Ride on the Wild Side at Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in Orange Beach, Alabama

Story & Pics by Linda Kissam

Gulf shores AlabamaYou won’t often find me and my $250 shoes in the midst of alligators, marsh and power walkers. Nor are you likely to find me in an open golf cart with the wind and elements blowing through my carefully coiffed hair. However, the world of nature is truly fascinating and if it is to remain wild and untouched, everyone – including you and me – must experience, embrace, and support the beauty that is being preserved for us by local communities and government agencies. Such is the wild and wondrous world of the Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in in Orange Beach, Alabama. It’s the perfect pairing of beauty, brawn and protection.

watch out for gators in AlabamaThe Backcountry Trail project is a collaborative effort between the City of Orange Beach (Alabama), Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment. Historically, many parts of the trail were utilized by the area’s indigenous peoples, as well as explorers and settlers of the region.

The Backcountry Trail is steeped in lore and local legend. For decades, a creature believed to be part man/part wildcat –The “Catman” — has allegedly lurked along the paths and swamps of the backcountry woodlands.

Swamps of AlabamaJust minutes from the high rise condos on Orange Beach, this is the place for you to buckle up in an electric cart with two or more friends for a 2 to 3 -hour guided eco-tour. Winding through the gorgeous Alabama back-country on tiny paths, you’ll see flora and fauna side by side with joggers, cyclists and power walkers as you listen to your guide explain in detail the past, present and future of this special place. You’ll exprience firsthand the pristine trail with four distinct ecosystems covering 10 miles. Untamed and vibrant, expect to see alligators, snakes, marshland, wildflowers and towering trees.
Six trails among six distinct ecosystems make up more than 11 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex through Orange Beach, Alabama and the Gulf State Park. This is not a Disney type experience. It’s relaxed and relaxing. It’s inspiring and engaging. There is only one tour at a time going on. Generally no more than two tours a day. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your time with Mother Nature. She has a surprise or two in store for you.

On your guided tour expect to experience:

HURRICANE RIDGE TRAIL
Watch out for gatorsHurricane Ridge Trail was constructed after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979. The hurricane created this natural ridge by depositing sand, twigs, and vegetation from the force of the tidal surge. The 130 mph winds and the many tornadoes uprooted hundreds of trees. Many of these dead trees can still be seen today. Their gray, rotting trunks are one of the many reminders of the power contained in nature’s storms. Try to find animal tracks in the sand, or look for birds, such as woodpeckers and mocking birds, feasting on insects in the trees.

MIDDLE LAKE TRAIL
One of the major trails in Gulf State Park is Middle Lake Trail. It begins at the Nature Center and follows Middle Lake unit it intersects with Hurricane Ridge Trail. Look for alligators floating along the surface. They are seen in the warm months of summer but are experienced at hiding in the grasses along the edge of the canal. Look for their eyes and nose on the surface of the water.

BEAR CREEK TRAIL
Bear Creek Trail is a unique trail because it used to be an old paved road heading to Orange Beach. Since Your guide will help you identify many of the local trees and shrubs. Covering many of the trees and shrubs on this trail is a thick, woody vine called Muscadine Grape Vines. These wild vines are abundant throughout Gulf State Park. The fruit matures in late summer and is slightly larger than domestic grapes. Some of the animals that enjoy these wild grapes are the gray fox, black bear, coyote, raccoon, and many different types of birds.

ALLIGATOR MARSH TRAIL
This is a unique trail that winds beside a small canal offering the right environment for small alligators, turtles, frogs, and other small animals. Tall marsh grasses grow along many areas of this trail. Some of this grass is easy to identify by its saw-toothed edges

BOBCAT BRANCH TRAIL
Golf Cart TourismBobcat Branch Trail connects Bear Creek Trail to the main campground road. It winds through ¾ of a mile of Live Oaks, Blackberry Brambles, and Holly. Look for some of the dead or dying trees. These trees provide a continuous supply of insects for birds such as woodpeckers. One of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in this area is the Pileated Woodpecker.

TALLOW TRAIL
This ¼ of a mile trail follows a small creek in the campground. If you get out of the cart and walk quietly along this trail, you may see some birds such as the green heron fishing for dinner. The creek is also a home to many different types of frogs, turtles, and lizards. In the sandy areas of this trail, you might notice several different animal tracks. Many animals such as raccoons, bobcats, deer, and rabbits use this trail as an easy path into the campground.

