Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Bison at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

All the National Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites etc. are managed by the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. Also within the Department of the Interior is the Fish & Widlife Service, in charge of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The National Forests are under the purview of the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture, however that doesn’t explain why the rather newly formed Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is managed by the Forest Service; I would expect that the resident bison and the tallgrass prairie ecosystem would be conducive to NPS management. But as it turns out, the area once housed part of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, and in 1996 the Department of Defense transferred almost 20,000 acres to USFS who have been since managing the restoration of the historic habitat that is the first national tallgrass prairie in the country.

Restored tallgrass prairie on the right

Portions of Midewin (pronounced miDAY-win) were industrial while others were agricultural, and it was only after 8 years of restoration work that the first 5,000 acres could be opened to the public. Today, more than 13,300 acres are open to visitors for hiking, cycling, riding, birdwatching and hunting, with 34 miles of trail offering unique opportunities for outdoor recreation - just 60 miles south of Chicago.


First stop, the Visitor Center. In addition to maps, the knowledgeable folks there can tell you what is blooming, which migratory bird species have recently been spotted, as well as which quadrant the bison are in. Across from the Visitor Center is the Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew headquarters; the Midewin Hotshots are the only Hotshot Crew in the Region, which means that you probably won’t see the crew as they are busy criss-crossing the country chasing fire and assisting local agencies with everything from prescribed burns to habitat management and wildfire training.

Batman and Bison at the Midewin Visitor Center

In addition to being one of the rare places to see tallgrass prairie, Midewin is also host to a herd of American bison. The last bison seen in Illinois was in 1808, but today over 1,000 acres in Midewin are home to an experimental herd that is being closely studied to learn how the bovids can aid native prairie restoration efforts. The bison range over four quadrants, and your stop at the Visitor Center will alert you as to which of the four they are currently in. On our visit they were in the southwest quadrant, easily visible from Hwy 53. Sure enough, we spotted their distinctive humps coming over a rise, and had we had the time we could have hiked out on the Route 53 Trail to the Southwest Bison Overlook for a closer look. For a live feed from the earthcam that looks out over an area the bison frequent, please visit the Midewin website or click here

Those dark bumps in the middle are bison. Or shrubs, you choose.

We opted for a short loop from the Iron Bridge Trailhead instead, the intense afternoon sun dismissing any idea of a multi-mile hike in the open prairie. As I mentioned previously, the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant was a former tenant (manufacturing munitions for the Korean and Vietnam Wars), and the Group 63 Trail allows visitors to view some of the old bunkers that were once used for storing ammunition. In 2010 the National Forest Foundation partnered with the USFS to remove drain tiles and roads to restore the prairie’s natural hydrology, as well as removing ammunition bunkers with the exception of a few in this particular area. We found one with the door open, and after the boys tested out the echo in the coolness of the interior we climbed to the top to take in the view. 

Inside one of the old munitions bunkers

While hiking, it is very important to remember that Midewin does have wild parsnip, the 4ft tall non-native plant that looks like dill or Queen Anne’s lace (but with yellow flowers). When touched, the plant's sap and the sun break down skin cells and tissues, making your skin extremely sensitive to sunlight; you get a bad sunburn everywhere the sap touches your skin. Easiest way to stay safe is to stay on the trail. The oils can be transferred to pet owners by their dog, and encounters with the plant frequently end in a visit to the emergency room.


However you shouldn’t let the parsnip deter you from hiking out on the tallgrass prairie on one of the many trails. Our midday trek was rewarded with the sighting of a Loggerhead Shrike, an endangered bird that hunts for prey over the open grasslands. Larger prey is impaled on sharp projections such as a thorn or strand of barbed wire, which anchors it for the shrike to tear off manageable pieces. The shrike will also use thorns to store food for later consumption, and so the barbed wire encircling the bison habitat is a great place to look for evidence of these rare birds in form of impaled insects. In addition to the loggerhead shrike, 148 other species of birds utilize the prairie for nesting, breeding or overwintering; 108 are permanent residents.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

More Midewin numbers: 18 endangered or threatened species, 40 aquatic species, 23 species of reptiles and 27 species of wild mammals. While the tallgrass prairie is the unique identifier, Midewin also has restored prairie savannah woodlands, restored marsh areas, seed production areas, and a pond. Check out the WW II era portable bridge on Bailey Bridge Trail that connects to the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, the 22.42 mile former railway that connects Joliet to Custer Park.


