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  1. #1

    Default Canyons and Caverns

    This road trip was a last minute foray, as we wanted a fall foliage trip, and also desired to complete the last part of our earlier trip out west that got rained out back in July. The plan had been to visit some sites in Alabama on the way home. Since it is only one state over from us - albeit all the way across Georgia - it seemed like a nice weekend jaunt.

    The first day was devoted to two parks in one canyon, DeSoto State Park and Little River Canyon National Preserve, both on the Little River in northeastern Alabama. It took six hours of driving to get to DeSoto State Park. The only part we were interested in was the waterfall at the north end, but the drive up to it was through a tree tunnel with lots of cabins and private summer homes along the road. Unfortunately, many of the homes had real estate signs in front of them, a sign of our poor economic times.

    The park is located atop Lookout Mountain, which starts up by Chattanooga and runs for about ninety miles south into Georgia and Alabama, almost down to Birmingham. The road reminded us of the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive up in North Carolina and Virginia. The water falls were well worth the drive, as the final cascade falls 92 feet into a bowl shaped canyon.

    Fall foliage was at its peak in DeSoto State Park

    Driving south from DeSoto Falls, we entered the Little River Canyon from Al-35, took the twisting road all the way to the southern end, about 12 miles, and then made our stops on the way back to the entrance. It makes it much easier and safer when all that turnouts and re-entries are right turns. There were about a dozen overlooks from the rim drive, all very scenic with the fall colors near their peak. The canyon reminded me of another rim drive with very similar scenery - Letchworth State park in Western New York.

    Little River Falls in fall colors

    There is hiking, boating and camping available at both DeSoto and Little River Canyon, but we aren't into that lifestyle anymore, so we stayed on the rim in both parks.

    Little River Canyon is a National Preserve. It was just coming into
    peak fall foliage

    After we left the parks and descended the west side of Lookout Mountain, we passed through the town of Fort Payne, which has its own historic landmarks and scenery. Then it was on to our hotel for the night in Scottsboro, Alabama

    Fort Payne RR Station, now abandoned, but still looking pretty nice
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 11-01-2015 at 08:35 AM. Reason: changed some of the photos to the larger size

  2. #2

    Default Canyons and Caverns Day 2 - Part 1

    Our second day started with a trip to Scottsboro, Alabama's main attraction, the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Yes, this is where all of that unclaimed luggage from the airlines eventually winds up. And since I spent about 30 years with American Airlines, most of it in baggage services, I just had to see where all of my 'failure to restore' bags wound up.

    The pictures I took don't even begin to describe the UBC, mainly because I didn't have a whole day to spend there. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this place, picture in your mind anything and everything that is smaller than a suitcase. Now imagine all that 'stuff' a thousand times over crammed into a warehouse with over 40,000 square feet of space. Then multiply it by at least two and you might be close to imagining how much material is for sale at bargain prices in the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

    The sunglasses on these racks are indicative of the huge number of other items
    salvaged from unclaimed baggage. It is the ultimate bargain basement.

    I didn't purchase anything, but I did make a promise to myself to return to Scottsboro for the express purpose of going through the entire place. I only live about 300 miles away. I estimate it will take me two days, and maybe I'll buy a slightly used Apple laptop computer for $300-400, or maybe a SLR Nikon or Canon camera with telephoto lens for about $300. They've got them there by the hundreds! If you have an hour or so, you might want to read this article about UBC, or even just look at the pictures it contains.

    All those unclaimed cameras are for sale

    We tore ourselves away from the UBC, because we had two more adventures to enjoy, and the first, Cathedral Caverns, had a tour starting at 10AM and was located 30 miles away. We arrived there at 9:30 and got our tickets ($17.00 apiece) for the tour. Just before we started down into the cavern, a busload of British teens arrived and joined us, so we have about 50 people along.

    The cavern tour lasted for two hours and covered about a mile-and-a-half, but it was all on concrete stairs and walkways. If the grade hadn't been steep in many places, it would have been a very comfortable walk. As it was, we were pretty well ready for the exit when we got back to the entrance.

    The Frozen Waterfall is 85 feet long - Maybe a cave record!

