Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bass Fishing in Alabama

Alabama’s official state fish, the largemouth bass is certainly native to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Alabama bass fishing is serious business to some and entirely relaxing to others. On any level it is fun and on some levels it is quite addictive.

The largemouth bass is sometimes called other names including bigmouth bass, black bass and green trout. But any serious bass fisherman calls his favorite hobby "bass fishing." It is incredibly thrilling to catch a big bass, and even small ones will put up a fight.

This fish is white to green in color. It has dark splotches that run along the flanks and create a horizontal striped effect. Female largemouth bass tend to be bigger than males of the species. This fish has a lifespan of up to 16 years, and they are the largest in the black bass family. The biggest largemouth bass caught and on record was 29.5 inches long and weighed a whopping 25.1 pounds!

One of the really weird facts about largemouth bass is that they have six senses. They can not only see, hear, taste, touch and smell but they can also detect vibrations as well. They can feel the vibrations of their potential dinner and strike at it quickly and effectively.
Largemouth bass have a diversified diet. They will feed on small fish, snails, frogs, juvenile alligators, crayfish, lizards, and snakes. Bass will eat any small fish, but they love bluegills. I have had bass snatch bluegills as I was reeling in the smaller fish. They will even eat small birds, bats and mammals if they can get close enough to strike. Largemouth bass can consume food items that are up to one third of their size! There isn’t much that this big mouthed fish won’t consume.

The fish really put up a good fight when hooked and will jump in the air trying to get away! Plastic worms, spinners, jigs and crankbait are favorite lures used by anglers. Minnows and nightcrawlers work well for the fishermen who prefer to use live bait. Gold shiners are very effective. Largemouth bass are notorious for striking anything that appears to be elusive, though they can be quite finicky when they aren't hungry or agitated. It can be irritating to know that there is big bass lurking nearby and it is not in the mood to hit anything, but that is just another thing that makes bass fishing interesting.
Largemouth bass are freshwater fish, but they can be found in brackish water. On the Alabama Gulf Coast, you might catch them in the same spots as saltwater species like flounder and redfish. During spring and summer, they enjoy the cooler water that has a lot shade. Cloudy, overcast days tend to be best for heavy strikes and catches.

Mornings and early evenings are the best times of day to catch largemouth bass. Any fresh or brackish water in Alabama is likely to have bass in it.

Fishing for largemouth bass does not have to cost an arm and a leg though it is easy to get carried away once you are hooked on the sport. Some bass fishermen spend more on a boat than they spent on their last new car. If you can afford to do that, that’s great. But it is really unnecessary. You can certainly catch largemouth bass with an inexpensive rod and reel.

There aren't many cane pole bass fishermen left, but a shiner, a big hook and a cane pole can catch monster bass. Try that old school method and you might be pleasantly surprised!

The largemouth bass is quite delicious if prepared properly, though most people would think it pales in comparison to other Alabama freshwater fish like bluegills, crappie, and catfish. Over the last several decades most serious bass fishermen practice "catch and release." Actually, I can't remember the last time that I heard of anyone taking a big bass home. It's the fight that gets people hooked on Alabama bass fishing!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grass Carp

Grass Carp Alabama White Amur Photo

Relatively few fishermen have ever caught a grass carp in Alabama waters. There are several reasons for this. They are not found in all freshwater. They don't eat the same food as other freshwater fish, so they don't take the same bait. Even if they are hooked, they are extremely difficult to land with the same fishing gear that successfully bags panfish, bass, and most catfish.

The white amur (grass carp) is a member of the minnow family. It was imported to the United States from Asia in 1963. White amur are stocked in farm ponds to control aquatic vegetation. Many states have made it illegal to import these fish because of their ravenous appetites. Some environmentalists are convinced that the fish can actually eat so many weeds that they can become a threat to wildlife habitat.
Two Varieties of Grass Carp

There are two varieties of grass carp, diploid white amur and the treploid white amur. Conditions are not present in farm ponds and lakes for the diploid white amur to reproduce; however, these fish often travel to rivers and large streams where they can reproduce and become a problem. White amur will instinctively seek flowing water, so pond owners usually screen spillways and streams to prevent escape.

The triploid white amur is a genetically altered fish incapable of reproduction. Many states that have outlawed the diploid will allow the stocking of triploids, with proper permitting.

The white amur can live for up to 10 years and reach a weight of 40 lbs. They start feeding each spring when the water temperature reaches 68 degrees. These fish can consume up to 5 times their body weight every day, most of it vegetation.
Big Hook With a Heavy Line

White amur are not very hard to catch, provided they are spotted first. They swirl the water when feeding, often coming partly out of the water. Carp bait can be purchased at tackle shops and even some mass merchandisers. I buy it at my local Wal-Mart. Some fishermen catch white amur with vegetation on a treble hook. Others use kernels of corn.

Use a big hook and a heavy line because these fish are very powerful. I use a saltwater rig. Set the drag loose and leave the bail open. When the carp takes the bait, let him run for a few seconds and then set the hook. These are powerful fish, but they aren't great fighters considering their size. Once they are hooked, they generally don't make huge runs like a big bass would. Keep the line tight and reel in during the moments that the fish is not running.

Bowfishing  for grass carp is becoming more popular, but unless the fish are considered pests where you are fishing this is not a viable option. Carp can survive the trauma of being hooked, but arrows are going to be certain death. I personally wouldn't feel good about killing one of these monster fish. I always release them.
Edible, Even Tasty - But Who Eats Them?

It is usually a waste of time to fish for these fish with traditional game fish bait, but I have hooked a few with worms and a cane pole while fishing for bluegills. The few times that this has happened, I was in a 14 foot aluminum boat. I have held on for as long as 45 minutes, while being pulled from one side of the pond to the other. It is impossible to get a large one in the boat with a cane pole and a bream hook. Either the hook is going to straighten or the pole will break. I always end up with a straightened hook.

The white amur is edible, said to be even tasty, but everybody that I know releases them. In Asia, they are choice table fare.

Where to Catch Grass Carp

Unlike native freshwater fish, grass carp are not going to be found just anywhere, They are found in many small, privately owned ponds near Gulf Shores, but could show up in any body of freshwater. The best way to find grass carp is to gain access to as many privately owned lakes and ponds as you can. This is not as difficult as it sounds - sometimes all you have to do is ask. Not all pond owners are going to allow you to "mess with their pets," but others are going to let you catch and release.

In larger bodies of water near Gulf Shores, they are going to be more difficult to locate, but when you find them once, they probably will not be far away from that spot the next time you fish there.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lillian Alabama Boat Launch and Park

The $2.1 million Lillian Boat Launch and Park recently opened near the U.S. Highway 98 Bridge. The park will provide access to the northern end of Perdido Bay.

Baldwin County, Alabama, purchased the land for $1.4 million from AIG Baker, the shopping center developer. The construction was funded by a BP Oil Spill Grant. The park area covers 5.3 acres, room enough for many people to fish from the piers and dozens of cars in the parking lot. There are picnic areas and boardwalks for those who just want to enjoy the beauty of the area. The panoramic views of Perdido Bay and the Highway 98 Bridge will provide photo-ops for both those who can spend some time enjoying the area and those just passing through on the Pensacola to Foley route.

We visited in February, just after the opening of the Lillian Boat Launch and Park, and even though the weather was cold and windy there were people fishing from the piers and several boats had been launched. The park will be very busy when the weather turns warmer. The double boat launch will ease launch times.

The only problem that has presented itself is sand collecting at the boat launch, which could make it difficult to launch boats without periodic dredging.

In addition to recreation, the park will serve as a launching point for the local volunteer fire department and rescue squad. They previously had to leave Alabama and launch their boats into Perdido Bay from a Florida boat launch.

Frequent visitors and those who live in the area are aware of the fish and other creatures than be caught in Perdido Bay with a hook or a net, but others might be surprised at the variety. Mullet can be caught with a cast net and blue crabs can be caught by using several methods-- the most popular method, the crab basket.

Just a few of the more popular fish that can be caught here are speckled trout, white trout, flounder, and redfish. During warm weather kids can easily catch pinfish and croakers, and possibly some bigger fish, so this is a very good place to teach kids how to fish without running the risk of them becoming bored before they catch one.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Alabama Coastal Landscaping

There can be no dispute that the landscaping on the Alabama Gulf Coast is not only interesting but beautiful. Beach home owners who enjoy coastal landscaping are prone to experimenting, but when landscaping a business property like a condo or shopping center, professional landscapers usually stick to the few plants that are practically guaranteed to thrive near the beach with little maintenance beyond weeding and watering. As luck would have it, some of the most hardy, salt tolerate plants are also gorgeous.

The most common plants used here for coastal landscaping are relatively easy to identify and many can be purchased from nurseries for you to grow at your own home, providing the growing seasons are compatible. Once you have learned to identify these plants you will be able to recognize the vast majority of plants that you will see here.

