Gadsden, Alabama. Sunday March 12
March 11, Huntsville Alabama
Watercress Capital to Rocket City is the quick summary of Huntsville Alabama. We left Tupelo Mississippi Saturday morning on a gray, drizzly drive through the Bankhead National Forest. Once again, the ride was on smooth, two lane roads. We passed on the Jesse Owens Museum for the Natural Bridge of Alabama as our quick stop before the bright lights of Huntsville.
The Natural Bridge of Alabama was actually a decent rock formation run by a mom and pop operation; much better than the natural bridge we saw a few years ago in the Missouri Ozarks. The stop helped to solidify that the geography was changing, this area starts the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. The visit was not too long, the drizzly rain was cool and a warm car was beckoning. The formations and hiking are similar to the northern portion of Georgia we encountered a year and a half ago when we were on our way to visit the Great Smoky Mountains.
This is not cotton growing area. We are realizing there is a great deal of manufacturing in northern Mississippi and Alabama. Huntsville, Gadsden and Tupelo all have a strong manufacturing base. Huntsville has a population of 180,000. Huntsville has its European settler roots, founded by a man named Hunt in 1805. The Indian population left early due to disease and U.S. pressure. After the Civil War, textile manufacturers moved into the area and along with railroads, kept the economy humming. As the Great Depression ravaged the area, the growing of watercress was Huntsville’s claim to fame.
WWII brought the beginning of its newest phase. The Redstone Arsenal was established here to produce chemical weapons. While the U.S. signed off on the agreement not to use chemical weapons, it kept the provision it could make them to use against an enemy who used them first against us. When WWII was over, Redstone became the home of the Werner von Braun rocket development group and to this day maintains a strong presence in rocket development by the military and many civilian contractors. The von Braun history is a whole book worth of writing we are not going to attempt to touch.
Today, for most people Huntsville and the Arsenal are known for the Marshall Space Center and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The Center is a large collection of exhibits devoted to space, rocketry and the military. We spent several hours here touring the exhibits, seeing such items as inventions developed out of Huntsville, Saturn V rocket, Apollo moon launches, Apollo command module, space lab suits, etc.
We took an hour-long bus ride focusing on re-built aircraft from the post WWII era. We toured the facility where over 4500 youth attend one week-long classes at Aviation Challenge with simulations on flying military aircraft. Coming this summer will be the chance to experience up to 3.2 Gs in a centrifuge. The place also runs a Space Camp focused on science, rocketry and robotics for youth.
Saturday evening was Mass at a service with the church full and the balcony full also. Dinner was at a franchise called Logans’s Roadhouse, a southern style steakhouse now in 23 states. A good meal and less expensive than Outback. Standard lodging at Hampton Inn.
Sunday our journey began in cold weather but it warmed up to almost 60 degrees F with a great sun out. We enjoyed the day immensely, partially because we know tomorrow is to be rainy and colder. (Still much better than the snow forecast from the Dakotas over to Boston.) We drove almost to the Georgia border as we crossed the wide Tennessee river and started climbing hills again. Our primary destination was the Little River Canyon National Preserve.
Little River became part of the National Park Service in 1992. It protects a river unique in that it flows atop a mountain, retaining a pristine and clean river. We were able to observe several creeks feeding into the river. The creeks were very clear. It provided a sharp contrast to most of the rivers we have observed in northern Mississippi and Alabama which have been uniformly brown.
The canyons here are deep and extensive, and along with other protected wilderness areas in the Northeast Alabama area, provide for extensive recreational opportunities. There is a visitor center jointly sponsored by NPS, a local university, NASA and others which sponsors considerable educational lessons for people in an area from Chattanooga to Birmingham.
The “Trail of Tears”, that forced march of Muscogee Creeks, Chickasaw, Seminoles, and Cherokee from portions of the south and east to Indian territory in the 1830s went through part of this area.
Our experience started at the visitor center and then moved outdoors, with viewing of the Little River Falls. Then we drove up to DeSoto Falls, north of DeSoto State Park. This can be confusing, there is a DeSoto Falls in Georgia which we also visited 18 months ago. Both are named after Hernando DeSoto, a Spanish explorer who came through the area in 1539-1540.
Lunch was at the Wildflower Cafe in Mentone AL, a small town home to unique shops and eclectic personalities (Jude, sort of like Madrid,NM). We ate nutritionally here, a brunch extravaganza of a strawberry crepe with whipped cream, spinach quiche, five kinds of fresh fruit, a tomato pie, and mashed potatoes with strips of steak and zucchini.
After lunch we drove along Lookout Mountain Parkway, passing a small Baptist church with three walls of standard construction and a fourth wall completely comprised of one huge boulder. Then it was on to view more of Little River Canyon, stopping at several overlooks to view the canyon, another waterfall, and hiking some trails. The canyon depth is over 600 feet towards the canyon’s southern edge. The waterfalls were about 90 to 130 feet high. Trees are beginning to blossom, we are worried we may miss the bluebonnets in Texas if they pop too soon.
Dinner was at a local restaurant, Top of the River, which specializes in catfish and cornbread. Well, I have never liked the idea of catfish. I mean, those fish are ugly. I thought I had tasted them years ago and did not like it, too mushy and greasy. Our server was persuasive in getting us to try catfish as part of a combination platter. We decided on a platter with catfish, shrimp, and a chicken kebab. The platter comes with hush puppies, coleslaw, corn bread, and a baked potato. Plenty of fried food and carbohydrates. Hopefully our healthy lunch balanced it all out. We actually decided the catfish was not too bad. A major advancement for southern food over our northern taste buds.
Ed and Chris. March 12