This week’s blog is going to be a bit of a different one. I’m not going to tell you exactly where we were, much less publish the GPS track that you can pull up and look at. I know, I know – this is a “hiking blog” – isn’t that sort of the point of such a thing? Well sure, usually, but we live in an area with such an embarrassment of natural riches that not even the efforts of the Land Trust of North Alabama, Monte Sano State Park, and the many county and city parks can possibly build trails to all the beautiful spots there are here.
They sure do try, though. By my very unofficial back-of-the-envelope count, there are more than 100 miles of trails just in the Huntsville area. With so many trails to pick from, why would you ever go off trail in the first place? Good question. I tend to be a rule-follower and “Stay on Marked Trails Please” is a sign you see at most trail heads. From my time trail building for the Land Trust of North Alabama, I’ve learned a lot about the work that goes in to laying out the path for a trail – work that happens long before anyone picks up a lopper, McLeod, Pulaski or chainsaw. Careful thought goes into routing the footbed in a way that minimizes the chance for erosion. Those short cuts straight down a mountainside that folks sometimes make aren’t just quick routes for impatient humans, they are also quick routes for water during storms. Water that’s rushing down a mountainside isn’t soaking into the soil and water that isn’t soaking into the soil isn’t there after the rain is over for the plants that need it. Also, having a defined path that everybody follows means keeping all those human footsteps landing on roughly the same spots. This minimizes the area that is affected by the soil compaction that happens when we heavy humans tromp on the ground. Compacted soil isn’t soil that can soak up water which again means thirsty plants. There’s also the little matter of safety. Keeping to a defined and maintained trail is going to mean less chance of getting yourself hurt. Not a guarantee, mind you – my worst hiking injury was on a beautiful level footpath – but scrambling over rocks and pushing through underbrush is just asking for trouble.
All of this is to say that we don’t make the decision to go off trail lightly, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. We’d heard about a waterfall (and you know how we love our waterfalls) and we really wanted to find it. All I’ll say about its location is that it is close enough that we could squeeze in a trip there in between rain storms on a Sunday afternoon. It’s also not a total secret. I’m sure lots of folks know about this place, and our pictures will probably give it away to those already in the know. There’s a difference between telling people a place exists and drawing a map right to it, though, so that’s the approach I’m going to take.
As we set out on the trail it was not quite raining, but it was spitting at us a little bit. The forecast had been for 80% chance of rain and we were sure we’d be soaked through. Soon though we were under the trees and didn’t feel another drop of rain for most of the hike. It did, however, make for a sometimes pretty muddy trail.
This first part of the hike was covering old ground for us, but it didn’t take long to get to the point where we thought we were supposed to turn away from the trail and head straight up a rocky creek bed. There was no trail along the creek bank. We pretty much just rock-hopped and scrambled up the creek. It was a little steep, the rocks were sometimes slippery, and we had to clamber over a few downed trees but we made it.
Our goal was a bluff which had a bit of water dripping over the edge. This wasn’t a roaring waterfall like those you can find in the Sipsey Wilderness or South Cumberland State Park, but it’s a beautiful setting – quiet except for the water dripping, lush and green all around contrasting with the browns and reds of the rocks. I loved the dimpled rocks under the drip line of the fall. I wonder how many years of dripping water it took to make those?
Such a lovely spot, isn’t it? And just think – things like this are all around us just waiting to be discovered, as long as they’re not paved over first. Good thing we have folks like the Land Trust to preserve them for us!