Three Wishes: Moss Rock Preserve

So there I was on a Friday night, trying to pick out a hike for the weekend.  “I wish,” I thought, “that I could find a nice 3-4 mile hike, not too far away, with waterfalls and wildflowers, in a place we’ve never been.”  No ideas were forthcoming, so I took a quick look at Facebook and there discovered a post from a friend about a lost dog.  I’ll usually read a few more details to find out about the general area where the dog went missing, and in this case it turns out that Deia went missing in Moss Rock Preserve.  “Gee, that’s too bad,” I thought.  Then, “where’s Moss Rock Preserve?”

Moss Rock Preserve is in Hoover, Alabama, about 100 miles south of Huntsville.  It’s a city-owned 349-acre nature preserve, with a network of nearly 12 miles of trails draped through a little valley and ridge system.  Hurricane Creek runs through the valley, and the slopes above have varying terrain types, with mixed forest, outcroppings, boulders,  a sandstone glade, and waterfalls.  The trails can be hiked in various combinations to form loops of differing lengths, and vary in difficulty.  The Preserve’s website listed a bunch of wildflowers, trees, vines, shrubs, ferns, and fungi.  So let’s see — not too far away, lots of hiking options, wildflowers, waterfalls, never been there — wish granted!

We drove down on a Sunday morning and elected to start our hike at the Boulder Field trailhead.  The Preserve generally runs southwest to northeast, with the Sulphur Springs Road trailhead on the western end, Boulder Field roughly in the middle, and Simmons Middle School trailhead closer to the eastern end.  I had picked out roughly a 4-mile loop that would start near the center of the Preserve, then wind its way eastward, then descend and close the loop back to our starting point, before then starting a loop to the far western end of the Preserve.  It forms sort of a tilted figure-eight on our GPS track.

The parking area for the Boulder Field trailhead is a spacious dirt lot, which can hold in excess of 50 vehicles.  There are a couple of porta-potties on one end.  But the most striking thing about this trailhead is that the turn into the parking lot is right off a developed part of Preserve Parkway, with a couple of restaurants and other businesses literally yards from the trailhead.  The Preserve is a planned community, and this particular retail area has a combination of businesses and residential lofts, next to the village green.  It’s pretty upscale, but I’m thinking if you don’t get too grimy while you’re out hiking and bouldering in the Preserve you could walk off the trails and have a beer and tacos on your table in just minutes.

The trailhead is located in the northwest corner of the parking lot.  We passed a sign listing the Preserve’s rules.  In a nutshell: don’t trash the place, no bikes, leash your pets, no fires, no glass containers, no alcohol (in any type of container), open sunup to sundown.  Sadly, there was also a flyer attached to the sign for the still-missing Deia.  The unnamed trail enters a pine grove, with a dirt surface and a slight incline.  In just a few yards, we reached the first of the boulders in the boulder field, where a sign showed future plans for a more formal arrangement of paths and staging areas for climbers.  There are numerous sandstone boulders of varying sizes and shapes, which makes the Preserve a popular location for climbers.  We didn’t happen to see any while we were there, but we took a few minutes to admire the boulders.  I don’t know if there’s an eponymous Moss Rock or not, but there were plenty of candidates.

The established trails in the Preserve are nearly all named by color – the White trail, the Red trail, the Blue trail, the Orange trail, and the Powerline trail as the oddball.  We started our hike with the Waterfall loop, a 1.5 mile loop comprising parts of the White and Blue trails.   From the boulder field, we headed downhill (north) toward Hurricane Creek, passing the Hole-in-Rock boulder on our way.  The White trail runs along the south bank of Hurricane Creek at this point, so we turned west (left) on the white-blazed trail and within a few yards crossed the creek on a study wooden bridge, now on the Blue trail.

There’s not a lot of suspense about the waterfalls — there’s one visible and audible when you first approach Hurricane Creek.  The trail map marks three waterfalls on an unnamed branch that slides down the ridge from the north.  Two are labeled — Lower Falls and Upper Falls.  Both are cascade-type waterfalls, and the Lower one is particularly striking, with a slide into a shallow pool, and then a wider set of cascades at the bottom.  We paused for photos at the Lower Falls, and Ruth had a look at the sandstone glade just to the east of the waterfall.  We took the Blue trail uphill to the Upper Falls, winding past our first wildflowers of the day — violet wood sorrel and yellow jessamine (more about both of those later).  It was a warm day, and by the time we reached the Upper Falls it was tempting to splash about in the water — indeed, a few families with small children were doing just that.    We continued our climb uphill, passing the unnamed waterfall, which is really just a mossy little slide into a shallow pool.

About .2 miles from the start of the Blue trail, we came to a split, with the Blue trail heading east and west.  This is a good time to discuss the marking system in the Preserve.  Trails are blazed with paint on the trees, with the paint color corresponding to the trail name.   At major junctions, there are laminated signs with arrows in the direction of points of interest, with mileage to the destination.  At some intersections or points of interest, there will also be a safety station.  These are color-coded signs with numbers on them, such as a blue 10.  The colors correspond to the trail names, and the numbers are sequential and mark specific locations on the trail map.  The idea is that if you’re lost, you’re never far away from a safety station.  If you have a map, you can quickly figure out where you are.  If you don’t have a map, you can tell your rescuers where to find you.  We turned right (east) at this junction, heading toward Turtle Rock.

This stretch of trail also had several occurrences of yellow jessamine.  This vine with its attractive flowers, also known as yellow jasmine or Gelsemium sempervirens (to use its Latin name), has a resemblance to honeysuckle and a pleasant scent.  We saw the blossoms in many places, and later saw some children who appeared to be carrying some of them.  This plant is extremely poisonous.  All parts of it are poisonous if consumed, and even eating one flower can cause serious illness or even death to small children and pets. It’s from the same family as the Strychnine tree, and guess what’s made from the seeds of that tree?  For some people, contact with the sap can also cause contact dermatitis.  Seriously, this is a plant for which if you consume ANY amount, you are advised to contact the nearest Poison Control Center.  Since the vine and leaves resemble honeysuckle, people may be fooled into trying to suck the nectar from the flower.

We continued east on the Blue trail, passing a boulder on the left and a stand of longleaf pines on the right, until coming to an intersection with the White trail about .3 miles from the Blue trail’s split above the waterfalls.  This is the eastern terminus of the Blue trail.   We headed east (straight) on the White trail.  The other option is a left turn (north), which leads to another area with interesting boulders.  But we’ll have to save that for another day, because Ruth was intent on seeing Turtle Rock!  Hey, she loves her turtles (who doesn’t?).    In a little under .2 miles on the White trail, we reached Turtle Rock, which Ruth declared to be sufficiently turtle-y, and we had a snack break.  From here, the trail turns south and downhill, winding next to an unnamed branch that empties into Hurricane Creek.  This was a wildflower-rich area, with many examples of violet wood sorrel and Quaker ladies, and a few specimens of common blue violet and common grape hyacinth.  As a general rule, violet wood sorrel was in bloom all over the Preserve.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a site with this many specimens in bloom.