Wax Myrtle

The berries of the wax myrtle were used centuries ago for making fragrant candles. Modern crafters sill use them for the same reason. Birds love the wax myrtle's waxy berries.

The wax myrtle is very flammable. The oils in the tree ignite quickly and burn even faster.

The wax myrtle is most often used to create a natural border on property lines. They can grow up to forty feet tall and twenty-five feet wide. They have spotted leaves that are about three inches in length. Native to Alabama, they will grow just about anywhere, including poor soil and areas prone to flooding. Pruned or not- they thrive near the beach.


The lantana plant has clusters of flowers that are not only pleasing to the eye but are very fragrant. They come in a variety of colors including white, yellow, orange, red and blue. Some people refer to them as sand verbenas.

The plant is drought resistant and grows well in warm climates. It is not indigenous to the Alabama Gulf Coast, but they are naturalized. In most of Florida, they are considered invasive.

Lantana establishes itself quickly. One plant will cover a wide area, so property owners get a lot of bang for the buck when they use this plant for coastal landscaping.


Oleanders  are beautiful and can either be in the form of a bush or tree. The blossoms come in many vibrant colors such as white, purple, pink, red and yellow. Every part of the oleander is highly toxic to humans and most animals, but that doesn't hinder landscapers and property owners from using it. It is too beautiful and easy to grow not to.

African Iris

The African iris grows prolifically along the Alabama coastline. The plants grow to a height of two to three feet and to a width of three to four feet. The flowers, large and showy, are white with yellow and purple-blue markings. The stalks are very stiff. Each bloom only lasts one day, but they are quickly replaced by another flower.

The rhizomes spread quickly in sandy areas and can create large mounds of beautiful and colorful flowers. These plants can be divided every two to three years, making them very cost efficient.

Pampas Grass

On the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, pampas grass thrives on neglect. It is very easy to grow and doesn't need any care beyond a little trimming. When planting pampas grass be sure you have found the perfect spot. Once it has established itself, nothing short of heavy equipment will move it.

This showy grass can grow up to ten feet tall. The flowers resemble large plumes and grow to about a foot in length. The plumes are usually white, but they can also be pink or a very pale blue. Although pampas grass is beautiful, it can be dangerous too. The greenish blue leaves are razor sharp and can readily slice you wide open, so don’t play with the pampas grass!

Blue Pacific Juniper

The blue Pacific juniper loves to grow in the sandy dunes near the coastline. This is a low growing plant that spreads incredibly quickly and makes a great ground cover. The foliage is green in color but sometimes has a bluish tint to it. A member of the evergreen family, it is salt, heat and drought tolerant.

It grows to a height of ten to twelve inches and spreads out as far as six feet. It looks great on raised beds or along walls where it can drape itself.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Oleander Shrub

Visitors to the Gulf Shores, Alabama, area are sometimes overwhelmed by the beauty of oleander shrubs when they are in full bloom from early summer to fall. Landscapers love them because they are easy to establish, and property owners love them because they are easy to maintain and color a wide area red, white, or pink.
The oleander shrub may have originated in the Mediterranean area. It could have been picked up by South Pacific explorers then taken to the West Indies. Southward voyaging ships' captains were often asked to collect exotic seeds and cuttings for planting in overseas gardens. One such seafarer took home an oleander which was named South Sea Rose.

Pink and White Oleanders
Some people thought it was an olive bearing bush, and this may have come from the Latin name for olive tree, which is Olea. It was also imagined that oleanders came from a corruption of the Latin for rhododendron, and it has been confused in the past with that plant.

Oleander in Greek mythology means charm and romance. Leander once wooed a lovely Greek maiden. He was killed in a shipwreck and his love is said to have wandered the shores, called out to him -- Oh, Leander -- and she found him with a beautiful oleander in his hand. She kept the flower and it continued to grow.

This is just one story. Many people in the Deep South have enjoyed creating creating fanciful origins for oleander varieties.

There are Christian legends surrounding oleanders. It is thought by some to be the Rose of Jericho.

One other legend has Jean Lafitte killing all but one of a schooner's passengers. The man, named Ole Anderson, clutched a flowering plant in his hand. Lafitte made him a gardener and renamed the Norwegian, Olea Ander.

Whatever the true history, the oleander shrub is an Alabama Gulf Coast favorite. The bright colors -- reds, whites, pinks glisten in the sun and soften the harsh summer landscape.

The oleander shrub arrived in the sub-tropical climate of Galveston, Texas, around 1841. A prominent merchant, Joseph Osterman, gave them to his wife and sister-in-law, after he brought them back from Jamaica. The sister-in-law grew them easily and then gave some to the neighbors. They spread from there. A common pink variety with double flowers was named after her-- Mrs. Isadore Dyer.

After awhile the plants were found throughout Galveston and became one of its symbols, much like the azalea in Mobile, Alabama. The plant is hardy and can withstand salt spray, subtropical weather and alkaline soil.

After a 1900 hurricane, a Galveston organization called the Women's Health Protective Association (WHPA) wanted to beautify the island. Most of the island's plants had been destroyed by tidal surge and most of what remained was destroyed by dredge material used to raise land grade to make the island safer. The women chose the oleander as the main plant for the landscaping. By 1912, they had planted about 2,500 oleanders and 10,000 trees throughout the city.

The entire city eventually became one big oleander garden. In 1908, the Galveston Tribune named the oleander the symbol of Galveston and in 1910 another paper, the Galveston Daily News said that Galveston had become known worldwide as "Oleander City." In 1916 Galveston was named in an article as one of the most beautiful Southern cities.
As beautiful and versatile as the oleander shrub is, it does have a downside-- all parts of the plant are poisonous. In fact, it might be the most poisonous plant in the world. Ingesting or breathing in smoke from a burning oleander could cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and low blood pressure.

Almost 2000 people in Sri Lanka are poisoned by oleander each year-- the majority of those people intentionally poison themselves while attempting suicide.

I have never known anyone to be poisoned by oleanders, yet I have known dozens of people who have used it in their landscape for decades. That means with a little common sense, oleander poisoning can be avoided. Most people on the coast will not give up a plant as beautiful as the oleander because there aren't many plants that grow as easily in harsh conditions.

I am fairly certain that very few tourists are aware that the plants that help brighten their days at the beach might be the most poisonous in the world!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beach Sea Oats

Beach sea oats are the most common plants that you will see on the beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast. They are beautiful to look at, but controlling beach erosion is their greater purpose.

People who don't give much thought to the beach, except to enjoy it during a vacation, usually think of sand dunes as just big piles of sand, but that is not true. Without sea oats, there wouldn't be any sand dunes. Sea oats hold the dunes in place, and make it possible for the dunes to get larger, offering more and more protection for the beach as they grow larger and larger.

Sea oats grow on dunes from Florida to Virginia and then around the entire Gulf to eastern Mexico and into the northern part of the West Indies. They are very salt tolerant and they thrive close to the sea. Their large system of underground roots and stems helps to reduce the erosion of the sand dunes.

Gulf Shores Sand DuneGrowing in colonies, sea oats produce few seeds. They spread underground from rhizomes and they get distributed by winds and the shifting of sand.

Leaves grow to a maximum of about two feet in length and they are about an inch wide. Above the ground, stems on sea oats grow up to six feet tall, and they contain graceful, drooping clusters which are called panicles. Panicles contain seed heads which are called spikelets.

Cereal can be made from the dried and cooked seeds. Seed heads which have matured are used in floral arrangements, such as pretty wreaths. However, it is not permitted to pick them for those purposes on the Alabama Gulf Coast because they are protected by law.

It is against the law to pick the wild plants, but you can easily buy them from native plant nurseries which have permits to sell them.

Sea oats withstand heat, salt, wind and poor soil very well, but pedestrian traffic can cause major damage. Most municipalities have enacted laws that prohibit walking on sand dunes and most public beaches now have boardwalks around and over the dunes.

After a strong storm, beach towns go into crisis mode to rebuild the dunes. This can be labor intensive and time consuming. During the last decade, it has been hard for beach towns like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to get ahead of all of the bad weather events.

Sea oats provide a significant service of stabilizing the ocean shoreline and sand dunes. Without beach sea oats, beaches lose ground. Before the best beaches were commercialized this was not really a problem. Extreme weather events just moved the beaches. With commercialization there is nowhere for the beach to move. Without sand dunes and the sea oats that hold them in place, the sea would eventually consume what man has built.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Building Sandcastles

There isn’t one person out there that doesn’t have a memory of a childhood beach vacation where they built sandcastles. That is, unless you’ve never been to the beach and if you haven’t, you are so missing out on a great time!

