If you were to ask me to describe Alabama in one word, I would promptly answer: FLAT.
I grew up in Alaska, Kodiak Island, to be specific. I was surrounded with mountains throwing “the bird” to the sky, places I could bomb hills riding my banana seat bike so fast my feet couldn’t keep up, and roads so steep, us kids would pretend we were taking off on a rocket ship as we ascended.
Okay, so I’m partial. (I know all of Alabama isn’t like this, but it was this on this day.) My thoughts of how FLAT Alabama is, currently, crowded my thoughts as I drove the 90 minutes from Huntsville to Phil Campbell in Franklin County to check out Dismals Canyons. I came across a FB post stating on how it was the one place in Alabama that looks like something from Middle Earth. Intriguing, no? Let’s find out…
Dismals Canyon is a sandstone gorge near Phil Campbell in Franklin County, Alabama. It was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1975. Dismals Canyon is one of only a few places where insects called dismalites (Orfelia fultoni, a distant relative of Arachnocampa) can be found. The larval forms of these flies emit a bright blue-green light to attract food and mates. Night tours are conducted to view the dismalites.
Chickasaw Indians were held captive in the canyon for two weeks before embarking on a forced journey along the Trail of Tears. Several outlaws have allegedly hidden in the canyon, including Jesse James and Aaron Burr. Darting in and out of the natural stone structures, I could see how hiding out here was optimum. There were so many nooks and crannies, it was like an English muffin! Only bigger and nowhere as tasty, just sayin’.
Huge piece of advice! Get there EARLY or go on a weekday. It opens at 0900 and there is an entrance fee. It took me a little over an hour to complete the approximate 1.5 mile loop, mostly because I couldn’t stop taking pictures. By the time I returned around 1045, there were so many people at the base of Rainbow Falls and coming down the steps, it was hard to get a picture of the natural scenery without somebody inadvertently photobombing it.
This place was so much FUN! Granted that at the time I went, Alabama had been experiencing a severe drought, which resulted in lackluster waterfalls. It was also November and past the peak fall leaves season, so it didn’t look like a shire at all. I would like to return back here during late spring when I suspect it would be more green and lush and I could pretend Aragorn (the Viggo Mortensen version), could just magically appear. Yeahhhhh… 😉
My favorite area of this place was the Witches Cavern. It’s a beautiful labyrinth with soaring rock walls covered with fern and moss and a stream running through it. Apparently, this is where the largest colony of dismalites reside and night tours are conducted in this area. How awesome would it be to camp here?! Exploring, I shimmied and scooted through tight openings sometimes thinking, in hindsight, I should have taken my backpack off. Fear not, however! I was lucky, so no stucky!
This place does feel a bit commercialized, but it is privately owned. Make sure to bring water and check the rules and regulations because they have quite the list. For example, you have to pay a dollar to picnic. (crickets) On a really great note, dogs are allowed here! Sidebar: I made a new friend. Side sidebar: I really wanted to take him home with me.
Now, off to Stephen’s Gap Callahan Cave Preserve!
Stephen’s Gap cave is located near Woodville. Pay very close attention to this next sentence: You can use Google Maps to get there, but when it says to turn right on CR-30, turn left instead. I drove around twice before I decided to turn left on the third try. You’ll see signs on your right directing you to the parking lot. This spectacular 143-foot vertical pit cavern has two entrances, one of which allows visitors to shimmy down a side opening that’s large enough to illuminate the interior without the need to carry additional lighting, allowing even novice explorers to experience a cave without the usual investment in specialized gear and training. You will have to hike a mile to get to the cave, which is fairly easy until you arrive at a dried creek bed. There were some definite ankle twisters because of the loose and slippery rocks.
NOTE: Application for a permit is required in order to visit the cave. Due to the dangers of traversing inside, and outside, they won’t grant a permit unless it is a minimum of 2 people attending or you are only accessing the campgrounds.
I applied for a campground permit, but was solo trekking it. I felt bad about lying, so I added a little blurb in there about how I was by myself, I was in town for just a short time, I only really wanted to hike, blah, blah, blah. After a few back and forth emails, one of SCCI’s chairmans created a “loophole” for me where I would be there at the same time a group was. Uh, huh…(high five!)
Arriving at the cave, I encountered some locals as well as a spelunking school from Nashville. After some H2O goodness, I strapped on my headlamp and began my descent. Now, if you’re easily offended by explicit outbursts or are reading this to a child/children, you may want to forego the next sentence. Ready?
HOLY CRAP!!! THIS SHIT IS PHENOMENALLY INSANE IN SO MANY FUCKING WAYS!!!!!!!!!!
At this point, I don’t feel I need to expound any more info, but let the pictures do the talking: