GULFPORT, Mississippi Driving the passenger ferry to West Ship Island, 10 miles offshore, I had a robust feeling of transferring not simply by way of area, however by way of time. We have been forsaking the glitz and kitsch, the casinos and busy seashores and visitors of the mainland, for a quieter and extra pure aspect of Mississippis Gulf Coast.
West Ship Island is a part of Gulf Islands Nationwide Seashore, a Nationwide Park Service website unfold throughout 170 miles of Mississippi and Florida shoreline. The park, established in 1971, preserves barrier islands and a few wild coastal marshes and forests on the mainland and is split into Mississippi and Florida areas.
The West Ship Island ferry is the one approach for guests to discover a Mississippi barrier island until they take their very own boat or constitution a particular journey.
Through the journey, a number of persistent gulls adopted the ferry, gliding effortlessly behind. They may have been childrens kites tied to the rail, besides they veered off as we handed the midway level, most likely to move again for simpler pickings on the mainland. However a small flock of red-winged blackbirds, flying in from the island, took their place, trilling and begging, largely unsuccessfully, for handouts from passengers. They have been the loudest inhabitants I might encounter.
On the finish of the 60-minute journey, the ferry docked on the island in what was as soon as the one deep-water harbor between Cell, Alabama, and Galveston, Texas. (Different fashionable ports, just like the one in Gulfport, are the results of dredging.)
As we unloaded, many island guests carried seaside gear, small coolers, bird-watching gear or no matter else they thought they could want on the uninhabited island.
When the ferry is operating, a small snack bar additionally operates on the island promoting scorching canines and sandwiches and drinks together with, I can report from first-hand expertise, beer.
The island is also house to maybe the best, and positively one of many least crowded, seashores in Mississippi. A concession close to the snack bar rents seaside chairs and umbrellas to company preferring to not lug their very own gear on the ferry. Guests additionally will discover restrooms, showers and altering rooms and a big coated picnic pavilion.
The primary cease for me and lots of different ferry passengers, nevertheless, was Fort Massachusetts, a historic construction that stands nearly immediately on the finish of the 400-foot pier the place we docked.
A Nationwide Park Service volunteer was ready to guide us by way of the large fort and inform us in regards to the islands navy historical past.
Due to the deep-water harbor, the island had been utilized by British forces in the course of the Struggle of 1812 as a staging space earlier than their unsuccessful assault on New Orleans.
In 1855, future Accomplice President Jefferson Davis, then U.S. secretary of warfare, was a robust advocate of constructing a fort on the island to guard the harbor and the Mississippi coast.
Building started simply earlier than the beginning of the Civil Struggle. The uncompleted fort was seized by Confederates in the course of the warfare, however taken again by Union forces, who continued with development. The fort was not accomplished till after the wars finish, however the island did function a prisoner-of-war camp for captured Accomplice troopers and as a base for some Union models, together with a few of the first African-American troops to combat within the warfare.
After the tour, many of the guests headed to the seaside. I made a decision to stroll the mile out to the western tip of the island. The best way was dotted with marshy tidal ponds the place I noticed many birds, together with ospreys, brown pelicans, quite a lot of gulls and terns and wading birds equivalent to willets and clapper rails, however nearly no different people.
My hike was nice, with a breeze preserving me cool and driving away most pesky bugs. On the finish of the island, I doffed my footwear and proceeded again alongside the sand, accompanied solely by the cry of the seabirds and the sound of the waves lapping at my ankles.
After availing myself of a scorching canine and a few drinks on the snack bar, I discovered an empty little bit of seaside close by not a tough factor to do unfold my seaside towel, pulled my hat over my eyes, and engaged in my favourite journey exercise: Doing nothing in any respect within the heat solar.
The 5 hours on the island elapsed rapidly, and it was time to return.
One or two ferries make round-trips every day to West Ship Island from Gulfport by way of the summer season months, with restricted departures within the fall. A once-a-day ferry additionally runs from Biloxi starting in mid-Might.
Guests who select not make the journey to the island can nonetheless take pleasure in a extra pure aspect of the Gulf Coast on the Davis Bayou space, a part of the nationwide seashore positioned on the mainland in Ocean Springs.
Davis Bayou protects a number of hundred acres of marsh and bayou, and homes campgrounds and a customer middle with displays in regards to the barrier islands and coastal areas and their distinctive habitats and historical past.
A number of trails run by way of the Davis Bayou space. From one path I noticed a big alligator fortunately sunning himself on the edge of a big marsh.