Thanksgiving Pow Wow

Thanksgiving Pow Wow

Growing up in Alabama, a Thanksgiving family tradition was to visit the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, Ala., for their annual Pow Wow. This year, we continued the tradition by bringing our children to see the colorful costume displays, rhythmic dancing and Native American crafts.

Dancers compete at the Pow Wow

As the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama, the Poarch Creek Indians trace their roots back to the original Creek Nation found throughout Alabama and Georgia. Today, the Indians live in a mostly rural reservation, dotted with sprawling cotton and corn fields and supplemented by a towering casino.

Although we arrived before lunch, the parking lot was nearly filled to capacity. A shuttle whisked us from our cars to the front entrance, where a small ticket booth marked the entrance to the large arena. The steady beat of drums signaled the location of the dancing competitions, and we climbed the bleachers to watch the men twirl and jump in their elaborately decorated and highly feathered outfits. The women, although much more subdued, showcased simpler yet exquisite costumes and a quiet graceful footwork.

While my nieces took time to pose with a few Native Americans, we headed out in search of food. Roasted corn, buffalo burgers, Indian tacos and fry bread were just a few of the options, and, of course, we tried them all.

Jumping high

I was amazed at how long the kids had lasted before darting over to the children’s area. They marveled and pointed at the bounce house maze and the bigger kids spinning and jumping in various stomach-turning machines. While their cousins braved the bungee cord jumper, demonstrating their mad flipping skills, my two settled on the pony ride–or at least looked at the ponies before deciding they were still a bit too scary.

Just then, a child walked by with a bow and arrow, and all thoughts of rides were immediately over. A double row of booths lined the outer edges of the festival, and we steadily made our way past one after another. The souvenirs and crafts were nearly overwhelming, as each booth offered beautiful displays of dreamcatchers, animal-print shirts, wooden toys and just about anything else imaginable.

Native crafts for sale

Wooden alligator and pop gun in hand, we settled down for one more round of dancing before giving in to the yawns for nap time. A stop by a final booth on our way out landed us prized, buffalo-tooth necklaces, a lasting souvenir for mom and dad.

Exploring the Gulf Coast: Dauphin Island, Alabama

Exploring the Gulf Coast: Dauphin Island, Alabama

A short road trip out of state landed us in Alabama’s Dauphin Island, a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Vacation hotspot for locals more so than tourists, you won’t find any shopping outlets or putt putt golf here, but rather quiet neighborhoods overlooking the bay and expansive, white-sand beaches. Unless, of course, you visit during the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, the largest fishing tournament in the world.

Dauphin Island’s Bird Sanctuary


The island’s residential side

Lucky enough to have family to stay with on the island, we arrived late in the evening to put us in reach of an early morning beach walk. We were the only car parked at the public beach, and a cold breeze followed us as we walked along barefoot across the ultra-fine sand toward the Gulf’s lapping waves. I remember years ago watching the waters beneath the fishing pier and elevated picnic areas. Today, more sand has drifted to the west end of the island, making the beach wider than ever and the pier jut out over a sea of sand.

Trails through Shell Mound Park

I gathered small seashells while Charles chased the seagulls and Paul photographed the rather large mounds of what appeared to be jellyfish. We were able to enjoy the views for half an hour before August began whimpering in the cold, and we sought shelter in a more contained part of the island. Shell Mound Park marks the site of prehistoric mounds built by early Native Americans. Today, only a few oyster shells poking up through the path belie that this hilly nature walk is an important archaeological site.

With hiking on our mind, we ventured farther down the island to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Miles of walking trails cut across 164 acres of land protecting one of the best places in the country to view migrating birds. A boardwalk leads past pines and live oaks to an overlook at Galliard Lake. Continuing on, you eventually emerge back at the beach’s sand dunes.

Historic Fort Gaines

On the far east side of the 14-mile-long island stands Fort Gaines, built in 1821 and integral in the Battle of New Orleans, the fort is famous for Admiral Farragut’s command “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!” It’s a well-preserved fortification and reenactments are held here throughout the year. Other highlights of the east side are the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and a ferry across the Bay to Historic Fort Morgan. There’s never enough time to discover it all, though, and our weekend ended all too quickly.