This Van is Keeping Me Rolling in Alabama

Walton Theater in Selma

It’s been busy, busy, busy out here on the road this week. This week has taken me from Selma to Demopolis in Western Alabama, back through Tuscaloosa to Birmingham and then north and west through Bankhead National Forest and on to Muscle Shoals where I am writing to you from today. I celebrated Orthodox Easter, hiked to some waterfalls, shouted “Roll Tide”, ate quail, and of course took lots of photos along the way. I’m into the home stretch of this leg of the journey as I need to be home in a week and a half, so I’ve been hustling out here. I have made plenty of time to stop and smell the beautiful wildflowers though, and enjoy some hills after 4 months of flatness in every direction. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along.

Not Much Left in Old Cahawba

After publishing last week’s This Week, I headed directly for Old Cahawba, the first capital city of the state of Alabama. It served as the capital from 1820-1825, but regular flooding caused the legislature to move out to higher ground. The city declined over the next century and by the time of its centennial, Cahawba was all but abandoned. Today there is nothing left but a few brick columns, a chimney, an old cemetery and a few foundations. There really wasn’t much to see, but I enjoyed wandering around and imagining myself back to its heyday when its citizens probably thought it was a pretty cool place. Cahawba is managed today as a State Archaeological Site. It’s only about 20 minutes from Selma and for me it was worth seeing, but I wouldn’t necessarily go too far out of my way to visit.

Demopolis Train Tracks

After a long stroll through the capital-that-was, I headed back to Selma to catch some of the afternoon light for some more photos, and then headed out Route 80 all the way to Demopolis, The People’s City. I loved Demopolis! It was like a Norman Rockwell painting that had grown up, faded a little bit, but still held its charm. Demopolis is an old transportation hub where the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers meet, which became even more important when the railroad came through town. Settled in 1817, it is one of the oldest continuously occupied towns in the whole state. I loved just walking around as the daylight was fading and taking photos of the downtown area. When it got just too dark to shoot, I went for dinner at The Red Barn right outside of town. This was a neat place in, yes, an old red barn with a bar upstairs and a restaurant downstairs. I got the quail because you don’t see a lot of quail in non-fancy restaurants and I’ve had a hankering for some small birds since learning about the pigeonaires in Creole country in Louisiana. It was pretty good, and I really liked the atmosphere of the place as well.

Demopolis - Such a Cool Place

Thursday I got up early and went back downtown to take some more photos. It was grey out and not the best for photography, but it wasn’t raining so I made the best of it. After an hour or two of wandering around, I headed on up the road and shot north on Route 69 all the way to Tuscaloosa. I did make a little detour into Greensboro, The Catfish Capital of Alabama. It had a really cute main street area, but the weather was closing in fast so I just pulled through for a look and then headed out. The rain hit hard when I got to Tuscaloosa, so I pulled in for a nice long afternoon nap. When the rain let up, I hit the gym and then spent the rest of the day at the library catching up on some work. That night I went out for a wander around downtown and caught a little live music at the Copper Top before calling it an early night.

Bear Bryant Museum

Friday I had a nice long wander around the University of Alabama campus and spent some time in the really interesting Bear Bryant Museum which tells the story of Alabama’s storied football program. I also went out to see the Bryant-Denny Stadium which is pretty impressive. It is the 7th largest stadium in the country, holding 101,821 screaming Crimson Tide fans (5,000 less than my Alma Matter Penn State’s Beaver Stadium though). I was fascinated that there is a cemetery right across the street from the stadium. I stopped in for lunch at Rama Jama’s, which is also right across the street from the stadium and I’m sure gets crazy busy during football season. I enjoyed a fried green tomato BLT and a cherry shake in the midst of all of the ‘Bama memorabilia. It was pretty cool.

Inside Rama Jama

From there I headed down to get my tires rotated at Warren Tire Pros and want to give them a big shout-out for doing it for free. I was very taken aback at that since it was the only thing I was there for, but they insisted. I stopped next door and bought them a 12 pack of beer for helping me out with that.

With my tires rotated, I got them rolling and pointed my headlights towards Birmingham. I had misread the schedule for the Birmingham Barons baseball team, and thought they were playing at home that night. They were not. I quickly made a new plan which turned out to be pretty awesome though. I headed down to the Avondale Brewing Company for a great evening concert featuring Shovels and Rope and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Both were amazing and it was a great outdoor venue with plenty of space, some good beer and food trucks. If I lived in Birmingham, I would definitely spend a lot of time there. Before the show I had an interesting conversation with a guy named Arnold who was living near where I parked my van. He was interested in how I lived in it because he was thinking about getting one himself. Arnold had had a tough year - going through open heart surgery and then having his house burn down. He was grateful to have his veteran’s benefits, but his surgery had left him unable to work (he was a carpenter by trade), and he was just trying to get by and living in a garage at the moment. He sure had taken a lot of kicks in the last year, but was hopeful things would get better. Talking with Arnold sure made me grateful for my health and for all that I have even if it’s not much. He is a really interesting guy. On my way to the show, I also stopped in for a barbecue sandwich at Saw’s Soul Kitchen and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a bit of barbecue in my life. It was pretty amazing.

