Completed: November 16 – 18, 2013
Gulf Islands National Seashore has units in both Florida and Mississippi. I was able to visit both units in November 2013. My first stop was at the Naval Oaks Visitor Center in Gulf Breeze, FL. Besides picking up the Junior Ranger booklet I learned that the mighty Oak trees along the coastline were used to build the naval ships in the 1800s. The oaks also shelter the coastline from hurricane damage.
Gulf of Mexico – Florida
We drove across the Santa Rosa Sound out to Fort Pickens. The weather was blustery, the waves were breaking big. We settled into the campground and were amazed to find an armadillo walking around the area. Texas, yes, but armadillos in Florida!
As we were finishing dinner the campground host came around to tell us the road back to the mainland would be closed soon until the morning due flooding across the road. It was a full moon with high tide and a weather system combining for high water.
Armadillo in campground – Fort Pickens
The next morning we drove further down the island to Fort Pickens. Sand on the road was being cleared. While touring the fort area there was a Great Blue Heron on the shore. As part of the Junior Ranger program I picked up a couple bags of trash along the inland beach. Several of the activities in the booklet focus on the forts within the seashore. I used my visit to Fort Pickens to complete those activities.
Great Blue Heron near Fort Pickens
We traveled to the Mississippi unit near Ocean Springs, MS. We arrived Saturday afternoon just as the Visitor Center was closing until Tuesday morning. One of the activities was to interview a ranger, one of my favorite things to do. The campground at Davis Bayou was staffed by a Park Service Ranger so I learned about her career and duties. I am always amazed at the vast experience and dedication that the rangers bring to their units.
While at Davis Bayou we hiked the nature trail between the visitor center and campground. Lounging in a small cove, in the sun, was a very large alligator. Each time we went by he was stretched out, almost always in the same spot. There were lots of birds in the area to watch and identify.
The booklet had a variety of activities including some drawing and writing opportunities and several pages taught you about the unique environments. To learn about the ‘Beautiful Barrier Islands’ you stand in the water at the edge of the beach for 2 minutes. There are several questions to answer about your experience.
Luckily the booklet included instructions to mail completed booklets to receive your badge. I mailed it back after arriving home and received not only the badge for Gulf Islands, but a Junior Ranger patch, stickers and a set of their Civil War trading cards. The booklet so designed to be completed by 6 – 11 year olds, however I found many of the activities educational and interesting, even for this senior. I used the page to write about your visit to my grandchildren to explain all of the wonderful things I saw and did while visiting Gulf Islands National Seashore.