The Gulf bounces back

Ruby red shrimp, hot pink sunsets, sugary white sand beaches, dolphins swimming alongside our boat, bird-banding and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico were highlights of my recent trip to Orange Beach and adjacent Gulf Shores, Ala.

Many people don't know about the 32 miles of soft white sand beaches on the Alabama gulf coast but that was the view from the balcony of my room at Island House Hotel. People sat in beach chairs under stripped umbrellas or strolled along the water while an occasional sailboat passed by.

I was soon out walking along the beach myself, picking up shells, looking for jellyfish and watching the boats, waves and billowy clouds.

One day I climbed onboard Skip's Sailaway Charters pontoon boat for an eco tour, traveling along the Intracoastal Waterway and into a few bayous while Skip pointed out a tern, kingfisher, pelicans, cormorants and osprey, and stopped to scoop up oysters, explaining how they grew and were harvested, and how bacteria levels are monitored for consumer safety. Skip's area was closed for a year after the BP oil spill but has now recovered, he said.

Moving to another spot, he pulled up soft-shelled blue crabs, considered a delicacy, from his crab pot. The shells only stay soft for about 48 hours.

When he pulled up his shrimp net filled with assorted little fish as well as shrimp, seagulls swooped down squawking and two good-sized dolphins hovered around the boat waiting for Skip to throw out the fish remains.

Back on land, Park Ranger Sean Williams led a tour of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, which is on the migration trail of neotropical birds and monarch butterflies and has five miles of hiking trails.

Later, we rode in an open wagon on the Backcountry Trail through Gulf State Park in Orange Beach on an eco tour. In one area, we saw the remains of a forest fire with mysterious iridescent green water and dead trees sticking up. Bicyclers and hikers shared the 11-mile trail.

My trip ended with sunset cruise aboard Wild Heart Catamaran with Capt. Dave along the Intracoastal Waterway. Friends and I watched the waves and a couple of dolphins, enjoyed the beautiful balmy evening and saw a spectacular red and orange sunset.

The Orange Beach-Gulf Shores area has rebounded well from the 2010 BP oil spill. Seafood is healthy and plentiful, and tourism is up. It's a great place for a family or couples vacation.

Pam O'Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7818.