What’s that saying…behind every dark cloud is a silver lining? But in this case it should be after every dark storm there comes a perfect day! Thursday, May 1st was that perfect glorious day…dry comfortable temps with a few wispy clouds against a bright blue sunny sky kind of day. On a scale of 1 to 10 it was probably a 20. I guess emotionally and psychologically it was a day to be thankful, thankful that our home on wheels was not a pile of rubble in someone’s front yard and thankful that we never got up close and personal with a twister. Yes, on all levels it was a perfect day!
So after another hearty breakfast at the lodge, this time savoring the American Skillet (two eggs atop hash browns with bits of bacon, sausage, ham, mushrooms, peppers and onions and even better than the skillet we had on Tuesday. Did I mention leftovers?), we set out to explore what is sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East”. What’s this you’re undoubtedly asking? A grand canyon in Alabama? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this existed, we didn’t either. Sure, it’s not as majestic as the grand canyon by any means but it is pretty neat.
The Little River Canyon Preserve is 14,000 acres of rugged, mountain country atop Lookout Mountain. Beginning at 1,900 feet above sea level and eventually dropping 1,200 feet before it finally merges with the waters of Weiss Lake in northeastern Alabama, the Little River is the longest river in the US to flow almost entirely on the top of a mountain. Over thousands of years, the river has carved out a canyon that is 12 miles long and 600 feet deep.
Our first stop was at the Little River Canyon Center which was opened to the public in 2009 and is owned by Jacksonville State University (that’s Jacksonville, AL, not FL). Besides the portion of the building that is leased by the National Park Service, this facility has a Grand Hall, HD movie theater, gift shop, natural history library, exhibits, classrooms, back deck, outdoor amphitheater and trails. Concerts, workshops, lectures and other activities are provided to students of all ages.
Not only is the building a beautiful structure, it is “LEED (Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certified utilizing geothermal heating and cooling, recycled materials, added insulation and many other innovative and sustainable design elements.”
After watching a video about the history of the area and then a lengthy conversation with the ranger at the Center, with map in hand we drove along the rim road (Hwy 176) with its spectacular waterfalls, taking time to listen to the thunderous roar of the water spilling over the rocks to the river below and stopping at the numerous overlooks to see the magnificent vistas. I’m afraid our photos don’t do it justice!
The 45 foot Little Falls was our favorite – just a short drive from the Center and easy access via a boardwalk where you can get close enough to the falls to feel the refreshing mist on your face. But to get a different perspective, we walked across the bridge that spans the river on Highway 35. It was really neat although a little nerve wracking when a tractor trailer truck whizzed by, causing the bridge to shake!
The ranger at the center had suggested that hiking the mile long Martha’s Falls trail was well worth it so when we returned to the parking lot we decided to give it a go. I just read on the NPS website that this trail can be “rugged” at times – yep, I would certainly agree with that.
Yours truly spent most of her time looking down at her feet in the hopes that I would stay in an upright position. Lots of roots and rocks! Tripping and falling on this trail wouldn’t be fun at all! Disappointingly after walking quite awhile, we came to a point where it would have been quite difficult due to the recent storm to continue on so we turned around without ever seeing the falls. Oh well!
If you take the rim road drive (Hwy 176), don’t be alarmed when the road in front of you suddenly splits in two and there before you is what is called “Mushroom Rock”. Yes, it’s a rock formation in the middle of Highway 176. When they say “middle”, they do mean “middle”!
According to the NPS website: “The story is that several decades ago, a road crew constructing the original scenic drive is credited with saving this canyon landmark. Plans called for the rock formation we now call Mushroom Rock to be removed. Construction staff refused to blast it away. The crew built the road around it instead. Thanks to the determination of the crew to leave the formation intact, we now have Mushroom Rock in the national preserve.” It along with the other rock formations on the side of the road were pretty cool!
And as we enjoyed all this magnificence around us, I found myself trying to imagine what it might have been like for our ancestors to make their way across this beautiful yet harsh and unforgiving land without our modern modes of transportation, our cell phones and other communication tools, GPS and other technologies. How did they ever cross the mountains, ford the rivers and find their way without the aid of the technology we have today? Days, weeks and months of travel in heat, snow, rain, severe storms, probably even hurricanes and tornadoes. Hard to imagine not having access to TV, radio, weather radios and meteorologists with minute by minute broadcasts and updates on potential storms! How tough it must have been but I guess it was what they were used to.
And it is hard to comprehend how under the Indian Removal Act signed by Andrews Jackson in 1830, thousands of Native Americans were forced to vacate the lands that they had lived on for generations and were led on what is known today as the Trail of Tears to Indian territory in Oklahoma. Hard to imagine how they made the journey on foot, often chained, and without any food, supplies or other help from our government. Thousands died along the way. A sad and tragic piece of our history.
After admiring the scenery all day, we eventually headed back to the hacienda. But our day wasn’t done yet – we decided to take the Silver Trail which was located right across the road from our campsite in search of a geocache. Another pleasant walk in the woods although a little muddy in spots but it culminated in another eureka moment!
Returning to the coach it was a quiet evening.
Did I mention it was a beautiful day?