In about .2 miles from Turtle Rock, the White trail curves to follow the north bank of Hurricane Creek.  The trail flattens out here, with the creek offering pretty views upstream as it cuts through a rock shelf.  This section of the trail also has signage identifying common trees in the Preserve, courtesy of the Boy Scouts.  Remnants of a washed-out bridge are caught in a pinch point in the creek, a reminder that flooding has swept away some bridges in the Preserve.  We didn’t have any water crossings that posed a problem, but if you’re visiting in times of high water, crossings of Hurricane Creek might be tricky in spots.  We walked upstream to a point where the trail seemed to be becoming indistinct, but did lead to a nice cascade.  We eventually figured out from looking at the trail map that we had missed a turn, and were supposed to have crossed the creek about 100 yards downstream.  This crossing is probably the source of the washed-out bridge.  We carefully rock-hopped across and continued west on the White trail, now on the south bank of the creek.

Once we were back on the White trail, we continued west back to the starting point of our loop, at the White/Blue trail intersection next to the waterfalls.  We were both feeling pretty good at this point, so we decided to throw in another loop in the western portion of the Preserve.  We continued west on the White trail for about .2 miles before crossing Hurricane Creek on another wooden bridge.  We headed northwest, away from the creek, passing intersections with the Red trail and the Blue trail before crossing another small branch with a small waterfall upstream of the crossing.  The White trail then followed the branch south to Tunnel Falls, which is about a 3-foot drop where the branch flows through a small hole in a rock.  It’s a cheery and docile waterfall, and had a couple of little girls playing in the natural kiddie pool at the bottom.  Those girls had the right idea — it was a decidedly warm day!

After Tunnel Falls, the White trail turns west, then south, with glimpses of traffic on Preserve Parkway through the trees.  This stretch of the trail had a good crop of early wildflowers, including dewberry, wood violet, and common yellow wood sorrel.  Roughly half a mile from Tunnel Falls, several side trails head south to the Frog Pond, a marshy pool right on the edge of the Preserve Parkway.  We could hear frogs serenading us as we neared the swamp, but they grew silent as we approached.  We took a snack and water break and waited them out, and they obliged by resuming their croaking conversation.  It was a glorious racket!

Our next point of interest was Patriotic Junction, the place where the Red, White, and Blue trails connect in the far western end of the Preserve.  The White trail ends at this point, so we took the Blue trail north, passing a spur trail to the Sulphur Springs Road trailhead and parking area.  The tree placards made a welcome return on this stretch, pointing out trees new to us (the cherry laurel) and old favorites (shagbark hickory).  The Blue trail wound generally northeastward, with some of the more challenging elevation changes in this part of the Preserve.  Fortunately, there were occasional benches on this portion of the trail.  About .6 miles from Patriotic Junction, after briefly following a service road before turning north to follow the blue blazes, we arrived at another notable boulder feature, known as the Great Wall.  From here, a sewer pipe crosses into the Preserve from the neighborhood up the slope, and houses became visible to the left as we continued eastward.  They were soon masked, as the trail turned steeply north, then jogged east again just short of a power line cut.  This last turn was easy to figure out coming from the west, but might be tricky if you’re hiking this section of the Blue trail east to west.  Look for a couple of rocks with blue painted arrows to route you away from the power line cut.

At this point, we were in the home stretch.  The Blue trail is largely level in this section, with more of the cursed yellow jessamine and occasional clumps of false garlic and Allegheny serviceberry. We continued east until we reached the branch that forms the waterfalls farther down the slope.  That was actually a mistake, as the Blue trail turns downhill before reaching the branch, so we backtracked until we found the blazes and headed downhill past the waterfalls to close our loop.  Along the way, we enjoyed the sight of a group of young people laying out an elaborate picnic scene, which looked like it was going to be the scene of a wedding proposal!  We didn’t hang around to see what would happen, but if you know someone who got engaged at Moss Rock Preserve on March 10, please pass along our congratulations.

After retracing our route back to the car, we finished with a total distance of around 4.2 miles.  Did I mention it was a warm day?  We were looking forward to some ice cream, having earned it by identifying Allegheny serviceberry, violet wood sorrel, nandina, yellow jessamine, Quaker ladies, common blue violet, wood violet, partridgeberry, common grape hyacinth, dewberry, oak leaf hydrangea, red buckeye, yellow wood sorrel, false garlic, and leatherleaf mahonia.  I said to Ruth, “You know, if someone had an ice cream truck in this parking lot, they’d make a killing.  I wish they had one here.”  As we drove out of the parking lot and passed the taco and Italian restaurants, what did we see?  A food truck for Urban Pops parked by the side of the road, open for business!  Wish granted!

So that’s two wishes.  According to folklore, I have one left.  World peace?  Infinite park funding?  I’m going with this one:  I wish that someone will find Deia, and that she’s OK.

Lessons Learned: Flint Creek Botanical Area

The last time we went off trail in the Bankhead, we made several rookie mistakes. What’s even more annoying is that at this point, I don’t really consider us “rookies,” but those were the kinds of mistakes we made.  Among our errors – 1) We didn’t bring our nicely detailed map of the area – didn’t even look at it in advance! 2) We didn’t bring our hiking poles to an area we knew might be steep and off trail. 3) We didn’t bring our orange blaze even though it has been our experience that almost every month is hunting season for something in Alabama.  4) We failed to waypoint our parking spot so that in case we got hopelessly lost, we’d least be able to use the GPS to get pointed back in the right direction. This time, though, we were determined to learn from our mistakes.

Though the cold weather is back with a vengeance as I write this, it is actually springtime (or nearly so) in northern Alabama. We’d heard reports of spring wildflowers in bloom – particularly trillium – and I was determined to find a good, new-to-us spring wildflower hike to try out. I Googled a bit, and though most of the hits were places we’ve already been, one new spot caught my eye. The Flint Creek Botanical Area in the Bankhead Forest is someplace I’ve never even heard of before. According to the National Forest web site, though, it is renowned for its diversity of plant species and draws in botanical researchers as well as folks like me who just like the pretty flowers. The website boasts “many species of trilliums,” trout lilies, liverleaf,  rue anemone, Virginia bluebells, bloodroot, wild blue phlox , several types of orchid and Allegheny spurge.  As an added bonus, it’s in a part of the Bankhead that we haven’t spent much time in so it was new all around. Sounded like a jackpot, so we packed up Saturday morning and headed west.

