Monday, July 27, 2009

Boating on Fowl River

I've lived in Mobile for seven years now but every now and then I feel like a tourist in my own town. This weekend was a case in point. My husband and I were invited by our good friend, Paul, to go out on Fowl River with him in his boat. Now I know that Mobile has several rivers that run through the area but I don't know one from the other. When Paul extended the invitation I was embarrassed to admit that I had no idea where Fowl River began or ended. My husband explained that we would launch the boat at the Fowl River Marina on the Dauphin Island Parkway in Belle Fontaine. That gave me some point of reference at least.

The marina features the Pelican Reef Restaurant, the Landing Lounge, a convenience store/bait shop and gas pumps. The cost to launch your boat is $5.00. The Landing has live music on Friday and Saturday nights. I'm not a power boat enthusiast (I prefer sailboats) so I wasn't sure what we would actually be doing once we got out on the water. I really thought we were going to troll up the river for 30 minutes or so and then turn around and come back. I thought it would be boring but I really enjoyed myself.

Hanging out on the river is a lot like hanging out at the beach. You find a variety of people at both locations and those people are involved in a variety of activities. On the Fowl River I saw folks swimming, fishing, jet skiing, water skiing, sun bathing and just hanging out with friends. Of course a lot of people seemed to be doing what we were doing, just riding up and down the river, taking in the sites. Everyone we passed took a friendly moment to smile and wave.

I was amazed to see how many homes had been built along the river. Homes of every size and description. I drooled over every one of them, the big and the small, because they all seemed to have the "cool factor" that comes from living on the water. They're like the homes you see in the French Quarter down in New Orleans. Some might be nicer than others, but you know you'd be happy to live in any of them.

Every house of course has a boat dock and the boat docks were, for me, the most fascinating sites on this trip. It was fun to compare the different choices used to decorate the boat houses and docks. There were slides that emptied into the river and diving boards to jump from. I saw man made beaches complete with beach chairs and umbrellas. Some of the residents had installed playground equipment near the river bank and others had tied rope swings in the overhanging trees.

My only real disappointment of the day was the lack of wildlife. I had hoped to capture shots of alligators floating in the water or herons wading along the shore. I didn't even see a water moccasin swimming down stream. There were a ton of pelicans hanging out at the mouth of the river but the water was too rough out in the bay for our little boat to venture near enough to get good photos. Maybe next time.

We cruised up and down the river all day between Pelican Reef and Memories Fish Camp. There are points along the river where you can cruise very fast, creating a wonderfully cool breeze while you jump wakes. Others areas are no wake zones. These are great places for taking pictures and watching fish jump. The winding of the river added a small element of surprise since I never knew what might be revealed around each bend.

It was a terrific way to spend the day and cost us next to nothing. Thanks to Captain Paul for inviting us to come out on the maiden voyage of his new boat. If you have access to a boat take it out on Fowl River. If you don't have access to a boat, find someone who does and make friends with them. Bribe them with gas and lunch. Offer to stock the boat's beer cooler. You won't regret it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dauphin Street Police Museum

The Dauphin Street Police Museum is in the lobby of a working police precinct and is located at 320 Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile (across the street from Cathedral Square). It's open 24 hours 7 days a week and admission is free.

The museum contains the sort of items you would expect to find in a law enforcement exhibit. There are display cases filled with guns that include rifles that look like they could have been used in gangster movies or old westerns. There are also old radios, radar guns, badges and police handbooks. One of the oldest pieces on display is a civil war prisoner log which I thought was eye catching mainly because of the beautiful script writing that the entries were written in.

My sons thought the martial arts weapons and explosives were "cool" but overall were bored with the static nature of the museum. They wanted something more interactive. On the other hand, my three year old grandson had a great time looking at the mannequins dressed in old uniforms and playing in the mock jail cell. His mother was only a little embarrassed when he pointed to the display of seized drug paraphernalia and shouted "look at the toys".

The items I found interesting were little things that seemed to be tucked into the cases almost as an after thought. There's an old whiskey still that could have been the seed for a exhibit on prohibition or moonshiners. I saw a homemade zip gun but there's no explanation of what a zip gun is. There are several weapons made by prisoners in jail. I thought they should have been displayed with a piece about violence in jails or the dangers faced by personnel who worked in the city jail.

Several of the old newspaper clippings should be developed into complete exhibits of their own. They include stories about people like William Powell and Walter Jackson who were the first black officers hired by the city of Mobile and Policewoman Ethel Eubanks who had a run in with a male motorist in 1943. I would have liked to learn more about what it was like for minorities who struggled to pave the way in this career.

