March 2016 – Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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.

TrafficJam

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.

Campsite

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.

March 2016 – Demopolis, Alabama

Although the distance from Isaac Creek to Foscue Creek Campground was only about 100 miles, it was nearly all on county roads through western Alabama. The roads were in good condition, but wind and twist through the hills, making for an average speed of only about 45 mph. Consequently, it took us nearly 2.5 hours to make the trip. The first thing we noticed that instead of having a 30 minute drive to any grocery store from Isaac Creek to Monroeville, Foscue Creek Campground was just outside of Demopolis. In fact, there was a Super Walmart just 2 miles away. However, it was far enough outside of Demopolis to be in the country, right down to a train going by nearly every day. Also in contrast, Foscue Creek has the appearance of a city park, rather then the rustic environment of Isaac Creek with campsites in the woods or along the river. The campsites at Foscue circle around a small creek providing access to the Tombigbee River for the fishermen. In fact, nearly all of the campsites were on the water along with posts to tie up your fishing boat at each site. The grounds were mowed and maintained like it was a city park and the sites were all very spacious with concrete pads and gravel areas with picnic tables and fire rings. The fire rings were especially nice because they provided free firewood in stacks scattered throughout the campground. We certainly took advantage of this with a fire a couple of nights during the week. Especially since Kal loves to “play” with a small fire, it is surprising that we have been camping for over a year and this was our first fire!! We certainly enjoyed spending time with our small fire and intend to do more of this in the future. This was also the friendliest campground we have ever stayed in. We got to know most of the volunteers working in the campground, who would just walk into your site or stop and chat on the way to the restroom. If we were staying longer than a week, I would have not be surprised if they “volunteered” my knowledge of forestry in some fashion before we left.

 

After spending Tuesday, which was stormy most of the day, doing laundry and cleaning the RV, we were ready to get outside in the beautiful warm weather, which was unusual for Alabama in early March. So on Wednesday we went in search of Old Cahawba, which is a State Archeological site outside of Selma. Cahawba was actually the first Alabama state capital, laid out in 1818 in the heart of the Black Belt of the new state at the confluence of the Cahawba and Alabama Rivers, both critical for the transportation of goods. By this point in time the rich dark soils of the Black Belt were being converted from tall grass prairies to cotton fields. This area would become the epicenter of cotton production in the south and by the 1850s Cahawba was one of the richest towns in the south with many antebellum plantation homes. Although plans were made to place the new state capital on top of the largest mound left by the 16th century Mississippian culture town, it was never built since the state capital was moved to Tuscaloosa in 1826. However, the “temporary” courthouse was built nearby and remained the county seat until after the Civil War when the county seat was moved to nearby Selma. During its heydays up until the Civil War, Cahawba was a prosperous city of nearly 3000, over 60% of which were slaves. Near the end of the Civil War, one of the cotton warehouses was converted to be a Confederate prison for around 200 Union soldiers, of which you can still see the outline today. Today, Cahawba is not even a ghost town, as there remains only 3 structures and a few ruins of the original town. Destroyed by fires over the years and dismantled for building materials, there is very little left. You can still see many of the street intersections and depressions where houses and shops were located, there is not much left to see. They have around 5 miles of dirt roads and very nice self guided tours of what is left but the best way to visit them is by bicycle. Surprisingly they have free bikes that can be borrowed for this purpose and we certainly took them up on this. Fortunately we visited the site on Wednesday, even though the Visitor Center is only open from Thursday through Sunday and they were kind enough to open the Visitor Center for us, provide us with information, and loan us a couple of bikes. Consequently, we had the site nearly to ourselves and we really enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately it had been over 20 years since either of us had ridden a bike, but the roads were basically level (no hills to climb) and well maintained dirt roads. Even then, after a couple of hours of riding the bikes we had both had enough. Besides there was not a lot to see, however, their brochures and interpretive signs were well done and provided a good historical context. Along with a picnic lunch that we carried in our basket and beautiful weather we had an enjoyable day.   In my opinion, the best thing we saw was at the end of the tour when we stopped to take a look at the “Face Well”. This is one of supposedly 30 free flowing artesian wells scattered throughout the town and has a surprising human face on the end of the pipe coming out of the ground.

 

Thursday was spent catching up on my blog and doing my best to keep it current, so by Friday we were ready for some hiking. The campground has a very nice system of trails, so we located the Nature Trail that winds it way along the banks of a creek leading from the picnic area. While the trail itself was very well maintained and wide enough for a truck, it was less than a mile loop and most of the time the returned trail was less 100 feet away. It was a good stretch of the legs and Kal realized she had not been on a hike in 3 months.

