Weekend Window: Gulf Islands National Seashore

Pristine blue waters and white sands attract millions of tourists annually to the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The southeast location is the nation's largest seashore.

"Gulf Island's seashore extends from Cat Island, Miss. to Okaloosa, Fla. We have over 160 miles, excluding Alabama," said chief interpretation ranger Gail Bishop.

The shore is home to a variety of animals, parks, and sand dunes that are so pure, they look like snow drifts.

"These beautiful islands are just loaded with color, but what attracts people are the white sandy beaches," Bishop said. "It's just a lovely way to come out and just enjoy nature at its finest."

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Fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains gives the Gulf Islands its stunning white beaches. Rivers and creeks carry away the sand and deposit it along the shore.

"They look a lot like sugar, and a lot of people call it sugar white sand," said park ranger Mike Aymond. "This is one of the only beaches I've seen that's over 90 percent quartz crystals."

Open year-round, the gentle breezes, tides and hurricanes constantly reshape the shoreline.

Besides a relaxing and picturesque coastline, the islands also are home to a number of historic fortifications, including Fort Pickens, Fort Massachusetts and Fort Barrancas.

"The main Fort Barrancas was constructed between 1839 and 1844. The water battery down below actually dates back to 1799 and was Spanish built," said park ranger David Ogden. "The role of this fort was to take on ships coming into the bay. There were cannons mounted on top of this fort"

The location is largely unchanged.

"Fort Barrancas is about 99.9 percent original brick work. The National Park Service did a full restoration job -- they only had to put in about 90,000 bricks, and there are about 6 million bricks here," Ogden said.

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