A huge shout-out & thank you goes to fellow blogger Barefoot Rose for the tour! Thanks to SR, PK & the boys for joining us at Midewin, for taking us to one of the best-kept secrets of the area (the Bathtub), and for feeding us. Next time we’ll try to time our visit with some cooler temperatures!

American bison photographed at Brookfield Zoo

PS For those looking to get a closer look at an American bison in the Chicago area, you can see the massive animals at Brookfield Zoo. And for more on prairie ecosystems, take the kids to the Peggy Breitbart Nature Museum!

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Chicago Botanic Garden Sunset

We found ourselves on the north side of Chicagoland with a few hours to spare, the hot sun having morphed into a more-manageable evening light. While on that end of the city, we decided to make a stop at the Chicago Botanic Garden; during the summer months the gardens are open until 9pm, allowing for a twilight stroll in cooler temperatures.

Lilies in the Native Plant Garden

The Chicago Botanic Gardens are known worldwide, despite being less than 50 years old. The origins can be traced back to the Chicago Horticultural Society which was founded more than 100 years ago, and today the CBG is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society. Although it had been at least a dozen years since my last visit, I knew we were in for a treat and was very much looking forward to refilling my batteries in this urban oasis.

Fountain in the English Walled Garden

Situated on 385 acres east of the Edens expressway (just north of the Skokie Lagoons), the garden is unique in that it contains six miles of shoreline, with nine islands offering a wide range of formal and more casual gardens. Although a couple of hours are not enough to see the gardens in their entirety, it is just enough for a walk around the main island through some of the more intensely managed areas.


After emerging from the Visitor Center we crossed the bridge over to the main island and started our visit in the Crescent and on the Esplanade. The views toward North Lake and the fountain were aglow in the soft evening light, and we stuck to the shoreline to reach the Native Plant Garden.

A lotus flower blooming in the Heritage Garden

The Aquatic Plant Garden is really unique, waterlilies blooming on both sides of a pier that zigzags through the water. Adjacent to it is the bulb garden, which offered some of the most fantastic color on this particular visit.

A rainbow of colors in the Bulb Garden

We crossed back through the Landscape Garden, emerging near the Circle Garden. The boys were not so excited about crossing the bridge to Spider Island once I told them it was named after the giant arachnids that live on the island (jk folks), but we persisted, and the dappled sunlight on the birches reminded me of the Latvian forests that are in every Latvian’s heart.

Bonsai!!!

We cut through the Regenstein Center to see the Bonsai Collection. There are over 200 bonsai that are displayed on a rotating basis, including a Japanese white pine that has been trained for at least 100 years.


We walked around the rose garden, and the boys took turns photographing, sniffing and splashing in the fountain.


The east end is my favorite portion of the island, as paths meander and crisscross - many secluded benches, walled gardens and quiet spots just waiting to be found. We skirted the Dwarf Conifer Garden and crossed the bridge to the Japanese Garden, admiring the oranges and reds of the setting sun through the manicured pine trees. These 17 acres include three islands, but only two are open to the public; the third symbolizes paradise, in sight but elusive.


Once back on the main island the boys insisted on following the rushing waters of the Waterfall Garden up to the pond at the top of the hill. The sun started dipping below the trees, and we raced twilight in our decent.


We explored the English Walled Garden and Oak Meadow knowing our time was almost up, enchanted by the emergence of fireflies and the soft glow of the Garden’s globe lighting. Before long we crossed back to the Heritage Garden, soaking the last bit in before crossing the bridge back to the Visitor Center and the city…

English Oak Meadow

Friday, July 13, 2018

Gulf Islands - Pensacola Lighthouse

Although it’s the Forgotten Coast that is known for its lighthouses on this stretch of the Gulf, the Emerald Coast holds its own; the Pensacola Lighthouse is a striking addition to the region that allows for a different perspective of Florida’s scenic coastline.


