Haunting Fort Morgan, Alabama

To get to Fort Morgan, you must first drive through about twenty miles of tangled vegetation and sand dunes to the very end of a narrow spit of land that stands guard across Mobile Bay. The peninsula is hardly more than a sandbar at some points, and remote–defenseless against storm, salt, and southern sun. It is hard to imagine how hundreds of people worked and survived out here while the fort was under construction between 1819 and 1834.

Fort Morgan, Alabama
Entering Fort Morgan

Battles fought and lost…

While battles had been fought on this sand since the war of 1812, the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War is the one the fort is most known for. Walking around, you can almost hear the footsteps of the soldiers as they run to load the cannons and brace for impact. The siege lasted from August 5 to August 23 of 1864. The walls of the fort still bear the scars of the cannons…

Fort Morgan was in service through WWI and WWII as well, but has been largely abandoned now for over half a century.

Fort Morgan Ruins and Salt
Salt formations on a mysterious bricked-over doorway in Fort Morgan

The fort is full of echoes–breezes–the sound of dripping water. It has suffered the ravages of two centuries of hurricanes, heat, and briney sea air. Years have woven moss, salt formations, weathered brick, and sand into a strange and colorful tapestry. The shadowy casemates of Fort Morgan sometimes open up into grassy courtyards or sometimes into dead ends.

Everything contributes to kind of an eerie ambiance.

Fort Morgan Sand and Shadows
Sand and shadows in Fort Morgan

A troubled history…

One room in particular felt ominous. The walls inside the room are covered in dark, sooty hand prints. One lone white hand print is eye-level on the interior face of the door. I couldn’t find any information about the origin of these hand prints on the internet, but one reviewer said they had been there since at least the 1970s. Common sense would say they’re just a bit of vandalism, but…..

Fort Morgan Mysterious Hand prints
Shadowy handprints on the walls of Fort Morgan

Let me just mention that the fort was constructed through leased slave labor. And the on-site museum contains artifacts from a freak cannon accident that blew a commander’s head to pieces (a twisted fragment of his upper denture remains on display)…and I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

Courtyards at Fort Morgan
Courtyards at Fort Morgan

If you go to Fort Morgan….

Fort Morgan is open to the public from 8AM-5PM daily with admission of $7.00 per adult (discounts for kids, seniors, and veterans). A gift shop and museum is on the premises with A/C and water, but the fort itself is very open to the weather so come prepared!

 

Visiting Fort Morgan Alabama
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Visiting Fort Morgan Alabama
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Visiting Fort Morgan Alabama
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Where to Eat (and Drink!) in Pensacola

I’m going to be a little controversial here and say that the beaches at Pensacola left me underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because we visited on a holiday weekend and they were just too crowded. That said, though, we still had a wonderful time in Pensacola, eating and drinking our way across the gulf coast! Here are the highlights of our visit…

Breakfast

Another Broken Egg was our breakfast spot and everything about the experience was above and beyond expectations. Another Broken Egg is used to their extreme popularity and they have learned to manage it well. With a line out the door we weren’t surprised to have a wait time of 30-45 minutes for a table.
In most cases this would be frustrating. Especially for breakfast–who would wait that long for breakfast?? But plenty of people do! They took our phone number and we instantly received a friendly text letting us know that’s how we would be notified that our table was ready and in the mean time, to feel free to grab a cocktail at the bar. There was a complimentary coffee station set up by the door, a generous amount of comfortable seating, and someone even came around with a tray of mini-muffins to speed along the wait!

Another Broken Egg Pensacola
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at Another Broken Egg in Pensacola

The excellent customer service continued through our entire visit. We split some beignets to start with and I had a Salmon Eggs Benedict that is without question the most . . . The most . . . I can’t even. It was good.

Lunch

We had to visit Pleasure Island Tiki Bar while we were on the coast. This is actually in Orange Beach, AL, just a little west of Pensacola, and we made a special stop because this is where Josh and I became “Facebook official”. Haha! Over bushwhackers and piña coladas.

Pleasure Island Tiki Bar
Pleasure Island Tiki Bar

Which brings up a good point–bushwhackers are a must if you’re on the Gulf Coast. Think boozy chocolate milkshake.

The food at Pleasure Island is not amazing, but the ambiance will put you right into a beachy mood. It’s on the water and open to the salty wet breeze. There is usually live music, as well. It’s a fun, lighthearted way to transition into vacation mode.

Dinner

So we major splurged and went to The Grand Marlin for dinner. It was a cut above what we had budgeted, but we needed to find some great seafood before leaving the coast and The Grand Marlin came highly recommended.

I had a blackened swordfish steak and Josh had the grouper piccata, and it is hard to come up with adjectives that go far enough. The fish was done to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, served on a bed of the silkiest mashed potatoes imaginable this side of heaven, and next to some tender crisp green beans that *had* to have been pulled off the vine minutes before arriving on your plate.

Plan on spending an arm and a leg on food if you’re visiting Pensacola. You won’t be able to resist, and yet it will be completely worthwhile.

Oh, one thing to note, have a dollar ready! The Grand Marlin is located on the toll bridge between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach. The way the lanes are structured, if you’re coming from the mainland, you’ll literally need to pay the toll and then do a u-turn in order to turn into the parking lot.

