The top pic. shows the water tower at Pensacola Beach, painted to look like a beach ball. You can see several of the lifeguard vehicles parked by their headquarters. I saw all 3 of these vehicles going up and down the very long (miles) of sandy beach. We saw what looked like a Coast Guard helicopter flying the length of the beach a couple times during the day. I saw no one in the water (outside of a few people getting their toes wet and 6 surfers – five male, one female – waves were 3-5 feet, but the east wind parallel to shore and the short time between waves made it a tough day to surf).

Surrounding the water tower, there is a free public parking area that can hold hundreds of cars. To get to the island, you have to cross a toll bridge. You don’t stop – they snap a picture of your license plate and send you a bill. This bridge is $1 per crossing, with a $2.50 administration fee every billing cycle.

You can see the yellow flag flying in the wind. This was a day that might warrant a red flag on Lake Michigan. I could see 3 of these rather large yellow flags, including one at the end of the pier that would have been visible from a mile away. The picture shows some sunshine on what was generally a cloudy day. The high temperature at the Pensacola Naval Air Station Friday was 69. Out on the island it might have been 67 or 68…a touch cool for just a t-shirt much of the day, especially considering the wind 15 mph gusting to 20-25 mph on the beach) and the cloudy skies.

Gulls on the beach

I’m guessing these were gulls on the beach. We walked right by them and they didn’t flinch, much less fly away. A sandpiper ran by them too. While I was taking this picture, a rogue wave came well up on the dry beach and drenched both of my feet. I wasn’t expecting that at all. The current water temperature here is 67.5 – it was 68 on this day last year.

Hawk at the west end of the island at Fort Pickens

This was a good day to spot birds. This hawk posed for my camera and then flew away. A little bit earlier, we spotted an osprey. There were pelicans flying around (some of you may remember the last time I was down here I had a rather unpleasant encounter with one of the pelicans. I lost that thread – if anyone happened to save it, let me know. My wife called them penguins a couple of times and we had a good laugh over that,

large cannon at Fort Pickens

In the afternoon, we headed to the west end of Santa Rosa Island to Fort Pickens. This is a Federal (NPS) Park that includes the western 6 miles of the island. The fort is completely open to explore. You can climb up to look at the cannons, explore the tunnels – they have a gift shop and interpretive center and lots of beach to explore.

The inside of Fort Pickens

This is the middle interior of the fort. The fort is named after a Revolutionary War general, Andrew Pickens. The fort was built between 1829 and 1834 as a defensive deterrent – protecting the bay It was never conquered by the Confederates during the Civil War.

The five-sided fort could fire in any direction and could shoot at the enemy 8 miles away with its big guns. The fort was designed to be run by 60 men during peacetime and up to 1,000 during an all-out siege (which never came). The Confederate Army tried once to storm the fort and lost 90 men.

Composed of 21.5 million bricks, the fort for decades was the largest brick structure on the Gulf of Mexico. There were 205 cannons and the fort stored over a quarter million pounds of black powder. On June 20, 1899, a fire broke out and ignited one of the powder storage tunnels. The resulting explosions through bricks a mile and a half away. Part of the fort was fortified during WWII. We knew that the Germans had submarines in the Gulf of Mexico and several 12″ guns were operable to knock them out if they tried to get into the bay.

Hurricane Ivan devastated Santa Rosa Island

Hurricane Ivan devastated Santa Rosa Island in 2004. Ivan was a category five over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico and was still Category 3 when it hit extreme NW Florida. The storm surge covered most all of the island. It blew the roof off the interpretive center and pretty much ruined everything inside.

Ivan produced a wave estimated to be 71 feet high over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. Fourteen fatalities were reported in Florida. A portion of the I-10 bridge over Escambia Bay collapsed. Some roads were gone, others were submerged as the huge storm surge moved sand around on the barrier islands. The storm caused an estimated 20.5 billion dollars in damage, at the time second only to Hurricane Andew in 1992.

:Pensacola Pier – PIc. by Bill Steffen 12 2 22

I had time to grab this pic. of the Pensacola Pier. Sidenote – this is a pier – it allows water to go underneath it. The “piers” in Michigan are not really piers…they are breakwalls or breakwaters. They break or stop the water. They are built to keep sand from clogging the channels. On windy days, currents can develop on the windward sides of the breakwalls and they can become very dangerous – pushing the water out along the breakwall toward the middle of the lake.

We chose to wait to go out on the pier here in Pensacola with the promise of lighter wind and smaller waves over the weekend.

In the evening, the nearby Circle K had a special this Friday – a large pizza for 5 bucks! We still have two large pieces left. We eat a fair amount at the hotel free breakfast – showing up in the 9 am to 10 am hour…then eat little or nothing for lunch, then eat a nice dinner. The hotel has coffee and tea out 24/7 and a lady makes cookies for everyone in the evening.

Saturday evening is the lighted boat parade. I’ll see if I can grab a couple pics of that.

The wind is calming down a bit in Michigan. Peak gusts Friday included 52 mph at Holland, 51 mph at S. Bend, 46 mph at Muskegon and Jackson, 45 mph at Fremont, 43 mph at Lansing, 39 mph at Gr. Rapids, 38 mph at Battle Creek and 37 mph at Kalamazoo

The high temperature Friday in G. R. was 51 and that was 11 degrees above average. So far for the year, precipitation in Gr. Rapids is 2.09″ below average. The water level of Lake Michigan is down 9″ in the last year. It’s still 5″ higher than the December average level.