Relaxing, Exploring, & Meeting Interesting People

Mobile Bay Estuary

Mobile Bay Estuary

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When we first started out in this lifestyle, we never in a million years would’ve guessed how much socializing we’d be doing nor how many interesting people we would meet along the way.

On Sunday nights, the park we are currently camped at hosts an ice cream social. Everyone comes, not so much for the ice cream as for the camaraderie. Newcomers are always welcomed, introduced, and shortly after, find themselves engaged in conversation. Escapees are notorious for their friendliness.

I soon found myself talking to Bob whose hobby is chair caning. As he and his wife travel they search out salvageable chairs in need of new seats at flea markets, antique shops, garage sales, and the like. He cleans them up and makes any necessary repairs prior to the caning process. In fact, he’s been at this so long, that others have been known to give chairs to him that they have found along the way. Bob uses his hobby to give back to the Escapee organization. During the winter months, Bob offers caning instruction here at Rainbow Plantation. You can use one of his chairs or bring one of your own. At seasons end, the chairs are auctioned off and the proceeds are given to the Escapees CARE program. (A nonprofit adult day care and assisted-living program offered at the Escapee headquarters home park in Livingston, Texas) A very worthy cause. And yours truly will try her hand at caning beginning in December.

While I had been having this conversation, Don found himself engaged in another. He has made the acquaintance of two fellow musicians. Dallas, a tall lanky fiddle player, and Doug, a guitarist who once played in Little Jimmy Dickens band. He now has plans to do some pickin’ a few days a week.

We’ve met many others throughout the park just by walking Tucker. This is a very dog friendly place. Even Tucker has made a new friend, a 12 week old Golden Retriever named Montana. Of course, Tucker runs out of gas long before Monty does.

85 yr. old Eldon Bryson, sole owner/operator of The Fiddle Shop

85 yr. old Eldon Bryson, sole owner/operator of The Fiddle Shop

Another interesting character we met this week was 85 year old Eldon Bryson. We came to know Eldon from a call Don placed to the Martin Guitar Co. Don had accidentally dropped his guitar on gravel causing a small crack on the backside. It needed to be repaired by someone who knew what they was doing. He also has been wanting to have the guitar’s bridge lowered. Eldon, a fiddle maker, came highly recommended by Martin. Martin placed a call to Eldon, who in turn contacted Don. Arrangements were made and we set out on a trip around Mobile Bay to meet Mr. Bryson in his home workshop near the Mississippi border.

Don had been expecting to leave his guitar behind and that the repair would be a costly one. Were we ever surprised when Eldon set about repairing the crack and lowering the bridge while we waited, all the while regaling us with entertaining tales about his life. We learned how he came to be in this line of work at the tender age of 7. We learned he once played fiddle in Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band and he’s constructed fiddles for other well known musicians. We also heard a first person account of what it was like to ride out Hurricane Ivan and the damages the Bryson home accrued. All of this for a mere $20. His work was flawless by the way.

Eldon still plays a mean fiddle and he, along with his band, can be found every Friday and Saturday night at the Catfish Point restaurant in Wade, Mississippi. We agreed to make the trip across the state line soon. We did stop for lunch at Mobile’s oldest restaurant, the Dew Drop Inn. No trip into Mobile is complete without stopping here for a bite. Not only is it our favorite cheeseburger joint but it’s a favorite of Jimmy Buffett’s too, who grew up nearby.

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The bridge to Dauphin Island

The bridge to Dauphin Island

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Saturday was the day designated by the Smithsonian Institution as Museum Day Live! It’s the one day of the year that the Smithsonian issues free admission for two to a museum or learning center of their choice from the numerous listing the institution provides. Don and I have taken advantage of this offer for several years now. This time around we elected to visit the Sea Lab & Estuarium on Dauphin Island.

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The Dauphin Island Sea Lab is a marine education and research center. The facility offers a great learning experience about the fifth largest estuary in the United States, Mobile Bay, with aquariums, hands on exhibits, displays, and placards.

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It didn’t take us as long to view all of the exhibits as we had anticipated. So with time to spare we elected to tour Dauphin Island, pronounced dofen, French for dolphin.  Dauphin Island is one of Alabama’s barrier Gulf islands and part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. At 17 miles long and less than 2 miles wide, it didn’t take us long to explore it end to end.

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The island has very little in way of an actual town but what it does have an abundance of is rental beach houses and beach. Gorgeous, clean, white sand beaches. The only flaw is the ocean views are marred by the sight of numerous ghastly looking oil platforms.

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One of the many oil platforms in Mobile Bay & the Gulf of Mexico

One of the many oil platforms in Mobile Bay & the Gulf of Mexico

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There was one other structure on the easternmost end of the island that caught our interest though, historic Fort Gaines. Established in 1821, it’s best known for it’s Civil War role in the Battle of Mobile Bay. We spent a little time investigating the grounds before calling it a day. We chose to board the Dauphin Island Ferry to cross Mobile Bay for our return trip rather than making the drive back around the entire bay again.

The channel before heading out into Mobile Bay.

The channel before heading out into Mobile Bay.

One of the two Dauphin Island-Fort Morgan Ferries

One of the two Dauphin Island-Fort Morgan Ferries

We were fortunate to arrive back at the Suite Pea well ahead of the deluge. We are expecting to get several inches of rain in the area over the next four days. Luckily the campground’s surface is sand and not the red clay we see in so much of lower Alabama. That should keep the water from pooling.

Here’s lookin’ at you kid……..

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