I was surprised to learn that Patricia Krenwinkle, of the Charles Manson family, was arrested in Mobile after the Tate murders. The museum has created a photo montage on one wall to commemorate what they refer to as "Mobile's Most Famous Arrest" but there's not a lot of information to go with it. If you take a minute you can read the newpaper articles that are part of the mural but I thought a video display with old news footage would have made it more interesting.

All in all the museum was more interesting than my family expected. And really, the city is lucky to have a museum that pays homage to it's police force. Yes, there is room for improvement and it certainly is lacking the wow factor that our entertainment driven society looks for today. The fact is that any money spent on making the museum more flashy would probably have to come out of the police department's budget which means less money for real needs like fighting crime. So if you find yourself downtown take a little time and tour the museum. It's a good way to pay respect to our law enforcement officers and learn a little about their history.

To read another review of the Police Museum please visit Jere Hough's blog at

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dauphin Island Beach

When my family decided to move to the Gulf Coast a few years ago, one of the factors that influenced our decision was the fact that we would be living closer to the beach. No more waiting for vacations to roll around! We could bury our toes in the sand any time we wanted to. We promised ourselves we would hit the surf every weekend. We lied. We went a couple of times and then we just stopped going altogether. The fact is we're just too lazy for the beach. It requires packing lunches and putting on sunscreen and dragging the cooler out of storage. Ice has to be purchased and beach towels have to be located. We are not an organized bunch.

Last weekend we attempted to revive our love affair with the beach. The whole family packed up and headed for Dauphin Island's public beach. Dauphin Island is a barrier island located in the mouth of Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. The island offers a great many attractions but this week I'm concentrating solely on the public beach. The first thing you should probably know is that parking is free but its limited. We arrived late in the afternoon, as some of the early birds were leaving, so we found an empty space pretty quickly. On holidays, like the Fourth of July, you must arrive early to find parking. DO NOT park in any No Parking or handicap spots! Law enforcement will come by and give you a $50 parking ticket.

Adjacent to the parking lot are the outdoor showers, restrooms, playground and picnic tables. The picnic tables are covered so they provide a little shade while you enjoy your lunch. There are no permanent grills so many people bring there own. This entire area is more utilitarian than aesthetically pleasing but it is clean and well maintained. I don't advise walking barefoot through here. There are sharp rocks in the parking lot and stickers in the grassy areas.

As we climbed the short distance over the sand dunes along the boardwalk there were three large pavilions available for groups to use. All three pavilions were being used last weekend by large families who had brought along grills and assorted beach paraphernalia. I got the impression that they had been there all day. If you want to acquire one of these prize spots for your next family reunion I would advise you arrive early.

So, once we topped the dunes we could see the beautiful white sand beaches that the Gulf Coast is so well known for. The Gulf is about 100 yards away from where the sand starts. A hundred yards isn't far, unless you're toting coolers, umbrellas, beach chairs and toys through the hot sand. My advice is pack lightly. Better yet, use the service offered at the Dauphin Island Pier store on the pier. The pier is opened from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday and the store offers a variety of snacks, drinks, beach toys, T-shirts and sun screen. For $5.00 you can hire someone to carry your stuff down to the beach for you. After spending a day relaxing on the beach the last thing you want to do is lug all that heavy stuff back up to your car. Pay the $5.00 and let someone else do it for you. We packed a lunch of sandwiches and chips to keep costs down. If you don't want to picnic there are many small, informal restaurants close by.

The beach itself was wonderful. Although the heat index at home was 102 degrees it was much cooler and less humid on the water. The ocean itself was warm but not uncomfortably so. The waves were small, really just swells, so we were able to go swimming. I should note that there are no life guards on this beach so you swim at your own risk. Please check the beach forecast ahead of time, beware of rip currents when the warning is posted and keep a very close eye on your children.

On the east side of the pier there is a lagoon that is shallow during low tide so its very toddler friendly. There are no waves on the lagoon to knock small kids down. The water gets deep enough for jet skis and small boats but my three year old grandson had a great time playing in the shallow end. He was excited to discover that the few shells we found all had crabs in them and that there were schools of tiny fish in the water for him to swim with. He even loved chasing the sea gulls. My only complaint about this area is that most of the sand around the lagoon is an ugly shade of green and smells funky. That's because the area is under water during high tide.

My oldest son doesn't care much for the salt water so he dug himself a beach chair in the sand. It provided shade and made a great spot to nap and people watch. My youngest son spent his time in the ocean with his dad bobbing in the swells. My daughter and I enjoyed quietly floating in the lagoon on innertubes. Everyone found there own way to enjoy this terrific summer-time location. Dauphin Island beach is great no matter who you are. We saw people flying kites, fishing, swimming, playing football, digging in the sand, reading and sun bathing. Folks were grilling, dancing, playing cards and making music. Best of all it's free. You don't have to spend a dime to relax at Dauphin Island Beach. Go revive your love affair with the beach.