Hiking the Hellmouth

Like a lot of folks, Ruth and I like to start our day by catching at least a little bit of the local TV news.  When we first moved to the area, many years ago now, one of the local stations had a daily segment from their Shoals Bureau (that’s Muscle Shoals to any readers who aren’t familiar with north Alabama).  The odd thing about the reports from the Shoals was that they were always bad news.  I guess the personnel at the time were real fans of the “if it bleeds, it leads” news adage, and every day it seemed that someone was bleeding in Muscle Shoals (or elsewhere in the quad-city area) and this intrepid reporter knew all about it.  The Huntsville reporters would be doing stories on new businesses coming to town, parades, and cute kids with dogs.  The Shoals bureau countered this with murder, arson, and an ever-changing daily mélange of misery.  In a masterstroke, the reporter once had a story that started out as good news — “The elderly man reported missing last night has been found!” — cue astonished looks from Ruth and Chet at this unexpected bit of fortune from the Shoals — and then… “but he was dead.”

So we have had a little in-joke for years about the Shoals.  Whenever either of us mentions the Shoals, the other sings a little blues riff.  (You know the one: Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”  You might know it as the riff George Thorogood ripped off for “Bad to the Bone.”)  Because the Shoals is a town that knows the blues.  Other cities have their greenways and Arts Districts and funky boutiques.  The Shoals is the land of broken dreams, promises down the drain, the place where a laugh dies on your lips while still in its infancy.

So naturally, when it snowed and the roads cleared enough to get out and hike, I said, “Let’s go to Monte Sano — we’ll still see some snow there.”  But a little bit of quick research yielded the sad news that the Mountain Mist 50K trail run had been postponed to the day of our hike.  That meant we’d be fighting for parking, followed by dodging hundreds of runners who would be on the trails we planned to hike.  No offense is intended to the trail running community.  We knew we would be a nuisance to them, trudging along slowly and snapping photos, so we set our sights elsewhere.

We’ve been enjoying Johnny Molloy’s 50 Hikes in Alabama, and I thought we’d try a hike he described on the TVA Muscle Shoals Reservation.  Given the two inches of snow slowly melting in our back yard, we’d maybe get a few photos of snow in shady spots in the woods, or failing that, some nice river views.  We drove about an hour and fifteen minutes to the reservation, noting along the way that there was precious little snow to be seen as we headed west.  The Muscle Shoals TVA Reservation has quite a network of trails, as shown on this map.  Our planned route was a 2.7 mile loop, starting from the parking lot for the wildflower gardens.  Once you get to Wilson Dam Highway in the Shoals, look for a sign pointing to the nature trails.  You’ll be turning onto Thunder Road, technically in Sheffield, so if you plug that address into your favorite navigational aid, it will take you right to the parking area.  There’s ample paved parking on the left as you turn onto Thunder Road, and more parking is available if you continue past the first lot and bear to the left.  Both lots are close to a building with restrooms.

Our hike started out on the Old First Quarters trail, but we had a little trouble getting started properly.  The key here is to cross Thunder Road from the first parking lot and head for a paved trail.  13oldfirstquarters_trailheadThough trailheads are fairly well marked, we found the nomenclature to be a bit confusing.  There are paved trails, unpaved trails, and a jogging path that often looks like a two-lane road (which it probably was at one time).  After a false start, we figured out that the start of our particular hike was across the road from the parking lot.  We headed toward the Reservation Road trail, which is not a road, is paved, but is not the jogging trail.  See what I mean?  The proper start to the Old First Quarters trail is just to the left of the gates across the Reservation Road trail.

The trail quickly plunges into the woods, running to the left of a ravine.18ofq_trailbed  About .1 mile into the walk, a trail comes in from the right leading to the CCC shelter.  We skipped it for now, knowing we’d get to the CCC shelter soon enough.  Instead, 17ruth_on_ofq_bridgewe crossed the bridge and continued on for another .2 miles, at which point a bridge spanned the ravine to the left and the Rockpile trail continued uphill to the right.  At this point we had our first good view of the Tennessee River, and tucked into a shady spot off the right side of the trail there were just a few icicles clinging to the rocks.

