We left Nashville just as dawn broke last Wednesday morning. We knew we had a long travel day ahead of us and wanted to arrive in Montgomery, Alabama before the heat of the day hit. Our plan was to overnight at Gunter Hill COE before moving further south the following day. Our purpose was not only to give us a break from traveling but also to check out this campground that our Canadian friends Liz and Randy Powell had told us about. We have been looking for a stopover point between Nashville and Gulf Shores ever since the convenient Dandy KOA in Clanton closed.
Gunter Hill has two campground loops and they are vastly different from one another. The older loop, Antioch, has a heavily wooded “old Florida” feel to it. The sites in this section are gravel with gravel patio areas and offer only water and electric hookups. No satellite tv in this loop. Since we were only spending one night we opted to stay in this section. No sense paying for a sewer hookup if we’re not going to use it.
Catoma, the newer loop, is much more open with paved sites and patios as well as full hookups. Very nice. Had we been staying longer this is the side we’d have chosen. The facilities at Gunter Hill are nicely maintained and the park staff was friendly and helpful. The one drawback however, is it is located in the middle of nowhere. And I do mean nowhere. It’s a good 20 miles or better to the nearest gas station or grocery store and not conveniently located to any Montgomery attractions. But, if you’re looking to kick back and chill in peace and quiet, then this is the place for you.
We arrived at our winter digs the following Thursday afternoon. Currently we’re comfortably settled in at one of our Escapees membership parks just north of Gulf Shores called Rainbow Plantation. This is our third time “camping” here as we really like the people, the park, and this entire part of Alabama in general.
We spent the ensuing four days cleaning the Suite Pea inside and out. (Lovebugs are out in AL and you want to remove them promptly as they can mar your rigs paint job.) We also needed to do both laundry and grocery shopping. We did take the time to treat ourselves to dinner out at one of our favorite local restaurants. It’s a ritual to dine at Lambert’s Cafe every time we come through town. It’s one place you want to go in mighty hungry because you will be stuffed when you leave.
Lambert’s is famous for it’s throwed rolls. No, I didn’t misspell that. That’s how the restaurant has billed itself since the original cafe opened in 1942. There is presently three Lambert Cafe’s in existence, the one here in Foley and two in Missouri.
Our goal was to have our chores completed by Tuesday as I had planned an outing for us. Our campsite is a mere 40 minute drive from an attraction we have been yearning to see for a long, long time but for various reasons it had never panned out for us to attend. So yesterday was the big day.
We were on the road by 9:30 am. The demonstration was scheduled to start at 11:30. Allowing for traffic I figured 45 minutes to an hour’s drive would still give us an extra hour to park and find us some seats. Such was not the case.
We arrived at the bridge entrance into Pensacola NAS in plenty of time before the Blue Angels were scheduled to practice. The traffic in was one lane, bumper to bumper, and it was at a standstill. What I didn’t know was that one of our heroes had lost his life recently in Afghanistan and had returned for burial in the Navy cemetery on base. Everyone waited patiently for over an hour for the police escorted hearse to arrive and pass through the gate.
Once we were parked, we entered the practice area. The demonstration had already begun but we had only missed the first ten minutes or so. We were too late to be seated but there was ample room to stand and observe. We would not have sat much anyway as we were constantly angling around trying to capture photos of the pilots and the aircraft. The roar from the F/A-18 Hornets was deafening. The death defying maneuvers were thrilling to watch. It gave me goosebumps, literally. I truly have no words to accurately describe the experience of witnessing such power, such precision, such perfection that the Blue Angel team performs so seemingly effortlessly and at such great speeds, at times exceeding 700 mph.
The world renowned Blue Angels squadron was first formed in 1946. Originally it was called the U.S. Navy’s Flight Squadron and it’s purpose was “to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.” Shortly after its formation the name was changed to the Blue Angels when one of the pilots suggested the moniker after finding it on a NYC nightclub.
The F/A-18’s that the aviators fly have had modifications performed on them to enable the pilots to achieve the precise movements they perform. However, the aircraft can be made combat ready again in approximately 30 hours. Six planes make up the squadron, each costing around $21 million.
If you ever find yourself in this vicinity then you really must allow enough time to see these amazing pilots. Their practices are held most Tuesdays and Wednesdays from March until November. The public is invited and best of all, it’s free.
The base offers much more to see and do besides viewing the flight team. There’s the National Naval Aviation Museum, the Naval Cemetery, the Pensacola Lighthouse and access to the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore. We would have liked to spend more time exploring but we still needed to have lunch and we’d left Tucker back at the fifth wheel long enough. We do intend to return in the near future.
Since I had chosen the outing, Don got to decide which restaurant we would eat lunch at. He chose wisely. He selected the Cactus Flower Cafe which just happened to be on our return route. The chips and salsa were some of the best we’ve ever tasted. They rivaled my lifelong favorite restaurant back in our home state. That’s saying a lot. We both ordered the Mahi Mahi fish tacos. The flavor was delicious but not being a fan of Mahi Mahi I’d still have to say that the Grouper tacos at the Island Cow on Sanibel are still numero uno. We also ordered a dessert to share and we both agree the Mexican Wedding Cake was most excellent.
That evening when dinner time rolled around, we were still too sated to eat. A bonus for me, I didn’t have to cook and there were no dishes to wash.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid……………….