The summer after I turned 16, my parents and I drove up to Indiana to borrow an RV from my aunt and uncle, and then started off on a 4200 mile grand tour through Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. At least, I think that’s the route we took. I wasn’t too big on details at the time. I remember the vast open skies of South Dakota and Wyoming, endless signs for Wall Drug Store, a glimpse of the Tetons, alien-looking hot springs at Yellowstone, a visit with little-known cousins in Idaho, getting the worst sunburn I could remember at some teen-aged hangout on a reservoir near Denver, the flatness of the Kansas plains – that sort of thing. Well, that and the novelty of traveling in an RV (my first time ever), and the terror and excitement of driving said RV just weeks after actually getting my official driver’s license. I still can’t believe my parents let me drive it. In the Rockies, even! Though I suppose that they might have been thinking even I couldn’t speed with that thing.
This past weekend I was in search of an adventure, grand or otherwise, right here in the Tennessee Valley. Chet was going to be teaching a referee class or two for AYSO part of the weekend and wasn’t sure he’d be able to fit in a hike, so I assumed I was on my own and convinced a couple of friends to hike with me. Between the likelihood of rain, a tree ID class for me, and tickets to Riverdance for one of my friends, I was faced with finding something interesting but close enough and short enough that we could get the drive and the hike done in four hours on a Sunday morning. Inspiration struck when I remembered the Keel Mountain Preserve near Gurley. This pretty little preserve is a Nature Conservancy property, but through a preservation partnership our own Land Trust of North Alabama maintains the trail there. It’s only about 30 minutes away and the one trail is just a two mile round trip. As an added bonus, our plan to hike Sunday morning made it possible for Chet to join us as well!
We met up in the small parking lot on McMullen Road around 9:00. We were the only cars there. At first the trail edges along a small creek with the interesting name of Buck Ditch. I tried and tried to find out whether there was a cool story behind that name but I failed. I also tried to figure out what the source of this creek was, but as far as I can tell it is simply a drainage channel off the top of Keel Mountain which eventually ends up in the Flint River. Anyway, Buck Ditch had only a little water in it towards the bottom, then was bone dry further upstream.
After .1 mile, the trail peels away from the Ditch and starts the first of two steeper sections as the trail makes the climb upwards on the flanks of Keel Mountain. It’s a short climb, though, and soon the trail levels out again and follows along just below a bluff line.
After .37 miles, it was up steeply again as the trail zigged and zagged through jumbled rocks, over a cool rock shelf, and past a tree that might be a marker tree.
After a final steeper section, we arrived at the main attraction on this trail, Lost Sink Falls. This waterfall isn’t the highest or the broadest. It doesn’t have the most impressive volume of water rushing over it, but for my money it wins hands down for setting. As you are walking up the trail you can hear the rush of the water, but there really isn’t any clue about where the sound could be coming from. As you finish the last of the climb, though, you can see water rushing out of the rocks up the hill, then plunging immediately down into a deep sinkhole where it disappears from view once again. It’s an impressive sight.
We all took in the falls for a bit and just enjoyed the beauty of this spot, but we were soon out of time and retraced our path back to the parking lot. Ours were still the only cars there.
I’ve hiked this trail several times now, and I can tell you that every time I’ve been here, there is a respectable amount of water dropping over the falls and down into the sinkhole. It’s the Alabama version of Old Faithful, in that respect!