If you plan on visiting the Pensacola Lighthouse, be aware that it is located within the Naval Air Station Pensacola, an active military base. All civilian visitors must enter through the West Gate (beware your GPS directions!) and must show proper identification; please see the lighthouse website for more details. On our recent visit we were more prepared than the time we tried to visit the Cape Henry Lighthouse (as in, we knew we would be visiting a military installation!), and made it through the security checkpoint with little delay.


The lighthouse is open to visitors daily (except for certain holidays) from 9am to 5pm, however the last climber is admitted to the tower at 4:45pm so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get through the security checkpoint. Admission is $7/adult, $4/children under 12, $4/seniors and $4/military. Please note that on days that the Blue Angels are practicing there is an increased admission of $20 and reservations are required as space is limited (see my post on the National Naval Aviation Museum for more on the Blue Angels).


Construction of the first lighthouse in the area was begun in 1824, resulting in a 40ft white brick tower equipped with 10 whale oil lamps. Over the next thirty years Fort Pickens was constructed at the western tip of Santa Rosa Island, Fort McRee was built at the eastern tip of Perdido Key, and Fort Barrancas was built on the bluffs a half a mile east, the three forts tasked with defending the mouth of Pensacola Bay. Florida was admitted to the Union, and then in 1854 funds were appropriated to replace the Pensacola Lighthouse. Construction began a half mile west of the original in 1856, and on New Year’s Day, 1859, the new lighthouse was lit for the first time. 151ft tall, it boasted a first-order Fresnel lens.


In 1861, Florida seceded from the Union; Confederate troops took Forts Barrancas & McRee and along with them the lighthouse, and in December the base of the tower was struck by shot from Fort Pickens and damaged in at least three places. When Union forces took possession in 1862, a captured fourth-order lens was installed, the first-order lens not being restored until 1869. Over the years the lighthouse was damaged by elements ranging from lightning to ducks, but the structure survived earthquakes and hurricanes as well as full automation to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


Named one of the most haunted lighthouses in the US, the Travel Channel and Syfy’s Ghost Hunters have investigated the site (See season 5 episode 22 of Ghost Hunters). Today visitors can take a ghost tour in the historic 1869 Keeper's Quarters, or purchase a copy of Ghostly Beacons: Haunted Lighthouses of North America in the gift shop to learn more about the various grisly happenings that have happened over the years, and the paranormal activity that supposedly goes on in this 160 year old structure.


We crossed to the lighthouse in the dappled shade of enormous live oaks, and then it was 177 steps to reach one of the most beautiful views on the Gulf Coast. We could see Fort Pickens and the white sands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the dark green treetops of pines and oaks scattered through the military base, and in the distance the skyline of Pensacola. Just to the east was Fort Barrancas, on our itinerary for later on in the morning, and beyond it all stretched the blue waters of the Gulf.


Only two of the boys elected to climb with me, and so Roberts stayed grounded with Vilis while we went on our lighthouse adventure. The 1890s Carriage House was renovated in the 1990s to serve as the Visitor’s Center and museum shop, and when they were done exploring that they headed out to blue waters on the short Nature Trail. Although no swimming is allowed, the crystalline waters of the Bay and Gulf washing up on the white sand beach are always a treat for bare feet.


We timed our visit to coincide with cooler morning temperatures, heading to the adjacent National Naval Aviation Museum (and air conditioning) once the heat settled in. The boys agree that the climb to the top was worth it, and we suggest a stop at the Pensacola Lighthouse for anyone visiting the area.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

XXVI Latvian Song and XVI Dance Celebration 2018

As the XXVI Latvian Song and XVI Dance Celebration 2018 wraps up in Rīga, we are welcoming back to the US all those who flew to northern Europe to sing, dance and enjoy the festival atmosphere. This year was an especially important milestone, as Latvia is celebrating its centennial: 100 years since independence in 1918. 40,000 participants took the stage to celebrate Latvian culture in what is a century-and-a-half-old tradition, and although I didn’t make the trip to Rīga this summer, we have been living and breathing Dziesmu svētki through photographs, videos and broadcasts for the past week.


