Wednesday, April 9, Birmingham AL
We walked out of our lunch restaurant today. Okay, it is not as dramatic as I am trying to make it. We were at Cheaha State Park in NE Alabama. Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama at 2407 feet above sea level. To reach the park, we took two-lane back roads out of our direct line of travel. We threw in a longer trip to include driving on the Talladega Scenic Byway. The byway was alright, not a lot different in appearance from the Shenandoah Drive. It is only 29 miles long, much shorter than Shenandoah Drive.
This part of Alabama does have hills (they call them mountains). It is more like the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Cheaha has an observation tower constructed at the top. The view is obstructed by wires in most directions. We met a couple there from Las Vegas who had decided on a last minute road trip and they like to reach the highest point in states. They were on their way to GA and SC after this. (They have not been to MN yet.)
After climbing the observation tower here, we went for lunch at the restaurant in the park. It was only 11:15 AM but it was 12:15 for us since the GA/AL line is the break for Eastern and Central time zones. The restaurant opens at 11:30. So we waited. Once seated, the waitress gave us the menus and then we heard her say to another couple that she was the only person working today. She was the waitress, receptionist, cashier, and cook. Since there were already several tables ahead of us, we decided there was no way she could take the orders and make the meals in a timely fashion. So we headed out.
Our next destination was Birmingham but along the way we passed the Talladega Speedway. On the spur of the moment, we decided to take a tour of the speedway. We have never been to a NASCAR race although we have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to fit one into our various trips.
The Speedway offers a 30 minute van tour that includes driving on the speedway-well, the portion on the inside of the yellow line that separates us from where the race drivers will race. It was fascinating. We did not understand everything our driver said as he was speaking as fast as the cars must go but we got the gist of it.
The speedway is located on a former Air Force base and is the longest in the U.S. at 2.66 miles. Unknown to us, turns two and three are banked at a 33% grade. This means that the turn is actually 5 stories tall and a car must go at least 85 mph just to stay on the turn and not roll off. Our photo does not give a great perspective but it was the best we could do. A delightful little unexpected gem to our day.
Our third stop was Vulcan Park in Birmingham. Birmingham is a newer Southern city, developing primarily after the Civil War. In Birmingham could be found iron ore, coal, and limestone; these are the primary ingredients for the making of iron. The closeness of the raw materials allowed Birmingham to develop vertically integrated companies that controlled the entire steel and iron making process.
Other factors combined to make Birmingham metal the lowest priced in the U.S. for a period of time. Alabama had a convict leasing system that put convicts to work for private business. In addition, the racial attitudes created a divide and conquer work force that separated whites and blacks into strictly defined job categories and discouraged unionization.
Time has marched on and while foundry work is still important in Birmingham, the industry is not as dominant as it had been. Vulcan Park is a reminder of those days and provides a museum dedicated to its history. A statute of the Roman god Vulcan dominates the park and the city’s skyline. The statute had been created to advertise Birmingham at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904. It has been rehabilitated and is perched on a 124 foot pedestal atop Red Mountain (site of mines dating back to the late 1800s). The observation tower near the top of the pedestal provides a great view of Birmingham.
Our fourth stop was going to be Aldridge Gardens on the south side of Birmingham. It was after 4 pm and we got caught in a major traffic jam, as bad as the Pennsacola bridge traffic earlier on this trip. We later learned a mudslide from the rains earlier this week was the major cause. In any event, it just took too long to make the drive so we had a quick bite to eat before meeting our Evergreen host for the next two nights
Ed and Chris 10 pm