Back Roads Alabama

So leaving the opulent seaside village that is Watercolor and/or Seaside from a recent retreat, I couldn’t help but notice the stark truth that is Alabama. Leaving the multi-million dollar beach homes, I couldn’t help but think about the Alabama reality. As I passed this shack, selling snow cones and shrimp, it made me think about my explorations of Alabama over my 52 hike challenge.

I had no hikes on this trip, rather long beach walks and trips to the absurdly over priced shops in Seaside. All to get in my miles in preparation for my upcoming Incan Trail hike in Peru. My four hour drive was more attentive than usual.

Alabama has many layers. Each small town we passed had it’s football field. Players currently being coached will be future legends of the Auburn-Alabama Iron Bowl. Some will make the NFL, but most play for pride, bragging rights and scholarships in that order. Those fortunate enough to be educated or have a trade will find jobs plentiful and the cost of living low. Others will make a living as a laborer in the newly established auto industry that avoids Detroit like the plague. The rest scratch a living running any small business that they can – taxidermy, fruit vendors or small gas station restaurants.

The distinctions were stark. From the various fruit vendors as we left Florida and the chicken farms of South Alabama to the Sikes and Kohns Country store outside Montgomery, the differences were distinct. Sikes and Kohns sells cowboy boots, work boots and wedges, side by side. All necessary in the world that we live. Further along was Tuskegee, home of the famous Tuskegee Airmen and the infamous Syphilis study. Tuskegee is the home to George Washington Carver’s peanut research and the artistry of Lionel Richie.

Alabama people are strong and proud. Many served our armed forces with pride. The 167th Rainbow Division served heroically during World War 1. Our culture ranges from Mobile Bay, with the majestic U.S.S. Alabama in the South to the Gee’s bend quilts in the West. The East brings my home – Auburn University. The North is Huntsville’s engineers and the Space and Rocket Center. The very North reveals Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler recording at the Muscle Shoal’s Sound Studio.

While having few true tourist attractions, Alabama is home to salt of the Earth people. I hope you visit us soon.

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52 Hike Challenge Memoirs 

So what did I learn on my 52 Hike Challenge?  After all, I had a lot of time to think.  Surely something worthwhile came from this effort.  I finished 52 hikes, 178 miles in total, in 10 1/2 months.  I hiked Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Spain.  I must have learned something, and I did indeed.


First, I learned Alabama, my part of the world is as pretty as any other, you are just familiar with it.  You have to leave the car to find the prettiest spots.

Not only did I hike and confirm my love of the outdoors, I also stopped to smell the roses.  I explored the small towns.


I learned you can still be physically and mentally strong at 50 (ok 48).

I learned there are no cellphone signals at the best hikes.  Hike prepared and be safe.

Spider webs across trails mean you are the first one hiking today.  Watch for snakes and bears.  While on the subject, big lizards sound like snakes when you’re alone.

Climbing hills in life sucks, but the top has the best view.  Stay strong my friends, and never quit.

Mental toughness and work ethic will carry you as far as your education.


I would love to have shown you everything but you can’t live broadcast waterfalls, they are always in a hole. You’ll have to visit yourself.


Anytime you catch a break going down, you’ll eventually have to walk back up, just like life.

I don’t hate snakes as much, they are fascinating at a safe distance.

I learned how to offset my pictures so my Facebook profile picture doesn’t mess it up.

I love and miss my family when they’re not with me.


I had 72 degrees temperature variances in hike temperature, plan for it.

Proper equipment makes things easier.

To my daughter, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, lift those weights, jump those horses, get off the couch and find your life passion.


Sometimes planes fly into mountains, what legacy are you leaving?


Keep toenails short for downhill walking, just sayin.

Shortcuts always, always end poorly!  Stay on the trail.

Lastly, please keep Gatlinburg in your prayers.  We left town Sunday morning before the fires made it to town.  I’m hearing that our cabin on Sunday was burned down on Monday.  We drove past the fire as we were leaving but I never thought it would make it to town.

Hike 49, 50, 51 and 52 – Victory 

I have been slow to post my last four hikes.  I went to some pretty special places during my 52 hike challenge.  On to the hikes.


Hike 49 was at Amicalola Falls.  The lodge just up from the falls is the start of the Appalachian Trail “Approach Trail”.  The hike here is paved and somewhat steep, but only 1 mile, culminating in several flights of stairs to the bottom of the falls.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the Dehlonega, Georgia area.  


Hike 50 was a short distance away to Springer Mountain, the official start/end of the Appalachian Trail depending on direction.  I couldn’t see finishing this challenge without a little time on the AT. This trail is a steep 2.5 mile trail from the parking area to the top of Springer Mountain and back.  You can also see where the Approach Trail enters the official AT.  Such history and beauty here.  