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians built sand sculptures. They did this to create a model for the actual building they were going to construct. Although there is no actual documentation on this, it sounds pretty realistic as Egypt is predominantly sand!
You really don’t need a lot of things to build a sandcastle or sand sculpture. Buckets or pails of various sizes will be necessary to form a base for your castle. Smaller cups from Solo cup size to medicine dosing cups can also be helpful if you wish to make your castle a little more interesting. Plastic forks, knives, spoons, toothpicks and dental floss are useful if you want to make some elaborate designs on your sand creation. A small shovel will be needed to get the sand into your bucket and will prove important if you are planning to surround your castle with a moat!

Dry sand will never hold the shape of your container. It is essential to add water to the sand. Professional sand sculptors suggest mixing eight parts of sand with one part of water for best holding power. Be careful that the consistency is right because if it is too wet, you will create a landslide on your sand sculpture.
Most people just get to the beach and start building their sandcastles all willy-nilly. Why not do a little planning the day before your trip to the beach? Kids especially are going toe enjoy this because all kids love drawing and they will go to sleep that night dreaming about sandcastles.

Although professionals spend weeks or months designing what they will build, the average beachgoers won’t need to dedicate that much time to planning. Just grab a piece of scrap paper and start drawing a design. Don’t go crazy your first time out. Keep it simple so you will be able to successfully build your castle. Too many details will potentially lead to failure.
The key to building sandcastles is patience. Start with the base. This will be created by using the larger containers. Once your base has been set, you can begin to add other levels and tiers in your design. Be very careful to put levels on slowly so your entire castle doesn’t tumble down!

Once you have the tiers added, you can begin to create designs on your sandcastle. The spoon is perfect for making gingerbread style designs on your castle. Do not push the spoon into the sand too far or you will cause sand to erode. The knife can be used to create straight lines. Using the fork, you can trail across your work for a neo-classic style look. The toothpick is awesome for doing any freestyle type of embellishments such as swirls, zigzags, circles or anything you can imagine. Professional sand sculptors use toothpicks to sign their names to their work.

It doesn’t matter how detailed or elaborate your sandcastle is, the important thing is that you have a great time building it!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Interview with David Schneider of Odyssey Sea Glass

David Schneider is an interesting fellow. At his day job he's a medical transcripionist. On his off time he surfs, plays guitar... and combs the beaches. After reading my interview with David, you will want to know even more about this fascinating hobby.

David, what exactly is sea glass?

It begins as any glass object, such as bottles, windows, dishes, et cetera. When a glass object becomes broken or useless, it is thrown in the trash.

If that trash winds up a beach, the tumbling action of the waves among the rocks and sand wears all the harsh edges off the glass shards, leaving them nicely rounded.

The water leaches certain minerals out of the glass, leaving the surface finely etched or frosted. What once was trash becomes a thing of beauty. The term beach glass is a more general term and includes glass from the shores of large lakes where there is enough wave action to provide the necessary tumbling and etching.

How did you get involved in the hobby?

Well, I got pulled into it because my wife, Lin, liked picking it up. Since she is artistic, she began making wire-wrapped jewelry with it. However, she has always liked finding it better than making the jewelry.

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. But what can you do? Gotta join the wife. But then I found out what a danger that was. Like a lot of people these days, I got hooked, especially when I found a few of the rare pieces and learned the difference between the worthless and glass that could be worth hundreds of dollars.

Since I grew up surfing in California, and Lin has always loved the water, we have lived most of our lives close to the beach; California, Hawaii, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and here in Washington. We have also collected glass in other areas while visiting.

I would think that most people, even beach lovers, aren't familiar with this collectible. How popular is the hobby?

Well, I have been really surprised at the large number of people who are crazy about it… And I mean crazy, like fanatics! Of course, we ourselves are not crazy… Are we?

Some families here in the U.S.A. and Canada have been “collecting” beach glass for generations without really thinking that there was anybody else doing it. Then came the Internet and the diffusion of knowledge about lots of things, this hobby included.

We currently get about 500 people a day visiting our site, Odyssey Sea Glass, every day from more than 30 countries.

Everybody has seen glass on the beach and most people either walk around it or pick it up to dispose of later. Is it possible to tell at a glance that I've spotted sea glass and not just litter? Or do I have to pick it up and study it?

That is a good question and really is the basis for any kind of collecting hobby – is it collectible? Is it valuable or rare?

It’s like baseball cards or matchbooks – some are worth nothing, others are worth a lot, but at first you don’t know.

There are a number of factors that are discussed in detail on our web site, but the main factor is this: Where does it cease to become a glass shard and become a collectible piece?

Basically, the glass needs to be well rounded on all edges. The surface must be totally frosted with none of the original shine showing. That is when it can be called sea or beach glass. Other factors such as color, size, and shape then come into play when considering the rareness/value/beauty.

Once that you have decided that you've found sea glass do you take all of it home, or do you leave any of it?

At first you will want to pick up every piece of glass you see. But as it starts to accumulate and you learn more about the glass, you begin to recognize quickly whether it is worth bending over for (pieces with a side cracked off or shiny, for example)… although you MIGHT miss a valuable piece if you don’t look closely sometimes.

I was picking up some obvious colored pieces of sea glass and saw what looked like a pebble, black like the rest of the rocks. But I though, hmmm, it just has a look to it. When we checked it out later, it was a rare very dark red color.

That gets us to the next question. How valuable is sea glass?

Well, like anything collectible, that depends pretty much on what someone is willing to pay for it. A rare orange, red, or yellow piece in “jewelry grade” condition and the size of a quarter could go from $100 on up to $300 or more. The common colors such as white (clear frosted glass) and “beer bottle” green and brown are worth less than a dollar, usually, even in perfect condition.

I spend a lot of time on the beach, most of it on smooth white sand of Gulf Shores, Alabama. I don't see much litter unless we've just had a tropical storm or stronger. Do I need to look a little closer or find a better "sea glass beach?"

Both. It is possible to find sea glass on any beach...but generally flat, sandy beaches are not going to provide much. It gets buried too easily and deep. You can narrow down the type of beach to look for, but there are so many factors that come into play that I couldn't do it justice in this interview. I would suggest looking at the detailed information on our web site.

Do collectors generally just collect the raw material, or do they have it fashioned into jewelry or or other objects?

Most people will take it home and put in jars or whatever along with their seashells, beach rocks, and driftwood. However, a lot of people want to know what they can make with it … They want it out where they can enjoy looking at it.

So sea glass crafts are getting very popular, and we do feature a lot of ideas and projects that others have made, along with some detailed beach glass crafts projects that most people can do. The possibilities are endless, from picture frames to wind chimes to splash guards and driveway inlays.

On the other end of the scale, sea glass jewelry has become VERY CLASSY and there are many artists who specialize in making bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings, and even rings out of sea glass.

Also, having your own find made into a fine piece of jewelry is very satisfying. A good sea glass jeweler will turn it into a one-of-a-kind personalized gift for a special person… or for yourself.

Have you been able to date any of your finds?

Yes, although most often it is not possible. There are characteristics of glass that can allow you to identify the period of time when it was made if those characteristics are present, i.e., bubbles in the glass would indicate that it is not of modern origin.

When you find pieces that have shapes, letters, and certain colors, many times you can identify within a few years how old it is and occasionally even its exact origin. Some interesting very collectible pieces are bottle stoppers, figurines, and marbles.

Of course, by definition it is worn smooth, so for the most part, identifying the date or origin is going to be difficult.

For those who don't get to the beach often, where can they buy it?

You can buy sea glass jewelry as well by the piece or in bulk on sites like ours or on eBay. There are a lot of fakes though, so take your time and learn the differences. Invest wisely!

David, Thank you for your time. I'm sure you are going to have a lot of people searching for sea glass during their next beach vacation.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Prehistoric Indian Artifacts Interview with Steve Valentine

I have always enjoyed reading and collecting history. I picked up a couple dozen arrowheads and several other prehistoric Indian artifacts when I was a kid, mostly just stumbling across them because I was in the woods so much.

About two years ago, I made up my mind to spend as much time as it took to learn how to find arrowheads when I wanted to find them. I found that there were some expert prehistoric Indian artifact hunters who were happy to share their knowledge. Steve Valentine is at the top of that list. I'm pleased to have this extensive interview with Steve on my website.

Steve, How did you get involved in the hobby of hunting and collecting prehistoric Indian artifacts?

Arrowhead Photo My father got me started when I was very young, around 5 or 6 years old. He always took us on a family outing every Sunday and he would let us boys choose what we wanted to do. One day we couldn’t make up our minds so he said he would take us arrowhead hunting so my two brothers and I headed off with dad to try our hand at finding some.

Dad took us to a place he had hunted when he was a kid and gave us the basics of what to look for and the first hour or so we all found flint chips while dad was finding a few arrowheads. I was walking beside my father when I looked down and saw my first arrowhead. I yelled, “Look dad, there’s one”. I picked it up and was just amazed at what I had just found and my passion for the hobby was born. That first little damaged point started a hobby that has spanned 45 years and will continue for hopefully many more years to come.

