Editor’s Note: Conservation Alabama member Jen Howard and her daughter Grace Howard-Weinberg (age 9) are avid campers. Based in Birmingham, they’ve spent time as a family in many of Alabama’s beautiful places. We appreciate them sharing one of their recent excursions with us!
[Grace]: My mom, my little sister, and I went on an adventure: an exciting camping trip at Dismals Canyon in November. We would like to tell you about some of the things we saw, learned, and experienced.
[Jen]: Dismals Canyon Conservatory is located on privately owned land in Northwest Alabama, near Phil Campbell. The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated the Conservatory as a National Natural Landmark, through a program that recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.
[Grace]: What is special about Dismals Canyon is the canyon and its history, and the glow worms (or, Dismalites) that can be seen at night on the canyon walls. Dismals Canyon is the only place in the world where such high numbers of these glow worms can be seen at one time. A biologist took us on a nighttime tour of the canyon, and we saw lots of Dismalites. It was like stars on the face of the rocks. We went all the way down into the canyon with flashlights. They were all over the faces of the rocks, buried in the moss, and on the floor. I will say that we have been there before, and you can see more Dismalites in the late spring and summer than in November, but it was still super cool.
[Jen]: The canyon is just as interesting in the daytime. It contains a 1.5 mile trail, following a stream. Day hikers can see beautiful moss-covered cliff faces, waterfalls, areas where Native Americans once lived, and other unusual natural features. A trail map, providing some background information about points of interest along the way, is available at the Country Store.
[Grace]: My favorite part was the hike we went on through the canyon. The Kitchen site was the area that Native Americans used for cooking and tribal rituals. The Phantom Falls was super cool because you hear a waterfall behind you but it’s not there. (The rock picks up an echo from an actual waterfall downstream.) We ate lunch at the Secret Falls. It is a beautiful waterfall that you get to by stepping on rocks across the stream. Close to that is the Dance Hall. My sister and I liked to dance on it. (It was a really tall, big, flat rock that you could dance on, and the Native Americans used it for secret rituals.)
[Jen]: Our family chose to stay at the Sleeping Water campsite, which is one of eight primitive campsites in the Conservatory. A bathhouse with restroom facilities is available for campers. Campsites do not have running water, so it is necessary to bring potable water or filter water from a nearby stream. Although the parking area is located a short hike from each campsite, the upside is that the campsites are extremely private. We took advantage of the concierge service, which involves assistance in carrying gear to and from the campsite upon arrival and departure, and assistance in setting up. That was a great feature for a mom traveling with two small children! Another helpful resource was the Country Store near the entrance to the canyon, where firewood and other supplies are available, and the people are extremely nice.
[Grace]: We got the best campsite ever! My favorite part about the campsite was that it had a waterfall and a mini cave. There was a cool little nature path from the road leading to our campsite. The path had a really cool bridge that went over a creek that my sister and I had fun playing on.
One of the reasons I always love camping trips is the s’mores. I absolutely adore s’mores. We tried to make an oven out of a box and aluminum foil but it caught on fire. Just a little experiment though.
I learned a lot and had tons of fun on this camping trip and if you decide to go to Dismals Canyon you will, too. Their website is http://www.dismalscanyon.com.
Editor’s Note: Charles Seifried is a photographer who has captured images of some of the most beautiful places in the world. A resident of Decatur, Charlie has a keen eye for the places and creatures that make Alabama such a special place to live. He has generously shared this blog post and the accompanying photos with our readers. Charlie also provided the stunning photos for Conservation Alabama’s website. We are grateful for Charlie’s support! For more of his work, visit his website.
One of my favorite places to go year round is a place called Limestone Bay. It is part of the big backwaters of the Tennessee River located just south of Mooresville. There are several ways to get to it. One way is go to Mooresville off of I-565 and go west to the second bridge. You can drop down into the creek and head south. Another is to go further down and make a left turn to go to Arrowhead Landing, which is several miles down a dirt road. I would suggest for those that have not been there to take a GPS and make some way points because it really can get confusing, especially coming back late evening as the sun is heading down.
The bay is shallow and gets even shallower as they lower the water after summer pool height. A kayak is an excellent way to go around in these shallow waters. Occasionally you might startle a large carp underneath your boat. It is a good wake-up as they can make a big splash. The bay used to have trees throughout and when they flooded that area they left a considerable amount of stumps. During the summer months you won’t see them, but as TVA draws down the river in the fall and winter they are visible.
If you look at the map you will see that several creeks come down from the north that flow into the bay. One is Piney Creek which is a very interesting little spot – nice water and you can wind around through some beautiful trees. The other one is Limestone Creek. If you follow the creek you used to be able to wind your way through some tight spots and land at a rather broad, low waterfall that was split into two different sections. Years ago the highway department came back to the area to dig out gravel for the highway and they left the pits to fill up with the stream water. Some of these pits that are further from the stream do have some large gators in them. About two years ago on July 4th we had a terrible rain that flooded that whole area. When I went back shortly after that flood, the waterfall was gone. The trees had been knocked down and the water converged into a single flow. I could not believe that the whole area had been changed that quickly.
On the way to this area there is a section that has some gators. We get photos of them during the early spring when they come out and sun themselves on the banks. You will see the alligators slide on the banks as they head back into the water when need be. I have kayaked pretty close to them and have enjoyed watching their activities; you will see their head first and then they slowly sink into the water. If you wait they will pop back up. Some are pretty large so I think it would be wise that you do not use a sit on top kayak as you might end up as dinner.
