Monday, June 29, 2020

Johnson Beach National Seashore

When my son was little, he was my adventure buddy. We would go on hikes, catch crawdads in mountain streams, canoe, take nature classes, visit parks and wildlife centers in neighboring towns. Outside was our playground and we had so much fun together.

Naturally, as he grew, he became interested in different things and our adventure days together became fewer and fewer.

Last week, we found that we both had a free day together. It was a typical hot summer day here on the Gulf coast, but there was a steady breeze and a fluffy cloud cover -- a perfect day for heading to the beach.

Personally, I'm not very much into just sitting on the beach, I'm an explorer. I need to interact with my environment. Johnson Beach National Seashore is the perfect place to do just that. White sandy beach, clear turquoise ocean to the right of the entrance, and a calm lagoon on the left. There's also a walking trail on the lagoon side, and a kayak launch.

The entrance fee was $25 for a 7 day pass, or $45 for an annual pass. I purchased the annual pass, and I can't wait to go back and use it!

Because we didn't bring kayaks, we spent most of our time on the beach. We got a great parking spot at the pavilion. People were clustered on the beach near the pavilion, but it was a short walk to more privacy.

We staked our claim on a spot near several ghost crab holes. They were very wily, so I wasn't able to snap any photos, but I did happen to snag a few photos of my elusive teenager.

After we were done beaching, we drove over to the lagoon side and checked out the kayak launch and walking trail. Here's a video of the view from the kayak launch and a view of the clear, sandy launch area. There were crabs and little fishies. After I stopped recording, a huge crab emerged from the grass and scuttled into the deeper water. I can't wait to bring my kayak out and explore this area.

Below are three photos of the informational posts at the launch. I didn't know this, but this put-in is actually part of the Perdido Key Blueway. Look at all of the amazing wildlife that lives in the lagoon!

I could have stayed at the seashore all day, but alas, there's a point where dehydration and sun exposure creep in and ruin all the fun. This trail beckons and I will find my way back to it soon!

I hope this post is helpful and inspires adventure!

Until next time.
Carpe diem, my friend!

Melissa Anne

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Finding Gravel Landing and Staplefork Landing on the Perdido River

Gravel Landing to Staplefork Landing is one of the most beautiful and pristine stretches of the Perdido River Paddle Trail. The beauty of this stretch stems from its remote location away from traffic and people noises. Until you reach Staplefork, the only people you might encounter are other paddlers. It's beautiful and AMAZING, but this post isn't about that. This post is about getting there.

If you want to see the river, check out the video I made on YouTube: Kayaking the Perdido River Canoe Trail: Gravel Landing to Staplefork Landing.

Unless you're a local, finding this location can be tricky, mostly because Google Maps is a liar liar pants on fire and will lead you to a farm out in the middle of nowhere that is not even remotely close to where you actually need to be. The directions on the Perdido River Paddle Trail website also seem to be written for people who already have prior knowledge of the area.

In this post you will find directions and detailed information about the put-in, take-out location from my perspective.

If you are currently lost, with one bar of signal, on a red dirt road or sitting on the side of the road at a farm house frantically searching the internet for help finding this put-in (bless you), I FEEL you, I've been you, I wrote this for you!


If you are using Google Maps to get to this general area, go ahead and type in "River Road East, Robertsdale, AL." That said, once you are on 112 Old Pensacola Road, stop using the GPS and use your brain. You will notice that there are two entrances to River Road East. Scroll along your screen until you find the entrance that is shown in the map below. Notice that River Road East is between Ray Road and Tower Road. If you blink, you can miss the entrance as you drive by, so slow down and keep your eyes peeled for a dirt road.

This is the sign at the entrance to River Road East. It is set off of the road, along the treeline. I brightened the image for readability. Notice that this is the entrance to both Gravel Landing and Staplefork Landing. Once on River Road East, you will eventually come to a fork in the road where there is a sign pointing toward either landing, and you are on your way!


So you've made it to the Gravel Landing/Staplefork entrance. You'll notice that you're now on a dirt/gravel road. The quality of this road does not get better in either direction. The road is narrow, the gravel chunks are large and you can hear them popping up from your tires and hitting the underside of your vehicle. In either direction, you will drive through a small creek.

The Gravel Landing road will be much rougher on your vehicle than the Staplefork Landing road. We took our Acura RDX down to Gravel Landing and regret that it probably added several years of wear and tear to the vehicle in one go, and the kayak trailer that our friends were hauling lost a handful of nuts and bolts. My opinion is that Gravel Landing is for heavy duty trucks, but that's just my opinion.


