Friday, March 4, 2016

Exploring Northern Alabama

Lately, our days have gone something like this. 1)Wake up at 6:00 a.m. and get dressed. 2)Put everything away and in travel mode. 3)Unhook the water and electricity connections. 4)Drive the coach to the service repair bay by 7:00 a.m. Wait! We're retired and don't like setting an alarm! But RVers gotta do what RVers gotta do to get the needed motor home repairs.

After dropping off the motor home, the next step is driving to downtown Red Bay to Jack's for their 2 for $2.22 breakfast burritos special. Now nourished, we have the day to explore the area while we are homeless. Here's a look at several days of exploring . . .

About 5 miles off the highway down a hilly, twisty country road brought us to the world's only Coon Dog Cemetery.

It began in 1937 when a local hunter had to bury his beloved companion and prize coon dog named Troop.  He laid Troop to rest here, one of their favorite hunting areas. Then with a screwdriver and hammer he chiseled out Troop's name and the applicable dates.

Since then, over 300 coon dogs have been buried here.  Some have elaborate tomb stones . . .

while others are marked only with a hand-made wooden cross draped with their favorite collar.

But all of them have two things in common. They have a verified witness that attested to the fact that the dog treed at least one raccoon, and their owners paid the $100 fee for their plot. One of the more poetic headstones read, "He wasn't the best, but he was the best I ever had."

On another day we ventured to Belmont, Mississippi, where we stopped at the Silver Dollar Salvage Grocery store. Home to expired boxes and dented cans, Denisa bought one of their grab bags filled with all these goodies for a whole dollar bill. We've been eating our way across Alabama with these snacks.

Another stop was the University of Northern Alabama in Florence. Since we retired after working at a university almost 30 years, we enjoy the ambiance of a college campus and feel very much at home there. This university has a special reason to visit. The mascot for UNA is the lion, and they have two living right in the middle of campus.

Leo is the third lion by that name to live at UNA.  He was enjoying the sunny afternoon, but walked right in front of us when we were visiting. They are used to crowds since they attend all the home football games.

His sister Una is named after the acronym for the University of Northern Alabama. This college is in a category all by itself as the only university with two lions on campus. They have signs around the lion habitat, touting it as "The Pride of UNA." Considering that a group of lions is a pride, that banner has double meanings.

We heard that Leo and Una aren't usually morning lions, so they don't make many appearances for students walking to their 8:00 classes. But it's not unusual to hear a roar when one is walking on campus in the afternoon.

Another stop took us off the beaten path to "Tom's Wall." Mr. Tom Hendrix met us as we walked up to his house, which is surrounded by the wall.

He is quick to pull up chairs so he can explain why he started this wall 35 years ago. He wanted a way to honor his great-great-grandmother, a Native American that was forced to leave this area and march the Trail of Tears all the way to Oklahoma. So he was especially quick to welcome a couple of wandering Oklahomans.

But this 17-year-old girl wanted to go home "where the river sings," so she started a walk back to Alabama that would take five long years. She would return to Alabama, where she raised a family and helped cure her neighbors' aches and pains with her natural medicines.

Tom chose to honor that journey with these stone walls, and started placing one stone at a time when he was about our age. He encourages visitors to walk the 1.25 mile path between the rock walls. This is the largest unmortared wall in the United States, and the second largest memorial to a female (right behind the Statue of Liberty).

The wall stands from 4 to 6 feet tall, but the majority of the rock was laid in its width. The wall curves its way around the trees on his property, and it is 10-12 feet wide in places. Covered now with leaves from last fall, most of the stones are actually hidden.

Mr. Hendrix is 87 years young, and he has been working on this wall for the last 35 years.  In those years he has stacked eight million pounds of rock. In that process he has worn out "three trucks, 22 wheelbarrows, 3,700 pairs of gloves, three dogs, and one old man."

At 87, he is proud to point out that he's only been to the doctor one time. He doesn't suffer from arthritis or head aches because he uses the same natural medicines his great-great-grandmother used. He thinks building the wall has kept him young, and he enjoys sharing the quote painted on this rock:

He is no longer adding rocks himself, but he accepts gifts of rocks that his visitors bring. He is proud to describe rocks that people have shared with him from all over the world--fossils, a petrified bee hive, rare amber, petrified cactus, dinosaur bones, and a rock from the Sea of Galilee. He often has hundreds of visitors in a single day, coming from all over the world as his wall gains notoriety. A recent article in the New York Times has caused an increase in the number of people seeking out Tom's Wall.

Tom's Wall is just a mile off the Natchez Trace, so we drove another section of it on our way back to Red Bay. That would include crossing the .8 mile bridge over the Tennessee River. The Tennessee flowed out of its banks last month, and is a larger river than we expected.

This was a "two-jacket" day as Denisa wore both fleece and wind breaker jackets today. We have enjoyed some frosty mornings since we turned north to Red Bay, but that makes for good afternoon hiking temperatures as we did some hiking along the Natchez Trace.

Spending some unexpected time in Northern Alabama has allowed us time to explore some unexpected treasures! Then it's back to the campground to spend the evening in the motor home before the cycle starts over again the next morning.

1 comment: