I’ve had an amazing month in Alabama, and these are the very best photos from my trip. I started my journey on beautiful Dauphin Island right on the Gulf of Mexico, traveled through the shrimping town of Bayou La Batre, and then made my way north into the stunning city of Mobile. From there, I dropped down to Gulf Shores and then out to Dothan in the southeast corner of the state. I traveled up the east coast to charming Eufaula and then through breezy Tuskegee to the State Capital in Montgomery. I made my way out to fascinating Selma and then on to tiny Demopolis in the west. From there I headed northeast through Tuscaloosa, Bessemer and Birmingham before zigzagging back west into The Shoals region. Finally, I made my way across the north through Huntsville before dropping south to Gadsden and Anniston and then north again through Fort Payne and Little River Canyon on my way out of the state. Alabama has so much to offer from history to natural beauty to clean and beautiful small towns and cities. The tragic history surrounding slavery and civil rights is not hidden away, but right in plain view and interpreted thoroughly and honestly. I found wonderful and welcoming people everywhere I went, and of course enjoyed some fantastic food and music as I’ve come to expect from the South. It was an incredible month, and my camera was very busy throughout. I hope you enjoy this “Best of Alabama” photo gallery as I take you along for one final romp through the Heart of Dixie.
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As I wind up my photos from Alabama, I wanted to include a selection of rural and small town photos from The Heart of Dixie, many of which haven’t made it into my previous posts around the state. Alabama has some beautiful rural areas and some very clean and well kept small towns. I loved just driving down the byways and back country roads of the state and seeing what I could see out there. Sometimes it was nothing at all, but sometimes I came across the most beautiful little gems and hidden treasures. Many I couldn’t find a place to pull over and photograph, so they will have to live in my memory. Others I could stop and shoot and have included here. A few of these photos are from larger towns like Selma, but they were too rural looking to not include in this post. I had a great month in Alabama and loved my visits to the towns and cities I’ve featured in earlier posts, but didn’t want to leave the state in my rear-view before I posted some of these from more rural areas as well. Enjoy!
Little River Canon National Preserve is a beautiful park in Northeast Alabama. It is a fascinating place because the river runs along the ridge of flat-topped Lookout Mountain which is a clear indicator of how much the landscape must have changed over time. It is one of the deepest canyons in the east, reaching depths of up to 600 feet. The river itself is powerful and incredibly clean and clear due to its high location and the accompanying lack of pollutants. Waterfalls can be found throughout the park, as can stunning views up and down the canyon itself. There are several short but steep hiking trails which lead from the canyon rim down to the river and can definitely give you a good workout. After a long day of hiking and taking photos, I took my last walk down the Eberhart Trail at the end of the scenic drive. When I got to the river I took a quick dip in the cold refreshing water which instantly washed away the fatigue of the day and left me with a smile on my face. It was a wonderful day and I hope you enjoy the photos I took in beautiful Little River Canyon.
Gadsden rests quietly on the banks of the Coosa River in Northwest Alabama. Founded in 1825 and originally called Double Springs, the town was renamed in honor of American diplomat James Gadsden. James Gadsden was most famous for negotiating the Gadsden Purchase, which included parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico, the acquisition of which allowed for the building of a transcontinental railroad. The town of Gadsden was once a major riverboat port and would become a center of industry during the industrial revolution. That industry would allow Gadsden to thrive for much of the next century, but as companies left town in the seventies and eighties, the city fell on hard times. Gadsden has worked hard to redevelop its downtown area and while it’s definitely a sleepy town, it has a lot of charm. I really enjoyed my visit to Gadsden. I hadn’t been there in many years and was happy to see so many storefronts occupied and to find downtown bustling. If you ever find yourself in the area, set aside some time for a stroll downtown, a visit to the art gallery and some seafood at one of the many excellent restaurants in town. You’ll be glad you did. Enjoy these photos from downtown Gadsden, Alabama’s City of Champions.