    A small sample of the hundreds of stalactites, stalagmites and
    Pillars in Cathedral Caverns

    Judy and I have been in well over twenty caves, including Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns, but we have never seen so much formation and so well formed. Our guide told us that there are three world records in the cave, though further research has disproved that. It does have a huge entrance (128 feet wide by 45 feet high) and a huge flowstone formation called the Frozen Waterfall (85 feet long), plus a very large column/pillar (44.5 feet tall and 240 feet in circumference), but these are not world records. No matter, the caverns are truly wonderful and well worth the price of admission.

    If you are not a spelunker (cave explorer), the stalactites hang tight from the ceiling of the cave, while stalagmites might eventually become a pillar that joins with the stalactite above it. That is how to tell the difference. What you see in the picture above are mostly
    stalagmites with a pillar on the left side.

    We love to tour caverns and this one was a neat one, but you do get claustrophobic knowing that you're several hundred feet underground, so seeing the light at the cave entrance again is always comforting, too.

    Aha! Upper earth again - we had a choice of stairs to the left or a steep ramp
    on the right side

    We left Cathedral Caverns after noon, so our first task was finding a place for lunch, not an easy one, since the nearest sit-down restaurants are in Huntsville, some 60 miles away. (To be continued...)
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Harry Kline; 11-01-2015 at 11:18 AM.

  3. #3

    Default Canyons and Caverns Day 2 - Part 2

    We spent an hour over a meal in Huntsville and then pressed onward to our hotel for the night in (are you ready for this?) Tuscumbia, where we checked in and prepared for our next journey to a secluded park called Dismals Canyon. It was 30 miles from the hotel, and we were going to enter the canyon twice; once in the daytime and then again after dark.

    The entrance to Dismals Canyon has pretty Rainbow Falls, but it
    gives no clue to what is ahead

    One of many wooden foot bridges in the canyon, this one built on a fallen tree

    Steep walls, large boulders and many obstacles in the canyon

    You may ask why we would go into a canyon in the pitch dark, but that is the secret of Dismals Canyon. It has a one-of-a-kind insect that inhabits only this canyon. Its name is the dismalite; hence the name of the canyon. And its strange claim to fame is that it glows in the dark, mainly to attract its prey. It does a good job of it, too, because there are no mosquitoes or flies and such anywhere in the vicinity during the day. The nighttime tour is to see the little critters 'light up' the canyon.

    We took our daytime hike through the canyon in a little over an hour. Due to the huge boulders, steep walls and wandering creek, it was extremely hazardous and the path was not well marked. Add to that the several wooden bridges, including a swinging one, and it made for an exciting and challenging hike. We were both considering forfeiting our deposit for the evening tour based on those conditions being all the more dangerous in the dark. But we persevered and waited two hours for the 7:30 tour to start.

    The tour was limited to 24 guests and we were supposed to have brought some type of light, though I failed to read that on the website, so we were without illumination until a kind girl, whose boyfriend had a light, lent us hers. We walked into the canyon down the same 75 steps and the leaf-covered, rock-strewn path we had navigated a few hours earlier. Eventually we came to the part of the canyon where the dismalites are most numerous, and then we all turned off our lights and waited for our eyes to adjust to the pitch back darkness.

    Voila! After about a minute, it was possible to see a faint glow the size of a pinprick on the face of the nearby rock wall. With a little maneuvering, a few more tiny pinpoints of light were visible. however, to say that the dismalites 'lit up the canyon' would be a gross exaggeration. I believe I saw maybe half a dozen of them, and any idea I had about a picture of them was completely laughable. I've seen stars that were a hundred times brighter than those little glowworms. To give them their due, our guide explained that the dismalites burrow into the moss when the weather turns colder, so they aren't as easy to see. Even so, I was hugely disappointed with the show.

    We trudged back up the pathway and the 75 steps to the office/gift shop/snack bar, and headed for the car to make the long drive back to the hotel. It wasn't a complete waste, as the canyon is rather pretty and unique, but the daytime hike was about ten times more interesting than that nighttime tour to see the canyon light up; not a "must-see" place.

    This 'Halloween Tree' was an interesting one in the gift shop at Dismals Canyon

    After a good night's sleep, we headed for home, a 6-hour drive lengthened to 7 by the traffic through Atlanta. All in all, it was a fun weekend and I'm glad we finally got to see those sights. Oh yes, and I added another item to my bucket list, a return trip to UBC.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default That's a lot of caves!


    Nice work figuring out the larger photo formats -- and a very interesting report!


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