Photo: Ilmārs Znotinš (copyright Latvian National Centre for Culture Archive)

The official Dziesmu Svētki website is where you’ll find information on the history of the song and dance festival, as well other information and links such as the official numbers of the 2018 festival. According to www.dziesmusvetki.lv, there were 43,000 participants this year: 18,000 dancers, 16,500 singers, 8,500 brass players, kokle players, craftsmen, folk musicians and members of amateur theatre groups. They came from 21 countries worldwide, the youngest participant only 3 years old and the oldest 91! Sunday’s closing concert “Following the Starry Path” (Zvaigžņu ceļā) featured 20,073 participants, while the dance spectacular “Mara’s Land” (Māras zeme) had 18,174.

Photo credit: Agris Tabaks (copyright Latvian National Centre for Culture Archive)
Official photographs can be found on the Dziesmu un deju svētki Flickr feed, among them also albums of photos taken from drone. The Flickr album view shows the sheer number of events that took place over the week, from the svētku gājiens through the streets of Rīga to the dozens of concerts and performances in Vērmanes park and other public spaces. You can also view photographs from previous years.

Photo credit: Ilmārs Znotiņš (copyright Latvian National Centre for Culture Archive)

On the same site where the live broadcasts were shown to viewers across the world you will find concerts, dance performances, and other significant events from the festival. Listen to Latvia’s President Raimonds Vējonis address Latvians worldwide, or try to spot familiar faces among the singers and audience at the final concert Zvaigžņu ceļā

Photo credit: Aivars Liepiņš (copyright Latvian National Centre for Culture Archive)

The LTV YouTube channel has a ton of videos, everything from interviews with the conductors and choreographers to clips from various concerts and shows. Adding a bit of color are interspersed news reports such as “Drought has damaged the crops, but rapeseed is blooming.”


For aerial photos of the Dziesmusvētku koncerta ģenerālmēģinājums (final rehearsal for the closing concert) and dress rehearsal of Māras zeme, check out Ocean Multimedia’s facebook page. And drone video footage can be found here (one of my favorites is this one).

Photo: Ocean Multimedia

Immerse yourself in the final concert by getting this 360 degree view from center stage... And one of the coolest videos I've seen from the festival is this 45-second take on the final dance performance by Haris Katlaps.


Looking for a primer on Dziesmu svētki to help explain to friends and coworkers where you’ve been the last few weeks? The Latvia.eu page has a great brochure in English that might help: The Latvian Song and Dance Celebration.

Photo credit: Vil Muhametshin (Copyright Latvian National Centre for Culture Archive)

And finally, while the XXVI Latvian Song and XVI Dance Festival may have come to an end, the celebration is continuing through the end of the year in honor of Latvia’s 100th birthday. Events across the world can be found on the Latvija 100 website, along with hundreds of projects that have been completed in honor of the centennial.

Photo credit: Evija Trifanova (Copyright Latvian National Centre for Culture Archive)

Previous Femme au Foyer posts on the song and dance festival include:
The Celebration Procession (the opening parade) 
Rīga also hosts the youth song and dance festival on certain years
The last song & dance festival to take place in the US was in Baltimore… (Part 1 & Part 2)
… and the next North American festival will take place in Toronto

Monday, July 9, 2018

Backstage at the Latvian National Opera

The grand 19th century theater was built on the grounds where a bastion of the city’s defenses had formerly stood; the site went from being a fortification of a military nature to a cultural one, providing a home to theater, opera and ballet for the next 150 years. Today, it stands on the banks of the Rīga canal resplendent not only in architecture but also in its contribution to the cultural scene of Europe: Latvijas Nacionālā opera un balets, home to the Latvian National Opera and the Latvian National Ballet.

August Volz's "Nymph" and the Latvian National Opera

We gathered for our tour on the steps facing the square and Bastejkalna parks, formal gardens with meandering paths, fountains and expanses of lush green grass providing a backdrop to the ornate National Opera. The fountain visible just to the north was created in 1887 by August Volz, and features a maiden balancing a large seashell above her head, four cherubic children frolicking with dolphins at the base. Legend has it that work on the fountain took forever to complete because Volz had fallen in love with the young woman who posed for the sculpture, and only finished it after she agreed to be married. The statue we see today is actually a replica, as the original Nymph was made of zinc – the city could not afford bronze at the time it was commissioned. However, this frugality was what possibly saved the sculpture from being carted off to Russia during WWI along with most of Rīga’s bronze monuments, and in 1986 sculptor Mirdza Lukaža created a bronze replacement, the original removed to Rundāle Palace park. Volz also created the statue of Roland in Ratslaukums and the lions in Vērmanes dārzs.


