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!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mobile Bay Ferry

Gulf Coast residents use the Mobile Bay Ferry to take care of business. Tourists like the ferry because it's a pleasant part of a day trip that gets them and their automobile from historic Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island's attractions and back.

The trip across Mobile Bay is a pleasurable 45 minutes that is especially nice during warm weather. Passengers are free to roam around the ferry, soak up the sun, and take in the sights.

Fare includes a base charge for the motor vehicle, plus an additional charge for each passenger. There is a discount for round trip service.

An extra boat, the Marissa Mae Nicole, has been added to the ferry service from spring until fall. If you're wondering what the main boat is called, it's the Fort Morgan.

To get to the ferry at  Dauphin Island, take Hwy 193 to the three-way stop at the water tower. Turn left and drive two miles.

To get to the Fort Morgan dock, take Hwy 180 from Gulf Shores (Fort Morgan Road) and go all of the way to the tip of the peninsula. Look for the ferry near the entrance to the fort.

Many visitors to the Alabama Gulf Coast take a ferry ride just for the experience. It is not uncommon for a family to load their car on the ferry at Fort Morgan, unload it at Dauphin Island, drive around the island and take the next ferry back to Fort Morgan. Others like to use it as just one leg of a gulf shores day trip.

Click here for schedule information.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Blue Crabs on the Alabama Gulf Ciast

Catching blue crabs on the Alabama Gulf Coast is easy. The learning curve is very small, and anybody can learn the basics within minutes. Of course, like anything else the more practice, the more crabs you will take home, but even the most experienced crabbers aren't any better than the novice at enticing crabs. It all comes down to knowing the best spots and having the right equipment.

Crabbing is a good family activity. Unlike fishing, which can be unproductive for hours, crabbing during the right time of day, in the right place, usually offers instant gratification. Most kids never get fidgety when they are crabbing.

I have never seen a kid that wasn't fascinated with sea creatures. On warm summer nights, just after dark, the Gulf Shores beaches are teeming with children and their parents chasing cute little sand crabs. On your next vacation help your kids catch and release a few sand crabs, and the next day help them catch a basket of fierce looking blue crabs. You can turn them loose as you did the sand crabs, or, if you have access to a kitchen while on vacation, you can have them for dinner.
Blue Crab Photo

There are many methods of catching crabs. All of them are productive and all of them are fun. More crabs are harvested with crab baskets than any other way. Baskets can be purchased at tackle shops near the beaches for less than $20. You can also find them at some mass merchandisers, but these establishments usually have less selection and less guidance. Where you intend to spend your vacation time is a factor in determining the best basket. Since they are so cheap, it might be a good idea to buy more than one type.

Crabs are found in the back bays and passes during warm weather. During cold weather, you will not find crabs anywhere. Your baskets can be dropped from bridges, seawalls, and docks. You can even wade out from the shore and drop your basket (with a float to mark the spot).

A more basic crabbing methods is a hand line. This is fishing at its most basic-- you don't even need a hook. Just tie a piece of bait to a line. Attach a sinker near the bait, and then wait on a crab to find it. When you see or feel one, slowly pull the feeding crab towards the shore. When he gets close enough, net him. Use a long net, but not so long that it is difficult to control (for most adults less than six feet). If possible, use a net with nylon mesh. It is much more difficult for a crab to crawl out of nylon.

Crabbing at night is very productive. Leave your baskets out overnight and check them in the morning. During the day the most productive time is early in the morning or late afternoon.

Crabs will eat just about anything, so you can use what is handy and cheap. If you've been fishing, use the the parts of the fish that you would otherwise throw away. Pinfish, craokers, finger mullet and other small fish also make good bait. Serious crabbers buy chicken necks and bull lips at the butcher shop. Packaged crab bait can be bought at tackle shops and even over the Internet.

Be very careful when handling crabs. Don't approach them from the front. Grab and hold them from the back. Crab pincers can hurt.

If you plan on cooking your crabs, you are going to need a container to keep them alive. Don't take dead crabs home unless you are very sure when they expired and it wasn't so long ago that they are unsafe to consume. Ask your tackle shop about proper containers.

