I love introducing people to the outdoors, especially children!!! Sure I may have been the most awful babysitter in the world when I told my 3 year old niece that we would race to see who could finish their pizza first and, competitive little devil that she is, she started choking in the attempts to beat me. She was one of those that wouldn’t eat, so what else could I do but play on her weaknesses? Um, there was also that one time when I taught my niece and nephew how to do math via poker (yes, betting with chips was involved, but how else would you know the answer to 2+2 or when to ante up?). Their mother received a call from the grade school the following week saying that my nephew was teaching the other kids how to gamble. Moving on…
I was really jazzed when a friend of mine said she would meet me, with her 4 year old and 6 year old, at Monte Sano State Park. Monte Sano State Park is a publicly owned recreation area and mountaintop retreat encompassing 2,140 acres (870 ha) on the eastern portion of the top and slopes of Monte Sano Mountain on the east side of Huntsville, Alabama. The state park has 1930s-era, Civilian Conservation Corps–built rustic cottages, hiking trails and picnic areas with scenic overlooks, and modern campsites. There is an honor system per person day fee, but annual park passes are also available.
Make sure you have exact change as there isn’t always someone at the entrance shack. There are envelopes there to deposit your fee and I was very moved by the fact that someone anonymously left $5 for someone to use. I love seeing people pay it forward!!! Did I take the $5? No, I left it for the next person, of course!
As I waited for my companions to get there, I looked enviously on as the mountain bikers rode by on their rigs. Mountain biking here is a bit more tame than it is on the west coast, but you’re still on that saddle all the same. It was a beautiful, slightly overcast day, with a caressing breeze. Just slight enough to play with the loose hair around your face making you feel that you were really glad to get out of bed that day and be outside.
Shortly after arriving, Bell and her “monsters” (as she affectionately calls them), were ready to hit the 1.5 mile North Plateau hike with me! Being 4 and 6, and considering my history with small children, I wasn’t sure how this hike was going to turn out. Let me tell you now, I severely misjudged them!We crossed a little ways to reach the TH, and I instructed Camilla (the 6 year old) that we were looking for the blue blazes. As soon as I stated that, they were off!!! Monte Sano has well marked trails and this wasn’t a good thing, not really. As Bell and I talked, the kids were heading towards the blue blazes like Japan’s maglev bullet train. I say this wasn’t really a good thing because the blazes showed them exactly the route to take. If the trail hadn’t been so well marked, I believe it could have served as a speed retardant. Outbursts of “I don’t wanna take any more pictures!” and “Come on, you guys are slow!” abounded. This was okay because the kids were loving the hike! They were loving being outside and running and playing. Exclamations of “I don’t wanna go home!” and “I wanna keep hiking!” expanded my heart with pride so much I thought it would burst like a soap bubble. Dylan (the 4 year old) was IN LOVE with all the mountain bikes that we encountered. He waved at each and every rider with the enthusiasm of a child at a parade. A mile and half of running through dead leaves, answering silly, but innocent questions, climbing trees and man made stone structures, pretending bears lived in hollowed out trees, doing yoga poses like the best of them, falling on our bums down slippery slopes, and laughing the whole while…wait, where was I going with this? At this point, I really don’t care.
With promises to do it again soon, they left and I was alone to solo hike Monte Sano. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, just that I wanted to commit a minimum of five miles today. I’m going to Peru in June 2017 and from now until then, I would like to make sure I stay in some sort of moderate shape to tackle those peaks. I started on the South Plateau from the office area and figured I would just do that loop at 3.5 miles. I had already hiked 1.5 miles with the kids, so I was okay with this. As I ventured on, the South Plateau turned left out of the woods and became a road…boring. However, looking at the map, there was a scenic overlook on this trail’s elbow.
Scenic overlook reached, I looked at the map again to see where else I could go because I was done with walking along a road. I remembered something about large natural stone structures in the area and sure enough there was a trail called Stone Cuts. My planned route to here would be Mountain Mist to Sinks to Stone Cuts, then following Stone Cuts back to Sinks to connect with North Plateau and back to the car. This route, beginning from the Camp office, ultimately took me about six miles.
Stone Cuts trail is a must see! It was similar to exploring a rundown castle where a giant used to live! Discovering nature’s skylights through the cracks in the makeshift cave ceilings, imagining a small campfire and the moonlight illuminating a small circle on the floor to be my personal lunar nightlight were I able to overnight. The stars would tell me stories of how all of Alabama used to be underwater and I would awaken the next day to hunt for the best fossils. At the least, this is what I would have shared with my mini me.
The plan is to return here again, next time to bring the little “monsters” to Stone Cuts Trail via a shorter route. Even though I enjoy my solo time, there’s nothing like watching the little ones cajoling without one ounce of worry in the world.
Oh, wait, there was one momentous concern. It was whether or not the Camp office sold ice cream. 😉
Much love and Aloha,
your always clueless wanderer