We had a full day planned today, so we didn’t waste any time getting ourselves ready to go. We left the campground at 9:30 and took the short drive to Naval Air Station Pensacola.
We had to show our picture IDs to get through the gate and were directed where to go.
We arrived just in time to jump on a tram tour at 10:00 which took us to the flight line where the old planes were kept.
Inside the hangar is where some of the restoration takes place. The guide was a wealth of information about a lot of planes that were sitting outside there.
From the tram, we got a good look at the take-off and landing strip where the Blue Angels practice. There were no Blue Angels today, but there were training planes flying from there that we could see.
The tram tour took 45 minutes and we were back at the museum to begin our self-guided tour of the planes inside. The museum traces the development of American naval aviation from its beginnings through the present through more than 150 restored historic aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aviation.There are two floors of exhibits and aircraft, including planes suspended from the ceiling.
There are 4 Skyhawks suspended from the ceiling in formation of the Blue Angels.
The size of some of the planes were huge inside this building. Look at the size of this plane compared to Bob. Amazing!
Here Bob is standing next to the life-size replica of the H-bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
This area was especially interesting.
There was a movie and replicas of that planes that sank in Lake Michigan during training sessions off of the Chicago shoreline during WWII. I didn’t know this, but they took old ore carriers and converted them into “flattops” (aircraft carriers), so pilots could practice taking off and landing on aircraft carriers in Lake Michigan. In practice, some of those planes didn’t make it and ended up at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Four were recovered, but there are still some planes down there. This is one of the planes that was recovered. Very cool!
Bob tried out some of the cockpits of the planes.
So did I. Some were larger than I thought they would be.
We spent 3 1/2 hours exploring the walk-through displays, reading about the history of aviation, and experiencing the aircraft and exhibits firsthand. There is no entrance fee to the museum which is amazing for a museum with such a wealth of historical artifacts. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would come back again to visit Hangar Bay One which was closed for restoration. Hangar Bay One houses, among other things, Vietnam aircraft, Coast Guard aircraft, and the presidential helicopter Marine One. Those would have been cool to see, but we’ll have to save those for another visit. After leaving the museum, our next stop was the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum.
The Pensacola Lighthouse is the oldest light station and tallest lighthouse of the United States Gulf Coast and still remains active. It has a first order Fresnel lens–the largest there is–which can be seen from 27 miles out at sea. Unfortunately, the last 10 steps in the lighthouse were being replaced, so no one could go up all the way to the observation deck. The clerk said that we could go as high as the last window in the black section of the lighthouse to be able to see the view.
Bob didn’t want to make the climb, but I did coax him to go up a few steps to try it out.
No dice! He’d stay below and wait for me. I did, however, make the climb as far up as I could go—a total of 112 steps.
It was an easy climb, with a stop at each open window to check out the view. The first two windows only produced a view of the treetops, but the last window was the “motherlode” of views. I could see down the coastline east to Pensacola.
In the other direction, I could see west to Perdido Beach and out into the Gulf.
It was breathtaking! Imagine the 360 degree view I would have had if I could have climbed all the way to the top. We walked around the grounds of the lighthouse a little before leaving the Naval Base and heading back to the park.
We wanted to explore the park a little, so we drove to the West Beach area where the boat launch is located. From there, we went to the East Beach area. Both areas have swimming in the Big Lagoon, but we were there at the East Beach to climb the Observation Tower.
It was a short walk along the boardwalk to the tower.
We climbed the tower to the top (Bob too) and had a great view of the Intercoastal Waterway. We had traveled this same passage by boat in 2008.
From there, we could see a tug pushing 3 heavily-laden barges through the passage.
We could see over to Perdido Key across the Big Lagoon where people were spending some time at the beach. We could also see the high-rises on Perdido Beach in the distance.
A nice breeze was blowing and the view was awesome from above. Away from the noise of people and traffic, the quiet was wonderful.
We stayed awhile to watch 2 Great Blue Herons who stood as still as statues as they hunted their prey in the water. From that vantage point, we could see ospreys who sat in dead treetops looking for their next meal. We headed back to the campground around 3:00 and enjoyed sitting outside with Auggie in the shade with a cool breeze blowing. Who could ask for more? We hung outside until it was time to cook dinner. Bob did pork chops on the grill with asparagus. What a taste treat! After dinner, we took a walk around the campground before the sun set. What a beautiful evening! We opened the windows because it had finally cooled off. Tomorrow we’re off to explore Perdido Key and the infamous Florabama Bar.