or the Weeks Bay Reserve at 11401 U.S. Hwy. 98 in Fairhope (251-990-5004).

Stay informed of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Vacation Rentals on Facebook and Twitter.

Nature Photography Workshop

Monday, September 20th, 2010

It’s a picture-perfect moment. That osprey (or pitcher plant or butterfly) could actually be posing just for you, and you can’t resist. Up comes the camera . . . click.

Hurry to register for the Nature Photography Workshop held on Friday and Saturday, September 24 & 25, 2010.

But when you look at what should be your prize-winning photograph, it appears washed out, or the nearby water created a terrible glare. Aargh!

Lucky for you, that disappointing scenario does not have to be repeated. Local nature photography experts Michelle Thomas and Luanne Burnett are excited about sharing their techniques for capturing the best images in forest and water settings during the upcoming Nature Photography Workshop.

The small class size (maximum 20) assures plenty of time for group and personal instruction. Any digital camera may be used—even your basic point-and-click equipment can produce better quality than you thought possible when you know how to adjust for the scenery.

You don’t need to know anything about photography, so don’t let a lack of experience keep you away. All that’s required (beyond a camera, of course) is a desire to explore the possibilities. Michelle and Luanne can also assist if your camera is so new that you’re not fully acquainted with how it operates.

Intermediate photographers will quickly realize that there are still plenty of lessons to be learned by sharing the time with professionals and other like-minded amateurs.

The weekend begins with the sunset photography class at 4:30 on Friday, September 24. Saturday brings morning light instruction, then guidance for afternoon shadows. Each class is followed by plenty of time to apply the techniques and then share and discuss your successes. You’ll find that the beautiful location at The Plantation at D&S Farms Forest Retreat in rural Robertsdale offers infinite possibilities for exceptional photographs.

Your meals (light supper Friday, Saturday breakfast and lunch) are included in the fee. Even better news is that when you go to the registration page you will find a price tag of only $125, broken into a deposit and then a final payment. What a great deal! This is a wonderful opportunity to learn from experienced professionals, so hurry to sign up before the class is filled. With this type of personalized instruction, you could soon be a sought-after nature photographer!

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Real Estate on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

No Guessing for Visiting Nature Lovers

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Today’s blog is a little different, as I’m going to focus on a website. Not that visiting the actual location isn’t HIGHLY recommended! But if you’re not physically at Weeks Bay Reserve to ask your question or read about something that has piqued your curiosity, you may appreciate knowing of a resource to help you identify a local creature you are observing.

Weeks Bay Foundation helps visitors to identify and appreciate the local nature and wildlife in Southern Alabama.

Once you reach the Weeks Bay Foundation website, it will be easy to lose yourself in the many links describing their history, their wonderful programs and more. But at some point, you’ll want to steer yourself to the Photo Album link on the left side.

The Weeks Bay Photo Album is divided into well-defined categories, including 18 albums of various types of feathered friends, two albums of insects, five albums of water-related neighbors, and one that includes plants and creatures you will find on their Wintermeyer Boardwalk. The photos are captioned with common names and species, plus varied information on their size, habitats, coloring and more. As you’ll see, these pages are much more than just a simple collection of pictures. What a wealth of information!

I’ll admit that I’m pretty ignorant about what creatures or plants are what around here (don’t tell anyone!). But since stumbling upon this resource, I’m starting to be able to name some of what I see—and soon you will be able to do the same.

To find out more, visit the Weeks Bay Foundation website and start poking around. But don’t pass up your earliest opportunity to visit the Weeks Bay Reserve in person. From Gulf Shores, take Hwy. 59 north, then Hwy. 98 west; you’ll find the Reserve near Hwy. 181, just beyond the bridge over Fish River.

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Real Estate on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Late April or Early May?

Monday, April 12th, 2010

You already know that a beach vacation is what you want, and you need that getaway sooner rather than later. Things are hectic at home or at work—or maybe both—and it’s been a long, cold winter. You need a little “Ahhh…” factor infused into your life.

The beach offers an escape from the everyday life, even if only for a few days.

What if we offered you a chance to get a free night in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach or Fort Morgan, Alabama, or Perdido Key, Florida? Meyer Real Estate always gives you the seventh night free. (Actually, you can get your sixth and seventh nights free if you stay by May 26 – click here to get the scoop.)

Are time constraints keeping you from enjoying an entire week at the beach?

No problem! Stay just three nights or four. If you choose a condo, your third night is free. Opt for a house and you’ll get your fourth night free.

Your schedule will only allow two or three nights? Just use your free night as an extended check-out. Sleep in on that last morning, spend the afternoon at the beach, and maybe hang around for dinner before heading home again.

Not once, but TWICE in the next four weeks you’ll find a commemorative day paired with a special offer of third or fourth night free:

* Celebrate Mother Earth when you opt for the Earth Day special and stay between April 20 and 26, 2010. Enjoy nature-related activities such as hiking, biking or birding.

* Celebrate family ties when you opt for the Mother’s Day special and stay between May 5 and 11, 2010. Let Mom choose to shop, dine out or admire items at an arts & crafts fair.

Let Meyer Real Estate’s specials and extra-large variety of vacation properties make it easier to reward yourself with a much-needed beach escape!

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Real Estate on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

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