We found another gem of a campground within bicycle range of all the city conveniences outside Pensacola Beach, FL. It is managed by the National Park Service, and you get water, juice, modern showers and dump stations for all of $10 a day with your Geezer Pass. The last four miles of your drive to Fort Pickens hint at what’s to come: sugar white sands with sky blue water on both sides. The sites are pretty close together but that’s their only knock.
Fort Pickens was built not too long after the Battle of Baltimore (1814) when the brick and earth Fort McHenry survived a night of cannon fire from the British Fleet. Some fella wrote a song about it called The Star Spangled Banner. McHenry survived bombardment by the world’s best navy, and in the process inflicted enough damage on those ships to completely discourage further shelling. Pickens and dozens of other beachfront forts were built along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts because preparing for the last war is what people do. All were repeatedly updated with better armaments, and after steel ships with 12-inch guns replaced wooden boats with simple cannons, a wiser defense. Some forts relied on dirt and reinforced concrete instead of brick, and some used logs from palmetto trees (a stringy wood that’s hard to burn or blow apart) and concrete. When a big shell hits, dirt flies up then comes back down; brick disintegrates. Air power made the forts obsolete after WW II so the War Department gave them to the Park Service. That is how so much prime beachfront property missed out on development.
There’s a lot to do here. The beaches are perfect for fishing, walking, or with the right equipment, surfing. Birding is big, but nothing here is bigger than that favorite Florida pastime, tanning. Most of the campers here are oldsters (even compared to me) and most mornings we’d see them outside, sunning like huge, ancient turtles on chaise lounges.
Pensacola Beach has a WalMart and a beautiful Publix grocery. We had been looking for pate for over six months and finally found it at Publix. They bag a lovely store salad – we enjoyed Mixed Greens with Apple, Candied Walnuts, and Bleu Cheese – and it’s almost cheap. WalMart offers 3 Buck Chuck (Oak Leaf) in Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Shiraz. Those are more than decent wines at insane prices.
So let’s check our list: Fort Pickens has sun, water, warm winter weather, and well-stocked grocery stores in or near a historic campground with full hook-ups for $10 a night. We have Shelley the camp armadillo, surfers coexisting with surf fishermen (no shots fired yet), plus ospreys, eagles, and willets. Maybe it gets better than this, but I can’t tell you where.