Hike 51 move about 200 miles North to the Smoky Mountain National Park.  First up was Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park.  The Appalachian Trail also exits the woods and joins this neat place.  Unfortunately, the observation tower was fogged in on this day, so no views were to be had.  It is hard to believe that you could have hiked from Springer Mountain to here if you were so inclined.


Hike 52, where do you go last?  My choice was the Abram’s Falls trail in Cade’s Cove.  It was recommended by a friend.  This 5 mile trail had some long inclines as you worked over a ridge to a beautiful set of falls.  The color of the foliage and the beauty of the falls made this a perfect final hike in my challenge.  

I would like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement during my challenge.  I would not have finished without you.


Hike 46, 47 & 48 (n/a) – Rickwood Caverns, Fossil Mountain and Vulcan Trail

I took advantage of a three day weekend to rest up before our annual audit starts.  This gave me a little time to explore and camp along the way.  I decided to go to Rickwood Caverns State Park.  I had never been here or even heard of the place.  It is about 30 miles North of Birmingham just off I-65.  The cave here was worth exploring.  The cave was eroded from the ancient sea bed.  Some points of the cavern were actually through coral.  You could see fossils and some shells on the ceiling in some areas.


The cavern trail was closer to 1.5 miles with some significant stair climbing.  Most of the front of the cave was inactive either from time or our current drought conditions.  The last part of the cave was more damp with cave structures still forming.


I was able to squeeze into a tight corner to see a shark tooth fossil on the ceiling.


After the cavern trail, I hiked the 1.5 mile Fossil Mountain trail.  This trail was a loop off the parking area with some rock gardens but no major feature otherwise.  I attempted to find fossils, but really didn’t see anything definitive.  The couple of things I found could have been fossilization or normal weathering.  It was hard to tell.


I quickly set up for the night in time for a great hammock nap.  Sometimes there is nothing better than a hammock.


On Saturday, I decided to get in one more trail on the way home.  The Vulcan trail is located at the base of the Vulcan Statue in Birmingham.  It was more of an urban exercise area than hiking trail.  The first (and last) mile is on a old paved access road with the middle .5 being off road for a total of 3 miles.  Red iron ore is all along the path.  The path does have nice views of downtown Birmingham.


Lastly, how can you come this close and not visit the  Vulcan?  The elevator was broken, no doubt to insufficient funding, making about a 10 story stair climb the only way up.  Again the views were fantastic.  You could even see the old Sloss Furnace from my previous hikes.


I have four hikes left in my challenge which I plan to complete over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I’m working on some special plans to finish up appropriately.  Until then . . .

Hike #44 & 45 (n/a & 34) – Sloss Furnace & Turkey Creek Loop

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This weekend, we headed to Birmingham both to get in a couple of hikes and to see Impractical Jokers live at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.  The weekend was full of fun and family.  It also had a little language that my daughter shouldn’t have heard.  I am sure that wasn’t my first or likely my last parenting fail.

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After our drive to Birmingham, we started the weekend visiting the Sloss Furnace Trail (Urban Hike).  The Sloss furnace was really the beginning of Birmingham as it is known.  James Withers Sloss found all of the natural elements needed to produce iron in Birmingham, iron ore, coal and limestone.  He worked out a deal with the railroads to connect his plant to the world and the rest is history, really rusty history.  Iron was produced here from 1882-1971.  The Sloss Furnace is a National Landmark and the only blast furnace open for touring.  It happened to also be fully decked out as a haunted house on this occasion.

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After the furnace and checking in to our hotel, we had dinner at Babalu Tacos & Tapas.  The tapas here are more of a fusion than Spanish.  They also happen to be larger than most tapas.  One or two plates will be enough for most here.  We watched Alabama dismantle Tennessee in football while enjoying our small plates and getting ready for the show.

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The morning brought a short drive up to Pinson for the Turkey Creek Loop.  This property is part of the Forever Wild program in Alabama.  Turkey Creek was far better than most Forever Wild properties that I have visited.  There was clearly some investment here.  They had signs, trails and bathrooms (out houses).  Most Forever Wild properties are lacking in facilities.

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You can see the main creek and falls area right off the parking area making this one of the more accessible falls I’ve visited.  The trail starts just to the left of the parking area as you face the mountain.  We made the decision to hike the Thompson Trace Trail and connect with the Narrows Ridge Trail to form a roughly 2.5 mile loop.  The trail is listed as moderate due to a few steep inclines.  The trail really heads from the parking area straight to the top of the ridge.  From this point, it is fairly rolling as it works its way across the ridge for about 1.4 miles.  Once you reach the Narrows Ridge Trail, head right to loop back to the parking area.  The hike was roughly 2.5 miles and 39 flights of stairs according to my phone.  This was my first hike with the foliage starting to turn.  It made for a great morning.