12rockpile_icicles11riverview_at_ravine 10rockpile_steps_up

24river_view_from_pavilionWe took the Rockpile trail to the right, and climbed up the rock stairs to head eastward toward Wilson Dam.  Throughout this hike, we repeatedly climbed or descended stone steps set by the phenomenal men of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  This was a short but steep ascent, but yielded nice views of the river to the left.  21pavilionAt about .5 miles we emerged into a cleared area which was dominated by the stone CCC pavilion building.  This area is the Civilian Conservation Corps Park, which has several picnic areas, a playground, and the CCC pavilion itself.  Though the pavilion was built in 1935, it’s still in great shape (though it has had a recent renovation).

29rockpile_continuationOur hike continued eastward on the Rockpile trail, along a gravel path briefly before re-entering the woods.  At .8 miles the Fisherman’s trail merged in from the right, and the trail followed an old roadbed and began to descend toward the river.  A fenced area appeared on the right, with bricks and chunks of concrete visible along the trail.  33rockpile_structureThe trail is skirting the location of the now-demolished Wilson Steam Plant.  According to Molloy, the steam plant was built in 1918 to provide electricity for two nearby nitrate plants.  When Wilson Dam was completed in 1924, it took over the electrical generation duties, and the steam plant was eventually torn down in 1968.  There’s not much left of it, but there are still some parts of the structure visible from the trail.

The trail descends to the river, passing through an area with telltale cinders from the steam plant.  About 1 mile into the hike, the trail crosses a skimmer wall, a concrete walkway built out into the river to keep debris from getting into the steam plant’s water intakes.  There’s some tricky footing across some rip rap (bulldog-sized irregular rocks), but once you get to the skimmer wall there’s a nice view up and down the river.  There were a couple of guys fishing in the little enclosed pool.  Apparently Wilson Reservoir is known as the smallmouth bass capital of the world, but they didn’t get any action while we were there.  The Rockpile trail continues on all the way to Wilson Dam, but we turned around here to continue our loop.

38cinders35river_at_skimmer_wall36river_at_skimmer_wall

After retracing our steps back up the bluff, past the park and pavilion, we descended again to the end of the ravine (at the Rockpile/Old First Quarters junction) and crossed the bridge to continue the Rockpile trail on the west side of the ravine.  40rockpile_to_westThe trail ascended sharply again up stone steps, arriving at the sandstone foundation of the Overlook, a CCC building from the mid 1930s, now gone. 42overlook_foundationThe Rockpile trail turns away from the river at this point and ends at the Jogging trail, which is a two-lane paved road here.  Before you reach the road, the Southport trail begins off to the right, though it’s not marked at this point.

45southport_foundationThe Southport trail is a narrow path past some of the original quarters of the men who built Wilson Dam.  Again, we noticed old bricks and tiles along the trail, and the foundations of one building were visible off to the left.  46powerline_pylonAt about 1.9 miles into the hike, the trail crossed a power line cut.  It was a little confusing here, as the trail isn’t explicitly marked (blazes are very much an afterthought in this reservation), but we walked across the power line cut and rejoined the obvious trail in the woods on the other side.  After descending for about .1 mile, the Southport trail joins the Jogging trail/road briefly, before crossing the road and again entering the woods at a well-marked junction.

