Exquisite and pristine, sparsely populated … in the U.S.? It’s time for another visit. Some of the last undeveloped barrier islands in America lie just off the shores of Mississippi, stretching across the waterfront of Alabama and reaching off the coast to the tip of eastern Florida. The Gulf Islands National Seashore is protected by the U.S. Park Service, and today we explore the only island with public ferry access.
A refuge to explorers, colonists, sailors, soldiers, defenders, and invaders…and we can’t forget the pirates. Not a creatively inspired name, but in 1699 French explorers were impressed by the deep water anchorage (20 to 30 feet) that accommodated their ships. Thus Ship Island. Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville charted the island, which he used for a base while discovering the mouth of the Mississippi River.
But it wasn’t only the French. Flags from France, Spain, Great Britain, the Confederacy, and the Union waved their colors over Ship Island. It has quite a rich war history. If you’re a battle buff, you’ll have plenty of fodder on the internet. But we’ll get back to that.
A Boardwalk Over the Gulf
Are you ready? Descending from the ship, you hit a 1760 feet (one-third of a mile) boardwalk from sea to shore. That kind of makes my feet tingle. Remember, it’s a deep water harbor. Still, just a five-minute walk, you are on the pristine white sands.
The trip by ferry boat (really a ship) is a fifty-minute ride often accompanied by dolphins. The little expedition has been coined a trip to paradise because of what awaits. Bring your own drinks, snacks, and supplies, but you can rent umbrellas and chairs. There are no trees on the island, which means no shade. But the park service provides a covered pavilion, snack shack, and bathrooms.
Are you ready to wind down? It sounds marvelous to me. We can walk the seven-mile stretch of shoreline or swim and snorkel. Scout out the wildlife, search for shells, or just relax without the crowds of our mainland beaches. There’s no traffic or high-rise condos. Just eleven miles offshore, we can relish in God’s unspoiled nature.
But should the wrath of that nature whip up in a storm, take refuge in the main attraction, Fort Massachusetts.
A Mighty Fortress
Years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Fort Rodd Hill in Victoria, B.C. We were the only visitors on the silent grounds, but I could hear the canons still blasting. It was so eerie as the kids scrambled, and I walked underground and atop that intriguing facility. I imagine Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island wouldn’t disappoint.
Beautifully preserved Fort Massachusetts has free guided tours by the National Park Service in spring, summer, and fall. You can search the internet for pictures, but it’s quite an impressive structure. Unique in its D-shape design, built with richly colored red brick. Here’s a little mini-tour, via bits of research, but I’m adding this destination to my bucket list.
In 1859, the U.S. Army Engineering Corps began construction to protect the U.S. coast n anticipation of a sea approach to New Orleans. It all halted at the start of the Civil War when the Confederacy gained control for nine months before the Union took over. At one time, up to 20,000 military personnel and detainees made it their home. Sadly, its seen its share of tragedy through war, disease, and hurricanes. Like I said, lots of history, so if you want to read more, just search. I was impressed.
So there you have it. An armchair travelogue snapshot of another Gulf Coast Islands. If you’ve been there, please comment. I’d love to hear all about it. Thank you so much for joining me, and please check back tomorrow to see where we’re going! God Bless you.
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