From the title of this post, you might think that it’s going to be a political one where I rant about how the politicians have neglected their public duties and gotten things to the point where they’re closing our state parks , but actually, no. Well, maybe that, too, but as you can see from the photo to the left, the phrase “Haven for Defeated Politicians” is actually part of the park lore and is displayed prominently on the sign by the office. As described in an article in the Gadsden Times, this dates back to the 1940’s when Gov “Big Jim” Folsom lost his bid for the senate. He put together a plan for all the losing candidates to meet at Buck’s Pocket to console each other over their losses and plan for the future. Apparently it was a very slow news day, because some newspaperman overheard the idea, published a story about it and it went national. (For anyone too young to have been around before social media ruled everything – that’s sort of like something going viral today). How many politicians actually have done this over the years I don’t think anybody actually knows. The last one mentioned in the linked story was Shorty Price in 1974.
Buck’s Pocket may have a bit of colorful political history associated with it, but it’s much more than that. It’s 2000 acres of land protecting a beautiful gorge formed by South Sauty Creek in Dekalb, Jackson, and Marshall counties. Dedicated as a State Park on July 1, 1971, the park actually got its start in April 1966 when the Sand Mountain Boosters Club of Rainsville bought land from a local farmer and organized a group called the Tri-County Park Authority to develop the area into a park. TVA also donated 700 acres near the Tennessee River. Before that, the area was a hideout for draft dodgers, World War II and Civil War deserters, and apparently moonshiners judging by the reported “numerous” moonshine stills found in the area. Long before all that, it was a hunting ground for the Cherokee.
Until next November 15, 2015 anyway, the park offers 24 modern campsites with restroom and shower facilities, plus some primitive camping spots and at least a couple of camping cabins. There are fishing and boating opportunities at Morgan’s Cove, a small cove downstream of the main park area, plus 15 miles of hiking trails. Sadly, due to the Alabama budget crisis, much of this will be unavailable starting Nov. 15th as Buck’s Pocket is transitioned to an unmanned day use park. The day we were there, the guy manning the office was actually working on arranging for the gate that will lock down the road into the campground so that area will be inaccessible. The road up to an overlook will be open, and I assume hiking trails that have trailheads outside the campground area will still be accessible, but I don’t know the fate of Morgan’s Cove.
For our trip over to Buck’s Pocket, we had planned to hike the South Sauty Creek Trail, a 2.5 mile one way trail with a couple of waterfalls along the way. Driving to Buck’s Pocket we went through miles of rural farmland set among rolling hills. It was pretty, but unspectacular countryside. After entering the park though, the road dropped steeply as it entered the gorge that cuts into Sand Mountain forming Buck’s Pocket. I mention this because, not surprisingly, cell phone reception is pretty much non-existent at the parking area, which is at the very bottom of the 400 foot deep gorge. Normally, this would have been no problem – I usually actually turn my phone to airplane mode when I hike so that my batteries don’t drain trying to search for signal. My phone is my camera or I’d just leave the thing in the truck. Like I said, normally not an issue, but when we got there the office was not open and there were no trail maps or informational signs that we could find to point us to the trail. Chet thought he remembered that the trail led behind some of the campsites, so we took a loop around the campground looking for a trail – no luck. We walked up the campground road to the stop sign where it meets the road that goes to the overlook. Nothing. We headed back towards the parking lot thinking that we’d just have to get back in the truck and drive until we got cell phone signal again to figure out where we needed to go. Coming from this direction, though, we noticed what might be a trail off to our right. There was a faint blotch that was either a paint blaze or just a worn spot on a tree trunk so we investigated. Sure enough, we saw more faint orange blotches farther along so we decided it was a trail. Exactly which trail, we had no idea, but we were up for adventure so we decided just to see where it led us.
The footbed was covered in leaves and was narrow in spots as it clung to the banks of a dry creek bed and wound through woods where bright yellow fall leaves decorated the trees. At .2 miles, the trail crossed a powerline cut just behind what we later found out was the ranger’s house. Somebody has installed a nice wooden bench here, though I have to say it’s sort of an odd place for it. It’s not far enough from the trailhead for anybody to need a rest, and the views other places are much more scenic.
About .1 miles after that, we came to a spot where trail turned into a boulder field. The blazes we were following were orange and we could see this big orange arrow painted on a tree so we walked, crawled and clambered in the general direction pointed to by the arrow, but no trail could be found. Hmm. We could hear a bit of rushing water, so we worked our way up a bit more and found the picturesque spot in the photo to the right.
There was no going farther upstream from here, though, so we backtracked to where we had seen the arrow and looked all around for more orange blazes. We could see some across the boulder field going on up the canyon but there was not an obvious trail to get to them. We backtracked a little farther to a spot where we’d seen some blue ribbons that looked to be another trail. This led down into the dry creek bed in the general direction we wanted to go so we went with it. I’m pretty sure we weren’t really on any trail. We just blundered our way up the creek until we got close to an orange blaze and climbed back onto the trail.
At around .4 mile, we stopped at a pretty boulder overlooking a small pool of water for our lunch, then headed up some wooden steps cut into a steep section of the trail. In about another .1 mile, we got to a place where I really thought we’d lost the trail again. The trail crossed the still-dry creek bed, and looking straight ahead in the direction we’d been walking it just seemed to disappear. That’s because at that point it took a sharp left turn and went straight up, and I do mean straight up, the side of the hill.
Soon after climbing that section, we started hearing the sound of water off to our right. As we climbed, it just got louder until at .7 mile we reached an obvious side trail heading towards the sounds. Of course we took it and were rewarded by the sight of a beautiful little fall tumbling 15-20 feet into a pool.
We spent quite a bit of time here while Chet took lots of pictures and I just soaked up the beauty. The funny thing about this fall, though, is what happens to all that water after it flows out of the pool. It does continue down the hill for a short ways, but then what happens? Remember the trail up had been mostly beside a very definitely dry creek-bed. At some point downstream from the falls, the stream simply disappears underground.
Back on the main trail after enjoying the waterfall, we climbed up another steep section until we reached the rim of the gorge at about .8 mile. From here the trail is very level and easy, except for the occasional downed trees across the trail. You can almost see great views of the gorge from here; trees along the rim hide most of it, but you can get hints of the views to come from time to time. At 1 mile, the trail comes out along the road to the parking and picnic area for Point Rock. It was at this point that we finally realized exactly what trail we were on – the Point Rock Trail. It’s advertised as a 1.2 mile one way trail from the bottom of the gorge to Point Rock and is the only trail that ends up there. You can drive to the overlook as well, but hiking it you’d never get to see those falls! We headed up the hill toward the sign for Jim Lynn Overlook, then wandered out on the boardwalk that leads out onto the rocks for a great view of the Little Sauty and South Sauty Creek gorges. To be honest, we were hoping for a bit more fall color, but the leaves were pretty muted already.
After enjoying the views for awhile, we retraced our steps back to the campground. See our GPS Track here.
It being fall, we didn’t see a lot of wildflowers, but we did see one birdsfoot violet, some cool mushrooms, and of course beautiful fall leaves.
Back at the campground, we discovered that the office was open, so I stopped in and asked where the heck the South Sauty Creek Trail was. The guy at the desk – the one arranging for that gate to close down the campsite – kindly set me straight and we talked about what parts of the park would still be accessible. All in all, it was a great day out, even if we didn’t really know where we were most of the time. Buck’s Pocket is a beautiful area and it’s a shame that the campground won’t be available any more. To close, I’m going to leave you with a couple of paragraphs copied from the Buck’s Pocket State Park web page:
Over the last 5 years, more than $30 million has been transferred from the ADCNR to the general fund to support other state programs. The state parks system alone has been forced to transfer half of the $30 million from its division. We spent months of tirelessly working to educate the public and legislative on the impact of 5th year of transfers would have on our system.
We can’t afford to run our current system with a continued loss of revenue due to this chronic problem of legislative transfers from our parks division to the general fund budget. These closures are going to negatively impact our state – from the citizens in the communities where they exist, to the dedicated staff at these parks who have worked so hard serving the public for many years.
We will continue to work with all interested parties to educate everyone on the importance of securing permanent and protected funding that will ensure that the entire park system remains open for all Alabamians throughout the state.