Alabama. My 46th state. When I was in high school and college, I refused to join my family in trips to the South. I disapproved of racial discrimination. I was repelled by the segregationist confrontations on the steps of schoolhouse. I was, with all the misguided certainty of youth, blind to complexity. So deep-South States were among the last I visited. I did get to Mississippi as a side trip from New Orleans, but this week I spent time in Alabama for the first time.
We drove from Atlanta airport into the northeastern corner of a ‘Bama quite different than your usual image of Southern coastline, swamps and plantations. Few people not from the South venture into northern Alabama. Friends on Facebook urged me to head for the NW corner, but we chose alluring NE because we were on the way to Chattanooga.
This is the mountainous part of the state, rich with canyons and outdoor activity, like the Little River National Preserve, largest canyon system in the Eastern United States.
It also seems to be a retreat for the wealthy with gorgeous houses huddling in deep woods.
We stayed with our ‘unchained’ theme, and spent the night in a historic cabin at DeSoto State Park. Built in the 30s by young men working for the government CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), the “Rustic Cabins” are anything but rustic. All wood, with rocking chairs on front and back porches, they have been more recently modernized with such things as king sized beds, A/C and WiFi.
Our cabin, number 7, called ‘rustic’, cost the same as the plain Jane motel units near the lodge–under $90. The main lodge was also a CCC project. You can get meals there, but the atmosphere outscored the food.
The CCC was key to development of DeSoto Park, and the park has a small museum dedicated to them. The explorer Hernando DeSoto actually wandered all the way up from Florida into Alabama and neighboring States. A small contingent of his party camped at DeSoto falls, and today campers and explorers enjoy the same scenery as the Spanish adventurers.
After spending Sunday night at the park, we reluctantly moved on and discovered more scenic delights along the way. Following instructions for the Lookout Mountain Byway, we stopped and walked around the funky town of Mentone.
We had been driving along the brow, a new term to us, but a valuable label for real estate as gorgeous houses perched on the brow with views that don’t quit til they’ve crossed several states. In Mentone we saw that view at Brow State Park.
Crossing back into Georgia, we almost missed the next scenic stop. The Lookout Byway explanation says “as you turn on Rt 89, you won’t want to miss Cloudland Canyon.” After much backing and forthing, we finally got there. And it was more than worth the struggle.
(Note: get food and gas up before starting on this byway. Restaurants or grocery stores are almost non existent.)
Cloudland is a mecca for hikers, but is also a great place for a picnic. I had a delicious pulled pork sandwich piled high with coleslaw from a rare market/eatery just a mile or so before the entrance to the park.
We walked a short way along the canyon edge with that fabulous brow view as a bonus.
I happily report that the highlands of Alabama can surprise and delight. It took looking past the most popular southern seashore, plantations, and the Civil Rights Trail to see this unexpected corner of Alabama and it’s adjoining corner of Georgia. I just followed my own advice and followed the Appalachian Highways Scenic Byway and the Lookout Mountain Parkway, and checked out state parks--DeSoto in Alabama and Canyonlands in Georgia.