We took our familiar route to the Bankhead – I-65 to the Hartselle exit, then west on Alabama state road 36. This time, though, instead of driving on out to the trading post at Wren, we turned left onto county road 41, aka Danville Road. We’ve driven through this intersection countless times, but never turned here. Something else new! 7 miles down the Danville road, our directions had us turn right onto Forest Service Road 196 at the Cave Creek Cemetery. CR 196 on some maps is labeled Leola Road, and old histories of the area talk about it using that name. Up to this point, we’d been on pavement, but knew from our Google maps research (one lesson learned) that after that we’d be on dirt roads. Leola Road is not too bad. It’s wide and mostly just fine. There were a couple of pretty impressive potholes, but nothing our pickup truck couldn’t handle. After driving about 3 miles, we came to Center Church and Cemetery and we knew that the next right would be our final turn. The road we were looking for isn’t really labeled on Google maps, but our paper Bankhead Forest map (another lesson learned) did show it as FS 272-D. Locally, it’s known as Asherbranner Cemetery Road. This little road was passable, but only just. It was pretty rutted and we were very glad to be in a relatively high-clearance kind of vehicle. After creeping down the road for a bit, worrying about how we’d ever get turned around on this narrow windy road, we came to a small parking area just past Asherbranner Cemetery. The online directions said that we should follow the road “to the end,” but at this point we wimped out and decided that a parking spot where we could easily turn around was the better choice. We parked the truck and explored the cemetery, while we were there.

The cemetery is small, with maybe 8 individual stones all either not carved or illegible. There is a nice big polished marble stone though – obviously recently installed – that lists names but no dates for those believed to be buried there. Somebody had been there recently enough that all the graves were decorated with purple flowers. It looked very nice.

 

Cemetery explored, we dropped a waypoint on the GPS for our parking area (another lesson learned), and then walked down the gravel road past a broken gate.  We saw one toothwort, but not many other wildflowers in this stretch and I was worried that maybe we were there entirely too early.  The road ended in a little over a half a mile in a muddy, rutted turnaround area. The website that led us here mentioned an old road heading out of the turnaround, so we looked around and found a couple of likely candidates. One that was hidden behind a mount of dirt seemed to me to be heading towards a creek, so we decided on that one. It turned out to be a very nice, easy to follow old roadbed. At this point, we finally started seeing wildflowers. First there were trillium – not many yet fully in bloom, but they were everywhere! Then rue anemone,  bloodroot, toothwort, hepatica, and violets. It wasn’t a blanket of flowers like Taylor Hollow was when we visited, but in another week or so, this place should be amazing!

 

The trail runs into a creek in about .2 miles. On the map it is marked as an intermittent stream. Maybe it was just all the rain we’d had, but it sure seemed pretty substantial to me! The bank here is an interesting shelf of water-shaped rock cantilevered over the creek. Chet headed down the rock shelf, past a little spring, and then up the earth bank where he spotted my favorite flower – Virginia Bluebell – growing in a clump of what looked like trout lily leaves. This clump wasn’t yet blooming, exactly; there were teeny tiny blue bumps nestled in a bunch of green leaves. Still – I was a happy girl.

 

At this point, we decided to cross the creek we’d dubbed “Wiggins Hollow Creek” (after the name of the hollow)  and follow along the bank the other way because our maps indicated that would get us to West Flint Creek. We didn’t really have a destination in mind, but thought following this creek to the bigger one would be a good idea. There are no trails here. We used Google maps, our GPS map, and our paper map of the Bankhead to try to keep ourselves on track.

 

We wandered about a mile off trail – keeping the Wiggins Hollow Creek in sight as much as possible. It was a magical place. I had to work hard to avoid stepping on trillium, and it seemed like there was an absolute carpet of trout lily – not yet blooming, but the leaves seemed to be everywhere. As we got around .5 miles in, we started seeing actual blooming bluebells, so I insisted on about a million pictures of them. They are so pretty! Again, there were only a few actually blooming, but bluebell stands just blanketed the banks in some spots. It must be breathtaking when they’re all in bloom.

31bluebell
Virginia Bluebell

At about a mile we got a bit confused about where we actually were. The map in my head did not seem to match the ground truth no matter how hard I tried. We finally decided we’d seen all we needed to see and we started to retrace our steps along the creek. After a bit, Chet pointed out that on the GPS he was seeing what looked like trails or old roads intersecting up ahead. Following those looked to take us a more direct route to the truck. Since we’d put in a waypoint, we could see where the truck was relative to our position, so we decided to go for it and took off on what looked like it might have been another old forest road. This one led straight uphill for a bit, then seemed to fork. We took the left fork because it looked like it would take us towards our original earlier track. It might have, but when that old roadbed ended in a tumble of rocks and a creek we decided just to head straight uphill and follow the GPS to the truck. We ended up on a ridgetop, and it was an easy walk to Asherbranner Cemetery Road. We turned right and saw that we were at the old broken gate – only about .1 mile from the truck.

 

We did pretty well this hike. We did remember to fix many of the mistakes we made last time out, so lessons were learned. We went to the Bankhead, and it didn’t kill us. It also wasn’t a 10 mile slog (like it often is). This hike came in at about 3.3 miles, according to our GPS track. In typical Wright fashion, though, now that we have done some research on the area we realized that we’d sort of done a “180.” If we’d followed Wiggins Hollow Creek upstream instead of downstream, we might have come to a spectacular cave. Wiggins Hollow Cave (Number Two on some maps) looks to be up Wiggins Hollow around half a mile from where we turned the other way. There’s just one thing to do about it now – go back in a few weeks to find the cave and check on the wildflowers!

 

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Wild Eagle Chase: Lake Guntersville State Park Trails

Regular readers of our blog will know that we are not particularly adept at bird watching.  That doesn’t mean we don’t like birds — we’re just not very good at finding them.  One thing we have learned is that places frequented by experienced bird watchers are usually great places to hike, and if we’re lucky we might blunder into a memorable sighting.  And sometimes, we might even see the bird well enough to get a (horrible) photo and maybe attempt an identification.

North Alabama is a great place to find wintering birds, as evidenced by the Festival of the Cranes held every year at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  We didn’t make it to the Festival this year, but we joined a ranger-led hike there in 2016.  That particular event is famous for its opportunity to see whooping cranes, which are very impressive creatures indeed.  But there is another event in the winter birding calendar that’s even more popular — the eagle awareness weekends at Lake Guntersville State Park.  For a while, the park had only a single eagle awareness weekend, but in recent years has expanded the event to cover several weekends.  There were three such weekends in 2019, and we managed to make it there for the final Saturday.

