You smell it first. Then you feel it. You know it's coming, but still, the first glimpse always makes you catch your breath, just a little.
It's not like I haven't seen the ocean before. Living on the west coast of Canada for three decades, I let it become mundane. I forgot to appreciate just how amazing unlimited access to those beaches was. Living on the prairies now, I miss it every day.
Perdido Key, where our fifth wheel tires stopped rotating for the month of December, is a hidden gem. I judge this by the lack of northern snowbirds. The non-winged ones.
There are miles of cool, empty beaches (for a Canadian, the current mid-50-degree temperatures are far from a burden). 'For Rent' signs adorn nearly every brightly colored, stilted beachfront condo. And there are many. Neon signs in restaurant windows blink 'open' and their parking lots beg for cars to enter. The mid-day line in the grocery store totals three, on a bad day.
It's just about heaven down here along the Gulf shore.
Perdido Key Island is a mere 16 miles (26 km) long and almost 60% of it (9.5 miles) is protected in federal or state parks (Johnson Beach and Perdido Key State Park). It is a unique barrier island which is: a type of dune system that is exceptionally flat, or lumpy areas of sand that form by wave and tidal action parallel to the mainland coast. They usually occur in chains, consisting of anything from a few islands to more than a dozen.
|Perdido Key Beach|
The sugar-white sand dunes on Perdido Key are vital to its survival, and the survival of its natural inhabitants such as the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse, a variety of sea turtles and monarch butterflies. Beach access means crossing over the dunes so, to protect them, boardwalks or specific entry points have been built to minimize damage. The dunes are the primary line of defense during a hurricane's powerful storm surge. They literally hold the island together. That's why native plants like sea oats are so vital. The roots form a protective web inside the sand, which keeps dunes in place and provides a buffer that reduces coastal erosion during tropical storms and hurricanes.
|Boardwalk over dunes|
If you truly want to get lost (as the 1693 Spanish name 'Perdido' implies), even on such as small island there are so many places to do it.
Rosamond Johnson Beach
According to the National Park Service: Private Rosamond Johnson, Jr. was killed on July 26, 1950 during the Korean Conflict. Having carried two wounded men to safety under enemy fire, he was killed going back for a third, becoming the first African American from this area to die in that conflict. (He enlisted at 15 and died at 17.) During segregation, Rosamond Johnson Beach on Perdido Key was one of the few beaches open to African Americans. Now part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Johnson Beach continues to honor the ultimate sacrifice of Rosamond Johnson, Jr.
|Great Blue Heron in 'you can't see me' mode|
Perdido Key State Park
Two-hundred-ninety acres of beachfront heaven. The off-season in so many parts of the south are a mecca for northern snowbirds, yet, for some reason, this year has shown little evidence of that in Perdido Key or the Gulf of Mexico beaches along this part of the Florida panhandle. More room for us! Be it birdwatching, searching for seashells or just sitting listening to the rolling surf, this "lost island" hasn't disappointed us. Even with the cooler temperatures (thanks El Nino) and heavier rainfall, it is a destination on our 'must return to' list.
The sand squeaks under your feet. The link above explains why! If you listen carefully you can hear it in the clip below...I hope.