If you are planning on paddling from Gravel Landing to Staplefork Landing, definitely consider how much time it is going to take to drop vehicles off. It took us about 45 minutes, one way, from Gravel Landing to Staplefork Landing. So consider that if you are driving two vehicles down to drop off kayaks and people, then driving two vehicles to SF to leave one for the take-out, and then one back to GL, you will have to drive back to GL to retrieve the other vehicle. That's roughly three hours of driving on gravel road, not including the time it took to get there.

I wrote this post to help make planning this trip as easy as possible for you. There's a lot to consider and a lot of driving involved, but the experience is definitely worth the time invested. Godspeed and may the force be with you!

Stay Tuned! I will be writing more posts about this paddle trail. We've also twice paddled from Staplefork Landing to Blue Lake Landing. I will write about that adventure soon!

Until next time.

Carpe diem, my friend!

Melissa Anne

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Driftwood Hunting on the Magnolia River

Just before sunrise is my favorite time to be out in nature. The air is crisp, the birds sing their morning songs, pastel colors paint the horizon of a new day. I breathe in the sweet smells of dew covered leaves, and my heart is full of gratitude.

If you don't already know, I'm a little obsessed with driftwood. I love finding interesting new pieces, taking them home, cleaning them up, and creating driftwood art. My husband also enjoys finding driftwood. I feel like there's a primitive pleasure of hunting and gathering that motivates him. There may also be a little bit of that in me, too -- my heart pitter-patters every time he finds a big chunk of briny, smelly, soppy driftwood and presents it to me.

We do most of our driftwood hunting on beaches and shorelines. Since our beaches have closed temporarily, due to the coronavirus, our hunting grounds have dwindled, so we've been putting a little bit of extra effort into finding driftwood while kayaking.

We went kayaking on the Magnolia River a few days ago, and discovered a big, beautiful piece of driftwood floating on the water. It was snagged between a few branches. We poked and tumbled it with our paddles before my husband fished it out of the water; though, I was nervous watching him grabbing for it with his hands. I would have preferred for him to use his grabber, but he assures me that he could see that there weren't any critters hanging around.

What a gorgeous piece of driftwood, but phew, it was stinky! We wrapped it up in my windshield protector and stuck it in the hatchback of my smallish SUV, but we had to keep the windows wide open the whole ride home. It smelled like a bunch of wet towels in a musty basement once confined in my car. It's currently airing out in our backyard. Later this week, I'm going to power wash and scrub all of the slime and muck off of it, then I'll give it a good soak in a tub of bleach (if we can find any). After it's bleached, I'll let it dry for a very long time, months probably, out on our back patio porch, before using it to create driftwood art.

Be well my friend, and until next time, carpe diem!

Melissa Anne

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." ~ Mother Julian

Video of the sunrise photo from the top of this post ---> @melissaannestudio

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Today I visited the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge with a friend. We parked at the trailhead and hiked into the park. It's a relatively easy hike from the parking area to the beach. Though, I do advise to go prepared as if you're going on a full day excursion -- because it could easily turn into one. There is so much to see and once you get to the beach, you'll want to stay a while. Also, don't forget to bring sunscreen and a hat! When you get out of your vehicle, you'll be under a shaded canopy of trees, so it might be easy to forget in that moment that most of the time you'll be in direct sunlight.

This great blue heron was cautiously curious about me. At first I was afraid that she would fly away when I started taking photos, but she didn't. She drew closer and closer. After snapping several photos, I walked away and began looking at seashells. Sometime later, I looked up and there she was, watching my every move. Perhaps she was hopeful that I was hunting some delicious snacks to share.

This crab was curious about me, too. At first he ran zig zagging across the sand when I approached him, but once his adorable little eyes spotted my red camera, he stopped to peer over his shell at me.

I think butterflies can sense my overenthusiastic energy as I'm flitting to and fro, trying to catch up with them long enough to snap a photo. They usually fly off into the brush, where I can't go, but this one decided to stay and open their beautiful wings for a quick photo!

As we rounded the trail, we startled a snake who quickly slithered into the brush. Then this little guy popped out for a quick howdy do. Glad it wasn't the other way around.

As I always do on these blog posts, I'll comment on the restroom facilities at this park. About a quarter way up the trail from the parking lot is a single brick and mortar outhouse. It's not marked, but it's the only building around, so you won't miss it. I can't recall, but I'm pretty sure there was no electric light. The light was coming in through vents near the ceiling. Extremely bare bone and basic, but at least it's there and it's relatively clean. Might want to BYOTP!