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After failing to find anything original for lunch in Pinson or the surrounding area, we made our final stop for the weekend at Lloyds in Birmingham.  Lloyds is a family favorite serving comfort food.  My family has stopped here to eat literally my entire life.  Give it a try when in town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hike #42 & #43 (29G & 25G) – Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls

A much needed Labor Day Weekend gave us the chance to head out of town to the “Alpine” town of Helen, Georgia.  The town is a cute if not cheesy tourist trap.  They are famous for their Octoberfest.  We were a week too early to participate in the festivities.  That said, it is beautifully located in the North Georgia mountains.  Quite a few of the best hikes in Georgia are located in this area.  Enough trails to justify another trip soon.  We decided to hike Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls.  


Anna Ruby Falls is only .8 miles of paved trail from the gift shop area to the falls and back.  The trail is uphill to the falls and downhill back to the parking.  This trail is doable by most being short and paved.  The falls are a spectacular set of multilevel falls from the mountain peak to the valley below.  


The stream below the falls is as interesting as the falls themselves.  The stream is lined with moss covered fallen trees, stone outcroppings and ferns.  It is a great short hike for a family outing.


Second up, and a little more challenging, was Dukes Creek Falls.  It was a 2.2 mile hike into a deep gorge.  I was impressed how easy this trail was being so deep.  The park service did a fantastic job keeping this trail accessible.  The trail used long hair pin turns, boardwalks and stairs to make the steep decent very manageable.


We all agreed that this was the nicer trail.  The creek area flowed with some visible (and audible) whitewater.  The trail was wide and clear as in my above picture.  At the bottom, boardwalks and decks got you into perfect viewing positions.  A great deal of attention went into this trail.



This was another high falls while the lower section was visually better than Anna Ruby.  We could have stayed all day.  


Take time to stop and smell the roses when in this area.  There is a ton of shopping, wineries, antique stores and German food.  Enjoy the boiled peanuts- a true Southern delicacy.

Hike #41 (45G) – Dowdell Knob Loop


The Dowdell Knob Loop Trail was a great trail.  It was among my favorites.  It had a little bit of everything, history, water and mountain views.  It was also more suited to my fitness level.  Most could handle this hike.  The loop itself is around the peak that FDR used for his BBQ picnics.  You can see why.  The view from this spot is amazing.


The trail starts at the top, drops about a hundred yards down and circles the mountain.  One finger of the hike climbs the neighboring mountain after visiting a small waterfall in the valley.  



The climbs here are relatively gentle, at least compared to the Wolfden Trail that neighbors this trail.  The Pine Mountain Trail Association has maintained this trail nicely as well.  This trail didn’t need the infrastructure that was required on the Wolfden Trail.  Regardless, the trail was clear and well marked.


The trail was rocky.  You would be well advised to wear boots to protect your ankles.


In addition to the views, there is a bit of history here as well.  A B-25 on its way to Andrews AFB from Eglin AFB crashed on this mountain.  Only one member of the crew survived.  A bronze plaque marks the crash site.


I intend to walk the entire Pine Mountain Trail, but will likely move on to other areas for now.  My goal is to see as much as I can see during this year.  


This area didn’t have a lot of lunch choices.  I did what Gorden Ramsey would do, follow the crowd.  I found Eddie Mae’s Kountry Kitchen.  They had the kind of fried chicken that only a grandmother can make. It didn’t look like much but the food was great.  Give it a try.


I would definitely recommend the Dowdell Knob Loop over the Wolfden trail unless you’re specifically looking for waterfalls.  Otherwise, this is your trail in Pine Mountain.

Hike #39 & #40 (G44 & n/a) – Pine Mountain Trail & Beaver Pond Trail


Let’s just say it’s too hot to hike Georgia in August.  Yet, I’ll never finish my 52 hike challenge if I don’t.  I was able to get in two trails today, the first 5 miles of the 23 mile Pine Mountain Trail plus the roughly 2 mile Beaver Pond Trail.  Together, the two trails form the 7 mile Wolfden Trail.  I plan to continue my progress down the Pine Mountain Trail until I’ve completed it all.


I was very impressed with the condition of the trail.  The Pine Mountain Trail Association should be very proud of their work.  The trails were clear and well marked.  There were also very nice bridges and boardwalks in all the wet areas.  I don’t believe I’ve seen a trail better cared for during my journey.  


The first 5 miles works its way down to a nice creek with several waterfalls along the way. Ferns were the main foliage in this moist area.  After a long hike down the stream, the long, relentless hike back to the top begins.  I confess that I still struggle on the hills especially in this heat.  The trail had decent traffic today as I passed several groups.  I took a minute to broadcast my first “Facebook Live” about 3/4 of the way to the top.  I’m sure I was a hot mess, but it gave me a minute to rest.

