Although sooner in the year then I had originally planned, we were once again in Alabama and the weather made us pay for the timing. Temperatures were still in the upper 80s and 90s and northeastern Alabama was under a severe drought. They had not seen significant rain since June and the land was certainly suffering. The trip south from Tennessee was relatively easy, although it was mostly along county and state highways. Still, without any significant hills to climb it went very smoothly and it was certainly nice not to have the check engine light lit in the truck. The truck was certainly running smoother as well. Our destination for the week was Parnell Creek RV Park along US 72 between Scottsboro and Huntsville. Unfortunately, it was RIGHT alongside US-72 which meant we had to listen to all the traffic on the highway all week. The trip was less than 2 hours, so we pulled into the park before 1:00. The office was closed and we assumed they were out to lunch, only to find out after a 30 minute wait that the couple that owned the RV park also were managing a convenience store/gas station just up the highway. This meant the office was only open in the afternoon, but this did not pose any problem for us. We got checked in and pulled into our pull-through site without a problem, although we had to use the boards I had made at my sister’s in order to level the RV. The boards worked GREAT and are much better then the plastic “bricks” we had used in the past. While adequate, we had already broken two of the bricks with the weight of the RV. These boards was a much better solution.
We also had the pleasure of my sister joining us for most of the week while her school was on their fall break. We did find a Mexican restaurant in Scottsboro for dinner as none of us wanted to cook. As we had already checked out most of the area over the past couple of years, we really did not have much we wanted to do during the week. In addition, to Kal still having problems with her allergies (and probably a cold) that kept her from getting a full night sleep, we were content with spending most of the week in the campground. Tuesday was laundry day, so while Kal was sitting in their nice laundry room and lounge area, Suzy and I cleaned the RV. With her help, it took only about an hour to completely clean the RV, which meant we were able to assist Kal with the folding of the laundry. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the RV.
Wednesday was another fine day, which meant hot and dry. Since my sister had never been to Little River Canyon, we decided to take in the scenic drive along the rim of the canyon. Kal and I had been to the Little River Canyon National Preserve two years ago in the spring. At the beginning of the week we were there, they had a 5 inch rain that flooded some of Birmingham and Little River was running at near peak levels. The Little River falls was spectacular and all of the falls along the canyon were running full. This made for some rare shots of falls at unexpected places along the drive and a lot of views of the river. This trip was certainly different and provided a good contrast with our previous experience. With the severe drought in the area, Little River was DRY. There was NO water flowing over the falls and of course none flowing down the canyon. It was a remarkable contrast. At the Visitor Center they have pictures of the extreme conditions and we have been lucky enough to see it at both extremes. We had a good day and the short hikes to and around the overlooks was all either Kal or I wanted to do.
We spent Thursday in the campgrounds enjoying the company of my sister and just relaxing and talking. This has been our first opportunity in a lot of years to just sit and talk with my sister without children and grandchildren around. We also watched some television and played games on our devices. Kal also made some terrific meals of steak and pot-roast that we all really enjoyed.
Suzy left to head back home on Friday, so after saying goodbye early in the morning we tried to decide what to do with ourselves. Once again neither of us had a good night sleep, so by default we ended up just staying in the campgrounds. We both felt better on Saturday, but with decided to give it another day and just stayed in the campground watching college football. I am really missing our hikes, but with the hot weather and our nightly allergy attacks, we are just taking it easy. However, it has now been nearly a month without any hikes of note.
It was our last chance, so we forced ourselves to get on Sunday to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge south of Huntsville. The refuge is located along the Tennessee River which had been dammed along nearly its entire length by the TVA for flood control and power generation. Back in 1938, President Roosevelt saw an opportunity to overlay a natural refuge over the area surrounding the Wheeler reservoir and established the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the first of its kind. As expected it has been widely successful covering 35,000 acres on both sides of the river. The refuge is a mix of bottomland hardwood and upland pine forests along with many riparian habitats where they can control the water levels. The also lease out farmland for row crops to local farmers with the understanding they leave a portion of the crop for wildlife forage. Consequently the refuge is a critical resource both for native wildlife and birds, but also migratory birds such as the Sandhill Crane from the Great Lakes area. On the property they have a very nice Visitor’s Center with a few exhibits. After spending some time swapping stories of our travels with the volunteers and their experiences volunteering for many wildlife refuges around the US, we spent some time in the very nice observation building. This building overlooks a low water pond where the visitors can observe the wildlife looking through the glass windows. Not only does that mean you can observe the wildlife in a climate controlled (ie air conditioned) environment, you also do not interfere with the wildlife which greatly improves the chances of actually seeing something. Unfortunately, we were too early in the fall for the migratory birds and the weather had been so dry that the pond had very little water in it. Consequently, there was not much to see although we did use their viewers to check it out. From there we took in three of their short trails, the first through a bald cypress swamp that had been planted long enough ago that it is now considered to be a mature stand. This was a short (0.3 mile) loop that was very easy as every wildlife refuge we have ever visited has very level hiking trails, as you would expect in wetlands.
From there we drove over to the Flint Creek Trail, which is another heavily used trail in the refuge although its 1.5 mile distance was more of a challenge. It sure was great to be out once again hiking in the woods. Once again the trail was very easy and well maintained all along the creek and since most of it was a loop, we enjoyed the hike. We then pulled out our chairs from the truck, as there were no picnic tables at the trailhead, and had a nice lunch looking over the reservoir. On the trip back through Huntsville, we stopped at one final hike, which was a 1 mile boardwalk, called Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk, through a black tupelo swamp. Unfortunately, this swamp was also dry, but you could easily see that it usually has a foot or so of water in it. The boardwalk made for an easy hike, although by this point Kal had had enough and found a bench to sit down while I finished the boardwalk. It was only another thousand yards or so to the end of the boardwalk at the stream, which still had some water in it. In total we had done around 4 miles of walking, which was probably overdoing it a bit, but it sure felt good.