Drinks

I saved the best for last, guys. The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar stole our hearts and was by far our favorite stop! Located in an older building in the heart of downtown Pensacola, it has the ambiance of a dark, candelit 18th century library. But instead of books, a library of whiskey lines the floor to ceiling shelves! They even have the type of library ladders that roll along the wall.

Old Hickory Whiskey Bar Pensacola
A library of whiskey at The Old Hickory in Pensacola

I tried their signature Old Hickory cocktail which is one of their “smoked” drinks. Apparently this is not a new idea, but it was new and intriguing to me! They use a blow torch on a slab of wood then set the glass upside down over the smoking patch. The smoke billows around in the glass, eventually settling and adhering to the sides of the glass, and then the drink is poured. I think you smell the smoke in the drink more than you taste it. This particular one was interesting to try, but not my favorite–I think it was the fruitiness of the vermouth in it that didn’t float my boat.

The Old Hickory Pensacola
Signature “Old Hickory” cocktail at The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar

I loved trying Josh’s Japanese whiskey, though! We were both like kids in a candy store here, and it was hard to tear ourselves away.

As a last bit of trivia, the name of The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar is a nod to Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. President and the first territorial governor of Florida. I feel like this is worth mentioning because though his portrait is on the wall, this would have totally gone over my head if not for the help of my history buff hubs. It definitely adds context to the aged feel of the venue, though!

So no, I wouldn’t go back to Pensacola for the beaches. But for the eating and drinking? Yes, ohhh yes.

What are your favorite restaurants in Pensacola?

 

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Cannon Beach, OR

Adventures Around Portland Oregon

We’re going to zoom back in time a little bit this week. I lived near Portland, Oregon between 2004-2006 and the sobering news of the fires in the Columbia River Gorge has put me in mind of our family’s adventures driving around that area.

We didn’t spend much time in Portland itself because the surrounding area is actually so much more interesting! You have the Pacific Ocean just an hour and a half to the west, and the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade mountain range just an hour or so east. As you can see from this map, everything is within such easy reach!

Not to knock Portland, though. You could definitely spend a day drinking hipster coffee, walking around Powell’s–the largest bookstore in the world, and touring the International Rose Garden to fill up on Portland’s vibe. One thing I loved about this area was flowers. Due to the mild, wet winters, we still had roses blooming in our yard in December! Definitely consider visiting in April or May when everything is blooming and beautiful.

 

Portland Oregon Roses
There’s a reason Portland, OR is called the city of roses!

West of Portland, Oregon

When you’re ready to get out of town, you can’t go wrong by hitting up the Pacific coastline. Between Rockaway Beach and a little north of Cannon Beach, you will find some of the most iconic rocky coastal formations in the world. Ecola State Park is a great place to stop and take it all in.

 

beaches near portland oregon
Surf and sand against the backdrop of the Pacific Coast…

East of Portland, Oregon

But my fondest memories of the Pacific Northwest are of driving up and down the Columbia River Gorge. The rock walls of the gorge loom up on either side of you, and the river runs below. Sometimes we drove through it on misty days when fog made a nebulous ceiling overhead and the scenery looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. Prehistoric looking boulders like Beacon Rock sit perched on the water’s edge. It is sad to think that a place so timeless is being ravaged by fire and won’t look the same for many, many years.

 

Beacon Rock
Beacon Rock – a public domain shot found on Flickr by ForestServiceNW
multnomah falls
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge – photo from ForestServiceNW on Flickr

 

At various points along the river gorge, waterfalls spring out of the rocks. Multnomah Falls is the most iconic one in the area. If you go, make sure you catch breakfast at Multnomah Falls Lodge — we talked about their bacon for years! Not to mention, the building itself is truly beautiful. It was built in 1925, so is teeming with architectural ambiance from that era. Please note, the photos of Beacon Rock and Multnomah Falls are public domain shots I found on Flickr from the U.S. Forest Service. I always strongly prefer to use my own photos, but it’s been about a decade now since I was in Oregon, so I didn’t have the best materials to work with. 🙂

 

The Cascade Range

A final highlight from the Portland, OR area is the Cascade Mountain Range — I would really like to go back and do some hiking around Mt. Ranier in particular. But what I remember most from our last trip is Mt. St Helens. We visited the Johnston Ridge Observatory which is perched on a cliff overlooking the infamous 1980 explosion. Even 30 — now, 40 — years later, the devastation is overwhelming. A wealth of information is available in the observatory in the form of videos and displays, and it’s well worth the price of admission. In the photo below, you can see the riverbed like furrows leading away from the crater, and in the foreground a tree that was flattened and entombed by the flow of volcanic debris.

 

mount st helens
Mount St. Helens – the devastation is still evident.

 

I guess Mt. St. Helens might be a somber note to end upon, particularly in light of the headlines this week about the fires destroying the Columbia River Gorge. But in another sense, maybe it’s a little hopeful, too, because here we see the endurance and the resilience of nature. The lay of the land may change, may be scarred for decades to come, but its rugged beauty will endure.

What do you love about the Pacific Northwest?

 

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adventures portland oregon