There are so many inlets and pools back along the bay. Once you get the hang of the place it really is fascinating. If you are quiet and don’t make noise (like dropping your paddle on the deck) you will be able to sneak up on quite a bit of wildlife. Have your camera ready because they can move quickly and you will miss the shot. During the summers the blue herons are all over the place squawking as they fly off, but during the winters you will see thousands of white pelicans, egrets, snow geese, ducks, sandhill cranes and all varieties of smaller birds.
Over the years I have enjoyed Limestone Bay so much, especially being out there with good friends, doing some races back to the dock or just rafting together and talking during lunch. Most of my friends now are getting older like myself, and have not been out there lately but I still head out when people want to go. For me it is a 30 minute drive to the takeout, so when I see good weather and especially when there are clouds and the promise of a good sunset I am on the water.
During the late fall when the deer are on the move you see some remarkable scenes. You will see herds of deer crossing between the islands and the mainland. All the color of the leaves and the deer are quite a thing to behold. Being in a kayak you really are a small profile on the water, especially if you hide yourself behind some brush, and if you are quiet it pays off in getting the photo you want.
Years ago I witnessed a flock of geese feeding on a mud flat. All of a sudden an eagle came flying down and landed close to them. It was obvious that it had to be a juvenile as the geese hardly paid attention to it. But now the bald eagles are back and every so often you will spot one coming in to land on a tree.
Ospreys are all over the place and they have a habit of building their nests in the cross members of the electric towers that cross the river.
During the spring, the water lilies are all over the place and the yellow flowers are in abundance. You will also see Mimosa Trees, Jackson Vine and honeysuckle.
Editor’s Note: Charles Seifried is a photographer who has captured images of some of the most beautiful places in the world. A resident of Decatur, Charlie has a keen eye for the places and creatures that make Alabama such a special place to live. He has generously shared this blog post and the accompanying photos to give readers a glimpse into kayaking the Tennessee River. Charlie also provided the stunning photos for Conservation Alabama’s website. We are grateful for Charlie’s support! For more of his work, visit his website.
Over 25 years ago I bought my first kayak, and it has lead me into some of the most wonderful areas in the state of Alabama that hardly anyone knows about. It started when a friend of mine let me get into his Current Designs Titan. Somewhere around 18 feet and 24 inches wide, it was a real cruiser, and today I have that exact boat. A little longer and lighter, fast and stable. Many a time we have loaded up with all our camping gear, food, tents, water, etc., and headed out for a week of boating in the quiet solitude that kayaking can provide.
What I like about it is that you can be with several of your friends but you also can have your own time by yourself observing things, photographing and just plain thinking. I also find kayaking to be safer than being in a canoe, especially in a storm with heavy winds and higher waves. The chance of flipping is far less if one pays attention to the winds and wave formations. Besides that, all your gear is safe and dry in the fore and aft dry hatches that can hold tents, cloths, food, pots and pans, etc. If you flip over, then you can rest assured that the gear will be protected. When I first started learning to kayak I flipped over maybe three times, but after I have not done so. It really is just learning how to read the water and always keeping a paddle in the water to brace. If you are going on an extended journey, you really should have an extra paddle, spray skirt, and pump, and you should always have a life jacket, hat and rain gear, and some food, water and sunscreen lotion.
Several years ago, around November, I called four of my friends and gave them some plans to do a short 7-8 mile trip, so that day we all took off for Florence. Our intention was to head out towards Coffee Slough which is west of Florence by several miles. You have to get to Pride Landing which is on the right hand side of the road; a great spot to put in with easy access. We had stopped in Florence to meet with Jim and Faye Lacefield for lunch and after that they showed us how to get to Pride Landing. We were a little apprehensive about the day as it started to cloud up and looked like rain. The wind picked up out of the west, but I would rather kayak in any weather than not kayak. So off we went, and that was a good decision as the sky turned beautiful and the weather was just perfect.
The area is similar to other parts of the Tennessee. It is wide and shallow in some spots which is perfect for the kayak as they can go in very low water and you can get to places that other boats have no chance of going. There are Bald Cyprus trees throughout the area that are just beautiful. Wildfowl are abundant along much of the Tennessee.
Many of the areas of the Tennessee backwaters are home to the fall and winter migration of White Pelicans which are plentiful and really beautiful to watch as they seem to just float in the air without much effort. Their landings are smooooooth. Then you have the Sand Hill Cranes and of course the multitude of ducks, blue Herons and white egrets. All of them just a real pleasure to see. In a kayak you can get a lot closer without spooking them. If you have a good camera and a long lens you should be able to get great shots of all kinds of birds, alligators, beaver and trees.
To protect your camera gear you should have a dry box and/or a dry bag to hold your lenses and cameras. After each shooting I put them back in the bags and tighten them up as one never knows if there is a problem coming up. Paddling over sunken branches or cypress knees that are just below the water can put you off balance if you are not careful.
We have wonderful water in the state and we should put forth an effort to keep the water we have clean and clear and potable. If we take our water for granted we will lose it. It is already polluted enough from the boats, plants and businesses that use it daily. Just take a look at what is happening in California. Who would have thought??
Besides that, we all have children and family that live and drink our water. We certainly want to care for their best interests now and in the future. Everyone lives downstream.