The trip north from Demopolis was again mostly on state highways except for about 15 miles on the interstate around Tuscaloosa, all totaled about 2.5 hours. We got to I-59 with no problem, but as soon as we got on the Interstate we ran into construction at and beyond the next exit. It took nearly half an hour of creeping along before we were forced back off the interstate at the next exit. We had to parallel the interstate for 10 miles with the heavy traffic of all the cars and trucks from the interstate to the next exit, where we mistakenly decided to get back on the interstate. We should have just stayed on US 11 to Tuscaloosa, because we no sooner got back on the Interstate that we were caught again in a traffic jam. This time the problem was a semi-truck that had caught on fire ahead of us and traffic was stopped for over an hour waiting for them to put out the fire and bring in a tow truck to clear the highway. Once the traffic finally got moving again, our GPS had us get off the Interstate at the next exit on McFarllen Avenue, which is the main road into the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Can you say “heavy city traffic”? We eventually got north of Tuscaloosa and left the state highway for over 20 more mile of county roads. The first 10 miles was winding through a series of huge strip mines, mostly coal and iron. While interesting, they sure made huge scars on the landscape. After turning onto a series of county roads that were each less traveled and in poorer condition, I was getting worried that we were going to find ourselves in a dead end with no way to turn around with the RV behind us. We did finally saw a sign for Burchfield Park, but there was no indication there was a campground there. Once we finally came down to the lock and dam I was really getting concerned as there was not going to be anyway to turn around if this was not the right location. Thankfully, it was as we came up on the entrance station to the campground just downriver from the massive lock. The trip took over 5 hours with the delays, but we finally made it.
We had a pull-through site on one of the two loops that made up the campground. One loop was along the river and the other was up a small cove along a small creek. Our site was a little way up the cove and we found one of the most beautiful campsites we have ever stayed in!! The campground followed the creek up the cove, with picturesque stone bridges crisscrossing the creek three different times. We had to pull all the way through the campground to the loop around to get going in the right direction for our pull-through so we got to see all the sites. Each site was right along the creek with lots of room between them. My mental picture of the perfect site is alongside a small mountain stream where you can watch the water tumbling over the rocks right outside your RV and this was close to perfect. Even the bathroom, which was a stone structure you had to access by crossing the creek on a footbridge with a nice stone terrace and flower bed alongside the creek. As perfect as the site was, though, there was a downside. Being so far from civilization, it was over 45 minutes to the closest grocery store, and up a narrow cove, there was a definite downside. We had no phone coverage, the first time in over a year and a half with no phones, which also meant we had no internet connection. In addition, we were restricted to a single ABC channel, which we don’t watch very much. It was certainly going to be a quiet week.
With wet weather predicted for later in the week, we spent the first couple of days taking in the sites in the area. On Tuesday we went back through Tuscaloosa to Moundville, Alabama which is the location of the world renowned Moundville. As the name implies this is a very well preserved Mississippian Culture village on the banks of the Black Warrior River. It is the second largest village from this period, the largest being in Illinois and consists of 28-30 mounds (depending upon how you define a mound) around a central plaza. The mounds are certainly in better condition then any other we have seen and are continued to be maintained by the University of Alabama. The tallest is 58 feet high and over 2 acres in size, known as Mound B. This mound was likely to home of the chief with Mound A out in the plaza used for ceremonial purposes. The other mounds were generally in pairs around the plaza, with a larger mound for the house of the clan chief and a smaller mound used for ceremonies or making of religious items. We spent the day exploring the site and taking their short nature walk. I was impressed with their museum that was built by the CCC during the Depression and is still in great condition. Along with a $5 million rennovation of the exhibits a few years ago, it is well worth the time and effort. They have a number of very good exhibits including full-size wax figures in full regalia (all reproductions) and a large number of interesting pots and other artifacts found on the site. You also don’t want to miss the small area where they have attempted to reproduce the daily life of the Indians. While the “huts” are probably not accurate, the wax figures inside the hut demonstrating cooking and other activities were very interesting.
On Wednesday we continued our exploration of the area by traveling east to McCall, Alabama and Tannehill Ironworks State Park. This is a very nice state park with a large picnic area and RV campgrounds. They have brought in a number of old homes scattered through the site with five of them in a row that are used for arts and crafts during in the summer. They claim this is the most visited state park with a number of special events through from spring through fall. It is also the location of the Iron and Steel Museum of Alabama which chronicles they iron industry in the state. They have a number of very interesting exhibits from around the country from throughout the history of the industry. I especially liked the history of the industry towns from a beginning of using slave and convict labor to organized towns with planned social activities, schools, and hospitals to the rise of Unions and the end of these towns. While this was interesting, I was hoping to find out more about the furnaces at Tannehill, of which there was very little in the museum. A short walk along the creek brings you to the furnaces which began with a bloomery furnace in 1830. A blast furnace was added just before the Civil War and during the war they built two more blast furnaces. They had everything you need within easy reach at this location, including high grade brown iron ore, limestone, and either forests for the production of charcoal and latter abundant coal. In 1865 it all came to an end when Union cavalry soldiers destroyed the furnaces at the end of the Civil War. The furnaces never recovered and continued to deteriorate. A lot of effort was put into the site back in the 1970s to repair the furnaces and today they are excellent examples of iron furnaces during the Civil War. Their main product was pig iron that would be shipped to other locations to make final products, of which they produced over 22 tons a day when the furnaces were in blast. After looking over the furnaces we ate lunch in their nice picnic area and then headed up onto the ridge to their Pioneer Farm and Grist Mill on another creek. The Grist Mill has also been reconstructed and operates during the summer. Unfortunately in March, everything was closed so there was not much to see, including the Pioneer Farm, which was just a couple of barns and forge.
The rest of the week we spent in the campground playing video games, working on the blog (which I would have to wait until the next week to upload since we did not have internet), laundry, and cleaning. We really enjoyed the creek, especially when the flow more than doubled from the rains later in the week. Even without the internet or TV coverage, we are going to miss this location and hope to find another in the future. On Sunday, we visited Kal’s parents, brother, nephew, and their families in Birmingham. While their we picked up a couple of Christmas presents that were mistakenly sent to Birmingham (one from my sister and one even from Kal) and our 1099 so we can finally do our taxes. For those of you that aware of the situation, Kal’s mother is actually doing much better, although she still gets confused at times and can not remember people’s names. It is difficult to see her in this condition, but the love from her family, especially her husband, is heart-warming.