ARMADILLO TRAIL
Along this one-mile trail you will see various types of ferns and moss. On the soft pliant earth beneath your feet, you will notice an amazing root system of the trees. You will also see palm-like leaves growing close to the ground along the sides of the trail. This plant is called Saw Palmetto. As the leaves fall to the ground, they provide a wonderful habitat for small animals such as snakes, frogs, and lizards.

MIDDLE LAKE OVERLOOK TRAIL
ON the trail in AlabamaCompleted in March 2000 by a group of winter campers, Middle Lake Overlook Trail crosses over Armadillo Trail and ends at a small pavilion overlooking Middle Lake. Try to be quiet as you approach the lake and you may see turtles basking in the sun or a small alligator swimming nearby.

Middle Lake is one of three freshwater lakes in Gulf Resort State Park. It is approximately 150 acres. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is about 750 acres, and the smallest is Little Lake. These three lakes are fed by underground springs. The water flows out of the lakes into Little Lagoon and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. As you look out of Middle Lake, you will notice that the water has a very dark, reddish/brown color. This coloration is due to the release of tannins from the decomposition of plants.

Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Gardens in AlabamaYour guide will stop the cart to give you time to explore the eternal beauty of the Butterfly Garden. Created and maintained by a local women’s club it is a special oasis for festively marked and colored winged beauties. This also makes a great place for a picnic as there is a small enclosed pavilion with picnic benches.

An insider’s deal at $60.00 per cart or $15 per person for a two-hour ride. Up to 6 people can be accommodated. Perfect for couples, singles, families. Bring a camera. There are restroom stops along the tour as well as water fountains. You can bring your own snacks; beverages if you like…and oh yea…don’t forget the insect spray in high summer.

Resource

Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail
4849 Wilson Boulevard
Orange Beach, AL 36561
251.981.1180
http://backcountrytrail.com

Art Class with a Wine Chaser in Gulf Shores Alabama

Article and photos by Linda Kissam

A sip of artGulf Shores, Alabama, is known as a family friendly place to vacation. It’s also great for singles and girlfriend getaways. I can see why. The pristine beaches, sugar white sand, tropical drinks, and a unique food and music scene make this a happening place for all age levels. On an average vacation day, I’d head out to do some sun bathing, wave jumping, and cocktail ordering with some friends. At night, bar hopping was on the to-do list to investigate the emerging food and music scene. But last week I discovered another va-cay option.

I was checking out the tourist-friendly dockside shops of SanRoc Cay, when I came across the art studio, Life’s A Canvas. It’s an art instruction center …with a twist. So what´s the twist, you ask? How about professional art instruction with a wine chaser?

Art and Wine in AlabamaLife’s A Canvas is an optimistic, creative class for folks who want to learn the basics of acrylic painting in the company of great friends and good wine. In each class an instructor shows you, step-by-step, how to create your own masterpiece that you can actually be proud of, take home at the end of the night, and hang on your wall the next day. Yes, the results are really that good. Don’t worry if you can’t even draw a circle correctly. I am thinking if you know your letters, shapes and colors then you are able to learn how to create a quality piece of art.

Art and wine in AlabamaI am always intimidated by art classes. I am a stick-figure gal myself. I think of art classes as the creative types knocking out beautiful stuff under the watchful eye of a critical instructor. So, I was a little surprised at first by the atmosphere. Begin with the oh-so charismatic owner John Grant Gordon. A professional artist in his own right, he is the personification of a talented entrepreneur who knows how to show his clients a good time. He’s funny, charming, energetic, patient and inspiring. He also knows how to pick the right drinks and music to get the art party going full tilt. If that isn’t enough to get this stick-figure drawing Diva in a chair, I don’t know what is.

Who says art and wine don't mix?The focus is more on the painting, with some wine on the side to help you relax or celebrate a sense of accomplishment. John has created a space where people can relax, sip libations, and laugh as they channel and develop their inner artist and creative instincts through painting. The actual space is large, airy, and well lit with natural light. The studio area is a large room where paintings are hung all over the walls, exhibiting some of the pieces Life’s A Canvas has copyrighted and inspiring newbies like me to buck up and give the process a try. There are plenty of different work areas to settle into and find your groove.

