I have to be honest. There are some weekends when hiking is just not really something I want to invest a lot of time in. Don’t get me wrong: most of the time, I’m planning the next hike not long after I’ve gotten off the trail from the current one. However, a combination of a busy Saturday already planned out and a dreary rainy weather forecast on Sunday meant that it would have been pretty easy for me to just skip a hike this weekend. Except…well, I hadn’t been to the trails on Blevin’s Gap in a while, and I was going to be in Jones Valley on Saturday afternoon anyway – maybe I could squeeze in a short hike after all. I checked the weather forecast on my “Weather Pup” app on my phone (it’s adorable – the weather forecast plus pictures of puppies! what’s not to love?) and what do you know – the lowest chance of rain on Saturday was right when I’d be free! That decided it – Blevin’s Gap it would be.
Based on anecdotal evidence, the Land Trust’s Blevin’s Gap trailhead off Cecil Ashburn Drive is one of the most popular trailheads in the area. Ok, so by “anecdotal evidence” I just mean that any time I happen to drive that way, any time of day, any day of the week, there are cars in the parking lot. On beautiful weekend days, the lot can be full! On this Saturday, with grey clouds overhead, it wasn’t packed, but mine was far from the only car there.
Now normally when I hike, I’ll plan things in advance. This was maybe not so much of a spur-of-the-moment trip as a didn’t-make-up-my-mind-until-the-last-minute trip so I’d only planned as far as the trailhead. There are six trails to pick from here and four across Cecil Ashburn at a trailhead in the parking lot of the Southeast Church of the Nazarene. Given that it was already 3:00 and Weather Pup only gave us a couple of hours before the rain anyway, I wanted something we could accomplish in that time period. After looking over the trail map at the kiosk, I picked an out-and-back on the Certain Trail, with a side trip down the West Bluff Trail for a change of pace on the way back. That looked like it would be a little under 4 miles – easily doable in a couple of hours – so off we went.
All the trails on this side of Cecil Ashburn require at least a little bit of a walk on the Certain Trail, which dives into the woods just past the kiosk. The footbed here is rocky, which I usually hate, but it’s large rock slabs more than ankle-twisting smaller rocks so I was happy. The first quarter mile of the trail goes gently uphill and winds around the northeast edge of Green Mountain. Hiking in June, we were a bit past the spring wildflowers so I didn’t hold out much hope for meeting our “spot 10 wildflowers and we get ice cream” goal, and sure enough on this part of the trail we saw lots of trees, some virginia creeper and poison ivy, one lone spiderwort just past its full bloom, but not a whole lot else.
Somewhere in the second quarter mile, the trail crosses out of Land Trust property and onto Forever Wild property. The Blevin’s Gap Preserve looks to be a cooperative venture between the Land Trust and Forever Wild. When I looked at the Madison Count Tax assessor’s handy emap site, I discovered that some parcels are Land Trust and some are owned by “Alabama Trust Fund for the State of ***” with a mailing address at the State Lands Division. I’m assuming that means Forever Wild since 10% of the income and dividend interest from the Alabama Trust Fund is by law paid into the Forever Wild Land Trust Fund. Well, that and we passed a Forever Wild sign attached to a tree along the trail.
The trail gets steeper as it climbs up to the ridge along the top. In this stretch Chet spotted a very large jack-in-the-pulpit in bloom on a large boulder right next to the trail. I’ve only seen jack-in-the-pulpit a few times so while it might not qualify as rare to a botanist, it’s rare to me so I was delighted and not just because of a renewed hope for ice cream. A little further up the slope I saw a mayapple – not rare at all in these parts, but I don’t usually spot one with the actual apple. Even further up the slope, the trail has been routed to go underneath/through a pretty little rock house. Half a mile in to the hike, the trail tops out on a ridge and levels off for the rest of the way.
This section of the trail was level and had open woods on either side, full of mayapples. We also started spotting a few other wildflowers: wild bergamot, whorled coreopsis, spotted wintergreen, daisy fleabane, heartleaf skullcap — maybe there was hope yet for ice cream!
About three quarters of a mile along the ridge the trail comes to a powerline cut. This is the best place for views to the east into old Big Cove. We also spotted blackberries growing here – we were up to 8 in our ice cream quest! After crossing the open powerline cut, the trail heads back into the woods again.
The trail only goes about half a mile farther before coming to a gravel road and a couple of TV towers. From here, we could have taken the Varnadoe Trail back towards the parking lot via a route lower down the western slope. We chose instead to stick to the original plan and just retrace our steps on the Certain Trail back as far as the West Bluff Trail.Along the way we spotted trumpet honeysuckle, Brazilian verbena, white sweet clover, and at another beautiful overlook into Big Cove, goats rue.
The West Bluff Trail is a little misnamed in my opinion. It sounds like it would cling to a bluff and have fantastic views out to the west. It mostly winds through the trees and stretches of St. John’s-wort bushes, with the best view coming when it crosses the powerline cut.
After the powerline cut, the trail just winds back through the trees until it meets up again with the Certain Trail. It looked like it would pour on us any minute, but we made it back to the car mostly dry having hiked 3.75 miles in 2 hours. Perfect timing! And even better, we ended up spotting 15 wildflowers. Ice cream with sprinkles for us!