Blue crabs are abundant on the Alabama coast, but since they are both recreational and commercially valuable, there are laws regulating size and quantity.

Alabama Blue Crab Laws and Regulations

One important thing to remember when you are enjoying other water recreation on the coast: Don't disturb crab baskets that belong to someone else. Some crabbers are very sensitive about having their baskets pulled from the water, even if it's just to satisfy curiosity. It is also against the law and some people do get in trouble

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Grizzly Bears In Colorado?

Originally occupying nearly all of the continental United States, the Grizzly Bear is now confined to only a few of the Rocky Mountain States and Alaska.  It is listed on the endangered species list in Colorado, but sightings are so rare that some authorities believe that there are none left in the state.

Almost all of the “grizzly sightings,” in recent years have been  proven to actually be black bear sightings.

The Grizzly is considered to be a subspecies of the Alaskan Brown Bear, and some authorities do not distinguish any difference between the two bears.  There are estimates that over 50,000 Grizzly Bears inhabited the continent before Europeans arrived, and the Plains Indians told tales of marauding Grizzlies coming through the villages and taking men, women, or children as prey.
It is not surprising that this animal entered into the myths and legends of the Native Americans, and a necklace of the bear’s claws was thought to impart not only courage, but protection.  There is a terrible majesty to the Grizzly Bear, but no one should ever forget that it is an intelligent, strong, and ruthless predator.

Grizzly Bears are considerably larger than Black Bears, and the boars can weigh up to 800 pounds or more (record boars have weighed 1,500 pounds), while sows are much smaller in size.   The coat of a Grizzly is indeed grizzled, with silvery tips giving a distinctive look to the coat.  The claws of the adult Grizzly Bear are 4 to 6 inches long and are used by the bear for digging or attacking prey or competitors.

When rearing up on the high legs, a large male can be 7 ½ feet tall. It is interesting to note that unlike most animals, all bears have feet much the same as humans, and referred to as plantigrade –  the entire foot rests on the ground, from heel to toes.  This does provide a more stable footing, and does not seem to hold the Grizzly Bear back as far as running goes, either, as this bear is capable of attaining 30 mph over a short distance.

One of the behavioral traits of the Grizzly Bear that most people find incomprehensible is that the male bears will try to kill any cubs they come across.  There is actually a reason for this, and this behavior is seen in other species such as gorillas, lions, and unfortunately, humans.
When a young animal that is nursing is killed, such as when a boar Grizzly kills a baby bear, the mother will become fertile again..  This gives the boar a chance at impregnating the sow and is just a rather brutal way of assuring that one individual’s genes will be passed on.  It is generally seen in species where the male either does not participate in raising the young, as is the case with bears, or where the dominant male of a group of females can be replaced through battle, as with lions.  Seen in this light, the actions of the boar make sense, but this probably also helps to account for the legendary protectiveness of the female Grizzly Bear.

As the Grizzly Bear population has stabilized in the Lower 48 states and is already high in Canada and Alaska, those who will be using the wilderness for hiking or camping should always be aware of the possible danger these bears impose.  Most Grizzlies want to be left alone and are content to simply melt away into the wilderness at the first smell of humans.

However, besides getting between a sow and her cubs, approaching a Grizzly Bear kill can be dangerous. After a Grizzly has killed, it will heap branches and other forest debris over the body.  If you see this sign, leave the area immediately.

Those who will be in areas where Grizzly Bears are found should carry bear spray with them at all times.  This is a non-lethal way to handle an attacking bear, and has been shown to be extremely effective.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Foley, Alabama

Foley Alabama neighbors the coastal cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on Alabama’s gorgeous Gulf Coast. It is a nice place to live with a lot to offer and its population is rapidly increasing. Many people who vacation at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach travel through Foley on their way to the beach. Some fall in love with the area and move to Foley because it is close to the beach, but not "too close." (Believe it or not there are some who don't want to live within walking distance of the beach).

• Festivals

The residents of Foley Alabama love their festivals. They find something to celebrate nearly every month. There is a Flower and Garden Extravaganza in April that is rapidly growing in popularity.