I really wanted a swim at this waterfall.  The cool, clear pool looked great in today’s heat.  


I also took time today for a history lesson.  My daughter, Megan, recently read a book about slavery.  One point in the book was that escaped slaves followed the moss on the trees to head North.  I couldn’t  help but text her this picture proving it was doable.


 

The last two miles, The Beaver Pond Trail, although less scenic (and less cared for) offered the only mountain views on this trail.  It was also required to make the loop back to the parking area.  Pine Mountain, arguably, has the best views your likely to find this far South.  Another interesting part of this trail was that it passed through a tornado damaged area.


The stripped area was full of seedlings.  Life always finds a way.

Hike #38 (n/a) – Flagg Mountain Fire Tower


I picked this hike based on location. I’m on my way to Sylacauga for a business trip.  This hike was just West of Sylacauga giving me the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a hike.


This hike was difficult, both to find and hike.  I basically drove around Flagg Mountain looking for the trail head.  I found it after several miles down the worst dirt roads I’ve seen for some time.  I’m not sure which bridge I trusted more,  the “new” bridge in front of me or the “old” bridge to the left.  The old bridge was basically an old WWII temporary bridge.

The trail itself was roughly 5 miles and 118 flights.  Every time I start feeling that my conditioning has improved, a hike like this comes along.  The 118 flight were very difficult in the Alabama heat.

This trail is the Southernmost point of the Pinhoti Trail.  The Pinhoti continues to the Appalachian Trail.  There has been some effort made to extend the AT to this point.  The trail itself was narrow but well blazed.  I followed the blue blazes of the Pinhoti until I reached the white blazes that head to some old cabins and the fire tower itself.  There were a few trees across the trail but also a great deal of evidence that the trail is being kept up.


Unfortunately, the fire tower is currently closed to the public.  I understand that a conservation project is underway.


I feel like this area is a missed opportunity.  This land is protected as a wildlife habitat but would make a nice state park with a little effort.  A few rustic cabins and some road work would reveal the full potential of this special place.  The views were fantastic.  I only wished I could have seen the view from the tower.


Definitely not for couch potatoes, but with some effort great views are for the taking.

Hike 34, 35, 36 & 37 (37,n/a,39,K) – DeSoto Scout, Family Loop, Beaver Pond and Eberhart Trails


We had a very active Fourth of July weekend.  After deciding to stay in a cabin at DeSoto State Park, a place new to us both, we were able to get in several trails and some kayaking along the way.  Only fifteen more trails to go in my 52 hike challenge.


The DeSoto Scout Trail, or at least the small portion that we hiked, starts off the pool parking lot in DeSoto State Park (DSP).  The entire trail is around sixteen miles.  This portion takes you down to the bluffs overlooking a waterfall and the Little River below.  You will also run into a CCC built resting station and overlook.  The river and resulting waterfall was very low due to our current dry conditions.  In fact, this will be a theme for all our hikes this weekend.  These falls are spectacular when the river is full but only a trickle this weekend.  We were told most of the small falls were actually dry at the moment.



We decided on the Family Loop Trail instead of the Lost Falls Trail since the falls were dry.  The Family Loop Trail was pretty uneventful and without views or a notable feature.  I would not put this one on this list again.


After our morning hikes, we spent the afternoon kayaking on the West Fork of the Little River, just above DeSoto Falls.  We paddled several miles up the calm river before returning to our starting point.  We had a blast at the moment only to have the soreness set in that evening.


Sunday brought two more hikes in an adjacent park, The Little River Canyon.  It is list as “one of” the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi.  First up was the Beaver Pond Trail.  This trail was listed as being perfect for those that can’t do the mountainous hikes.  This trail worked into the forest to an observation platform on a beaver pond.  Unfortunately, the lack of water was evident here as well.  There ended up being no pond to see.  We did, on the other hand, run into my third snake of the challenge.  This one was more afraid of us than we were of it.  We walked around the snake so that it wouldn’t be disturbed.


Our last hike this weekend was by far the most challenging.  The Eberhart Trail starts at the top of the canyon and continues to the river.  While relatively short, it was difficult both directions.  Once again, we found the river lacking water flow.  It was beautiful nonetheless.


Some other points of interest for the Ft. Payne area.  First, this was the only starting point in Alabama for the Trail of Tears.  A small, temporary fort was built as a gathering place for indigenous people before heading West.


Ft. Payne was also the home of the country band “Alabama” and their statues are on the main street of town.  Our best meal was at Katy’s Katfish in Rainsville.  It was a catfish house built around a log cabin.  The fish was outstanding.

I think this trip would be best in the Spring or Fall.  Spring would bring higher water levels while fall would have fantastic foliage.