Lake Guntersville State Park has long been a site for wintering bald eagles, but we’ve never seen one in the wild.  The park facilitates eagle sightings, with various guided hikes to eagle hotspots and presentations during the day and on evenings.  If you’re really, really keen to see a bald eagle in the wild, your best bet is to stay at the park during one of these weekends.  That would give you a better chance of getting to the park in time for one of the 6 a.m. eagle watching trips.  Or if you’d rather sleep in a bit, you can still catch the 8:30 a.m. Q&A and join one of the 9 a.m. birding field trips.  We love our national symbol, but schedule-wise couldn’t manage an overnight stay and given that the drive from Huntsville is about an hour, it was more feasible for us to just trundle on down on our own schedule and try a loop hike in an area that might just lead to an eagle sighting.

I had heard there was an eagle’s nest in the general area of the cabins, so I had a look at the trail map to see if I could piece together a hike nearby.  Lake Guntersville State Park has over 36 miles of hiking trails, with many loop trails that can be tailored to create hikes of various lengths.   I planned a 3-mile walk, starting from the parking area on the southern side of Aubrey Carr Scenic Drive between the King’s Chapel and Waterfall Trails.  The trailhead on the north side of the parking area serves the Terrell Connector, Waterfall, and Moonshine Trails.  Our plan was to hike the length of the Moonshine Trail, turn south onto the Cave Alternate Trail, then hike the length of the Cave Trail, then turn north on the Graveyard Fire Road, and complete the loop by taking the King’s Chapel Trail back to the parking area.  With the exception of the King’s Chapel trail, we hadn’t previously covered any of these trails in the heart of the park.

When we arrived at the parking area, there was a slightly unusual sight — a table set up with water and snacks, with a friendly volunteer.  Gosh, just for us, we thought?  Nope, actually it was for the runners in the Eagle Ridge Ultra, a 5K/half marathon/50K trail run that winds through many of the trails in the park.  We asked if it would be OK to hike, worried that the trails would be open only to the runners, and were assured we were welcome.  We did see a couple of runners come through the aid station on their way up the Waterfall Trail.  I looked up the race results later, and folks, 20 people finished that 50K run — that’s 31 miles, about ten times the distance that we walked.

Our route led to the west, up the Moonshine Trail.  The trailhead had a broken sign mounted on a tree, but also had a fabulous informative sign on a post.

The orange-blazed trail didn’t mess around, quickly gaining about 120 feet in altitude without the benefit of any switchbacks.  The trail was also marked with orange ribbons clipped to branches, which we quickly figured out were temporary markings for the race.  After reaching the top of Taylor Mountain, the trail levels out, passing through hardwoods and a few stands of immature winged elm trees.  The trail descends slightly, within sight of a bend in Aubrey Carr Scenic Drive, before turning away from the road and via a couple of switchbacks climbs to the top of Cedar Ridge.   The Moonshine Trail ends here, teeing into the Cave Alternate Trail and the Butler’s Pass Trail at a viewpoint.

To continue going west on the Cave Alternate Trail, we followed signs to cross Aubrey Carr, descending a very nice stone staircase, past an unused signpost for “Bulter’s Pass” laying on the ground.  Oh dear….

The signpost for Cave Alternate is about 50 yards down the road to the left.  The first few yards are obviously an old roadbed opening into a field.  The trail skirts the field, passes through some young pines, and then reaches a fork, with the right prong marked only with a mysterious red circle. This isn’t on the trail map, but we thought we’d check it out since it offered some views of the lake (and potentially eagles).   We went about .1 miles before it looked like the trail was petering out, so we backtracked to the red “O” and took the left fork instead, which was marked with red blazes.  We traveled only a few yards before coming to another trail split, with the left fork marked with a green circle and the right fork not marked at all.  From looking at the trail map, it seemed like the green “O” was probably the official trail, but the other fork seemed more likely to go directly to the cave for which the trail is named.  We tried the right fork, which descended through rocky terrain, and quickly found that it was red-blazed too, so perhaps it is the “Cave Alternate Alternate” trail.  Actually, the blazes were usually red, but were sometimes red painted over a previous orange blaze.

After about .2 miles, the trail leveled out, with Lodge Drive visible to the south.  We could hear the rushing waters of a creek, and rounded a bend to find a small rock outcrop with a spring at its base.  The crack in the rocks through which the stream flowed was pretty small, and calling it a cave seemed a bit of an exaggeration (but after seeing the puny “waterfall” on the Waterfall Trail on a previous hike, I knew the park could stretch the truth a little when describing trail features).  But Ruth had scouted on ahead past the spring, where she found a proper cave  on the same rock outcropping, just to the east of the spring.  It wasn’t particularly large, but did continue on into the hillside, so I apologize for doubting you, Lake Guntersville State Park.  Just to the east of the cave, the trail winds back up the hill, marked by another green circle.  Though we didn’t hike the “green circle” segment of the trail, we suspect it is probably a little longer than the route we took, and perhaps is less steep.

After checking out the cave and having a quick bite of lunch, we joined the “official” trail and headed south to cross Lodge Drive.  Just to give a little ground truth, the trail is marked as Cave Alternate on the north side of Lodge Drive, and the Cave Trail starts on the south side of Lodge Drive.   The trail map seems to imply that the Cave/Cave Alternate junction is up on Cedar Ridge instead of down on the road.  The trailhead for the Cave Trail is easy to spot from the end of the Cave Alternate trail on Lodge Drive — it’s just across the road to the right.

The red (or red-over-orange) blazed Cave Trail quickly plunges into a stand of pines before gently descending to cross a creek on a footbridge.  Immediately ahead, the trail crosses a service road.  On the day of our hike, race organizers had flagged off the Cave Trail, as the race route continued up the service road.  We stuck with the trail instead, passing a little inlet to our right before crossing another small stream on a footbridge.  This very pretty section of the trail winds without much elevation change past an area that suggests old homesteads, with daffodils growing in clumps off the trail.  The trail is about halfway up the hillside, with the park’s cabins below to the right and the park’s filtration plant well out of sight and scent on the eastern side of the hill.

After crossing Aubrey Carr again, the trail turns to roughly parallel the road, with a small creek running between the trail and the road.  A partially-collapsed cinder block building is visible to the left (north) about .25 miles after crossing Aubrey Carr.  It appears to have been a two-room hunting cabin with a fireplace and tin roof.  Daffodils and irises (or some type of lily) grow nearby, suggesting this was perhaps a homeplace in an earlier time.   Topo maps as far back as 1936 show a structure in this general area.  About .2 miles past this point, the Cave Trail tees into the Tom Bevill Trail.  We continued northeast and quickly turned on a spur trail that led back to Aubrey Carr.  Another race aid station was set up here, with a spur trail leading to the Terrell Trail to the right (east), and the Graveyard Fire Road to the left (west).  We took the Graveyard Fire Road up to King’s Chapel Cemetery, and closed the loop by taking the red-blazed King’s Chapel trail back to the parking area where we started.

All in all, the GPS track said we almost covered 3.4 miles in our loop.  There weren’t many wildflowers out, although we did spot a broadleaf toothwort just beginning to bloom.   We saw a few runners, a collapsed structure, a couple of cardinals, a bluebird (maybe), and a historic cemetery, but you know what we didn’t see?  Not one eagle.

But wait — I had a backup plan!  We had timed the hike so that we would arrive at the lodge in time to catch the 2 p.m. presentation by Wings to Soar, a non-profit organization that takes care of birds of prey that cannot be released into the wild.  This environmental education group is based in Trenton, GA, and John Stokes and Dale Kernahan tour the country with a live show featuring several birds of prey.  We actually got to the lodge in plenty of time, so we were able to unwind with a beer in the Hickory Lounge before joining the line that formed to get into the meeting room.  Pro tip — plan to be in line at least 15 minutes before the doors open.  We lined up at 1:15 and got decent seats, but we were all jammed in cheek by jowl.  Park staff brought in extra chairs so that no one was standing in the aisles, because all attendees had to be seated.  They seemed awfully strict about that.  We’d find out why in a few minutes.

John and Dale introduced themselves and told us about Wings to Soar, then brought out their first guest – Bob the barn owl.  The general pattern of the show was that John, Dale, or another Wings to Soar staffer walked through the aisles with the bird perched on his/her arm so we could get a close look, all the while narrating information about the species and the individual bird’s history.   A multimedia presentation played on screens at the front of the room.

After we were better acquainted with Bob, John took him to one side of the room, and Dale signalled to Bob, who then flew inches above the heads of the audience members in between.  It was quite a thrill to have this owl flight right over us, completely silently.  Bob made several passes over the crowd as John and Dale moved around the room.

After Bob, we were then introduced to Buddy the screech owl and Arty the barred owl before we left the world of nocturnal birds.  The next set of birds included Gilbert the kestrel, Cody the red-tailed hawk, and Cayce the black vulture, who had her own rocking intro music (Basement Jaxx’s Do Your Thing, a family favorite!).  All three of these birds made multiple flights over the audience, starting with the well-behaved kestrel, the absolutely terrifying red-tailed hawk (that bird flew one inch above our heads — we felt the wind from his wings), and the unpredictable diva black vulture, who took a liking to the aisle near us, where she would sometimes choose to land.  There was a lady a row in front of us who wore a fake fur vest to the presentation.  The hawk had her looking about nervously, and I think the vulture was definitely checking her out.

 

Golden eagle

And the big stars came out at the end of the show: not one, but TWO eagles — Cherokee the golden eagle, and Osceola the bald eagle.   Cherokee is a stunning, large dark brown bird with that patented intense eagle look, and Dale mentioned that Cherokee was in the avian equivalent of heat.  Fur vest lady was looking extremely anxious, but Cherokee didn’t make any cross-room flights.

The final bird, Osceola, wasn’t making any flights either since he had a wing amputated after being shot by a poacher in 1983.  Since then, he’s been used in educational programs.  Even though he had just been bathed and looked a little ruffled, he is still a worthy example of our national symbol, glaring about fiercely.  Here’s a cool story about him:   in 1996 John, an experienced hang glider pilot, rigged a harness for Osceola and took him along on a hang glider ride, so Osceola could once again soar through the skies.

I was pleased that in their presentation they mentioned Ben Franklin’s preference for the wild turkey as our national symbol.  Franklin called the bald eagle “a bird of bad moral character” due to its habit of scavenging or stealing food from other predators as opposed to hunting its own prey, and its tendency to be cowed by smaller birds into leaving disputed territory.  However, in an early example of style over substance, the bald eagle was chosen as our national symbol.  In retrospect, you had to admit a turkey would look pretty ridiculous on our coinage and national seal.  In the era of the first moving pictures, the careers of some silent movie actors were ruined when their actual voices were first heard.  The same would have been true with the bald eagle, as its call is closer to that of a constipated chicken.  Enterprising image makers simply dubbed in the piercing call of the red-tailed hawk, who could be called the Marni Nixon of the bird world.

So we finally saw eagles on a trip to Lake Guntersville State Park!  OK, we cheated a little, but if you want to see birds of prey up close, Wings to Soar has programs scheduled at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on March 2, 2019 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.  We highly recommend their presentation — but leave your furry garments at home.

A Mary Poppins Hike: Practically Perfect in Every Way

It’s no secret that one of my favorite places on earth is a State Natural Area in Tennessee called Taylor Hollow. If you ever get the chance to go there in the springtime, do it! It’s magical. But I’m only mentioning it now because Tennessee is a state with LOTS of state natural areas – 85 if the list on the Tennessee State Department of Environment and Conservation site is accurate – and this past weekend, Chet and I explored yet another one on that list.

In the 1940s, a Texas oil man named Harry Lee Carter acquired 60,000 acres of timber land in Franklin County, Tennessee and Jackson County, Alabama. Some of this acreage included what is now the well-known Walls of Jericho property. In 1975, a Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter donated 375 acres of land to the State of Tennessee, which became the Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area, also in Franklin County.  I have to assume that the “Walls of Jericho” Harry Lee Carter is the same man, though I have not found definitive proof of that. At any rate, it was the Carter Natural Area that was our  latest hiking destination.

The only trail access into the Carter Natural Area is from Buggytop Cave Trailhead off of Hwy 56. Technically, the name of the cave is the Lost Cove Cave, but the best-known entrance to it is called Buggytop, and it’s commonly called Buggytop Cave.  We got there by heading out Hwy 72 to Stevenson, then taking Hwy 56 up through Jackson County and across the state line into Franklin County until we spotted  the gravel parking area at the trailhead. It was a beautiful drive through some gorgeous countryside – lots of broad coves with mountains all around. The parking lot, though narrow, has enough room for quite a few cars but there are no restroom facilities or other amenities there. We parked almost right next to the trail sign, which informed us that the cave itself is closed from November 1 to May 1. We actually knew this already, but we had opted to make the hike even though we couldn’t go in the cave. If you’re interested in exploring the cave, it seems it can be done, though I’ve seen mention of needing a permit from South Cumberland State Park. I also have seen references to ranger-guided tours of the cave. However, I’ve scoured the South Cumberland State Park website and the one for the Friends of South Cumberland State Park, and have not found any mention of either of these things. My advice would be to contact the park and ask.