A lot of people take a break from their hobbies and pick it up again at some point in their lives. Has your level of interest for prehistoric Indian artifacts ever faltered?

No, not really. Once I found that first point I was hooked. Whenever it was my turn to pick what we would do on our Sunday outings I always chose hunting for arrowheads as long as the conditions were right. After I got my drivers license and didn’t need to be driven anywhere I went every chance I could and my passion for finding artifacts has never waned. I still try to go at least once a week and sometimes more than that in the spring right after the first plow.

Do you have other family members who collect prehistoric Indian artifacts?

Indian Drilled Tooth I have one brother who also collects. He wasn’t really all that interested in them when we were younger and usually complained when I picked arrowhead hunting for our Sunday trips. He would find a few though and I would end up with everything we found because I was the oldest and they all knew I would take care of them. After my brother married a woman whose father had also collected he began to collect artifacts himself and has built up a fairly decent collection. He doesn’t have near the amount I have, but he does have some nice pieces.

I hunt prehistoric Indian artifacts myself, and I am in awe of your collection. I know you haven't kept an exact count, but do you have an estimate of the number of pieces in your collection?

I tried counting my collection a few years back and I got up to around 12,000 pieces and I quit counting and never finished. I would estimate I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 pieces counting everything. That would include Scrapers, Points, Blades, Beads, Stone Tools, Bone Tools, Hammerstones, etc.
Arrowhead Frame
I would venture to guess I have around 10,000 arrowheads and 5,000 of “everything else” like the things I mentioned above. As for the number of personal finds, I would say around 90% to 95% of that is personal finds. I keep telling myself that one day I will get an actual count of my collection, but finding the time and the patience is hard to do.

If it was touched by a prehistoric Indian I bring it home, but if I had a collection like yours I might start leaving some where they are. As your collection began to grow over time, did you grow more discriminating regarding what you put in your prehistoric Indian artifact collection?

Indian Pottery Handle Sort of. I still try to bring almost everything I find home, especially if it is a worked piece. I have gotten to the point though that I don’t bring home Pottery Shards unless they are a Rim Shard or a decorated piece. I was getting box after box of shards and had to quit bringing them home or I was going to run out of room.

I do the same thing with Hammerstones now as well. Unless it’s a really nice Hammerstone I don’t bring them home. I will usually pick them up and take them to the side of the field and put them on a fence post or some place where someone will see them so they can have them if they want it. I do bring home every worked piece of flint I find, no matter what size or what it is. If it’s worked, it’s coming home with me.

You mentioned some of the items in your prehistoric Indian artifact collection other than arrowheads. Tell us more.

About 20 years ago I met a guy in the field that became one of my best friends. He introduced me to hunting Ft Ancient village sites and showed me how to hunt for items other than arrowheads. These sites produce lots of Shell and Bone items like Beads, Pendants, Bone Awls, Deer Antler Arrowpoints and Flakers, Pottery items, Discoidals, and Pipes.

I have hundreds of Beads now and lots of Bone Tools and other items made from Bone and Shell. I also find a lot of Stone Tools like Axes, Celts, Pestles, Chisels, Hammerstones, and Grooved Mauls. I have found a few Pipes and just found one of my best ever this spring. I also find lots of Drills and Scrapers. Scrapers are very abundant on sites and you can pick up a pocketful very quickly.

I'm sure it would have to be something beyond special, but I have to ask,"Do you have a favorite prehistoric Indian artifact in your collection?"
Pipe Artifact Indian It would be really hard to pick just one favorite find. I have a few points that are really nice and are in almost pristine condition and they are really special to me. I also just found a really nice ¾ Grooved Axe on December 17th of last year that was a really special find.

I guess if I had to pick just one it would have to be the Pipe I just found in April of this year. It is made from a very fine grained sandstone and is in pristine condition. There isn’t a scratch, nick, or mark on it. It is in the same exact shape as when it was made and it was a surface find. The best part about it though is it is an Effigy Pipe. It has a mouth cut into the bottom of the Pipe and if you turn it upside down it looks like a baby bird waiting to be fed.

Keeping up with all of your prehistoric Indian artifacts has to be tough. I've seen the photos. I have a very small collection compared to yours, and sometimes I have trouble locating things. How do you do it?

I have almost everything I own setting out on display either in a Riker mount, a wooden tray, on a shelf, or in a showcase. Most of my collection is marked showing where it was found. I also do site trays which means everything in the tray is from the same site so I don’t have to mark the individual pieces. Having everything in a tray or on a shelf in a showcase makes it a lot easier to keep track of, plus I can go out to my artifact room and look at it all any time I want without having to drag a bunch of pieces out of a closet which is really nice.

I would enjoy this hobby if my finds were monetarily worthless, but a lot of people see dollar signs behind every collectible. What kind of changes have you seen over your collecting life regarding monetary values for authentic prehistoric Indian artifacts?

I think it has ruined the aspect of collecting just for the fun of it and to find nice pieces. Now everyone wants to know what something is worth. To me they are all priceless works of art. I love taking my artifacts to shows and displaying them for others to see, but it never fails that someone will come by and ask the value of a piece or make me an offer that I have to refuse and sometimes repeatedly.

Arrowhead Display I also don’t believe in “authenticating” artifacts for the purpose of selling. You see these papers on eBay and at shows that “so and so” says an artifact is real. Just what makes them an expert? I have seen pieces that were deemed authentic by these so called experts that I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole.

I remember a few years before he died that Greg Perino was fooled by a flintknapper with some fake Clovis Points, so even the experts can be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I will buy a piece on occasion but only if I think it’s good and not because it has a paper with it and I usually only buy from someone I know or from the person that found the piece. I have however never sold a piece. I have given a few away to kids and friends, but never sold any.

How have increased values for prehistoric Indian artifacts changed the marketplace.

Indian Bone Tools I think the prices have gone up because some people have more money that they have sense. I have seen things go for completely outrageous prices at auctions and I think that helps drive up the price on other pieces. EBay has helped flood the market with fakes because the average Joe who just wants some artifacts for his or her office or home are buying them as real and don’t know any better. Then after they die or decide they don’t want them anymore they are resold or passed down through the family and no one knows they are fake.

The high prices have also hurt the hunters as well because now people think every arrowhead is worth a fortune so the fields are full of people trying to find them and sell them. I remember a time when I could spend most of the day and never see another hunter and now if you aren’t at a popular hunting spot at the crack of dawn then you will find a site that has been overrun by hunters there before you. I have one field I hunt that I used to hunt all day by myself and this spring I counted 17 people in there at one time. The high prices have turned a fun hobby into a money making bonanza for some people.

What impact has the internet had on the hobby of hunting and collecting prehistoric Indian artifacts?

The internet has been a double edged sword for the hobby. On one hand it has helped bring together a lot of people with similar interests from all across the United States and even the world. People who otherwise would have never met can now go to numerous web sites and converse about a hobby we all have a passion for, show our latest finds off for others to see, and to see artifacts from other parts of the country we probably never would have seen if not for the internet.

Arrowhead in Field

Just like this interview, if not for the internet we never would have met and I wouldn’t be doing this interview and sharing my interest with other people. On the other hand it has hurt the hobby with sites like eBay that flood the market with fakes. It has also given access to thieves who surf the web looking for collections so they can do their best to steal them. So I guess you can say it has been good and bad for the hobby, but in my mind more good then bad.

Tell us what makes a site prime for hunting prehistoric Indian artifacts.

Indian Fish Hook A lot of different things go into finding a good site for looking for artifacts. Most sites are located near a water source of some kind whether it be a river, creek, spring, or lake. They had to have fresh water for cooking, drinking, and bathing plus the abundance of fish and game that would be available.

It has been my experience over the years that the best sites are usually located at the confluence of a river and stream on a high ridge above the flood plain. You may find a few scattered artifacts in the bottoms where it floods but for the most part the best hunting is on the high ridges where the camps would be. Finding these good sites can be hit and miss. You may see a spot that looks like it would be a prime candidate for finding artifacts only to walk it and find nothing while another site not far away will yield tons of artifacts.

What are some misconceptions people have regarding the hobby of hunting and collecting prehistoric Indian artifacts the people who left them behind?

A lot of novices think of “Cowboys and Indians” when they see Indian artifacts. I have had a number of people ask me what tribe something came from and I have to explain that most of what we find is prehistoric and has no association with any of the known tribes. They don’t realize that these people were in this country 10,000 to 15,000 years ago and only think about the Indians that are depicted on TV and in movies that roamed the plains and were put into reservations.

Notched Arrowhead Others think that we are grave robbers and that we go out and dig up mounds and cemeteries to get our artifacts. They don’t realize that you can go out and walk a plowed field after a hard rain and pick artifacts up off the surface of the ground. Very little of my collection has been found by digging and even then I was only digging in middens and trash pits, not mounds or graves. Digging is too much like work and unless you get into a prime spot you can find a lot more by surface hunting.