48southport_signThe Southport trail climbs and winds through a shady area, skirting a ravine to the right, with the Gunnery Hill trail intersecting it twice along the way.  Southport was a thriving river town founded in the early 1800s, site of the southern end of the Florence ferry and cotton warehouses.  50southport_footbedThe Civil War, and the subsequent collapse of the cotton economy, doomed Southport.  The trail doesn’t have any historic markers, but we glimpsed signs of development and decay, like this collapsed bridge.  After about .7 miles, the Southport trail emerged into the wildflower gardens behind the restroom building, where it was easy to retrace our route back to the parking lot.  51southport_collapsed_bridgeWe were there at the wrong time of year to enjoy the wildflower gardens, but they look like they would be very nice in the spring.

All in all, it was a nice 2.7 mile loop.  We saw very little snow, even in the shady areas, and after we got back I looked up the snowfall totals for the area.  The official total for the Shoals?  Zip, zilch, nada.  I guess it had something to do with its proximity to a hellmouth.  06snow_on_christmasferrnsBut seriously, this little section of the Shoals was a treat.  It was very busy, with many hikers and joggers enjoying the trails.  The reservation has many trails to pick from so it would be easy to put together hikes of various lengths.  This TVA pocket wilderness is very pretty and convenient.  Though we didn’t get much of a look at the quad cities, clearly they have green spaces, art galleries, arts festivals, museums, and trendy little boutiques.  We saw cute kids with dogs, and new businesses, and I’ve seen evidence that they have Christmas, homecoming, and Veterans’ Day parades.  We’re here to report that we went to the Shoals for a hike — and we had a fine time.

Cathedral Caverns State Park

Last Saturday, Chet and I spent several hours on a work crew with the Land Trust of North Alabama, cutting in a new trail that is to go from Oak Park up the mountain to connect with the Flat Rock trail. It was a lot of fun and I learned a new skill that is my new favorite thing to do – bench cutting. A bench cut is what you do when you have a section of trail that slopes across the footpath so it’s not level side-to-side. What I was doing was technically a partial-bench, where you cut into the slope on one side of the path and pull all the dirt over to fill in the lower side.  It was very satisfying work, though I just might have been a little obsessive about getting it just perfect. Even before I got off the trail my back, shoulders, arms, and even ribs were starting to ache.

thumb_IMG_3135_1024Since it was my turn to write the blog this week, it was my decision where we were going to hike on Sunday. I wasn’t sure just how sore I was going to be in the morning so I was trying to think of a trail that we haven’t done, that was relatively close (I had stuff to do!), and that was a medium length and not terribly difficult. One of Chet’s Christmas presents was the book 50 Hikes in Alabama by Johnny Molloy, so I decided to look in there for ideas. Many of the hikes described for North Alabama we’ve already done, but the Cathedral Caverns Double Loop entry (Hike #16 in the book) caught my eye.  We’ve been to Cathedral Caverns State Park to camp and to tour the cave, but we didn’t do any hiking there. This hike sounded perfect – Cathedral Caverns State Park is less than an hour away and the double loop described in the book is 4.0 miles and moderate to easy – perfect! We woke up Sunday morning to an absolutely gorgeous day for hiking – a little crisp but with a lovely blue sky – and we weren’t even sore! A miracle! Or maybe it was the Advil I took before bed. In any case, we packed up and left about mid morning.

Both Chet and I grew up in East Tennessee so for years and years after we moved to Alabama, we made multiple trips every year back to visit family. Our route took us on US 72 East through Scottsboro and on to South Pittsburg so we know this road well. Cathedral Caverns State Park is off US 72, and we’d been there before, so we didn’t really plot a route to it – we just hopped in the truck and took off, confident we’d have no problems getting there. Well, yeah, about that — we apparently weren’t paying enough attention, and when we first saw a brown sign for Cathedral Caverns, we took the very next road. Turns out, that was Jackson County 5 and we drove on it all the way to New Hope before we realized it wasn’t the road we thought! Overconfidence bit us in the butt. We turned around, got back to US 72 and then took the right turn onto County Road 63, then in a couple of miles took a left onto Cathedral Caverns Road and drove right to the trailhead, which is a gravel lot just past Cave Road. Easy!