The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival in June attracts huge crowds and people travel from near and far to partake in the fun.

Heritage Harbor Days, held each fall, is another fun festival in Foley. There is a huge fireworks display, food, art, live musical entertainment and tons of other activities.

• Tanger Outlets

Tanger Outlets is an outdoor outlet mall with over one hundred and twenty factory outlets. Stores such as Polo Ralph Lauren, TJ Maxx, Aeropostale, Calvin Klein, Tommy Bahama and Tommy Hilfiger offer their quality products at significantly reduced prices.

• City of Foley Train Museum

The City of Foley Train Museum is located inside of a train depot that was built in 1908. The city’s founder, John Foley used a great deal of his own money to bring the railroad to Foley. There is also an extensive model railroad exhibit. It is twenty-four feet wide and sixty feet long! There is over a quarter mile of tracks and 12 different railroads are included in the exhibit. The best thing is the museum is free! Everybody loves free things to do while on vacation.

• Holmes Medical Museum

The Holmes Medical Museum is a really cool museum that is located in the first hospital in Baldwin County. It was built in 1936. All of the various rooms are decorated with authentic items from that period. There is also a display of some really wacky old medical devices!

• Downtown Foley Alabama

Talking a stroll or driving through the downtown area of Foley is a feast for the eyes. The beautiful architecture of the buildings is quite beautiful, and some of it hasn't changed much since the early part of the last century. In 2004, the National Parks Service declared this area of Foley a Commercial Historic District.

• Golfing

There are numerous great golf courses in Foley. The glorious weather in the area will surely allow all avid golfers to play each day. Sampling a new golf course each day will certainly boost your skill level.

• Antiquing

Foley has more than its fair share of antique shops and malls. For those who enjoy antiquing, this is a great way to spend an afternoon. You should check the paper for garage and estate sales in Foley and the surrounding smaller towns. Sometimes there are great ones. You might score a collectible that will pay for your vacation when you get back home and list it on eBay

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hummingbird Migration on the Alabama Gulf Coast

Along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, bird watchers are looking forward to spring and the seasonal arrival of the hummingbird migration to our area. The Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan area is a stop-over point for eleven different species of hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds reach the southern coast in late February and early March. Arrival time usually coincides with the food plants blooming. Hummingbirds depart with the end of the blooming season. Fall migration is from late July until late October in the South.

Male Broad Tail Hummingbird

One of the species that is often spotted here is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris. It is identified by its emerald green back. The male is known by its ruby red throat and forked tail. The slightly larger female is white breasted with a white tipped rounded tail. Females are up to 25% larger than the males, which in a small bird make a huge difference.

Despite its tiny size, the Ruby has been seen chasing off birds much bigger than itself such as blue jays, crows, and hawks.

Hummingbirds migrate South in late Summer-Fall to follow food sources which die out with the cold in the North. During the hummingbird migration, the birds must fly hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula for the winter.

Why birds migrate--

New research shows food scarcity motivates birds to migrate each year.

Hummingbirds use the Earth’s magnetic field to stay on course during migration. From a bird’s eye view- birds are attuned to wavelengths of light outside the visible range that humans see. A recent study suggests birds have the ability to “see” the planet's magnetic lines as patterns of light or color to navigate their surroundings.

Stocking up for the trip--

To stock up for the hummingbird migration, hummers go into a feeding frenzy to pack on a few extra grams. By eating more small insects and nectar than usual, they are able to nearly double its weight.

How you can help--

Hummingbirds need nectar to put on the fat necessary for their incredible journey ahead. You can help by putting out hummingbird feeders and planting flowering trees in your garden to attract these fascinating birds. A patch of trumpet-creeper vine is like a calling card to hummers. Although considered a nuisance plant to some gardeners, its thousands of nectar filled orange flowers are a natural food source for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, which is why you will see most feeders colored red. Water sprinklers also draw in these tiniest of migrating birds.

Hummingbird food mixture--

Mix a nectar solution of 4 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar. Boil and cool. Do not use artificial sweeteners or honey. It can be refrigerated.

During hot weather, rinse out the feeder and add fresh food every few days.