What suggestions do you have for someone who would like to start hunting prehistoric Indian artifacts?

If a person is really serious about trying to find Indian artifacts it’s not that hard finding out info on where to get started. You can go to your local library and research your area for Indian sites, camps, and mounds. Any plowed fields in those areas should produce artifacts. You can also ask around and see if anyone in your area is already pursuing this hobby and see if they will give you a few pointers. Grooved Axe Indian One of the best ways I have found of finding new sites is by hopping in the car and driving out in the country looking for plowed fields and then stopping at the farm and asking the farmers if they ever found any artifacts in their fields. You would be surprised how many will say that they have.

Once you find a spot that has produced artifacts you can try to get permission from the farmer to hunt his fields and give it a try. That is one thing I can’t stress enough. Always obtain permission first before going on someones property. It’s not like it was 20 or 30 years ago when you could just walk out into a farmers field and they knew what you were doing and didn’t say much. Nowadays everyone is suspicious of just what you might be doing and some farmers will shoot first and ask questions later, so always get permission first. Arrowhead Frame Once you get permission look the area over and pick a spot on high ground near a water source and hit it first. Look for flint chips, pieces of bone, shell, or pottery and if you find these concentrated in one spot then you may have found a site and start hunting it a row at a time.

Try not to wander through the field willy-nilly because you will miss a lot of things. Try to hunt it a row at a time going back and forth about 5 to 10 feet apart on each pass. When you first start out you are going to want to check every piece of flint or rock you spy to see if it is anything. Once you get accustomed to what you are looking for you will know just what to pick up and what to leave alone.

Also, something that will really help you out and keep your back from getting sore from bending over all day is to get yourself a long stick, preferably an old broom handle, and put a nail in the end of it to flip out pieces you see. This also makes a good walking stick and will come in handy if a dog tries to get a little aggressive you can bop him on the nose and send him on his way.

I hope this interview helps peak an interest in this hobby in a few people and they learned a few things about collecting Indian artifacts. Maybe we’ll see each other in a field somewhere or meet at a show, but until then "Happy Hunting" everyone.

Thank you Steve for being so generous with your time.

With practice, Steve's tips for finding prehistoric Indian artifacts will be productive anywhere in the country.

All of the photos on this page are from Steve's collection. Make sure you click on the following link to see his entire collection.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Blue Angels Air Show at Pensacola Beach

Few events match the excitement of viewing a Blue Angels Air Show over Pensacola Beach. Where else can you see jets flying over 700 mph only 18 inches apart? Everybody but the pilots shake their heads and wonder, "How do they do that?"

The team's six demonstration pilots fly Boeing F/A-18 Hornets at close to 70 shows across the United States each year. Since 1946, they have drawn over 427 million spectators. The Blues were the first officially sanctioned military aerial demonstration team.

A seventh aircraft is used for backup and public relations work, sometimes taking members of the news media and other civilians (with connections) for stomach-churning rides.

Blue Angels Air Show

Members of the Blues are carefully selected from the best pilots in the Navy and Marines. They fly with the team for two years and then return to their service branch.

During the winter months new pilots and team members are trained at the Naval Air Facility El Centro, California.

The Blues are stationed in Pensacola from March until November, flying out of Pensacola Naval Air Station. The Blues practice twice a week while in Pensacola and the public is always welcome. Two formal air shows are scheduled in Pensacola each year.

If you plan on attending one of the two air shows, do yourself a favor and either plan on getting to the beach very early and staying late (before parking becomes impossible and after the worst of the crowd clears), or either use the trolley service that leaves between Casino Beach and Fort Pickens gate.

If you aren't able to see one of the air shows on your next vacation, try to schedule a visit to the Museum of Naval Aviation. The Blues have a section at the museum dedicated to them. Four of the aircraft are suspended in formation, and there is large display of Blue Angels memorabilia.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Alabama Coastal Bowfishing

By Dustin Mizell

I had never heard a 250-pound man yell like that. As I grabbed the line to keep the fish from jerking my bow in the water, I found out why he had screamed, and then I did the same.

From then on, we wore gloves when fighting giant cownosed rays. You learn as you go with bowfishing because it is a relatively new sport. I have been enjoying the sport for ten years and I still learn something on each fishing trip.

I built my first bow with some fishing line and old bow parts. I shot a few fish, but looking back I laugh at how ridiculous my rig was. Later, some innovators came out with some basic bowfishing equipment and I was in business. I took the recurve bow every place I went and devoured every small bit of information regarding different hunting conditions and species.

Bowfishing in Alabama

It was not until I came back home to south Alabama that I found I had left the best bowfishing area in the world! A great hunting area, coupled with the new high tech gear available-- there would be no fish in safe waters.
Fresh Fishkabobs

Coastal Alabama is a premier location for this sport for many reasons. We will start with fresh water. A variety of freshwater species are available in close proximity. Some fish species harvested here are bowfin, carp, gar, alligator gar, buffalo, suckers, catfish, and shad. Most of the fresh water bowfishing is done at night with the aid of lighted boats. Bowfishing is productive during the day for some species, like gar for example.

Some of the best freshwater to enjoy this sport is in Mobile Bay and the surrounding delta and river areas. Most of these fish are very good eating. Carp and gar are edible, but difficult to clean. A fresh water trip in Alabama will often produce many shot opportunities at many different species.
Salty Shallow
An inshore saltwater trip is in a class all its own. Commonly harvested species include stingrays, cownose rays, black drum, sheepshead, spadefish, catfish, mullet, flounder, and needlefish. Day and night or both good for inshore. The day trips are often best for spotting stingrays in the shallows, shooting sheepshead and spades off oil rigs, and chasing down schools of cownose rays along the coast. This makes for an action packed day of fishing with never a dull moment.

Bowfishing in Alabama

If quantity is the intention, nighttime is often the better choice. Cruising along the shallows at night with powerful water piercing lights will bring the salty shore to life, with shiny fish swimming in and out of the lights constantly. Hundreds of mullet and monster stingrays will glide into your site. This is also one of the most effective ways of bagging flounder. Most of these species are very good eating and a night of frantic and fun-filled action will certainly fill your freezer.
Hunting Deep Sea Monsters

If you want heart pumping fun in coastal Alabama, try offshore or deep sea bowfishing. Common species include sharks, snapper, tripletail, dolphin fish, tuna, and marlin. Shark is often the primary target. Chumming draws the sharks close enough to the boat for a shot. Nothing gets me excited like a shark below me and my bow at full draw! It's an experience that can't be imagined-- it must be experienced.
Bowfishing in Gulf Shores

Other species will also show up while chumming. They can also be spotted while trolling or near structure. Some of the smaller fish species can be harvested with common recurves or compound bows, but the bigger species require special equipment. High poundage line and arrows are often used in conjunction with buoys to ensure the giant fish make it into the boat. This is a rare adventure that can not be enjoyed in very many areas of the world. It can also also fill your freezer with a ton of great tasting meat.
More Than Fish

Animals that can be harvested with a bow and arrow are alligators and snapping turtles. A tag must be drawn in Alabama to hunt an alligator. A bow and arrow is not the most popular method of harvesting alligators, but it might be the most exciting-- you must use special gear for such a large animal because it is one of the few creatures that you have to fight to bring it in after you  hit it with an arrow. Snapping turtles are hard to find, but when hit with an arrow they are another creature that you will have to fight to get your arrow back. Snapping turtles also taste great.

This Sport Is Great Here. Take Advantage!

Bowfishing is an extremely addictive sport that combines many different types of outdoor activities and skills. Little to no experience is needed to begin, but there are always new goals to set. Veterans here will all tell you south Alabama is one of the few places where you can try it all.

Put bowfishing on your list of things to do when in south Alabama. Night or day, fresh or salt, deep or shallow, Alabama has a world of opportunities waiting for both beginning and experienced archers.

Here is your first tip: Aim low because of the magnification of the water. It is often one inch low for every foot the fish is under the water. To experience this thrilling outdoor sport, book your trip of a lifetime with Captain Dusty Mizell of Fish-Kabob Bowfishing at 251-504-4709 or at

Fish-Kabob Bowfishing.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gulf Shores Alabama Weather - What to Expect

The moderate climate on the Alabama Gulf Coast makes the area a wonderful place to visit any time of year. There are a plethora of fun activities to do during every season of Gulf Shores weather.

Gulf Shores Weather: Autumn Breezes

We certainly don't have the colorful fall foliage of the North, but Autumn on the Alabama Gulf Coast is magical. This is the least busiest season for tourism, so lodging rates are low and the beaches aren't crowded.

The days are mostly filled with sunshine and warm breezes. This is the perfect time of the year to relax on the 32 miles of beautiful white sandy beaches. Many visitors enjoy going out on one of the many charter boats so they can go home with stories of the whopper that they caught!