 

 

For the first two tenths of a mile, the hike is a thigh-straining climb up through the rocks to a kiosk. We had an old South Cumberland Recreation Area map that indicated that the kiosk was farther along the trail, but obviously things have changed a bit since we picked that one up. After the kiosk, the next .3 miles is an fairly easy walk along a ridge top. The trail was a bit mucky in spots, but not too hard to navigate. We passed some pretty good-sized sinkholes off to the side of the trail.

 

After the short stroll on the more or less level ridge top, the next mile or so of trail is a pretty steady, but not too steep, downhill jaunt. This was my favorite part of the trail itself (not counting the cave at the end). The trail took us through open woods dotted with scattered rocks. It was easy walking, with none of the muckiness we’d had at the top. There were a couple of spots where the trail was a little steep, but the trail-maintainers had thoughtfully put in sturdy rock steps to make the descent easy. At about the 1 mile mark, the trail made a broad sweeping curve around a sinkhole. This is where we met our first pair of fellow-hikers returning from the cave. Up to that point, we’d had the trail to ourselves.

 

We continued on downhill, passing another larger group of hikers near a sturdy footbridge. Not long after, the trail cut down through a rocky section. It was here that I remember first hearing the roar of water. After picking our way carefully through the rocks and down some more very nice stone steps, the trail leveled out for a short stretch and then crossed an old road. On our GPS track, the road is called Ford Spring Road, though on trail descriptions they call it Lost Cove Road. Whatever it’s called, it’s obvious that it hasn’t been used as a road for a very long time.

 

Just past the old road crossing the trail tees into the top of a bluff. A sign points right to Buggytop and left to Peter. Peter is a second entrance to Lost Cove Cave. There are three entrances, though I have not found the third one, called the Great Room entrance, on any map. We had heard that Buggytop is the most impressive entrance of the three, so we opted to just go there. We stopped to take in the view, peering down over the edge of the cliff to see water rushing down a creek below, and then turned right and headed towards Buggytop. The trail here goes along the cliff edge on a  footbed of pretty much solid rock. After a very short distance, though, the trail drops steeply down through a jumble of rock then comes out on a nice dirt footpath a bit farther down the cliff.

 

Just around a bend, the cave entrance really comes into view, and it’s a beauty. At the base of a 150 foot bluff, the cave has an opening 100 feet wide and 80 feet tall. The way the rocks at the top of the entrance are shaped reminded people of the top of a buggy (as in horse and buggy), hence the name of the cave entrance. From the mouth of the cave, the roaring waters of a creek rush out and over a series of ledges. It’s a pretty impressive sight. At home I did a bit of research on the origins of the creek. Apparently, Lost Cove Creek drops into Lost Cove Cave at a spot called the Big Sink, then travels around a mile underground through the cave before emerging at Buggytop as Crow Creek.

 

We ate our lunch on a shelf of rock just inside the entrance to the cave, then went out to explore the creek and cascades. I thought this didn’t count as “inside” since it could be argued that we were sort of on the threshold of the cave – not “IN” it.

 

Before we left, we went just a tiny bit farther into the cave – just a few more steps to the end of the rock shelf, before the creek took a turn to the left and disappeared into the black. I hope this was still considered “threshold.”  We didn’t rock hop over to the rock shingle-covered slope on the other side, wade through the creek, or explore back where the light didn’t reach, so I’m hoping it was OK for the bats.

 

It was time to retrace our steps back to the car and head home. We’re slow hikers; it took us about an hour and a half (with picture stops and such) to go downhill to the cave, so I assumed it would take longer going back. A couple of the folks we’d passed on our way to the cave who were making the trek back uphill looked tired and said things like “you won’t need all those layers on the way uphill,” and I believed them. Surprisingly, though, we made the hike back in about the same time as the hike out. And yes, we did have to work harder, and we did take off a layer or two, but honestly, it wasn’t bad! All told, the GPS track put this hike at almost 4 miles, round trip. Like Mary Poppins, this hike is practically perfect in every way – not too long, not too short; not too steep, not too easy; and the cave and creek at the end are definitely magical!

 

 

Lost Soles: Tom Pack Falls, Franklin State Forest

This is a story that begins with a lost sole.  In the middle of the story, there were two nearly lost souls, but in the end all soles and souls turned out just fine.

Our weekend started with a fun trail maintenance project at the Land Trust of North Alabama‘s Bethel Springs Preserve.   This particular tract is not yet open to the public, but we’ve been there a couple of times on members-only hikes.  The Land Trust has received a grant to build an ADA-compliant trail on the property, and since there’s a time limit on the grant, this particular preserve has jumped up quite a bit on the priority list.  Our project wasn’t to work on the ADA-compliant trail, which is going to involve some heavy machinery, but instead to work on the trail network leading up to a large waterfall, possibly the tallest waterfall in Madison County.  A rough trail has been laid in for a while, and we were working on improving the treadway and some re-routes.

Anyway, we were about two minutes into our hike to the job site when Ruth noticed that the sole of her boot was about to come completely off.  Calamity!  She has had these Lowas for around 25 years.  I had them resoled once, after they came apart on a hike in the Smokies, but both boots were coming apart again.  Fortunately, Lori the Land Steward came to the rescue with (engineers have already guessed it) duct tape, and a quick repair had Ruth back on the trail and bench cutting in no time.  This was all well and good, but we were planning on hiking the next day, and didn’t want to press our luck.  Ruth went shopping and came home with a new pair of Oboz Phoenix Mid B Dry Waterproof boots.  Since she wouldn’t have a chance to break them in, our hiking plan changed to find a short hike, not too challenging, to put her new kicks through their paces.

Ever since our previous trip to the Franklin State Forest, I’ve been keen to have another look at this network of trails on the Cumberland Plateau near South Pittsburg, TN.  One relatively short hike, to Tom Pack Falls, sprang to mind as a candidate.  It’s roughly a two-mile roundtrip, with not a lot of elevation change, and maps seemed to suggest we could make a loop of it.  With the recent rains, it seemed likely we’d catch the falls in fine form, so we drove on up to the ranger station on Highway 156, about 15 miles northwest of South Pittsburg on the Franklin-Marion County line.

We parked in the field next to the ranger station, where folks were unloading horses and OHVs to ride the trails.  We chatted with some nice folks who were waiting on their fellow riders, and I befriended one of their dogs, who as it turned out had recently attempted to befriend a skunk, who was not in a gregarious mood.  The owners’ warning came just a little too late, but I think the smell will come out of my gloves eventually.  He was a very sweet dog, it must be said.

Once again, I must digress for a moment to talk about the incomplete trail maps for Franklin State Forest.  From looking at the road use map on the Forest’s website, it appeared that we could take a trail to the falls starting from the picnic area at the end of Lake Road.  However, other online maps (such as Google Maps) point out the existence of a trail from the ranger station leading to the CCC Lake.  We wanted a little more mileage and scenery, so our plan was to take the trail from the ranger station to the lake, hike around the lake to the Tom Pack trail, walk to the waterfall, and return on a roughly parallel trail to form a loop back to the lake.  40 Hikes in Tennessee’s South Cumberland, by Russ Manning (third edition, revised, from 2000) also suggests a similar route, though is somewhat lacking in specifics.  Anyway, just as we found in our previous hike in this Forest, the ground truth can be quite different, and a confusing system for blazing trails and a general lack of signage can make this a confounding place to navigate.  The good news is that the Plotaroute.com site, where we posted our GPS track, has the most accurate trail map I’ve found of the area.   Too bad we didn’t look there first!

The trail, which doesn’t seem to have a name, starts behind the buildings (to the north of the parking area).  The trailhead, marked with the letter “A,” is well-marked and the trail enters the woods to the left of the sign.  The narrow trail, which I believe is just for hiker and horse rider use, has a creek crossing in about .1 mile, and continues through a mixed hardwood/softwood forest until the trail splits at about .2 miles.  A tree with two white blazes stands in the intersection.  We took the left fork, and the trail continued past some very large stands of running cedar and the occasional large puddle before reaching another fork at about .3 miles.  Here a white blaze and an arrow low on a tree pointed to the left, with the other fork continuing straight ahead.  The right fork is a horse/OHV trail to the CCC Lake, and the left fork is a hiker-only trail.  We followed the arrow to the left, which wound downhill to cross a substantial feeder stream from the lake on a somewhat insubstantial footbridge.  It was solid enough, though it did wobble a little side to side.

At around .4 miles, we passed an intersection with the Sweden Cove trail.  This trail leads south to cross Highway 156 and link up with the North and West Rim trails, which skirt Sweden Cove.  We continued on to the southwest and reached CCC Lake in about 500 feet.  A footbed continued to the left (south) side of the lake, so we skirted the lake clockwise.  Manning’s book seems to suggest you can skirt the lake counterclockwise.  It doesn’t really matter — the lake is small, and you’ll reach a picnic area at the end of Lake Road, on the northwest end of the lake.  We liked how this picnic table incorporated tree trunks into its design.

We spotted a sign on a tree across the road, and upon investigation discovered it was the trailhead, marked “W,” for the Tom Pack Falls trail.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, this is where our plan went astray.  There are apparently two trailheads for the loop, with one about 200 feet away to the right (closer to the end of Lake Road).  We took the first trailhead that we saw, the one more to the south, and as a result we were hiking on the south side of the loop instead of the north side as we thought.   Since this is a loop, either way will get you to the falls.  We took the southern part of the loop, but this confusion later led us to thrash around looking for the other half of the loop, thinking we had come in from the northern part.

The white-blazed Tom Pack Falls trail (southern leg) winds through the woods, mostly level, and crosses two creeks before reaching a trail intersection in about .35 miles from the picnic area.  The first creek is the wider of the two, but can be crossed on stepping stones, and the second is easily stepped over.  Along the way, the trail is enclosed for a little while with rhododendrons, forming a tree tunnel that will be very nice when they are in bloom.  I also noticed some periwinkle near the trailhead, and I’ve seen online mention of wildflower hikes held on this trail in the spring.  The trail intersection, marked as “V,” is with the West Side trail, which heads south to connect with the CCC Road.

We continued straight on the Tom Pack Falls trail for around .15 miles, with an old jeep road and two more challenging creek crossings to navigate, before the trail took a sharp turn to the right and began to descend.  During this stretch of the trail, the sound of rushing water below us to the right grew louder, and before the turn we could glimpse the waterfall through the trees, but couldn’t get a good view.  When the trail took the sharp downhill turn, we could see the Forest’s property boundary flagged and signposted to the west.  There’s a fallen tree that’s just to the side of the trail, but it’s passable and is the easier route to descend into Tom Pack Hollow.  Some rocks are placed as stairsteps along the steeper portions of the route.  For the record, there’s a footbed that continues unmarked to the west, instead of turning downhill, and that route leads to a road and a property boundary marked with a gate.  Of course, we went downhill to see the waterfall.

At the bottom of the hollow, a footbridge crosses the creek, and the trail continues up the opposite side of the hollow.  Rough rock steps help with the climb to the base of a bluff on the north side of the hollow, and about halfway up when the rocks seem to run out, look to your left past the base of a fallen tree and you’ll see the steps continuing upward.  We carefully scaled the steps, which were covered with slick leaves, and turned right (upstream) and followed the bluffline.  After around 50 yards, Tom Pack Falls came into view.

Tom Pack Falls is a multi-tiered fall, totaling about 20 feet in height.  We caught it on a good day, with plenty of flow.  In fact, it was almost too good, as the water falls into a plunge pool then flows around a small island.  There’s not an established trail to the base of the falls, but it’s relatively easy scramble down to the water.  The water volume flowing around the island meant we had to pick our way carefully, but we managed it without going for a swim.  Once on the island, we had a great view of the waterfall, its natural bowl setting, and the ice hanging from the bluff and clinging to branches near the water.

After hanging out at the falls for a short while (it was cold when we weren’t moving), we retraced our route back along the bluffline and across the bridge.  As we started the climb back up, a snap on my camera bag gave way and a part of the strap disappeared in the leaves, never to be seen again.  Looks like Ruth got new boots, and I’ll be getting a new camera bag soon, but in the meantime we swapped packs and Ruth more or less lashed the camera bag to herself for the remainder of the hike out.

Let’s talk one final time about our incorrect assumption about which trail we were on.  Because we were actually south of where we thought we were, our plan to hike south and pick up the other end of the loop didn’t work.  What we should have done, and what you should do if you try this hike, is to clamber back on the trail after leaving the island at the base of the falls, and then turn right on the trail and follow it up toward the top of the falls.  This is the northern leg of the loop, and will deposit you back in the picnic area.  Not knowing this, we backtracked to the intersection with the West Side trail and then turned south on the West Side trail.  For a short distance, the trail wound slightly uphill through a narrow corridor, jogged west, then teed into an OHV trail/dirt road with an arrow pointing to the left.  I’m guessing that a right turn on that road will lead to the property boundary and a gate.  We turned left (south) and walked about .3 miles to the south, all the while looking for the non-existent trail that we thought was the south leg of the Tom Pack Falls trail.  When we reached a power line cut, it was obvious we had gone too far, so we decided to just retrace our route and figure out what went wrong later.

From there on, it was just a matter of returning back to the CCC Lake on the (real) south leg of the Tom Pack Falls trail and retracing our route back to the ranger station.  We met up with the horse riders and Stinkpot the dog back at the lake and exchanged greetings.  By the way, the picnic area at the lake has picnic tables and fire rings, but no running water, grills, or restroom facilities.  There aren’t restroom facilities at the ranger station either, so you’ve been warned.  The horse riders continued on a trail around the north end of the lake, and we headed back along the south side of the lake.

The GPS track said we hiked about 3.5 miles all told.  At least .6 miles of this was an unnecessary detour, so if you actually walk the loop properly the hike is probably closer to around 2 miles.  You can drive out to the picnic area on Lake Road and just hike the loop, and that would probably be around 1.2 miles.  Ruth was well pleased with her boots, though the hike was a little longer than we had planned, and the multiple stream crossings and the rocky descent and ascent into Tom Pack Hollow added a unanticipated degree of difficulty.  I’d say she’s given the boots a good introduction to what the future holds for them.  Despite the fact that we didn’t hike the hike we planned, we still had a great day out and saw a beautiful waterfall.  Not a bad weekend at all — two waterfalls in two states — and it only cost us a pair of boots and a camera bag.

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Peasy Hikes: Tennessee River Greenway

This past weekend was a gloomy one. I had hoped that Sunday, at least, would be a little bit sunny, but it was one of those Alabama winter days that I least enjoy – cold, damp, and the kind of overcast that makes it seem like late evening even at noon. It wasn’t supposed to rain, though, so I was determined to get out and walk a bit. Wheeler National Wildlife Center was having its annual Festival of the Cranes, which we enjoyed last time we went. I was tempted to go out for it again, but there were no new trails to explore, and I’m pretty sure the cranes will still be there for another few days. Instead, I picked a different walk near water – the Tennessee River Greenway.

Early in our blog’s life, we put up a series of posts that we called “Easy Peasy Hikes.”  These were hikes with little elevation gain, a mile or less, and often ended up being hikes on one of the many greenways in the area. We’d walked many of them, but this is one we hadn’t explored before. This seemed like a good time to go check it out, so off we headed, with a plan to walk the greenway along the Tennessee River and then connect up with Aldridge Creek Greenway to cover some of the 4 or so miles of that one we’ve so far missed.

We should have known that the day wasn’t going to go as we’d hoped when it started raining on the drive to Ditto Landing.  It wasn’t a hard rain – more of a drizzle – and so we pressed on. We turned into Ditto Landing off Hobbs Island Road, and almost immediately came to a “road closed ahead” sign. Strike Two – this wasn’t looking good. Luckily there aren’t a lot of roads at Ditto Landing and it was easy enough to blunder our way towards the parking lot that that was marked on the map as the “official” one for the Tennessee River Greenway. We found the parking lot alright, but the greenway parking was marked at the far end of the lot, closest to the river. There were barriers blocking off access to that whole end. Strike Three? Still, we are nothing if not stubborn, so we parked by the docks and headed off across the parking lot. It was immediately very clear why it had been barricaded off. It was an absolute sea of mud! Obviously, all the recent rain had flooded the whole area. Squishing and slipping our way, we worked our way across the mud to the greenway path heading out of the south end of the parking lot.

01muddy_parking

Once on the greenway, though, all was good and I was feeling better about the day. We ambled along beside the Tennessee River, which was flowing fast. The views, though gray, were still nice and we agreed that on a prettier day, it would be truly beautiful. Along the path we passed a couple of sculptures from the SPACES sculpture trail, and a scattering of benches from which, on a drier day, you might want to sit and admire the river from. Not wanting wet backsides, though, we simply walked down the path.

 

We passed an abandoned warehouse, which looked interesting, but had no signs to identify what it might once have been. I poked around on the internet from home later and came across an article from 2003 that described the building as having once been “Huntsville’s port terminal.” The article was describing plans to turn it into an upscale event venue, but it does not appear that ever actually happened. It has a nice view out onto the river though, and I can see the potential for something like that. Off to one side, we spotted a USGS monitoring station.

 

Walking on down the path, we could see the tip of Hobbs Island ahead. All I know about the place is that I’m pretty sure it’s privately owned, and according to Wikipedia it is the site of Chickasaw Old Fields and the home of a couple of Indian mounds. Sounds pretty cool, actually, but I don’t think you can get on the island. The other thing I know about Hobbs Island is that there is an annual open water swim event there hosted by Team Rocket Triathlon Club (TRTC). As we walked, we wondered if they started the swim upstream against the current, or downstream – and debated the merits of each approach. I don’t plan to enter the race myself to find out, but I did find a handy dandy link later at home that describes the event and the course for those who might be interested.

16greenway_view

Next we passed the Huntsville Raw Water Plant Substation, i.e. one of the places that Huntsville Utilities pulls in water from the Tennessee River to eventually turn in to what comes out of our taps.  Soon after that, we came to a gate that I think marked the official end of the greenway trail. Pavement continued beyond this, but the standard “bike lane/walker (or runner) lane” markings were gone. We wanted to find out if folks were allowed to park on that end of the greenway, so we walked on down to nearly the intersection with Hobbs Island Road. There are parking spots there, but they seem to be intended for the Whitesburg Boat and Yacht Club. I’d recommend parking at Ditto Landing anyway – there’s lots more parking there.

 

Having explored as far as we could on the greenway in this direction, we retraced our steps back to the edge of the muddy parking lot to decide what to do next. There’s no clear marking to indicate that the greenway continued on through Ditto Landing, though Google Maps clearly showed it as going on north. We sort of cross-countried it, using the least muddy path we could, so that we could connect up with Aldridge Creek Greenway as we’d planned. However, once past the mud, we came up against one more obstacle. Remember the “Road Closed” sign near the entrance? Yup. We were at the other end of that road closure area, which at this end was just mounded up dirt with no visible path through it. Strike FOUR! OK, so I know there are only three strikes before you’re out – maybe I had a foul tip on the last one or something. At any rate, that was it for me. It was cold, gray, drizzly and dreary and we kept running into issues. We’d walked all of the Tennessee River Greenway at that point anyway. We called it a day and started the walk back to the car. On the walk, though, we spotted a small rack of bikes marked “Pace.” These appear to be rental bikes unlocked via an app. I’m thinking the next time I head down this way, maybe we should do our own version of a triathalon – bring the kayaks for a cruise around Hobbs Island, walk the greenway up to the bike rack, then unlock a bike for a ride up the Aldridge Creek Greenway. It will have to be a bit warmer, and hopefully sunnier, but I think it sounds like a fine adventure. Who’s with me?