Migrating hummers, as bird watchers call them, do not wear out their welcome and will move on in a few days but they do recall a favorite rest stop and will return next year for more Southern hospitality.

We are lucky to live in the flight path of these entertaining adventurous birds. To witness firsthand the hummingbird migration is one of nature’s amazing wonders you should not miss.

During the migratory seasons, hummingbirds are likely to show up anywhere, but the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a special place to view these tiny creatures, along with over 370 other bird species.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Beach Photography - The Art of Taking Great Photos on Your Beach Vacation

Beach photography is an extremely popular art form. It is hard to resist the urge to capture the rolling, unpredictable waves, the bright sparkles of sunlight that bounce off the glistening waters, the unusual shells that line the surface of the shimmering sands.

Nature is uninhibited, and absolutely gorgeous. If you enjoy photography, you are sure to benefit from this informative guide on how to capture the essence of the beach on film. It does not matter if you engage in photography for fun or if you do it professionally, you can learn a great deal about technique and strategy here in this beach photography guide.

Shell on the Beach, Gulf of Mexico, Alabama, USA

When it comes to beach photography, there are several different methods and techniques that can be used to capture the sights. If you are a photographer, it is important to ensure that you attempt to capture pure emotion.

Your pictures must be organized so that someone can pull out a certain feeling, or bring an experience out of the picture. Now, this may sound like a challenging procedure, but if you know a few ways to do this, you are sure to capture the beautiful images that you set out to when indulging in photography of the ocean. The following methods have proven successful for many who have participated in beach photography:

1. The first step in capturing pictures that overwhelm the senses and emotions of an individual is to look around and focus on the first thing that draws your attention. It could be a seagull walking along the shoreline, or a particular cloud looming over the waves. You may see a slight breeze pressing against the palms…or, a small pool of water with a beat down sand castle along the side of it. If it draws your attention, it is likely to also draw the attention of your audience.

2. The next thing that you should do is focus on shadow. When it comes to beach scenes, it is common to see bright skies, lots of sunlight, and shimmering sands, but it is not often that you can capture an intriguing shadow. The shadow may come from a tree along the inviting shore, a rock sitting along the waves, or even a sailboat traveling across the luscious seas. The extreme mix of shadow and light often plays upon the senses of an individual. If you are able to capture this, you may just have that one picture that is actually worth TWO million words!

3. In beach photography, it seems that the “unchartered” territories are often the most intriguing to individuals. Most people want to walk across the rocks, but hold back. Many may want to check out that cave nestled in on the shore, but are frightened of the possible dangers or scary legends that surround the cave. If you want to have the best of the best when it comes to beaches, visit all those unchartered territories and capture various images of it on film.

4. If you want to add a little “color” to your shots, take the color completely out of the picture! Black and white photography of the ocean as well as the shore has been found to be quite popular among users. By doing this, you are creating a whole new atmosphere that is quite attractive to viewers. It has also been stated that this type of picture is more successful in drawing out the emotions of the individual that views it.

5. Chances are, you are going to get yourself a little wet. The waves crashing upon the shore, the droplets of water in the wind coming from the ocean, as well as storms, rain, and other types of condensation may all result in this. It is important that you are showing no inhibitions when photographing the immense ocean and beach that you are capturing. Sometimes, getting a little wet actually enhances the images that you are attempting to capture. It is important to make your viewer feel as if they are right there, playing in the waves, feeling the ocean breeze, and enjoying the warm rays of the sun.

There are numerous tips and techniques when it comes to beach photography. I could express what type of camera to use, the flash that should be purchased, what angle to shoot at, and more. The truth is, though, it is not about what equipment that you have as much as it is about the experience that you encounter while visiting the beach. If you shoot from the angle of experience, you will succeed in beach photography.

Brown Pelican  Turquoise Place Orange Beach

When you are visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast, be sure to take your camera everywhere. Good photo subjects have a way of showing up when and where you least expect it. I rarely leave home without my camera. When I do I usually end up saying, "That would have made a good picture." This brown pelican at an Orange Beach marina with the two new Turquoise Place condo towers in the background captures many different thoughts in one small photo.