Shorts with a short sleeve shirt should do just fine most of the time, but some days, especially during the latter days of autumn, can be windy and cool, so you need to pack some pants and some long sleeve shirts.

It is best to bring a lightweight jacket or sweater with you for the evenings. Once the sun goes down, the temperature drops rather quickly. It can get a bit chilly in the evening so it is best to be prepared.

There isn’t much better than sitting on the white, sandy beach while watching the sun go down in the Gulf. Bring a blanket to sit on as well as one to snuggle up in to keep warm while watching the magnificent sunset. For other activities in the evening, long pants and a long sleeved shirt are advised.

Gulf Shores Weather: Winter on the Alabama Gulf Coast

Although in the winter, the Alabama Gulf Coast is warmer than most of the rest of the country, it still gets a little chilly. The wintertime temperatures during the day usually reaches into the high 50s, low 60s, and even the low 70s, but winter days can be much colder, especially if it is windy and wet. These cold spells usually do not last long. The typical winter might see only a few days that are uncomfortably cold.

Winter’s evenings bring temperatures that drop into the 40s. I would definitely recommend wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts along with a coat.

This is possibly the best season of the year to enjoy one of the many spectacular golf courses without melting in the heat of the summer’s sun.  Deep sea fishing is good also.

Retirees from the North flock to the Alabama Gulf Coast in the winter to escape the bitter cold and snow at home. That's why they are called "Snowbirds."

Gulf Shores Weather: Spring on the Alabama Gulf Coast

Springtime on the Gulf Shores is incredibly wonderful. The beautiful flowers are blooming and everything appears to be more vibrant. Residents are beginning to wear shorts and tee shirts again. Flip-flops have been rescued from the back of closets and are enjoying the sunlight again. Spring is a great time for bird watching in the area.

The evenings are sometimes warm enough for shorts but carrying a light jacket would be wise. The local restaurants often feel a bit chilly in the spring so you should definitely have something to cover your arms.

The Snowbirds begin leaving in the spring, and families and spring breakers take their place.

Gulf Shores Weather: Summer on the Alabama Gulf Coast

This is the most popular season for visitors as they travel to Gulf Shores in droves. The wonderfully sunny weather creates hot days and warm nights. Shorts, tank tops and bathing suits are the outfits of choice for the area. Unless it rains, you won’t need much more than that.

Regardless which season you choose to visit the Alabama Gulf Coast, there is always plenty of do. Boredom is not an option Alabama Gulf Coast and Gulf Shores weather is one of the reasons.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Interview with Andy Andrews



By Bonnie Bartel Latino

Alabama Gulf Coast area resident and New York Times best selling author, Andy Andrews, is one of the state’s most prolific contemporary writers. In addition to being an author, Andy is a busy man. We appreciate his willingness to be interviewed for Bill Coleman’s

BBL: Before we talk books, Andy, I want to thank you for your dedication to the U.S. Military, particularly Air Force Special Operations Command, just up the road at Hurlburt Air Field, FL. Where all have you traveled with the military?

Andy Andrews: I have gone with the USO to places like Cuba, Honduras, Panama, Iceland, Newfoundland, Greenland, and others . . . I have been all over Europe and the Middle East with the Air Force - including combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

BBL: How did you become closely involved with Special Operations Command?

Andy Andrews: At one point, I spoke to all the Air Force generals and wing commanders stationed in Europe and the Middle East. They were all gathered in one room in a foreign location. At that meeting I became acquainted with Lt. General Mike Wooley, who was about to become the Special Operations Commander. I have been working with Special Ops for more than five years.

Andy Andrews Photo

BBL: We sometimes forget that our military is composed of human beings who, like everyone else, need to be inspired. On behalf of, I thank you for the time and energy you devote to that important task.

BBL: Tell us, how are you feeling after a recent car crash in California?

Andy Andrews: My right arm was injured and my right ribs were broken. I still have pain in my ribs, and my neck is stiff. Considering it took the “jaws of life” to get me out of the car, I am just happy to be here! I am fine!

BBL: That’s great news, but let’s talk books. You are well known for your best sellers, “The Traveler’s Gift: The Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success,” which published in 2002, and “The Noticer,” published earlier this year. Self-improvement books disguised as fiction, both were published by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson in Nashville, TN. The books appeal to a far broader demographic than the Christian niche, why do you think that is?

Andy Andrews . . . I am not a “Christian author.” I am an author who is a Christian. While my books reflect my faith, they are not intended as teaching tools for a Christian audience per se. My books are stories created around principles that work for everyone and they work every time. The fact that these are God’s principles doesn’t mean that the broader demographic doesn’t enjoy them and learn from them. The most recent figures show that only seventeen per cent of my sales are through traditional Christian retailers. Andy Andrews Sawyerton Springs

BBL: You’ve had yet another book published recently that is different from your self-help books, but nevertheless doesn’t contradict a Christian world view. The book is “Return to Sawyerton Springs: A Mostly True Tale Filled with Love, Learning and Laughter.” I heard you read from your original version several years ago. How did the updated version of “Sawyerton Springs” come about?

Andy Andrews: Some of my stories in “Return To Sawyerton Springs” were initially short stories in a self-published book I wrote more than ten years ago. I think maybe…ohhh…seventeen people bought it. A year ago, Hay House, Inc., approached me through Mark Victor Hanson and asked about a publishing deal. I had always wanted to novelize those original stories and write more to complete a real book. That was the genesis of that project. Hay House is a huge publisher that does all of Wayne Dyer’s books to name one author.

BBL: And Sylvia Browne, Suze Orman, and Dr. Phil McGraw to name a few more. That’s walking in some pretty tall cotton for an Alabama boy! How does “Sawyerton Springs” differ from your self-improvement books?

Andy Andrews: “Return to Sawyerton Springs” is by far the funniest thing I have ever written. The lessons are much more subtle . . . compared to some of my others. If you want to laugh with your family, read this one aloud!

BBL: I agree! Moving on, let’s go in a different direction. Would you comment on a marketing philosophy that says to sell product, sometimes you have to give some away?

Andy Andrews: At last count, my accountant said that in seven years, I have given away more than fourteen thousand copies of “The Traveler’s Gift.” I give them to folks on planes as I travel. This doesn’t even include the numbers of my other books I give away. I always encourage authors (especially new authors) to be as generous as we are blessed. For one thing, it is a way to help people. For another, it is a seed one is planting for the life of the book. Giving a book away to someone I didn’t know is how “The Traveler’s Gift” eventually became Book of the Month for Good Morning America. Someone gave it to someone who gave it to someone else. It eventually made its way into Robin Robert’s hands. She loved it. The rest is history!

BBL: Let’s switch gears to social media. Twitter followers of @AndyAndrews find your “tweets” hilarious. It’s obvious that you travel extensively as an inspirational speaker for many Fortune 500 companies. What type of presentations do you find the most exciting?

Andy Andrews: I really love to speak for organizations that have hit a plateau or are experiencing a downturn. One thing I am most proud of . . . is that we are able to track big increases in productivity and profitability where I speak. Not necessarily because I am a business expert, but because I understand and can convey principles that have (both) immediate and long lasting impact.

BBL: Readers of want to know everything there is to know about our little corner of bliss. Tell us some of the Alabama Gulf Coast restaurants, businesses, and places that are featured in “The Noticer.”

Andy Andrews: Pack N Mail in Orange Beach and Café Beignet right next door in the Winn Dixie Shopping Center. Also The China Dragon, Sea N Suds restaurant, Craft Farms Golf Course, and of course the Gulf State Pier!

BBL: For anyone who may not know, as a young man Andy lived under that pier. To find out why, you’ll have to buy “The Noticer.”

BBL: What’s next for Andy Andrews the writer?

Andy Andrews: I am researching my next novel, trying to keep a healthy blog schedule, and getting ready for one more book, “The Butterfly Effect” that will be released soon by Simple Truth Publishers. It is a small five thousand-word piece, but the early word is that it will be an exciting release. Every page has full color art. Oh…I am also working on a children’s book that is contracted for Thomas Nelson!

BBL: Let’s tell everyone that your web site is: I encourage everyone to sign up for your blog, too. I’ll let you get back to work with one final question. When you are asked for an autograph, what is the one word you write and why?

Andy Andrews: The word is Persist! I believe persistence is a major key to success in any great endeavor. I want to remind folks to PERSIST in whatever they are tackling at the moment!

BBL: Thank you for making time for Bill Coleman’s You’ve provided readers real insight into who you are as a man, writer, speaker and friend to America’s military.

Andy Andrews: Thank you for the opportunity! I enjoyed the conversation.

