I was in Alabama for a child abuse conference, so I tried to make some time in the evening to see some of the sights around Huntsville. Huntsville is a very nice city and northern Alabama has some beautiful places. I visited the NASA Museum and the Huntsville Art Gallery, but the highlights were the Walls of Jericho and the Sipsey Wilderness.
Walls of Jericho
One of Alabama’s premier hiking destinations, the Walls of Jericho is a limestone gorge with seasonal waterfalls that disappear underground. The trail is about 3.5 miles one way. I flew down early on Sunday, so I had time to hike the entire trail. There were many cars in the large parking area and I was soon on the trail as it descended along long switchbacks. Springs bubbled from the ground and there was a large sinkhole, illustrating the karst topography. The forest was almost completely hardwoods, with a beech understory, reminding me of PA’s forests. I reached the bottom, a descent of about 1,000 feet, and crossed a large, swollen stream over a log bridge. There were some wildflowers, including bluebells.
Several hikers mentioned to me the falls were flowing good, which is apparently a somewhat rare sight. The trail crossed another creek over a log bridge and passed some backcountry campsites. I soon passed an old cemetery. It is hard to imagine people lived, worked, and died in this isolated place, but the meadows and old grades showed otherwise. The trail entered a gorge and became rocky and slippery. The clay soils on the trails makes it quite slick when wet. Rapids roared below as the gorge walls closed in. I crossed into Tennessee and soon reached the Walls of Jericho. Towering limestone walls rose over the creek was slides and waterfalls. The creek was swollen, and there was no bridge, so I waded across the creek as springs flowed out of the cliffs. A gushing falls erupted right out of the cliff walls, as a smaller falls tumbled down the exposed, bedrock streambed. In highwater, the creek flows down the streambed, but otherwise it flows underground. I scrambled further up the gorge over the limestone from which springs flowed and then disappeared. I reached the main falls which fell into a pool of water, from which no water flowed. The water flowed underground and re-appeared as the falls I passed previously. I couldn’t go further so I turned around for the long climb back up. As I hiked up, I heard a tree somewhere in the forest gradually crack, after a minute of occasional cracks, it fell to the forest floor with a thud.
The Walls of Jericho is a beautiful, unique place that was well worth the visit.
I then stopped by Monte Sano State Park adjacent to Huntsville. I didn’t have time to hike, but I did see a nice vista of the rolling mountains.
The Sipsey is a beautiful place that should be on anyone’s list to visit. I didn’t have time for long hikes. I love places like the Sipsey; from the road it doesn’t look like much, but once you start exploring, you see how special it is. Places of hidden beauty always hold a certain fascination for me. It’s easy to appreciate the obvious beauty of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Zion, but places like the Sipsey conceal their beauty in the shadows and under the trees, and it is just as rewarding. The Sipsey is a low plateau with a thick layer of sandstone eroded by the Sipsey River and its tributaries, creating extensive gorges with hundred of miles of cliffs and ledges, home to countless waterfalls when there is a lot of rain. There are rock shelters and overhangs. Some old growth forests are deep in the gorges.
My first visit was to Caney Creek Falls, south of wilderness area. I parked at the trailhead and a lady on the porch of a house across the road waived at me. The trail was about a mile and descended to the creek with a beautiful twin falls. The larger falls fell over an overhanging ledge, so I was able to walk behind the falls. The setting was very scenic as the broad curtain of water fell into a deep pool, adorned by the ledges and large boulders. I was surprised to see mountain laurel and hemlocks growing along the creek.
I then drove to the Sipsey Picnic Area to explore the different grottos, gorges, and falls above the Sipsey River. Thanks to the recent rains, each gorge had a falls. Large cliffs surrounded the creeks, dripping with springs, making it appear to be raining, despite it being a sunny day. Moss, lichens and ferns draped the cliffs and ledges, as hemlocks grew among the shadows. I could hear the chatter of a kingfisher. As twilight descended, I hiked an unofficial trail up another gorge to see another falls, but didn’t see it due to darkness. Regardless, several other falls tumbled over the cliffs. I returned to my car in the dark. I hope I’ll be able to visit the Sipsey again.