Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dirty Water but a Nice Day

Monday was a disappointment, but at the same time, a good day.

It was spring break here, the kids and Tori were off from Thursday through Tuesday. Between stuff we had to do, and the weather forecast, we picked Monday. Tori and I were taking a drive, just the two of us, a road trip out to find some beach.

John on the Gulfport, Miss. beach.
We hadn't been to the beach since we left the island. Even in Oregon trips to the coast weren't just an outing, they were a necessity, almost a pilgrimage. From Albany, the Oregon coast was about an hour drive. It was beautiful, rugged coastline, with quaint beach towns catering to tourists in funky, cheesy ways. The water was – bracing? Try freezing. You couldn't walk barefoot in the surf for more than a few minutes before the cold was painful. You'd occasionally see one or two people surfing – clad in wet suits – but I can't remember ever seeing anyone just wading into the waves and swimming. Too cold.

Still, we loved visits to the coast. Tori in particular needed them.

Moving to St. Croix, of course, was paradise. Instead of an hour drive, it was three minutes to one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The water was as warm as a bath. I'm not much of a swimmer, but even I could float in the blue, blue, blue crystal clear water, bobbing in the swell.

So we were excited for the chance to have a road trip to find the Gulf Coast. I'd heard about it – white sand, warm water. We were aiming for the Mississippi shoreline, driving down the shore highway to see what there was to see.

First, Weather Underground really let us down. The weekend was supposed to be rainy. So the sky was sunny both days. Monday was supposed to be clear and warm. It was cloudy and overcast all day, and the temperature never cleared 65.

As we crossed Bay St. John and headed down the coast highway, the water looked murky, lead gray. There was a white sand strip on the south side of the highway. The north side was mostly a long collection of strip malls, chain restaurants and gas stations. Literally, it seemed like there was a Waffle House restaurant every three quarters of a mile. In one place there were three within four blocks of each other. Never want to be caught without a waffle, I guess.

I suppose if you live up in the northern part of the state, or Arkansas or Tennessee, it'd seem pretty neat. By Oregon standards it was a letdown. By St Croix standards? Don't make me laugh.

Dirty water in the Gulf.
We made it all the way to Gulfport before we saw any reason to pull off the road – a beach that included a public restroom. They'd done a nice job of giving the beach some amenities, tables and benches. No trees, no dunes, no grasses. A couple of dozen people were on the beach.

We went to the water and it was beyond filthy. Black leaves and debris washed up on shore. Standing ankle deep in the cold water – not Oregon cold, but cold – you literally could not see your toes. And the feel of the water was sludgy. We wanted a shower.

We used the facilities and drove on, through Biloxi, which is full of casinos, and found ourselves in Ocean Springs. The water wasn't any better, but it was a little nicer. My favorite part was the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. The name was probably not meant to be ironic, but there was nothing there but a bunch of day sailors, 20 feet or so. And a bar.

Statue of Iberville, who established
the French settlement at what it now
Ocean Springs, Miss.
But there was a really nice park, on the site of what apparently was the first French settlement established on the Gulf Coast. Really nice playground for kids, old trees. That's where we had our picnic lunch, cold fried chicken and potato salad. We had forgotten to bring forks, but Tori discovered if you bit carefully into a drumstick you could shape it into a sort of spoon, not much but serviceable.

There was also a long pier where you could walk out. There was a guy fishing who'd caught a couple of catfish, and we watched the pelicans diving for their lunch. Even the pelicans suffered in comparison to the islands. On St. Croix the pelicans would fly about 20 feet over the water, then wheel and plunge down to snag a fish. In Mississippi they skimmed the surface, then suddenly dropped to grab something. I guess the water was so cloudy that from more than a few feet they couldn't see the fish.

Tori at Gulfport. Any beach is better than none,
but we've seen much better.
Also saw something I'd never seen before – each pelican was accompanied by a gull or two. When the pelican splashed down and grabbed a fish, the gulls would join him – sometimes actually sitting atop the bigger bird – to steal a bite or two.

Anyway, we finally decided we'd had enough for one day. We could have kept going east and been in Alabama within half an hour. But home was beckoning and we turned our heads west. On the way back we changed across a cool NASA science center at the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It was closed, but it's only an hour away so we'll likely go back for a visit.

The beach was a disappointment, but Tori and I had a great day together, one of the first no hassle fun days we've had since we moved. It was a nice trip. Next time, probably this summer, we'll get on I-10
 Pensacola is only two hours away, we're told, and Fort Walton Beach only about a half hour past that. We're willing to give the Gulf another try. If nothing else, it's a chance for the two of us to get away together.

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