The hike itself starts across the road from the gravel lot, where there is an easy to spot post banded with yellow, blue, brown, and green. There are only four  trails in this park and you could argue that they are maybe not terribly imaginatively named – the Blue Trail, the Yellow Trail, the Brown Trail, and the Green Trail. Or you could argue that the naming convention was really a work of genius  because it made marking the trails a snap. All of them are very clearly marked with bands of paint on trees or posts so I don’t think it’s possible to get lost.  Chet and I have snarked a little bit before about Alabama and trail signs but I take every bit of that snark back for this park – they did a great job! So starting at the banded post, we hiked about 200 feet up to the first trail junction. Here, the Blue Trail takes off to the left, but we put that off until later in the hike and forged ahead on the Yellow/Brown trail. This first loop took us along the lower slopes and then up to the crest of Mount Pisgah and back down again. There’s a Mount Pisgah that I’m familiar with in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina that tops out at 5,721 feet above sea level, but this Mount Pisgah only reaches a little more than 1000 feet above sea level – not such a daunting task. Lower down, the trail cuts through forests of hardwoods and cedars, interspersed with dry drainage ravines. This whole area is a karst region, so apparently most of the water just disappears straight underground and into the cave system that created Cathedral Caverns itself. We saw only one spot where there was any running water at all, though I guess it hadn’t been terribly rainy recently.

At .2 miles into the hike, there is another junction where the Green trail takes off to the left. This is where we’d eventually come back to once we finished the first loop, but for now we went straight ahead for another .1 where there was yet another junction. Here, the Brown trail takes off down the hill, while the Yellow Trail continues winding on up and around the eastern slope of Mount Pisgah until it tops out at the northern end at 1.0 mile into the hike. This section had the first of two pretty steep climbs, this one gaining 300 feet in elevation in less than a tenth of a mile. Not horrible, but my quads were tired and I was a little out of breath at the end of it! Otherwise, the trail went through a beautiful open hardwood forest and though screened by trees, you could see all around us the ridges of other mountains. After reaching the northernmost end of the mountain, the trail heads back south, passing a couple of pretty impressive sinks along the way. The first one is fenced off – I think it’s actually not on park property – while the second one is right next to the trail and I suppose you could climb down in it if you really wanted to. I did not (not a caver!) so we continued on to our next landmark – Beech Camp.

Beech Camp is described as a “flat” in the book, but honestly it didn’t look very flat to me! I was expecting a sort of bald or open field, but it’s just a slightly flatter wooded section where the Green and Yellow trails come together. It’s named for a large beech tree “in the flat” but I couldn’t pick out which tree it was. There is a fire ring, a couple of stump stools, and an open sided shelter there though, and it made a nice lunch spot for us. It was a bit windy and between the wind and just cooling off because I wasn’t moving I got a bit chilly so we didn’t stop for long before we headed on down the trail – the Green trail now since the Yellow ends at Beech Camp.

There’s one more steep stretch soon after Beech Camp, where the trail turns sharply left and heads straight up to the crest of the mountain, gaining 200 feet in about a third of a mile. The trail isn’t on the top for very long, though, before you start heading down again. This might have been my favorite part of this first loop. The trail leads along a rocky bluff with mountain ridges on the horizon, but glimpses of green fields down below as well. It’s a lovely spot. There’s one more steepish climb at 2.1 miles in, then at 2.3 miles it intersects the Green trail coming down from Beech Camp and it’s pretty much just straight down from there. We came to that Green Trail/Yellow & Brown Trail junction we’d passed originally, turned right and retraced our steps back almost all the way back to the starting point. The Blue trail starts right there at the very beginning, and that was the beginning of our second loop.

