During the five weeks in March and April that we stayed at Battleship
Row RV Park at the Blue Angel
Naval Recreation Area we made frequent trips to this base,
located about ten miles away in southwestern Pensacola, FL.
There's a lot for military retirees to like about NAS Pensacola.
Civilians often come on base, too, to enjoy the very popular National Naval Aviation
Museum, Pensacola Lighthouse, and Fort Barrancas, part of the Gulf
Shores National Monument, and to watch the Blue Angels precision aerial team
practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the spring.
In addition to those attractions, Jim's favorite place to put in long
training miles was on base. Sometimes he simply rode from the rec. area
to the base, then chose from dozens of miles of paved roadways on base
to ride before heading home.
Believe me, he covered every mile on base where he was allowed to ride.
I enjoyed riding there, too, but didn't go nearly as often. We found
several good vantage points to watch the Blue Angels practice where we
didn't have to deal with thousands of visitors at the standard viewing
place next to the museum.
Jim poses by an old Blue Angels
plane on display along the bike path; F-18s are used now.
In this two-page entry I'll show photos from all over the base and
include the topics in the heading. I'll have separate entries for the
air museum and forts.
Let's start with the two campgrounds on base . . .
OAK GROVE RV PARK
We seriously considered staying here in March and April but heard
more things from other retirees that interested us about the Blue
Angel Naval Rec. Area's Battleship Row RV park. We're glad we chose the
location off-base because it was quieter, less expensive, the sites were
larger, and we had many more miles of sandy trails to hike and walk the dogs.
RVers who enjoy being in the middle of everything, who like organized
campground activities, and who don't mind more crowded conditions might prefer
Oak Grove. It's popular enough in the
winter and spring that reservations are recommended for the 51 full
There is an overflow area on base several miles away at Jackson
Court. We liked the looks of that place better because the sites are
larger and more isolated. (I don't have any photos of Jackson Court).
We often rode our bikes through Oak Grove RV Park when riding on
base, as in the photo above, and one time we watched the Blue Angels practice from the
campground entrance with folks who were camped there:
Watching the Blue Angels perform from Oak Grove
The campground's entrance is within sight of the air museum, where
civilian visitors are directed to park and watch the practices near the
flight line. The views aren't quite as good as those from the flight
line but at Oak Grove we didn't have to deal with the crowd and we saw
plenty from that spot.
I even got some pictures of colored Blue Angel "smoke trails" from
open places at the recreation area ten miles away a couple of times.
THE LIGHTHOUSE & OTHER SCENES AROUND THE BASE
Who doesn't love a photogenic historic lighthouse?
Pensacola Light, as it's called, is
located close to the air museum and campground on base. Built in 1859,
it houses a museum and gift shop in the former keeper's quarters. For a
small fee visitors can climb 177 steps to the top of the tower to enjoy
views of the Navy Yard, Pensacola Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, three old
forts, and the city of Pensacola.
Lighthouse and museum
Catwalk in the sky
Former lighthouse carriage house,
now the museum visitor center and gift shop
The tower catwalk is also reputed to be the very best place to observe the
Blue Angels' practice sessions. We had reservations, which aren't easy
to get, on April 29 to watch the practice but ended up leaving the area
the day before. We weren't able to change our date but did get a refund.
Unfortunately, we never did take time to tour the museum or go up in
the tower. That's on my list for the next time we're here.
We saw plenty of other things on base, though. Here are a few of the
photos I took while riding my bike or driving around:
Jim rides along the paved path
by the bay.
Jim checks out the sculptural tribute to the Blue
Angels along the waterfront.
Magnolia buds near the bay
Mature magnolia blooms
Magnolia buds, beginning to end
An unusual flower along the
bike path by the bay
Another part of the bay
Beautiful beach on base
Jim rides by a pretty pond.
Since so many civilian visitors are allowed on this base I'm guessing
runners, walkers, and cyclists can use the bike trails and roads where
there aren't signs or gates preventing their entry. We always carried
our military IDs but no one ever questioned our presence.
BLUE ANGEL PRACTICE SESSIONS
In the spring, when the
Blue Angels precision demonstration team
does its practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at NAS Pensacola,
visitors are allowed to watch for free.
Civilians are directed to park at the naval air museum and walk to a
safe place near the flight line to watch the approximate 90-minute practice.
Jim and I were usually on our bikes when we watched the practices and
we chose various other, un-crowded vantage points around the base to observe
The closer we were to the flight line, of course, the better the views we had. However,
I even got some decent shots from the Blue Angel Naval Rec. Area
when the planes flew in that direction:
The six F-18s are highlighted; their
decorative "smoke" trail follows.
I believe this is the first time we've seen the Blue Angels in
action live. We've seen the Air Force Thunderbirds in shows at several bases,
including Ellsworth in South Dakota, Elmendorf in Alaska, and the USAF Academy in
To me, the formations and smoke designs look similar. So are the
goals of both of these elite groups of aviators and their teams
-- to proudly demonstrate America's military technology, strength,
and skills, and to encourage youngsters to dream of serving our
country. I get patriotic goose bumps every time I see them fly.
The six black "dots" are the Blue Angels'
F-18s after they left a smoke pattern in the sky.
Even without a tripod, with 50-100x zoom I could get
some cool close-ups of the jets.
During practice sessions the Blue Angels flew a total of six F-18s, like the
Thunderbirds. Four usually performed their maneuvers together from the
beginning of the 90-minute sessions. Two other teammates did other
maneuvers until about halfway through the practice, when they
joined the four. We did a lot of head-cranking to keep track of all of them.
If the maneuvers weren't perfect on the first day of practice, the pilots tried
to correct them the second day for that weekend's next show somewhere around the country.
During the five weeks we were in the area the practice sessions were cancelled only
once for inclement weather. That week they just delayed the practices by a day.
If you're ever in the Pensacola area on a spring day when the team is practicing
(check their website
for dates and times), we recommend you visit the base to watch them. And
be sure to go to the air museum, too. It's all free and you just need a driver's
license and clean record to get on base.
Next entry: photos from multiple visits to the awesome National Naval Aviation
Museum on base; we think it's even better than the Smithsonian's Air &
Space Museum in Washington, DC
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil