At about 3:30 Thursday afternoon, I decided to take us on a little road trip.
The week had been clear of activities (as opposed to next week, which is basketball camp), and I’d wanted to do something earlier, but lethargy kept overtaking me (serious heat has struck us, as I’m sure it’s struck you now, too), and the JCC pool was as far as we could get.
But that Thursday afternoon, we returned from the pool, and my restlessness took over my brain, so I called DeSoto State Park to see if they had any lodgings available for that night and Friday. They were booked all weekend, but did have a “chalet” available for Thursday. I took it, thinking that if we decided to stay in the area beyond Friday, we could just get a hotel in Fort Payne or something.
We’ve never stayed in a state park facility before, but I’ve always been interested in doing so, just to see what they’re like and particularly since so many have at least some buildings and facilities constructed by the CCC. DeSoto does, but the “chalet” available to us was unfortunately not one of them.
(You might be thinking…but they live in Birmingham? Why stay anywhere at all? Why not just make it a day trip? That might be possible, but on the other hand, it’s a good thing to be on the spot first thing in the morning. Much easier to get out, ready to roll than it is after being in the car for two hours, already tired and irritated. Adults and children alike.)
We didn’t take the most efficient way in – I would say unfortunately, but it really was, in the end, fortunate. I could have just shot up 59 all the way to Fort Payne and then taken a short easy jog over to the park, but for some reason, I ended up getting off much sooner – at Collinsville, and riding on the roller coaster that is the scenic drive along the Little River Canyon on AL 176.
I had no idea. I mean - no idea. Obligatory disclaimer that the photos don’t do it justice, of course, but in person it’s astonishing, especially if you’re not expecting to look out and see what you learn might be the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi.
We stopped several times and then finally, in our roundabout way, arrived at our “chalet.”
It was fine – pretty clean (a little buggy and spidery), basic and stripped down. Nothing to complain about, at all. We should have just stuck with the Park Lodge for dinner, but I decided to get all creative and exploratory and took us six miles along the ridge of Lookout Mountain to Mentone, where we ate at the Wildflower Cafe, which apparently (like almost every other restaurant in the South except maybe
Krystal Wendy’s) has been featured in Southern Living. It was just okay. Service was quite slow and the food was really nothing special. As I said, should have stuck with the Lodge, but I did want to see Mentone, which, like the cafe, left me a bit underwhelmed. But it was 8:00 on a Thursday night, so who knows what livelier times might bring.
In the morning after breakfast at the Lodge, we hiked a bit in the area – just a bit since we had to check out at 11. We took the “cabin trail” which led way down the bluff to the trickle that is presently the West Fork of the Little River. They looked for bugs and fungi, and I began what would be a day-long litany of repeating “Don’t jump on the rocks” to Michael.
It was interesting going down and a little tiring going back up.
Before we went to DeSoto Falls, we stopped at Howard’s Chapel. Built by an interesting fellow who engaged in law, speculation and works of charity and traveled the world.
The three vans of Baptist teenagers and their chaperones that had checked out of the lodge right before we did preceded us here, and one young boy who was in their company followed us around for a time, repeatedly saying, “There’s a dead man buried in that rock! There’s a dead man buried in that rock!” My boys looked at me quizzically, and I shrugged it off, saying, “Oh, it’s probably something the older kids told him to tease him.”
DeSoto Falls (DeSoto himself didn’t come here, but some of his men did – as did, the legend goes, Welsh explorers from the 12th century) is a wonderful spot – it’s not in the State Park proper.
The falls empty into this huge basin surrounded by 100-foot tall stone walls. The caves are underneath where we are standing.
It’s a separate facility – an early (1920′s) attempt at a hydroelectric dam is above the falls, and below is a fantastic swimming hole. I have no idea how you get down there, but a group of guys did. You can see one of them in the lower right above.
There’s a trail that leads to that little beachy area, obviously. What fun that would be – if the trail weren’t too long, that is…
It hasn’t rained here for almost two weeks (and no rain in the forecast for the next week at least), so I don’t know what this looks like after a recent rainfall. I imagine it’s not possible to walk on the dam.
You can walk all the way across, and there’s a trail leading from the dam on the other side up into the hills.
And this puddle teeming with fat little tadpoles who were way too quick to catch might have been underwater, too.
They say you can swim in the area above the dam, but this just didn’t seem the place for us today – the water was too still for me, and as I said, it hasn’t rained in a while, so it kind of a had a sludgy kind of look.
So we moved on. We wanted to go way down to the other end of this stage of the Little River, but doing the whole stretch via the scenic drive would have taken more time than I wanted. So we shot down the mountain, saw Fort Payne,
- got some lunch, then travelled on some state highways and county roads back to Eberhart Point – that’s where we’d started the scenic drive yesterday. My plan was to just go there, take more time to take in the canyon views, and then shoot back out to straighter road and down to Canyon Mouth.
We ended up doing a little more hiking at Eberhart Point, with my litany continuing.
It’s gorgeous. I know there are trails at the bottom of the canyon, but we’re not that hardy quite yet.
It was really amazing to think that this is Alabama, and it’s only about an hour and a half from my house.
On to the Canyon Mouth Picnic Area.
This was great.
The spot may be recent news to me, but it’s obviously not to many, because the parking lot was pretty sizeable. There were maybe twenty others in three or four family groups there today, but I imagine it gets quite crowded on weekends.
It’s just a section of the river, that’s all.
But’s it flows, and it’s clean and clear. You can go out as far as you want, there are decent sized, but not too large rocks for jumping, turtles were sighted as were lots of fish (no snakes, thank goodness.) You can even cross to the other side, where there’s a rope swing.
Now about that rope swing.
I have one daredevil in this group, and you can probably guess who that is – the younger one, right? He’s seven, and he’s the one who taught himself how to dive at six, and now studies the teenage boys trying to out-flip each other off the diving board at the pool, and then takes his turn.
He saw that thing – that rope swing, and within two seconds:
“Can I do it? Please?”
No. That was my first answer, and my consistent answer for the next two hours.
Now, if I had been swimming, I might have actually said yes at first – if I had been in the water, too. But I just didn’t feel like getting wet today, knowing that I’d be driving back to Birmingham after this. I told him that we’d come back when his big sister returned from her college summer coursework, and she could be out there to help him.
Each no was followed by a brief fit (his) – big frowns and beating the water – which ended as soon as a new fish was spotted or his brother created a new game.
They kept working their way over there, though. They’d fool around with the rope, try to climb on it, clamor up the bank and back down.
He called to me from across the water.
Finally: Might as well. My concern had been that he wouldn’t let go at the proper time, that he’d lose his nerve and then swing back and bang into the tree or drop into the water where it was too shallow. Joseph called to me that it wasn’t possible to crash into the tree – he’d watched enough other kids to study the rope’s trajectory and make that conclusion, I guess.
Michael, of course couldn’t believe his ears. But he also knew enough not to ask too many more times or I might change my mind.
So he got up the bank, then I could see him raising himself on the boards nailed to the tree as a ladder of sorts.
He got the right point, the point of grabbing the rope. He paused.
He started down.
I changed my mind, he called. I don’t want to do it.
When he got back to me he just shrugged ruefully. It was higher than I thought, he said.