24green_trail_descending_pisgah

The Blue trail starts out as an old roadbed, so it is wide and easy to walk on. It also was surrounded by cedar trees which made the trailbed soft underfoot as well. Along the way, somebody (Boy Scouts maybe?) had put up really pretty identifying signs for some of the trees. I really liked the way they had the name of the tree plus an example of the leaf or needles carved into the sign. After about .4 miles along the Blue trail (3.0 miles overall) we were supposed to cross Cavern Cove Road. The ditch we had to jump across looked a little scary at first, but turned out not to be too bad. We then turned right and walked a short ways up the road before spotting the Blue trail sign on the other side and heading back into the woods. This stretch took us through a cedar thicket and along a little drainage or unnamed creek for a short way before we crossed on a concrete bridge and came out into a field.

This is the only point in the hike where it wasn’t obvious where we should go. The book said we were supposed to cross the field and Cathedral Caverns Road, then enter the woods on the other side and cross over the primary stream of the park. From the field, though, we couldn’t see an obvious blue marked post or any sign about where exactly we were supposed to “enter the woods.” We guessed that we needed to head a bit to the right, and for once we were right! Turns out, there’s probably a good reason for why we couldn’t see a Blue trail marker. We took this hike only three weeks after the massive rain and flooding this area had around Christmas. The nearby Paint Rock River reached almost 3 feet over flood stage in the days right after the rains, which dumped 8 or 9 inches of rain on some of the surrounding areas. Cathedral Caverns itself had what was described as “a river of floodwater” flowing into it. As we crossed the rickety little footbridge, we saw the remains of a nice new bridge sitting along the bank downstream and a couple of nice tall blue-marked posts jumbled on the bank as well. I’m guessing before the floods that submerged most of this part of the trail, those posts were visible from the field across the way. I’m not sure what to think of the current bridge – it looks pretty old and felt a little rickety but it got us across.

From here it was only about half a mile to where we had parked our truck. The trail leads along the creek and through the woods, with the ground sloping up steeply on one side. We could see that water had flowed right down the path where we were walking – I’m sure every step would have been underwater just weeks ago. The trail comes out into a clearing and then from there it’s pretty much just walk across the road and then across a field to get to the parking lot. I didn’t see official Blue markers, but we really didn’t need them. Back at the truck, we made sure to drive up to the welcome center and buy a Diet Dr. Pepper. We love our state parks, and knew that our visit today would get them nothing since there’s no entrance fee for this park, unless you tour the cave. I looked for a donations box, but didn’t see one; at least they’ll get a bit of  profit from our soda purchase.

The book claims this hike is 4.0 miles, but our GPS logged it as 3.8 miles. It’s really pretty easy walking. I rated it moderate only because of those two or three steep parts on the Yellow and Green trails. If you’re looking for a nice walk a little off the beaten path, check out Cathedral Caverns State Park – you’ll not regret it.

 

They’ll Need a Crane: No Problem, I Know Where You Can Find Some

Holiday travel and other commitments had caused us to take some time away from the outdoors, so we were eager to get back to some adventures in the New Year. A bitter cold snap dampened our enthusiasm, but we had been looking forward to catching part of the Festival of the Cranes at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. When we saw there was a birding walk scheduled on the afternoon of January 10, we jumped at the opportunity to get outside and to learn a bit more about birds in general and cranes in particular.

This was the fourth annual Festival of the Cranes, and though we have made some recent hikes on the refuge, this was our first visit while the cranes were in residence. Given that neither of us is knowledgeable about birds, we were thinking that a guided hike would be the best option. And wow, did we get some guides — Dr. George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, and the Refuge Manager Dwight Cooley.

05birdersWe joined a ground of around 25 heavily garbed folks (it was around 35 degrees outside), and started from the headquarters building of the refuge headquarters in Decatur.  We weren’t even out the door before birders in the group were enthusiastically identifying the birds flitting around the feeder — “look, a titmouse!”  This being our first birding walk, it was our first close experience with folks who suffer in the spring from “warbler’s neck,” as Dwight put it.  It’s a humbling experience, as the veteran birdwatchers were snapping out the names of birds like auctioneers, identifying them by their songs, silhouettes, movements, and appearance, while Ruth and I peered through binoculars and camera respectively, both asking, “Where?”

