Ft Pickens State Park, Pensacola, FL

We arrived in Pensacola to a light rain, which is always a drag when you’ve got to set up camp and even worse when there’s a a tricky back-in to the campsite.  A few mosquitoes add zest to the whole procedure, since someone (Eleanor) has to be out there to guide the trailer in while someone else (Rich) sits in air conditioned comfort to turn the power steering wheel.

My experience is that if you have to set up camp in the rain, the rain usually stops right after all the work is done.  This is exactly what happened last night.  But at least we were rewarded with the first great sunset of our visit to Florida and a rainbow over the Airstream.

We are near the tip of a long (25 miles or so) and narrow barrier island.  Our elevation is approximately three feet above sea level, and due to the narrowness of the island, the sea is only a few hundred feet away both in front of us and behind us.  Even when driving it is hard not to be aware that we are existing on a relatively delicate deposit of sand that is subject to the vagaries of weather, and which moves in every major storm. Signs along the roadway in the Gulf Islands National Seashore area warn that the road is subject to flooding and a phone number to call for current status is posted.  This weekend, the flood risk is considered “low” since no appreciable weather is expected.  It’s going to be upper 80s by day, about 70 degrees by night, with lots of sunshine.

The campground has been rebuilt since various major storms, but still the new asphalt sites are generally short and the turns are tight for longer rigs.  A tree across the road from our site limited my turning radius as the Mercedes slowly nudged the Airstream into the site, so it took a little longer than usual.  Also, the park is very strict about staying on the parking pads — no wheels on the grass, under penalty of fine — so I took the mandate seriously and got the Airstream into its assigned space without even briefly dropping a wheel off the asphalt. Eleanor suffered only one bite during this procedure, but as it turned out, many more were to come.

I was surprised to encounter the mosquitoes.  We’ve never had a bug problem at the beach before, but then I realized that normally we visit Florida in the winter.  Last year we went to Destin in November and the park was stunningly gorgeous, under-utilized, and bug-free.  We’re earlier this year, which means it’s a little hot, very humid, and the Floridians are still looking for ways to beat the heat so it’s crowded in the campground.  We had a few minutes to run out to the gulf seashore after sunset, and we all quickly got a few mosquito bites.  No wonder the people on the beach cleared out at sunset.

Being flat and low, the campground also doesn’t have much drainage, so the rain of yesterday flooded some sites.  It’s more of a novelty than a problem, as the parking pads are above the rest of the ground, and the water just sinks into the sand eventually.  I told Emma there were alligators in the puddles but she’s now too old to fall for my lame tricks, as you can tell by her pose.

By morning all was dry again — or at least, as dry as it ever gets here.  The last of the summer humidity is still evident and (let me remind you) we don’t have air conditioning at the moment.  We’re doing fairly well with fans, but we do need to get out of the trailer all afternoon.

So with that rule in mind, we took off about noon to check out the Pensacola Seafood Festival in the downtown historic district, which was great.  We split a platter of fish, shrimp, salad and paella, and then went back (because being full is no excuse to stop eating awesome seafood) for a soft shell blue crab sandwich.  The crab was a special mission.  Many years ago I convinced Eleanor to try a soft shell crab sandwich up on Tangier Island in Virginia, but we were not at the best restaurant for that, and the result was disappointing.  The Pensacola Seafood Festival was her chance to try again with a better example, and it worked.  Soft shell crab is not for everyone, as the crunching sound when you eat it sometimes reminds you of things you don’t want to know. But she loved it and so did I.

We got back to the Airstream early enough to change into beachwear and hit the pure white sands of Santa Rosa Island.  The white sand and bathtub-warm clear water are always the best here in the Florida panhandle.  I’m looking forward to more of that tomorrow …

The only bummer about being here is the abundance of campground smoke.  I’ve noticed that in some state parks everyone seems to act as if it were legally required that they have a campfire, and the smokier, the better.  In other campgrounds, campfires are a rarity.  This one seems to be in the former category, and it has made evenings almost unbearable.  Normally a great pleasure of camping near the ocean is the constant sea breezes that smell of salt and trigger thoughts of ocean vacations past.  Here, all we can smell is wood and charcoal smoke, as if we were camped in the midst of a forest wildfire.

We can’t close up the windows to avoid the plumes of drifting smoke, so we have to just breathe it until late at night when the last fire is out.  There’s been no breeze at night to take it away, either.  I am hoping that tomorrow, being Sunday, the campground will empty out and we’ll have a night of blessed fresh air to match the purity of the sunny days.

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