Tracing Nature Along the Alabama Gulf Coast
I never tire of waking up to a slow sunrise over a lapping body of water. My travels often take me to an edge of the Atlantic or Pacific, but this time I’m soaking in the breezy air while I sip coffee from my balcony on Orange Beach. This magnificent stretch of Alabama Gulf Coast brings together lulling waves courtesy of the Gulf of Mexico, and a watercolor-painted sky as dawn segues to daylight.
From my cozy perch, I see other early risers stroll the sugar-sand beach below, as migratory birds swoop and sway in the warm morning breeze. Just the other day I witnessed pelicans speed-diving for fish after a refreshing rainfall, and today I spot a cornucopia of shorebirds delighting in the quiet moments before children will kick up waves in joy, before adrenaline seekers will balance on boards.
I came to the island of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to embrace this calmer lifestyle, to slow my pace in exploration of beach, nature, and sunshine.
I’m not a true birder, but I think I see sandpipers mixed in with gulls, though I also learn that gulls are easily confused with local black-legged kittiwake. Instead of stressing over identities, I resign to enjoying this aerial show for what it is: calm, soothing, rhythmic.
I came to the island of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to embrace this calmer lifestyle, to slow my pace in exploration of beach, nature, and sunshine. This island bridges the distance between Mobile Bay in Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. To my west sits Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, a 7,157-acre home to herons and deer, alligators and ospreys. Young sea turtles are also found hatching here, as well as along the Gulf coast. A dedicated group of citizen volunteers keep watch over newborn loggerhead and green sea turtles, and, maybe not quite as often, the critically endangered Kemps Ridley turtles. Like me, these little bodies prefer warm waters, and I haven’t been disappointed at the Gulf’s temperature during my stay.
I think of the layers here along the Alabama coastline, how one moment I’m breathing warm sea air into my lungs, the next an earthy reminder of the world beyond the beach.
When not refreshing myself in the clear salt waters just steps from my condo, I’ve explored the area and discovered bottlenose dolphins surfacing along Cotton Bayou, showing their playful side even in less-than-sunny weather. There hasn’t been a steady ray of sunshine during this particular visit, with raindrops coming and going throughout the week. Even so, the temperature cooperates, so I feel comfortable when out with an umbrella. And, when the weather doesn’t offer much hope, I’ve found a great way to keep dry is at eateries serving regional seafood, flavors, and flare.
Much of my time has been spent at Gulf State Park, home to protected lands and freshwater lakes, with nature trails and geocaches, and even they’ve joined the culinary comfort team. Set along the sandy shoreline within the park, Perch has an amazing porch with lush seating and fire pits, where handcrafted cocktails are served alongside Gulf shrimp, pork belly, and fried green tomatoes. It feels like sophisticated camp dining here inside a state park, as kite-flyers run on the beach and couples kiss during sunset walks on the pier.
Elsewhere in the park, I’ve explored a new ecotourism campus and their center for sustainability. Every inch of the new facilities has preservation and growth in mind, considerate of future generations of visitors, and the most important residents: wildlife and natural resources.
As the sun returns its beams through the canopy of foliage, colors come to life on a variety of trees and low-lying flora. I inhale the marvelous scent of dirt and rain and wet leaf, a smell you only really inhale when deep in the outdoors. I think of the layers here along the Alabama coastline, how one moment I’m breathing warm sea air into my lungs, the next an earthy reminder of the world beyond the beach. Thanks to several days immersed here, I get the best of both natural worlds.