About fifty yards from the building, we stopped while Dwight demonstrated “pishing,” a sound that resembles that of a warning call from various small birds.  This sound can attract songbirds, who are presumably drawn to see what the fuss is about.  These must be the avian equivalents of people in horror movies who hear a scary sound in the basement and decide they’d better check it out straight away, preferably without turning on any lights, instead of doing something sensible like heading straight to the nearest police station or Marine barracks.  Pishing doesn’t work with all birds — apparently it only gets the ones who chirp the equivalent of “hey y’all, watch this” to their buddies.

I don’t know if it was the pishing or not, but a small stand of trees yielded robins, bluebirds, a red bellied woodpecker, and other birds whose names I don’t remember.  I swear Dr. Archibald identified a bird as it flew silently behind him.  OK, it was a crow, but I saw it.  I think he identified it by the sound of the air going over its wings.  03atkenson_trail_fieldWe worked our way across the parking lot to the Atkenson Trail, a half-mile stroll through wooded area, with openings onto large open fields and at the other end, a bald cypress swamp.  On the southeast end of the trail, the group identified more robins and bluebirds, a cedar waxwing, and a personal favorite, a pair of yellow bellied sapsuckers.  Those sapsuckers are pretty smart — they peck holes in trees so the sap comes out, then then feed on the insects that come to feed on the sap.

02_unknown_birdI tried to get some photos of the birds, which makes me appreciate all the more the fine work of wildlife photographers.  I’m going to need longer lenses and more practice to get decent photos.  To judge from my photos, we saw blotchy unfocused fatbird, silhouette headed pointybeak, and blurry backlit splotchet.

We had come to see the stars of the Festival of the Cranes, and instantly upon opening the car doors we knew they were there.  In fact, there were thousands of them — over 9,000 as estimated by Refuge staff.  Of course, the Refuge is a great place to hear birdsong, and we heard what we thought was quite a bit of it on our previous visits.  But when the cranes are in town, it’s a terrific racket!  01cranes_in_flightSandhill cranes were constantly flying over in small groups, calling to each other.  The other birds seemed to kick it up a notch to be heard over them.  Just hearing them put a smile on my face!

At the edge of an open field, Dr. Archibald told us about crane behavior.  Cranes generally roost in the water overnight, standing on one leg (I imagine they switch them out from time to time).  Then in the morning when it warms up a bit, they leave the roost as a group and fly to a staging area, where they land and kind of hang out as a group.  They dance and perform various displays, and then fly to their feeding ground, where they fan out and stay most of the day.  Toward sunset, they all fly back to the staging area, then head from there to the roost.  Dr. Archibald says they go to different feeding grounds every day, and all follow the first two birds to leave the staging area.  Apparently during the morning “meeting” at the staging ground, they work out who found the best new feeding area.  Cranes have several vocalizations, ranging from “here I am” to “where is everybody,” “warning,” and a sound similar to purring that seems to reflect contentment.  He didn’t mention a “hey, y’all, watch this” vocalization so I don’t think pishing will work to attract cranes.

04swampThe end of the Atkenson Trail passes over a boardwalk through the cypress swamp, which is apparently a great place to see prothonotary warblers in late March-early April.  I don’t think there is a Festival of the Prothonotary Warblers, though.  The cost of printing the signs would be prohibitive.

06birds_observation_buildingWe saw hundreds of sandhill cranes, but to our knowledge didn’t see a whooping crane.  The whoopers are the megastars of the crane world.  There are only around 600-700 of them left in the wild, and the Wheeler typically has 15-25 of them  that winter there.  After finishing the hike proper, Ruth and I walked to the observation building, where we just missed seeing one take off.  07ducksWe could see cranes feeding off in the distance, and closer to us, lots of ducks.  It’s quite a spectacle to see 50-100 of them spring into flight, wheel around, and land again in the water.  One cool feature of the observation building:  it has microphones which pick up the bird sounds from outside and pipe them into the building, where you can observe the birds in climate-controlled comfort through large windows.