From the statue we turned our attention to the ornate building before us. When the center of Rīga was redesigned in 1856 a site on the Rīga canal was chosen for the new theater, and in 1860 a design by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt was chosen and construction begun. The neo-classical building was opened to the public in 1863 as the Rīga German Theater. Not even twenty years later a major portion was destroyed by fire, although Rīga's chief architect Reinholds Schmaeling faithfully followed Bohnstedt's original design and completed its reconstruction by 1887.


Soon after Latvia declared its independence on November 18th, 1918, the Latvian National Opera Company was founded. Joined by the first professional Latvian ballet ensemble in the 1920s, the opera house was a cultural center for the next twenty years. In 1944, following the illegal occupation of Latvia by Soviet Union, the Latvian National Opera became the Latvian S.S.R. State Opera and Ballet Theater and remained as such until 1990.

Backstage with the set

Multiple small-scale renovations to the building were completed in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1990 that a complete reconstruction and restoration was begun. The work of architects Imants Jākobsons and Juris Gertmanis to the front of the house and to the stage enabled the National Opera to re-open with the production of Jānis Mediņš’ Uguns un nakts (Fire and Night) in 1995.

Sarkanā zāle

In 2001, a new annex was completed, providing offices and a rehearsal stage, as well as additional performace space. Jaunā zāle (the ‘New Hall’) seats 300 and hosts chamber operas, concerts and lectures. It, along with the main hall, the red hall and the beletāžas zāle are also available for rental; I attending a beautiful wedding reception in the jaunā zāle a dozen years and one week ago (laimīgu laulības jubileju K & A!!!)


Over the course of their September-June season, the Latvian National Opera and Ballet sees more than 200 performances, and many world-renowned musicians have launched their careers in the great hall including conductor Andris Nelsons, operatic sopranos Kristīne Opolais and Marina Rebeka, mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, and tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko. Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Rīga, and trained there until leaving the country in 1964 to pursue an international career. In recent years he has returned for multiple projects including a solo show “Letter to a Man” at the Latvian National Opera.


An enormous paldies to our wonderfully knowledgeable guide Mārtiņš, who was so patient with our questions and easily passed on to us his enthusiasm for the history of this grand building. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to take the stage of the National Opera, and I will not soon forget the chance to see the majestic chandelier up close, climb the spiral staircase in the red room, emerge on the Ionic portico for a look over the gardens, or peek into the President’s alcove.


Tours are about 45 minutes in length and are conducted in Latvian, English, German or Russian. For more information on scheduling your tour, please visit the LNO website.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Pulvertornis, Rīgas powder tower

With so many of our friends and family members in Rīga for the Song & Dance Festival, I wanted to highlight one of the more memorable structures in the Old City, Pulvertornis. The Powder Tower was originally part of the defensive system of the town, but can easily be toured this day and age as it houses the Latvian War Museum.


The tower first makes an appearance in historical records in 1330, in those days known as the Sand Tower in reference to the sandy hills opposite the tower. After the Swedes attacked in 1621 not much was left other than the basement. It was on this foundation that the Powder Tower was built, a horseshoe-shaped construction with walls as thick as 10ft in parts facing outwards from the city center (bricks were an expensive choice, and so the wall facing inward was built of wood). The name Pulvertornis refers to its use as a powder storage facility since the 4th century, although there were also 11 cannons in the tower and a “cannonball catcher,” a ceiling between the 5th and 6th floor made of three layers of oak and pine logs. At one point the tower housed a prison, and until around 1883 it was used for the storage of weapons.


When the city’s fortifications were dismantled some years later (see the nearby Zviedru vārti, the “Swedish gate” one of the few remainders of the 17th century medieval fortification walls), the tower was abandoned. In 1892 the student fraternity Rubonia made a proposal to the city government to utilize the structure as their fraternity house, and the city agreed; in addition to needed repairs, the fraternity would have to pay a symbolic 1 ruble/year in rent. (Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, the fraternity sold the pigeon poop they removed from the tower for 612 rubles, a large sum in those days.)