We drove around to the dam and lock area on Saturday and took another hike on the Bottomland Hardwood Trail system. Once again the hike was fairly level throughout as the hiking trail wound its way through the forest. By taking in a few of the outside loops along the trail we were able to get a hike a little over 2 miles long.   Once again the trail was very maintained (as only an engineer would create), wide enough for a small car, and lined with pea gravel. There were even short boardwalks around the wetter areas of the trail, which was appreciated as there was still standing water from the rain a couple of days earlier.

On Sunday we explored their Lower Pond system of trails which were right next to the Bottomland Hardwood trails and even connected with them at one point. Once again we were able to get in a two mile hike by taking advantage of their outside loops from the trail. Since the parking lot was right at the spillway for the dam and lock we ate lunch following the hike in some nice picnic tables along the river. We had the pleasure of watching a couple of white pelicans that were enjoying the turbulence of the spillway. I don’t know if it is common to see white pelicans this far from the coast, but we enjoyed watching them while we ate lunch.

February 2016 – Monroeville, Alabama

After spending 3 months in one location, it felt strange to once again hook up the RV to the truck and get ready to move again.  We had to carefully think about all the things that needed to be done that were simply routine a few months ago.  Once we got the RV ready to roll, I went to raise the rear landing pads, only to have the switch go out again.  This is the third switch to go bad, leaving only one original!!  They are obviously not made to last very long.  Thankfully we had ordered two replacements previously, so it was only a matter of about 10 minutes to change out the switch.  When Kal got on the web to reorder some more switches to be delivered to Birmingham, where we will be in a couple of weeks, she was unable to order them from the manufacturer’s webpage and had to call them to order it over the phone.  I hope this does not mean they have quit making them as I would not know how to install different switches!!  In any case, we were able to order two more switches that should be in Birmingham when we get there.  The drive to our new location, which was 2.5 hours away, was along familiar roads as it was the same trip we had made once a week to the casino in Atmore.  In fact, we left the interstate at the same exit to drive further north along the Alabama River.  Our new location was Isaac Creek Campground, which is a COE campground and with Kal’s Senior Pass, we were able to stay for only $12 a night!!  We had a small shower on the way into the campground which is 14 miles off of any county highway and over 30 minutes from Monroeville, the closest town.  It is located at a lock and dam on the Alabama River.  We had a very nice pull-through site along what I assume was Isaac Creek instead of one of the sites along the banks of the Alabama River.  Later in the evening we did get some heavy rain with more promised for Tuesday.

Campsite1

Since severe weather was predicted for Tuesday, we decided to visit the casino at Atmore one final time.  We knew the way since we had just come that direction the day before.  Whereas, we were just over an hour south of the casino for the past three months, we were now just over an hour to the north.  We had a fairly good day at the casino, losing a total of just over $20 with both of us winning a little from time to time.  It was certainly a lot better then the previous visit where we both lost our $40 in just over an hour.  As predicted the weather did turn nasty around sunset, instead of in the afternoon as we had hoped, so we could ride out the weather at the casino.  In fact, the county went under a tornado warning around 6:00 in the evening, even though the radar was indicating the tornado was going to pass to our north.  We went quickly to the restrooms anyway and to our surprise so did everyone else in the campground.  We eventually had over a dozen people at the restroom along with three dogs.  We had our weather radio and along with the weather apps on their smart phones, we were able to track the threat surprisingly well.  It did pass to our north and in fact, we got only a slight rain and a little wind that night.  However, locations to the north must have received heavy rain since we found out on Wednesday that the Alabama River was under a flood warning with projections to raise to 48 feet, which was significantly above flood stage.  Although we lost power in the campground from about 8 until noon on Wednesday for some reason (it certainly was not due to the weather), we were told by the volunteers at the campground that we would be above the flood on our site.  Some of the other campers were moved to other sites, but we should be fine.

However, the first thing Thursday morning the campground volunteers came around again and told us we would need to move to another site that was along the river.  Not because of the flood per se, but because they were cutting the power where it was expected to flood and we were the last campsite on that circuit.  So, while we should not be getting wet we would have to live without power if we stayed.  Therefore, we hooked up the RV and moved it around to the front of the campgrounds along the river.  This site was a back-in site which I had not done for 3 months, so it took me a couple of tries, but we were able to get it into the site.  I was a little concerned as the site was lower then any of the other sites along the river, so if the river rose more than expected, then we could be getting wet.

Campsite2

Fortunately, the river did not rise over the next two days to the predicted level of 48 feet (it only rose to just over 46 feet), we were high and dry with feet to spare.  It was nice being able to watch the river race by carrying all the debris from the flood, although watching its slow rise until Sunday evening was a little like watching paint dry.  After all this “excitement” and since we were so far from anything else worth doing, we just stayed in the campground for the next few days and enjoyed the sunny weather.  By the weekend the temperatures had risen back into the 70s, so it wasn’t too bad, although I am ready to start getting out and doing some hiking at least.