We found ourselves with a long weekend and so decided that we would spend a few days exploring around parts of Alabama. In the first few months of living in Tennessee we spent a weekend down in Huntsville and were so delighted by our trip. Since then we have been wanting to go back and see some other parts of the state.
Our first stop was in the top eastern corner of the state, close to Tennessee’s Chattanooga, at the Russel Cave National Monument. I’ll be honest, we were not expecting much from this site. We thought it would be a good stopping point to get out and walk around a little before continuing on down to the coast. But we were so pleasantly surprised by it that we ended up staying there for a couple of hours.
This became a national monument in 1961 when all the land was donated by the National Geographic Society. Since then it has been under the preservation of the national park service. From the visitor center we followed the boardwalk to the cave. This cave was originally a series of underground caverns and tunnels. But with the collapse of the roof and continued rock falls after that it brought this area above sea level and created a natural shelter.
Archeologists have studied this cave and found remains of weapons and utensils used by people in the Paleo-Indian Period. They determined that this cave had been inhabited by people 9,000 years ago. It was no wonder that this cave proved to be such a perfect shelter because it was right by a water source, there area is full of wildlife, and the cave itself offered protection from the elements.
We discovered the strangest information guide that required you to constantly turn the crank and then select a button to hear the information of the area presented by a speaker.
Next to the information guide was a overlook of a large sink hole. Sinkholes are really common around here and are the reason of the rocky terrain. It was so interesting to see the pool of water at the bottom and imagine a rock wall crumbling down from the rest of the hillside.
There was a small sign pointing towards a nature trail so we started walking up the path. This nature trail quickly became the greatest part of this park. A rough path winded up through the trees. The path was covered in a light covered moss and in the late afternoon light it gave off a yellow brick road effect. Even the door like bridges that crossed here and there were covered in the moss and just added to the feeling of stepping into a mystical world.
Where the boardwalk is an easy walk, this nature trail was more moderate with sometimes steep parts but mostly a lot of switch backs through the trees. Thankfully we were here in the winter and being too cold for snakes as this area is home to many poisonous reptiles that are regularly seen on the trail. With that in mind, I don’t think we would go back in warmer weather when the snakes are out.
The trail takes a massive loop up around the mountain and back down to the visitor center. We found that the walk created quite a debate in our family as Tessa felt that she really had stepped onto the Yellow Brick Road where Brad insisted that it felt more like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Either way we certainly got caught up in the fanciful atmosphere of the park.
As we finished up our hike we noticed an interesting rock outside the visitor center. This rock was covered in a checkerboard of squares and divets. At first I thought that someone had carved the rock to look like that, but in fact it is a natural geological occurrence. It is called ‘septarian concretion’ and happens when stress fractures in soft rock (such as limestone or sandstone) fill up with minerals harder than the surrounding rock. As the softer rock erodes away a cast pattern is left. This beautiful example of geology in action just solidified the mystical feeling that this park had for us.
We left much later from the park than we expected, but we were so excited by our walk through the mystical woods that we didn’t care.
If you want to check out some other great national monuments, then check out these:
Russel’s Cave was a surprising and wonderful find in Alabama. It seems the more we see in this state, the more surprises we find. Looking forward to rest of our weekend trip and what else we discover here.