Dauphin Island an ideal winter getaway

February 14, 1993|By Cox News Service

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. -- In the dead of winter almost 300 years ago, two French explorers set foot on this 14-mile-long stretch of sand in the Gulf of Mexico. They found a mysterious pile of bleached human bones and promptly dubbed their

discovery Massacre Island.

This week marked the 294th anniversary of the landing of the LeMoyne brothers, French-Canadians who sailed from France and are better known by their titles. Pierre was the Sieur d'Iberville; Jean Baptiste, the Sieur de Bienville. After sidestepping the bones, Jean Baptiste went on to found New Orleans.

Today's wintertime visitors won't find the skeletal remains, but they will find fresh seafood, quiet beaches unmarked by footprints, and a respite from dreary work duties.

Though Dauphin Island now functions as a quiet escape, immediately after serving as landfall for the two Frenchmen it became the jumping-off spot for gulf exploration, a crossroads for adventurers pushing into the wilds of French America. Mobile, 30 miles to the north, was founded from here. At one point, the island was the capital of the Louisiana territory.

The island was renamed Dauphin in honor of Marie Adelaide of Savoy, wife of Dauphin Louis, the duke of Burgundy. (Dauphin was the title bestowed on the heir to the French throne.)

Today, the island is occupied by Southeastern sun-worshipers from Mobile and points north in the summer and not much of anyone in the winter. Which is what makes Dauphin Island a cold-weather getaway, just the place for early-morning, just-you-and-the-crabs strolls.

The temperature will be walk-friendly -- February temperatures are generally in the 60s and 70s. If you like to be out at daybreak, figure on morning lows in the 45-to-50 range.

There are no high-rise buildings, not even any gulf beachfront hotels. In fact, the westernmost seven miles of the island, just barely above sea level, are unoccupied.

The island's business center -- and three motels -- is on the Mississippi Sound section at the end of the causeway that connects Dauphin to the mainland.

On the eastern end are boat ramps, a free fishing pier and a campground. Fort Gaines, an important Civil War outpost, is also on the eastern side, facing Mobile Bay.

To the west are beach houses aplenty, with available short-term rentals, and two condo complexes where units can be had by the week. Off-season (October to March) prices range from $300 to $800 per week for beach houses; condos are about $475 for a week. Motel rooms are in the $35-a-night range for doubles.

And there is seafood, with four restaurants and two fresh-caught places for those who like to custom-cook their crab. If you like to catch your own, the island has two fishing piers. The Dauphin Island Pier, at 850 feet, offers deep-water fishing and also has gear for rent and tackle for sale. It's open 24 hours a day.

Charter boats are also available if it's game-fish action you're after. If you like to find your meals when you walk, you can wade for crab and flounder, specialties of the area.

An 18-hole public golf course offers another kind of strolling. Tennis courts also are available.

For educational walks, trails crisscross the Audubon Bird

Sanctuary, a 160-acre woodland where migratory species stop on their way to Central and South America. The sanctuary adjoins Fort Gaines and a public campground with restrooms and washer-dryer facilities.

For information about the Alabama escape, call the Dauphin Island Development Network, (205) 861-5524.

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