Atmore native Bonnie Bartel Latino is a former columnist for Stars and Stripes newspaper in Europe. She recently won the Military Writers Society of America 2009 People's Choice Award.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Wharf on the Intracoastal Canal in Orange Beach

The Wharf on the Intracoastal Canal in Orange Beach is a nice addition to the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The Wharf has had some unanticipated challenges, including Hurricane Ivan and Katrina, escalating insurance premiums, and the coastal real estate crash during the planning and building phases. Since the Wharf has opened for business, the country and most of the world has been confronted with an economic crisis said to be the worst since the Great Depression. But the Wharf has persevered, offering coastal residents and visitors dining and entertainment options that would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago.

The Wharf, Orange Beach, Alabama

The Wharf is the first thing you will see coming over the toll bridge over the Intracoastal Canal at Orange Beach. Look towards the left for the ferris wheel; that's the west side of the Wharf-Orange Beach. The ferris wheel at 112 feet tall is said to be the largest in the Southeast.

The Wharf, Ferris Wheel, Orange Beach

We took a ride on it on the ferris wheel before the Wharf Orange Beach was officially open, and from the top we saw the new high-rise condos on the beach. (A few weeks ago I took pictures of the ferris wheel from the the 27th floor of the new Phoenix West on the beach. Is that progress, or what?)

The Wharf, Phoenix West, Orange Beach

The Wharf Orange Beach is a true destination resort. There is something at the Wharf to keep an entire family as busy as it wants to be. If you own or rent a condo at the Wharf, you could dock your boat at the marina in one of the more than 200 boat slips. If you don't own a boat, you can charter one to take you back bay or deep sea fishing.

The Wharf, Orange Beach. Docks

At the Wharf Orange Beach you have numerous shopping options - most of them owned by local merchants. Sand Dollar Lifestyles has a beautiful two-story storefront. Many locals buy their casual footwear at Sand Dollar, and it seems that every other home in Baldwin County has a big green egg on their patio - the vast majority of those eggs came from Sand Dollar.

The Wharf has its own storefront, the Wharf Store, where you can pick up "exclusive" T-shirts and caps imprinted with the Wharf logo. You can also purchase tickets to concerts and other events at the Wharf Amphitheater at the Wharf Store.

Pleasure Island's only cigar bar, the aptly named Our Cigar Bar, is located at the Wharf. This isn't going to be for everybody, but a lot of smokers can tell the difference between a hand rolled premium cigar and a cheap one. (I just did a fact check and saw that CHEAP ones cost $2+ each, so bring plenty of money.) The cigar bar also offers a full-service bar serving wine, beer and other beverages. The amenities include wide screen TVs, easy chairs, and views of the canal.

Anything that gives beach tourists something else to do close to the beaches on rainy days is a good thing. The entire family can enjoy Paradise Indoor Miniature Golf.

Before Rave Motion Pictures opened at the Wharf, coastal residents had to drive all of the way to Pensacola or Daphne to see their movies Rave-style. Most likely, very few beach tourists even considered driving that far during their limited vacation time. With 15 screens there should be something showing at the Wharf at any given time to interest even the pickiest of movie goers (like me).

Not all of the local merchants who set up shop at the Wharf are going to be able to make it. Unless the entrepreneur is independently wealthy, there is tremendous risk in setting up shop - now more than ever, and a tourist town is particularly tough. Fans of the Blue Girl Beading Company can now buy her beads and attend her classes in another location on the island.

For those who want something creative to do while they are at the Wharf, they can create their own teddy bear at Build-A-Bear Workshop. I would wonder how this business could make it if it weren't for the knowledge that my daughter, when she was younger, would have insisted on building a few bears in this shop. Since my wife would have been there with her, we would have doubled whatever that number that would have been.

The Wharf offers plenty of dining options. Live Bait, which has a big following on the beach, has opened a location at the Wharf.

Johnny Rockets. The Wharf, Orange Beach

Our favorite restaurant at the Wharf Orange Beach is Shucker's Oyster Bar. Shucker's is rapidly becoming one of the most popular restaurants on the island. And any restaurant on the island gets extra points from me if it offers waterfront dining. Shucker's is located on the East Side of the toll bridge.

Our son, who works in the hospitality business on the beach, used to say that if a Starbucks ever opens on the island it is going to be a huge success. Before Starbucks opened at the Wharf Orange Beach, Starbucks patrons had to leave the island for their Starbucks habit - and no doubt, many did. Well Starbucks fans - it was good while it lasted, but Starbucks at the Wharf closed, a victim of the recession and the company's over-expansion. In its place is Emerald Coast Coffee and Grille, an up-scale coffee house with "healthy food options," including "nutritious" fruit smoothies.

Water fun at the Wharf Orange Beach includes a lazy river and a wave pool.

The Golf Club of The Wharf Orange Beach features "18-championship holes", a club house and a pro-shop.

My wife and I were anxiously awaiting the opening of the Amphitheater at The Wharf Orange Beach: Big name national touring acts on the island. That's huge. On May 27, 2006, Hank Williams Jr. played the amphitheater, making history twice: the first act to play at the

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hank Williams Museum -- Georgiana, Alabama

While traveling I-65 going to and coming from Gulf Shores, many times we had passed the signs pointing the way to the Hank Williams Museum in Georgiana. On this trip it was just the two of us and we had gotten an unusually early start, so without tell my wife beforehand I pulled off the Georgiana exit and said "Let's go see the Hank Williams Museum." I didn't get any opposition, so I proceeded towards the little town -- and drove right past it.

After about ten minutes I realized that I must be going in the wrong direction. I stopped the car and programed "127 Rose Street Georgiana" into my GPS and turned around. I only say all that to say this: If you have traveled more than 10 minutes after turning of the exit, you've went too far. The signs directing the way to the museum are small, and it is very easy to miss them.

After finding the museum we didn't see any parking, so we drove past it and turned around. I'm not used to going anywhere where I can park right in front of the attraction, but you can here. During special events there must be additional parking somewhere, but unless it's one of those days, there isn't much competition for parking -- and better yet there are no lines to get in and admission is only $3. The official name for this museum is "Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum." He actually lived in this home, and it is where he first learned to play the guitar.

An elderly lady welcomed us, collected our $6, and asked us to sign the guest book. She then introduced us to her preacher. It was that kind of place and we liked it. We were told that the tours were self-guided, we should spend as much time as we had to spare, and take as many pictures as we want.

It only took a few seconds to see that there was going to be a lot to look at it. The entire home is filled with memorabilia. You can get up close to it and even touch some of it.

The elderly lady in charge of the museum must have seen that we were enjoying ourselves because she came up to us and began telling us some stories behind some of the exhibits. She told us that the custom made curtains behind the bed had actually hung in the home of Hank and Audrey Williams and we were walking on the same floors that Hank did as a boy. She also pointed out some of the items that were donated by members of the Drifting Cowboys and other country music celebrities.

Hank Williams died at age 29 and he was only a star for five years. It is amazing how many things closely related to him are in this museum, considering that this is just one place that houses his memorabilia.

A small gift shop is in the lobby in the midst of Hank Williams memorabilia. We bought two T-Shirts.

If you like country music, and especially if you appreciate the music of Hank Williams, make sure you drop by the Hank Williams Museum when you have the opportunity

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hangout Festival 2011 - Gulf Shores

by Leslie Coleman

I planned my 2011 summer vacation around the 2nd Annual Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores Alabama. The festival was a three day event that took place from May 20th - 22nd on the main beach. Since I was flying in from across the country, I stayed in Gulf Shores a week. I grew up on the Alabama Gulf Coast, so I was excited to get back to the beach.

DAY 1: Wednesday

I flew into Pensacola, Florida from Denver, Colorado, on May 18th. A friend met my boyfriend and me at the airport, and we drove the beach road to Orange Beach.

Upon arriving at the beach our first stop was the Shrimp Basket restaurant. I had been thinking about fresh seafood all week, and the Shrimp Basket was a place that I knew I could get good seafood and fast service (we were hungry!).

I ordered a basket of fried crab claws, and it was enough for two people. It had been more than two years since I had crab claws and found that they were exactly how I remembered them—- delicious! The service wasn't quite as fast as I remembered, but we didn't mind. We chose a table outside and the weather was beautiful. Talking to my friend made the time pass quickly, and when our food finally got to the table it was as delicious as I remembered it.

After lunch we headed towards our home for the week, the Caribe Resort at Perdido Pass in Orange Beach, just about a 15 or 20-minute drive from the Hangout Music Festival. I lived on the Alabama Gulf Coast for about 8 years, visiting most of the island's resorts, and the Caribe is my favorite place to stay.

Although it’s not directly on the beach, it’s panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico, Perdido Pass, and Terry Cove more than make up for it. Perdido Pass is on one of the major entryways into the Gulf of Mexico.

We had a condo that overlooked the Pass and Terry Cove, so we could watch the fishing and pleasure boats from our patio. There are also islands within view and it's almost certain that dolphins will swim by several times a day. Our Caribe patio was one of our favorite places to hang out during the week.

