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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

Dragon Boat Races

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

The distant sound of a single drum floats across the water, keeping time like a metronome. In the distance you see long, narrow boats with paddles moving in sync like the bows of an orchestra’s string section. What else could it be but a dragon boat race?

dragon boat race, perdido key, florida, orange beach, gulf shores, alabama, meyer vacation real estate rental

Cheer on your favorite dragon boat team and enjoy arts & crafts, live music and children's activities in Perdido Key this weekend.

If you’ve never seen or participated in such a race, your opportunity is this weekend in Perdido Key, Florida. Beginning at noon on Saturday, April 14, you can be paddling or cheering for your favorite team when they launch from The Oyster Bar in Perdido Key, 13700 River Road.

But there’s even more to do! Bring the little ones to play at the water’s edge during the race, and keep them entertained before and after the race with planned children’s activities. Take some time for yourself to shop the arts and crafts booths and listen to the live music. And everyone will enjoy a close-up look at the boats after the race. Admission is free, so bring the whole gang.

All ages and all skill levels are welcome, even if you’ve never been in a boat. You can participate as an individual and be assigned to a boat, or come as part of a group of co-workers, friends and family. Boats, training and equipment are part of the $50 paddler fee, as well as a team photo and an official event T-shirt. You can register online up to an hour before the event.

For more details about the Dragon Boat Race and surrounding activities, contact the Perdido Key Visitors Information Center at 850-492-4660.

Make this into an impromptu beach weekend! Check out the available vacation rental properties in Perdido Key—just plug in your dates near the upper left of your screen, and choose any other search options below that to find your ideal getaway location.

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 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.

14th Annual Wooden Boat Festival

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Sailboat race. Paddle and row race. Children’s treasure hunt. Food and beverage booths. Live music. Wood boat competition with trophy prizes.

Wooden Boat Fest, Josephine, Pirates Cove, Alabama, sailboat, row, paddle

April 30 and May 1 are perfect days for the 2011 Wooden Boat Festival at Pirates Cove in Josephine, Alabama.

You’ll encounter all this and plenty more fun when you attend the 14th Annual Wooden Boat Festival in Josephine, Alabama this weekend.

Two full days, both beginning at 10:00 a.m., bring backwater fun to the forefront for a mere $5 daily ticket or $8 two-day pass (children under 12 are free).

If you are into the music scene, you’re in for a great time. Saturday, April 30, at 11:00 a.m. is Big Daddy O and the Local Riff Raff. At 2:00 is the Lightnin’ Malcolm Band, followed by Moonshine Babies at 6:00. Sunday music includes Big Muddy at 10:00 a.m. and Rollin’ In the Hay at 2:00.

The weather forecast promises a gorgeous weekend, so come on out and enjoy the outdoors! You’ll find all the festivities around Pirates Cove just off the Intracoastal Canal (by water) at I.C.W. Marker #65 and L 30‘ 19.2 N Lo 87′ 32.0 W, or by land at the end of Co. Rd. 95 off of Co. Rd. 20, west of Foley.

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 Real Estate on TwitterFacebook and MySpace.

 

Dauphin Island, Alton Brown, a Cook-off and More

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Any day is a good day to explore neighboring towns. But this Saturday, March 26, is an especially good day to head to Dauphin Island, Alabama.

Dauphin Island, Gumbo Cook Off, Alton Brown, Mobile Bay Ferry

Saturday March 26, 2011—a perfect day to enjoy neighboring Dauphin Island, Alabama.

Hitch a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry Saturday morning, leaving from Fort Morgan at 8:45, 9:30 or 10:15.

Take the earliest ferry trip so you can stop at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab when it opens at 9:00. Spend some time admiring and learning about the many local sea creatures in the public aquarium.

Then head over to the Spring Break Gumbo Cook-Off, held on the rodeo grounds between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Not only will you get to taste as much gumbo as you can hold, but you may choose to meet Alton Brown, star of “Good Eats” and host of “Iron Chef America.” And you’ll be thoroughly entertained by music from Grayson Capps & The Lost Cause Minstrels, as well as Ryan Balthrop & Friends.

When the cook-off is over, your visit doesn’t have to be. Walk off the extra gumbo and treats during a tour of Historic Fort Gaines, completed during the Civil War. Or roam through the beautiful Audubon Bird Sanctuary, noted as one of the best U.S. places to observe “neotropical migrants.” Maybe you simply will want to relax on the beautiful white beaches. There’s no need to hurry—you can grab the final ferry back to Fort Morgan at 6:30. Check out all there is to do at the Dauphin Island website.

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 TwitterFacebook and MySpace.

The Call of the Kayak

Friday, September 17th, 2010

My husband and I—creatures of habit—recently ventured out of our routine. We love being outdoors, but lately we’ve allowed life to get in the way of that pleasure. It was time to combine the blue sky with a new experience.


Launching our kayaks on a beautiful morning.

I have been following Kayak_Alabama on Twitter for a few months, and seeing their posts always makes me wish I was out there experiencing it instead of just reading about it. So—yes, I’m sure you’ve figured it out—I made the contact and arranged for a guided kayak tour. (I’m not into fishing, but you can arrange a kayak fishing tour as well.)

Not knowing much about our waterways, I let Chris, the main man behind Alabama Kayak Adventures, choose the spot. He pulled into Graham Creek Nature Preserve just ahead of us, with a truck bed filled with four kayaks. As he untied the colorful load, another guide, Laurel, arrived with her kayak, and photographer Michelle also joined us. Chris and Laurel are both USCG-licensed captains as well as certified Coastal Nature Guides, so I knew we were in good hands.


A welcome feeling of tranquility is inevitable when surrounded by nature.

We dragged our kayaks to the launch ramp and got a quick lesson on how to paddle (so simple!), and next thing we knew we were skimming along a beautiful, winding creek. Neither of us had been in a kayak before, and we were surprised by the stability and ease of maneuvering. With no current to negotiate, we could easily stop to study plants or wildlife, or just paddle slowly and effortlessly.

Eventually the serene creek opened up into Wolf Bay, where we glided past houses, piers and boat docks, and observed schools of fish as they darted around our kayaks. As we started our return, a pair of dolphins teased us with their intermittent presence.

Throughout the morning, the word “peaceful” kept popping into my head. Other than a small plane overhead and the brief passing of a fisherman’s boat, the only sounds were that of Mother Nature. The thick vegetation and some tall trees insulated the creek from the outside world, allowing the illusion of being miles from civilization. And the houses on the bay were set far enough back so as not to intrude on the waterway.


So different from the nearby gulf beaches, with its own amazing beauty.

While we did enjoy conversation during the 3-hour journey, there was also plenty of opportunity to soak up the stillness and focus on the natural setting. Our guides seemed to intuitively understand how special that silence is, perfectly balancing friendly chit-chat, information sharing, and leaving us to our own thoughts.

My first encounter with a kayak now makes me want one of my own, but I know that won’t happen with the crazy schedule I keep. At least now I know how enjoyable it is, and I have memories to call on when I want an escape but don’t have time for such. And best of all, I know who to contact when I can’t resist the call of the kayak any longer.

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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