Until next time.
Carpe diem, my friend!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Short Paddle at Pelican Point

My hubby and I did a quick morning paddle at Pelican Point in Point Clear, Alabama. We decided to not stay out long because the water was choppy and the wind was insistent on blowing us into the marsh. Nonetheless, it's always good to be out on the water.

There really are quite a few pelicans that hang out at Pelican Point. I was excited and eager to snap some photos, but I quickly noticed that the fishermen found the pelicans to be a nuisance. I spotted a bunch of pelicans resting in a sunny spot and quietly began tip-toeing around the rocks toward them, camera in hand. As I was about to snap my first photo, a fisherwoman bounded in from the other side, waving her arms at the pelicans, yelling, "Shoo! Scat! Go on, get out of here!" I quickly snapped a few photos as they flew away, but decided to go ahead and shoo myself along, too, and let her fish in peace.

If the weather is nice enough, my hubby and I will be attending the annual Weeks Bay Foundation Coastal Clean up at Pelican Point on February 15th, 2020. I'm a fair weather kayaker, so we'll see--it can get pretty chilly out on the water in February; but, my husband and I rarely ever leave the water without hauling out some trash. We even take those long grabbers that look like robot arms out with us to pick up trash and driftwood. So, regardless, if we make it to the Coastal Cleanup day or not, we'll always be doing our part to keep our coastal waters beautiful and safe for marine life.

Until next time.
Carpe diem, my friend!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Dauphin Island Sea Lab Adventure

When I'm out adventuring with my husband, I don't get many opportunities to leisurely stroll around and take photographs. He likes to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, not exactly a stop and smell the roses kind of person--but his mom is!

Judith and I decided to have an exploration and chill day on Dauphin Island, Alabama--less than an hour drive from our homes on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. We had such a wonderful adventure! So many interesting sea creatures at the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab!

The admission fee was only $12 for adults, which I felt was a very fair price for the experience. (See hours of operation, and all admission fees here.) We happened to show up while three classes of elementary school students were running around in wonder, which didn't dampen our experience at all. There was plenty of room for all of us and it was fun to see how excited all of the children were to experience the lab. I wish I could have visited such an amazing place on a field trip when I was growing up in the mountains. I remember visiting farms and some neat museums, but it would have been so amazing to pet a manta ray as a kiddo!

I made a YouTube video of our experience, linked below. Watch swimming manta rays, lots of fish and turtles, a slithery snake, and a curious puffer fish, to name a few. (Note that I no longer use the Instagram handle linked at the very end of the video.)

After leaving the Sea Lab around noon, we turned to Google for guidance on where to eat lunch. We chose a restaurant called Pirate's Bar and Grill, simply because it was a seafood restaurant on the water. Our expectation was to find a seafood shack, perhaps near a marina, but instead we discovered a fascinating building with a Jetson's vibe on a stretch of pristine beach. There was seating upstairs or downstairs, both had an incredible view from almost any table. Good, affordable food; lovely, simplistic atmosphere and friendly wait staff. We certainly felt like pirates finding treasure when we discovered this place!

Pirate's Bar and Grill
100-A Orleans Drive, Dauphin Island, AL 36528

Until next time.
Carpe diem, my friend!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Ellie the Mer-Dog

Ellie is full of energy and ever curiosity about the world around her.

She is also my shadow.

In fact, right now, as I'm typing, she is conveniently perched on the sofa where she has the best view of where I'm sitting. Occasionally, I'll glance up and there she is, big brown, unblinking puppy dog eyes bearing into my soul.

She may have some mild attachment issues, but the poor thing lived through a traumatic experience before her adoption into our family. She's a survivor and her willingness to love again with her broken little heart has given me strength to cope and deal with hard things in my life, too.

Being my shadow, Ellie gets to go wherever I go, as long as it's safe and dogs are allowed. I was hesitant to take her kayaking with me. I didn't know how she would react to being on the water and I have a fantasy fear of her leaping out of the kayak to attack an alligator. That said, I've not once seen an alligator while kayaking.

Since I've seen lots of people taking their dogs out on Fly Creek, I decided that it's probably a pretty safe place for Ellie to join me in the kayak.

Her first paddle was fantastic. She was a little nervous, and only got upset when our group got too far away from one another. Each time out on the water, she gets a little more comfortable with getting in and out of the kayak at the launch and being out on the water.

2020 is the year of the RV for our family. I can't wait to take Ellie and Biscuit (my senior dog) RVing in the mountains.

Until next time.
Carpe diem, my friend!