We walked back along the trail to get photos of cranes flying past on their way to the staging area.  Large areas of the refuge are marked as off limits when the cranes are in town, but there was an opening onto a large field that seemed to be under the flyway to the staging area.  11cranes_in_flightWe were there at sunset.  These cranes are typically white or gray, so the setting sun is reflected in the light on their feathers.  We did see one solitary larger bird flying in the same direction as the sandhill cranes, so maybe we did see a whooper after all.

You may recall in an earlier hike we came across Brad, the grumpy blue heron.  As we were driving out, Ruth spotted him standing sulkily on a shoreline near Highway 67, so we pulled over to have a quick chat.  It went something like this.

Chet: Hey, Brad, remember us?

Brad: Yeah. Come back for another neck spearing?

Ruth: No, we’re here for the Festival of the Cranes. They’re pretty impressive!

Brad: Ugh, the cranes. Those loudmouths fly in for a few weeks and everybody loses their minds! I’m here all year. When is the Great Blue Heron Festival, huh?

Chet: You think you deserve a festival?

Brad: Hey, “Great” is my first name. Literally. I can’t get a festival for that?

Ruth: We’ll put in a word for you, OK?

Brad: OK then. So, what did you have for lunch today?

Chet: Actually, it was a vegetarian lunch. And we’re having fish for dinner.

Brad: Did you say fish? Scoot over! I’m catching nothing but a cold here. Set a place for the Great Blue Heron!

(The back door opens and the heron jumps into the back seat. Unseen by the driver and passengers, the king and queen of the whooping cranes, a prothonotary warbler, and a blurry backlit splotchet fly overhead in formation.)

With our walk out to observation area, we estimate that we hiked 1.5 miles on easy, level trails with natural surfaces or on boardwalks.  Not a lot of distance for our first hike of 2016, but we enjoyed seeing something different.  Though the Festival is over, the cranes will still be around for a while, so head over to the Wheeler to check them out!

12cranes_in_flight

2015 Retrospective

Like thousands of others in the Tennessee Valley, I earn my keep in the field of engineering – software engineering in my case. One of the occupational hazards of such a career is a tendency to synthesize everything into numbers and spreadsheets and as 2015 rolled into 2016 I just couldn’t help myself – I had to do an analysis. I’m just that nerdy.

For starters, I made a new menu option I imaginatively named “Trails”  that will take you to a table containing  every trail we’ve blogged about, the published length of the trail, a link to the blog post for it, a general area, and the distance from the Madison County Courthouse (I just picked a central spot that folks would recognize). I hope it’s useful. I aim to add new trails to it as we go on.

While I was compiling this list, I also jotted down a few other facts:

  • In 2015, Chet and I took 37 hikes, covering 168.6 miles
  • 29 of these we blogged about, 8 we didn’t
  • We hiked near and far – our closest trail was 3.4 miles away, our farthest 269 miles from home
  • We hiked in 3 states: Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia
  • Our longest hike was 12 miles in the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (Bird City)
  • Our shortest hike was 1.1 miles to get us in to Charit Creek Lodge (Jewel in the Crown: Charit Creek Lodge)
  • We only took 2 kayak trips, and only blogged about 1 of them
  • We took 1 overnight backpacking trip (Curry Mountain Backpacking Trip)
  • We stayed overnight (indoors) in 3 places: Charit Creek, Hike Inn, and Cheaha State Park
  • We saw 35 waterfalls, including 10 we didn’t even blog about

Not a bad year! Hopefully we’ll have just as much fun in 2016. Happy Hiking Everybody!