Once we got settled in our condo, we quickly made our way to the beach. It’s about a five or ten minute walk. We could have called a Caribe-operated trolley that would have taken us to the beach free of charge, but it is an easy walk under the Perdido Pass Bridge.

On this day the red flag was out, signaling that there were strong currents in the water. At this point I was more than content to stay in the safety of the sand after a day’s worth of traveling. Afterwards, we made our way to the Caribe’s lazy river. This is a place where I could happily spend my entire vacation. All you have to do is sit in an inner tube and let the water carry you around the “river.”

DAY 2: Thursday

Most of Thursday we spent our time in the lazy river and on the beach. This day I did swim in the Gulf and made it to a sandbar. Swimming back was somewhat of a task due to the rip current. I’m not sure how long I was swimming, but it was definitely a workout. After that, I remember thinking that the red flag was not something to take lightly.

Later in the afternoon we took a cab down to the festival grounds to scope it out and pick up our shuttle passes and Hangout Festival tickets. The festival offered a pass for $20/3 days for shuttle service that was to run all throughout the weekend from Alabama Point in Orange Beach, just over the bridge from the Caribe, to West Beach and north on Highway 59. This was a great deal for us since we didn’t want to rent a car. Just the cab fare from the Caribe to the Hangout Festival entrance would have cost us over $20 one way each day of the festival.

Within a few minutes we noticed that the Hangout Festival was somewhat disorganized. First off, each person who purchased Hangout Festival tickets had to come to one little tent to pick up a wristband for entry (Remember this is a 35,000 person event!). This line wrapped around in so many different directions that it made me dizzy just to look at it. We thought we were lucky because his complementary ticket did not require us to wait in that line; however, this caused us even more difficulty.

My boyfriend was on a guest list of some kind, but none of the employees could find this list or even know he was talking about. We spent an hour or so talking to one person and then being directed to another person and then back again where we started, and finally we were told to come back the next day. I think it ended with someone telling us that the person who had that list was not yet in the festival area. We picked up our shuttle passes and thought that everything would work out the next day.

We met up with some friends from Colorado and walked to Ribs and Reds for dinner. I had never been to this restaurant, but decided any seafood in the area would be good. I ordered seared tuna, which was too cold for my liking. I usually don’t have a problem sending things back at restaurants, but for some reason I didn’t say anything. The server was friendly, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have had a problem with warming the tuna, but I kept my mouth shut. The dish came with vegetables that were clearly from a can and some seasoned rice-- all of which I wasn't very pleased with. I should have stuck with my favorite tried and true seafood restaurants. There are plenty of those.

After dinner we headed back to the Caribe and soaked away the night in one of the many outdoor hot tubs. During our stay there was an ongoing joke about the number of pools and hot tubs at the resort. There is definitely not a shortage.

DAY 3: FRIDAY: 1st Day of Hangout Festival

Finally the day that we had been waiting so long for had arrived! We wanted to get down there somewhat early so that we could take care of the ticket situation (My boyfriend had to track down where that list was and I still had to meet up with a friend to get my wristband). After a couple hours I finally had mine, but my boyfriend and that list had not connected. It was extremely frustrating and we weren’t sure if it was ever going to get straightened out by the time the bands we wanted to see started playing.

We took a break and grabbed some lunch at the Gulf Shores location of the Shrimp Basket, just a couple blocks from the Hangout Festival entrance. We took a table on the patio and ordered fried okra (can't get that in Colorado!) and a chicken strip basket. By this time the area was packed with pedestrians and impatient drivers. It was a good spot to view all of the people making their way into the festival.

After lunch we headed back to the dreaded tent and attempted the ticket/wristband thing again. Surprisingly this time was no different than the others. We decided to not deal with it again and to just let the person who put him on the list figure it out.

We then tried to find the shuttle pickup. This was the second major problem I encountered. I asked several employees where to go and each one had no answer. Eventually we found the one lady who was in charge of the shuttles and we thought everything would be okay—- wrong! Shuttles were going the wrong way and one even dropped off a load of people and took off without loading back up.

Even worse, all the buses were getting held up in barely moving traffic just down the road. There was so much frustration and confusion that it seemed as though the festival wasn’t even worth it. Finally we got on a bus and made it back to the room. The driver even said during the bus ride that he had no idea where he was supposed to stop or even the route he was supposed to be using.

We got back to the condo and finally got a phone call confirming that our names were on the entry list. Success! We then excitedly made our way to the shuttle pickup spot to head back to the fest. It was a good 20 or 30-minute (hot!) walk over Perdido Pass, but we didn't mind. Once we arrived and got that much desired wristband, our attitudes changed. Now it was time to enjoy the Hangout Festival!

We made our way in and familiarized ourselves with the area. We met up with friends and wandered around the grounds. The bands that I wanted to see on this day were Sound Tribe Sector 9, Railroad Earth, My Morning Jacket, and Widespread Panic. I was disappointed with the schedule because STS9, MMJ, and RE were all playing in the same time slot.

We just decided to stick around our base camp near the stage where STS9 played. It was daylight when they were on so you couldn’t really see their normally spectacular light display. It was still okay with me since I had seen them so many times in Colorado. We left before their show was over to catch a little bit of Railroad Earth.

After RRE we made our way to the big stage on the sand to wait for Widespread Panic to begin. This was the band that I was most excited to see. It was a great experience to be able to see my favorite band play not only on the beach, but in my hometown. I remember hearing the waves crash to my side as they were playing. It was a memorable experience and made all the frustrations from earlier in the day fade away.

Once Widespread finished their show we hustled through the crowd and made our way to the buses. The lines were long so I went ahead and called a friend for a ride. This day was good and we were excited to see what tomorrow would bring.

DAY 4: Saturday

On Saturday we started our trek towards the bus stop and some other kids who were headed that way kindly offered us a ride. We made our way into the Hangout Festival, and again found some friends. We hopped over to the tent where Big Gigantic was about to start playing. Big G is a Colorado band that I’ve seen numerous times, but this was by far one of their best shows that I had seen-- or at least I had the most fun at this one. It was hot, everyone was enjoying the show, and I was happy to see some familiar faces in my hometown!

For the rest of the day we caught the tail end of Primus and attempted to see Pretty Lights-- the tent where PL was playing was too crowded for my liking. We caught the shuttle back to our condo.

We went back to the festival for Big G’s and Pretty Lights’ late night shows in the tent. The tent was much more comfortable in the evening compared to the day (not too hot, nor too crowded). The only complaint here was that most of the festival areas were blocked off and because of this I couldn’t refill my water bottle.

DAY 5: Sunday: Last Day of the Hangout Festival

I had planned on seeing Keller Williams and Old Crow Medicine Show this morning at 12:45, but ended up not heading that way until around 3 or 4 o’clock. That’s one thing about large festivals when you’re not camping on site-- it’s difficult to see everything you want when the music goes on for twelve hours. Also at this show, from where we were staying, getting to the show and back consumed at least an hour each way. Too much of a festival on a hot day can be more work than fun, so I was alright with missing those two shows.

We got back to the Hangout Festival in time to see Michael Franti and a bit of Ween. I did want to see some Girl Talk, but the tent was too crowded again (the same one where Pretty Lights and Big G had played).

I was close to the stage for Galactic and pretty much took it easy trying to cool off a bit. Afterwards we made our way to the main stage for Paul Simon. The beach was quickly filling up for this show and it seemed all of the 35,000 ticket holders were here to catch it. We were running low on energy at this point, so we left after a couple songs. I felt bad heading out while one of my favorite artists was playing, but I decided that getting back to a comfy spot after so much heat and sun was probably best. However, I probably would have stuck it out if I were a bit closer to the stage. Still, I can say that I saw Paul Simon, can't I?

We spent the rest of the evening hanging out at the Caribe and had a great time meeting new folks. I would have to say that Sunday night was one of the best times we had during our vacation. At the Caribe, when the weather is nice, fun comes easy.

Day 6: Monday

Most of Monday was spent around the pool, but we did get to go on a boat ride. We boarded a small boat from the Caribe dock and stopped at an island. The water was much warmer than the actual Gulf and I found it to be the perfect spot to end our vacation.

Later that night we did some grilling and some hot-tubbing. I was beginning to get sad that our vacation was near its end, but was happy to think I might come back next year.

Day 7: Tuesday

On our last day we took a short trip to the beach and then grabbed some lunch at the Caribe’s Cobalt Restaurant. Once again the service was slow, but the views and food made up for it. I came to the conclusion that the laid back attitude of the beach also applies to food service. I guess I got used to it during all those years that I lived on the beach.

Overall, I had a great time. I had almost forgotten how nice the Alabama beaches are at the beginning of summer. I was happy that I was able to share this area with my Colorado friends. It’s still a little hard for me to believe that such a large festival with such big name acts took place in my hometown in Alabama. I also look forward to seeing next year’s Hangout Festival lineup. Maybe the kinks will be worked out by then. Maybe they won't. Either way, I know it will be fun!