Wine and PaintThe price is certainly right, starting at $35 per class. Come alone or invite your friends. Paint, canvas, and brushes are provided, as is an experienced and enthusiastic local artist who will lead you step by step through the process of recreating a featured art piece. At the end of the evening, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind creation and a newfound talent you’ll want to continue to explore. It can be somewhat addictive. This is not your average art class, this is art entertainment.

 

Luxury Vacation Condo & Private Chef in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Story by Linda Kissam by Vagobond

Gulf Shores AlabamaWho said the experience of a lifetime has to happen in some far off place? Holidaying at a luxury vacation home rental in the USA can be as memorable as anything in Italy, St. Croix, or any other exotic locale. The United States itself is so diverse that it borrows elements from all of the world’s best destinations. What is your idea of the perfect vacation? Is it a whirlwind of activities or a kick-back stay and play? If it’s the later and includes a luxury condo, sugar white beaches, crystal clear waters and a private chef, I have the vacation of a lifetime for you. It was a unique experience for me, and one that I highly recommend for you.

What would you give to stay on the beach and out of the kitchen, unpack once, throw your purse and smart phone on a chair and head out to the water? Ahhh, I sense I have your attention. Think the Dunes Subdivision just 19.5 miles west of Gulf Shores, Alabama on Fort Morgan Parkway. Along with your luxe rental, hire an experienced local, private chef from near-by Orange Beach to prepare gourmet meals customized to your taste buds. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean breezes. No shopping, no meal prep, no cleaning up. Serious luxury living.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefGulf Shores has a distinct food culture that you’ll not find anywhere else in the world and a private chef is guaranteed to bring the best of the Gulf shore directly to your vacation tabletop. A private chef is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of the area’s cuisine without ever leaving the comforts of your villa. Who would I recommend? Chef Chris Sherrill – celebrated chef and owner of EAT! Restaurant and Staycations Catering in Orange Beach.

First things, first. When the sugar white sand beaches and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico start calling your name, Kaiser Realty, Inc. is a good place to start your Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation rentals search. Located in charming Gulf Shores, Kaiser Realty, Inc. welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy a fantastic vacation experience along the Alabama Gulf Coast in one of the areas most luxe rental homes or beach condominiums. With properties sprinkled along the 32 miles of pristine white sand beaches accommodating singles, couples and large groups, you are going to easily find your perfect vacation rental. Kaiser Realty, Inc.’s ability to accommodate groups of any size makes creating a successful beach vacation in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach a breeze. Specializing in romantic getaways, family vacations and large group accommodations, their expert staff will pair you with the best property for you and your idea of the perfect vacation.

Gulf Shores Alabama My condo experience was the “CARPE DIEM:: GULF FRONT” featuring 6 bedrooms and 7 baths. It is a direct Gulf-front property. Off the beaten path between the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, the Fort Morgan Peninsula offers privacy, but easy access to area attractions. All homes within this subdivision have access to a swimming pool, located approximately 1 block north. Carpe Diem is conveniently located to 2 of this area’s finest golf courses. This home features lots of extras including a wet bar, 61″ TV with a home theater system, DVD player. Trust me; this is anybody’s dream vacation home. Here’s some (subject to change) pricing for you. Seven nights in peak summer $7,697.28 (there is a week minimum required in summer and peak season); 7 nights in winter $3,127.26; 4 nights in winter $2,172.46 (there is only a 4 night minimum required in “off” seasons). Adding a private chef to make the meals was a separate cost, but such an excellent decision.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefOnce you find your perfect accommodations, call up Chef Sherrill to let him know what you want. Chef graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C. in 1998 and has been a successful chef and entrepreneur for over 10 years. Chef was selected to be part of eight Gulf-area chefs to participate in the “Spirit of the Gulf, “a series of food and music events specifically designed for the US Olympic team and their families during the 2012 Olympic games.

What does Chef Sherrill do for his vacation condo clients? “We cook condo meals on site. The menu is handpicked by the client and my suggestions per seasonal and fresh product (produce and seafood). We take extra care to make sure food allergies and cultures are taken into consideration.” I asked Chef what Gulf Shores Alabama Private Chefthe benefits of having a personal chef prepare meals at a client’s vacation home. “Benefits? No wait versus standing in line during the summer. Many restaurants are on a 2 hour wait. Drink and eat in the comfort of your condo. Children can be served a separate meal early and the adults can eat at a later time. BEACHFRONT DINING!!!!!” I agree!

 

Resources:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Visitor Info – http://www.gulfshores.com/

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