Among the improvements made to the building were replacing the wooden wall facing the city with a brick façade and adding a roof somewhat resembling that of the present day. However during WWI the fraternity was relocated to Moscow along with the Rīga Polytechnic Institute, and in 1916 the tower was opened as the Latviešu strēlnieku pulku muzejs (the Latvian Riflemen's Regiment Museum) which was renamed the Latvian War Museum in 1919.


There is no admission to visit the war museum, one of the oldest and largest in Latvia. The museum’s mission is to “reveal to the public the complex military and political history of Latvia, with particular emphasis on the 20th century, during which the Latvian nation had to fight for its independence twice.” A significant portion of the museum’s collection consists of military and political artifacts from the 20th century, and permanent exhibits include WWI, WWII, the illegal Soviet occupation and the restoration of independence in 1991.


While geared more towards adults than children, kids will find portions of the museum interesting and possibly less frightening than other history museums in the city. The walls still contain cannonballs, bricked in to commemorate the Second Northern War, and the costumes/armor, weapons and historical trivia might be of interest to them while the adults do some more in-depth reading. We found it interesting to explore the interior of what is an icon of the Vecrīga streetscape, and the lack of admission meant we could duck in when our schedule allowed. I definitely recommend a stop at the War Museum for first-time visitors to Rīga, as it provides a comprehensive look at the history of this 800 year old city in an easily-digested format.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Gulf Islands - Fort Pickens

Happy Fourth of July!!!

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with a post on a massive US fort in one of our most beautiful National Parks? Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and includes everything from the picturesque white beaches of Florida postcards to maritime forests, bayous, and marine habitat. In the Pensacola Bay area there are multiple parcels that are part of Gulf Islands NS, among others including Naval Live Oaks, and two of the forts that historically fortified the Bay: Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens.


After the War of 1812 it was clear that Pensacola Bay (along with the various military installations taking advantage of the strategic port waters) was in need of protection, and three forts were proposed for the task: Fort Pickens on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, Fort McRee the eastern end of Perdido Key, and Fort Barrancas on the bluffs north of the channel. Fort McRee was heavily damaged during the Civil War in 1861 and was not re-built – all that remains today is the foundation of the one of the batteries. However, the other forts remained in use until WWII, and can be explored today during a visit to the Gulf Islands NS. It is easy to understand the significance of the location of the three forts; when looking out over the channel you can see where Fort McRee was located, as well as Barrancas; the first was directly across on Perdido Key, and Barrancas is near the Pensacola Lighthouse on the mainland. 


Fort Pickens was named for Revolutionary War General Andrew Pickens, and it was the largest of the three forts built on the harbor.  The design (a pentagon) was influenced by the geography of the barrier island with the intent to control the approach to the channel and to control access to the bay.  


Just as with Fort Barrancas & McRee, the only combat the fort saw took place during the Civil War. In October 1861 Confederate soldiers launched an attack against Union forces encamped outside the fort. Following the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Union forces twice bombarded the other two forts (November 1861 and January 1862), nearly destroying Fort McRee and the navy yard. Confederates abandoned Pensacola in May of 1862.

Battery Langdon

From 1886 to 1888, 16 Apache men including Goyahkla (also known as Geronimo) were imprisoned at Port Pickens, separated from their families for over a year before the women and children were also brought to the island. In May of 1888 the Apaches were moved to the Mount Vernon Barracks north of Mobile AL, and a final time in 1894 to a reservation in Oklahoma.

Rays swimming in formation

After the Civil War Fort Pickens saw the addition of new batteries, rifled cannon and underwater minefield equipment. In 1898 Battery Pensacola was added, one of the many reinforced concrete batteries built on the island. Today as visitors drive the winding road across the island they encounter various self-guided battery tours and other historical markers, however the majority of visitors are lured to Santa Rosa by the white-sand beaches.


In addition to touring the historic fort, the Pickens area also boasts fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, birdwatching, picnicking and camping opportunities. Fishing piers allow access to deeper waters, and parking areas adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico have restroom and shower facilities. Ferries run to the island from Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, providing an alternate means of access other than driving in from Pensacola Beach via Fort Pickens Road.

Look for one of the many osprey nests on the island
For more on the Gulf Island National Seashore:
   Fort Barrancas
   Pensacola Lighthouse


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