The Streets of Birmingham

After the show was over, I made my way over to The Nick which really is one of the last great rock and roll clubs in the South. It’s an awesome venue which is big enough to hold a decent crowd, but small enough to feel intimate. I’ve seen some really good shows there, and that night was no different as Kyle Kimbrell and Red Harp took the stage. I enjoyed myself at The Nick, but it had been a long day and a really long evening, so I headed out about midnight to get some sleep.

Mr. Gip Himself - 98 and Still Playing the Blues

Saturday I slept in a bit and had a lazy morning which has to be done sometimes. I did get into the library to catch up on some work, and then headed downtown for a bit of an easy stroll. I enjoyed walking the streets of the city, taking a few photos and enjoying a beautiful evening. After a quick bite to eat I headed out to Gip’s Place in Bessemer. Gip’s is one of the very few remaining authentic juke joints in the south, and it’s awesome. Henry “Gip” Gipson has been throwing parties in his backyard juke joint since 1952. He’s a great guy and I’ve enjoyed visiting him over the years, but he’s definitely getting up there. Mr. Gip is 98 years old this year, but he still had a Bud Light in his hand, still greeted everyone who walked in the door and still had his front row seat for the show. He even played a few songs for us on his guitar. There are a lot of places I feel like this about, but if you want to see this place, I recommend getting there as soon as possible. Mr. Gip has been around a long time, but he’s not going to be around forever. See my full post form that night HERE.

Prom and Wedding Season

After a few hours of good music in an amazing venue, I headed back into town to go to the Easter service at Holy Trinity - Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral. I know most people celebrated Easter last weekend, but in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, we don’t celebrate Easter until after Passover. I wrote a long post about our tradition and celebration last year which you can read HERE. It is a beautiful service, and I was happy to be able to celebrate it here this week in Birmingham. The service went from 11:15 p.m. until almost two in the morning. Afterwards we gathered for a bowl of Mayeritsa, a traditional Greek soup eaten on Easter morning. It didn’t look very good, but it was delicious! I enjoyed some conversation and fellowship with some of the people over my soup, but it was late so I headed home after I finished.

Sunday, I took the day off. I went to the east side of downtown and did a bit of a brewery crawl, enjoying a few flights and a few pints. It was a beautiful day to sit outside and drink beer and not worry about anything. I had a great day of it and even stumbled across a branch of Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken, my absolute favorite and a nice way to cap off a relaxing day.

Rickwood Field in Birmingham

Monday I went to explore wonderful Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball stadium in the country. It was home to the Birmingham Barons from Opening Day on August 18th, 1910 all the way until 1987. It was also home to the Negro Leagues’ Birmingham Black Barons from 1920-1960, the team which started the career of the great Willie Mays, and was the second team Satchel Paige played for in his long career. The Barons still play one game a year at Rickwood Field, but today it mainly hosts high school teams and adult league teams. The manager told me they also host weddings and corporate events as well. Scenes from the movies Cobb, 42 and Soul of the Game were all filmed at the stadium. I really loved my visit to this piece of history and would definitely recommend you check it out if you’re ever in Birmingham. See my full post on Rickwood Field HERE.

Sunset on Lake Lewis Smith

After a great morning at Rickwood Field, I got some work done and then hit the road and headed north and west towards Bankhead National Forest. I got there late in the afternoon, so pulled into Corinth Recreation Area and got a campsite right near Lake Lewis Smith. I took my chair down to the lake and enjoyed sitting in the still evening as the sun dipped behind the trees and dusk settled over the lake. As it got dark, I headed back to my van and did some writing for my next podcast and then got a good night’s sleep with only the sounds of the woods keeping me company.

Kinlock Falls

I slept really well and got up early to have my coffee by the lake and read for a few minutes before heading out. I stopped into the ranger’s office for some maps and information and then headed out to hit the trails in the park. I enjoyed a nice easy hike out to beautiful Sougahoagdee Falls, and then drove around and visited Kinlock Falls as well. The road out to Kinlock was not as smooth and easy as I had been led to believe, and we rattled around a lot over the rocks, but it was still nice to be back in waterfall country. By that time the day was wearing on a bit, and while I wanted to get to Parker Falls as well, I wanted to get to Muscle Shoals before dark so I gave it a pass.

I headed into Muscle Shoals about 5:30 p.m. and got to the wonderful library here in time to get some work done before it closed at 7. Then I grabbed some dinner and made some phone calls before hitting the sack.

Hanging in Muscle Shoals

This morning I’ve come to the library again to get this done and some other work which I’m just falling too far behind on. I’m looking forward to being a little more caught up by the end of the day. If I can get out to see them today, I really want to check out Fame and Muscle Shoals studios and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, but if not I’ll see them tomorrow. From here I’m headed east to Huntsville for the weekend, then south to Gadsen before zagging back into the far northeast of the state, where I will complete my Alabama journey. It’s been great so far, and I’m looking forward to a little more history and a lot more outdoor adventures before I head home. I will be somewhere in northeast Alabama at this time next week and I’m looking forward to what I have planned in the days ahead. I hope you’ll come back again next week and see what I’ve been up to. Until then though, enjoy a week of spring weather and go for a nice walk to enjoy it. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks, as always, for reading and I’ll see you right back here next week.


Sougahoagdee Falls