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Royal Red shrimp at King Neptune’s
Courtesy King Neptune’s


A second boardwalk leads over a bog — but not just any bog. A pitcher plant bog, which offers visitors a rare glimpse of the terrifying (to small insects) white-topped pitcher plant, an indigenous, carnivorous floral species that you’d be hard-pressed to see anywhere else.

But let’s be honest — and double back for a second to that whole journey-versus-destination thing. Unless you’re a botanist, estuary scholar or carnivorous plant buff, the real draw of voluntarily removing oneself from Alabama’s sweet beaches and leisurely schlepping up to an important estuarine reserve in the middle of nowhere could end up being the journey in and of itself — including any, or preferably all, of the following along the way.

A lunch stop at King Neptune’s restaurant for a half pound (or, who’s kidding who?, whole pound) of Royal Red shrimp with potatoes, corn and garlic toast. And don’t forget the fried cheesecake, the signature dessert at this L.A. landmark seafood joint.

An animal-appreciation stop at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo — aka Animal Planet’s Little Zoo That Could — home to more than 550 creatures, a host of exotic-animal shows and seasonal animal-?encounter programs that let guests interact with baby kangaroos and tiger cubs.

A stop for model-train enthusiasts at the Foley Railroad Museum, where a world-class O-gauge exhibit, featuring a fourth of a mile of track, one mile of wiring, several locomotives, countless freight and passenger cars, and one of the most meticulously detailed miniature townscapes imaginable is tucked in the back of a historic, ?century-old building that did time as a Louisville-Nashville Line railroad station.

An Oak Street stop in the tiny community of Magnolia Springs, where you’ll find one of the most magnificently walkable, tree-lined roads in the country. Picture a giant canopy of gnarled oaks dripping with resurrection ferns, punctuated with king-size magnolias, soundtracked with chirping birds, hindered by zero cars and furnished with a magnificent B&B at the end of the road — and you’re almost there.

In all likelihood, some other chance discovery (let’s call it stop No. 5) along the way to Weeks Bay may further divert you from your first encounter with the white-topped pitcher plant. Don’t fret. Remember, it’s all part of the journey.

Glassblowing isn’t that big in Lower Alabama,” says Sam Cornman, demonstrating the mesmerizing art before a small audience at an open-air studio (appropriately called the Hot Shop) in Orange Beach. No one needs to ask why.

This morning, southern Alabama is already pushing 85 degrees in the shade — and I’m guessing it’s that much toastier if you’re performing a glassblowing demo next to a furnace that’s just over 2,000 degrees.

“Yeah, it’s a lot more popular in places like Vermont or Minnesota — in the winter,” Cornman wryly adds, as he drips sweat, chugs water and muscles through the creation of a gorgeous glass vase as if it were no trouble at all.

Cornman, resident glass artist at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, is reputedly the only guy in the state who offers interactive public glassblowing demonstrations where audience members can give it a whirl.