There was a time when if folks from the New Orleans area wanted to visit the gulf coast they might go to Bay St. Louis or, if they were adventurous, head as far as Biloxi or Ocean Springs.
Going beyond that was a real vacation. There wasn’t much along the Alabama coast except for Mobile Bay and Point Clear where the venerable Grand Hotel stands. The Florida Panhandle was where the real beach feeling came into play, with Pensacola at one end and Panama City to the far east.
Names that are common today were not known only a few decades ago. Hardly anyone spoke of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Destin or snappy new villages including Seaside and Water Color. But then things began change, quickly. I call it the “new gulf coast” and my theory is that there were three factors that changed it:
Interstate 10. Completion of the transcontinental interstate trough New Orleans and to points east and west cut down the drive time to many places, including the gulf coast. The far end of the panhandle could be reached within five hours. New Orleans vacationers were closer than ever to green water and white sands.
Condominiums. There was plenty of room for growth on the emerging gulf coast. The concept of the condo provided a way to finance it. Money came from owners of units rather than having to rely totally on fat cats or cautious banks. As high-rises and subdivisions opened, thousand of people had pieces of the development. The new buildings kept on coming.
Gambling. Mississippi’s gulf coast would have suffered from the other two factors had it not been for the games of chance. With travel times less of a factor, the green water and white sand from Pensacola east became more of an attraction. Mississippi needed its own attraction. Enter the casino. Where people once went to collect shells now they could spin wheels, dine at fancy restaurants and see glitzy shows. The Mississippi gulf coast had to redefine itself and did so with casinos. Credit it all to I-10 and condos.
What have evolved are two stretches of shores across the beaches of three states: Mississippi’s gambling coast and Alabama- Florida’s pristine water coasts. Both fortunately are still interactive with nature. There is more shell life along the Mississippi coast, which partially accounts for the sand being darker; the white sand coast has dunes and lagoons. It is also possible to visit both coasts and not even have time for the water because of the off the road exploring. That is what we look at in this issue, including a place that makes great popsicles.
Not denied to either coast is nature’s greatest display—the sunset. Sitting on the beach on a spring evening looking west as night approaches, is, in its own way, like hitting a jackpot.