I came to Anniston, Alabama to visit the relatively new Freedom Riders National Monument designated in 2017 by President Obama. Anniston became the last stop on the route of the original Freedom Riders’ ride to protest segregation on interstate transport in the South in 1961. When the bus crossed the line from Georgia into Alabama, Anniston was the first station over the border. The Greyhound bus pulled into the station where it was met by White Segregationists and Klansmen who let it be known that integration would not stand in Alabama. When the bus pulled out of town, it was attacked and set on fire just six miles down the road. A few blocks away, the Trailways bus used in the ride was boarded at the station and the Freedom Riders were badly beaten. While the Monument is still in development, there are some fascinating signs and diagrams at the sites of both of the former bus stations. Both are informative and unbiased, as I would expect from the National Park Service. I thought it was worth the trip just for that, but as I looked around town, I really liked what I saw. Anniston has a well-maintained Main Street area (actually called Noble Street), and some cool old buildings and businesses. There are some great murals and a nice art project around town made from old bicycles. There were some beautiful abandoned buildings in Anniston as well, which I find fascinating and interesting to photograph. Anniston was given the nickname “The Model City” in the late 19th Century, since it was a carefully planned city which grew up around an iron furnace after the Civil War. Originally called Woodstock, it was renamed Annie’s Town after the daughter of the Union general who had expanded the town and enlarged the furnace after the war. The name was later shortened to Anniston. While I was only there for a few hours, I really enjoyed my visit to Anniston, and I hope you will enjoy the photos that resulted.
I’m home, y’all! I pulled up in front of the house my great-grandparents built here in Northwest Washington D.C. late last Friday night. Shadow Catcher did well on the 9 hour drive, as it has throughout this journey, and now she can take a nice, long, well deserved rest. My van will be staying here for a few months and enjoying the summer, although I myself will not be. I will keep traveling. That’s who I am and what I do. I don’t really know anything but anymore, and I don’t necessarily care to. My life is on the road and to the road I will return in a few weeks, albeit a different road on a different trajectory. This is the end of this leg of this particular journey, not the end of my travels, my adventures, my photography or this blog. Think of it as a season finale, not a series finale. I do want to take some time in this post to reflect back on the last year and a half and to look forward at what comes next. Before I do, though, I want to say an enormous thank you to those of you who have come along for the ride. Whether you’ve been with me from the start or you’ve only just joined me I appreciate every single one of you and your support over the course of this journey. I hope along the way I’ve been able to inspire you and show you places you’ve never been or perhaps those you have in a different light. I hope I’ve been able to bring a little joy into your lives, a little beauty, a little color, a little light. If I have, then I will call this whole thing a success. Thank you for being a part of this trip.
After leaving you last week, I had a few more adventures before I packed it up and headed north though, and it would be tragic to leave them out of this post. That afternoon I went out to High Falls Park near Geraldine, Alabama, and what a wonderful place that was to visit. It was a beautiful county park with a magnificent waterfall, a pleasant beach, a bridge over the river, hiking trails and a picnic area. It was a magnificent spring day and when I got there I fell in love with the place and stayed until the park closed. I swam and got some sun and read and enjoyed the sound of the falls and the warmth on my face. I returned to Fort Payne in the evening and took a few photos around town in the fading daylight before calling it a day…
Florence, Alabama is a really neat little city in the far northwest corner of the state. It is part of a region referred to collectively as The Shoals, which includes the towns of Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield. Florence sits right on the Tennessee River, and was named for the city in Italy by the Italian surveyor who helped lay out the original plan. Florence is the hometown of both W.C. Handy and Sam Phillips, so musical traditions run deep in the area. In fact, it seemed like the arts were well represented in general there as is displayed by the beautiful street art you’ll see in this post. During my visit I also caught a wonderful performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the beautiful Shoals Theater, right in the heart of town. I really enjoyed wandering the streets of Florence and spending some time in the riverfront McFarland Park. While I spent my days touring nearby FAME Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the birthplace of Helen Keller, I kept finding myself drawn back across the river in the evening to experience all this town had to offer, from nice restaurants to some cool live music venues. While there is so much to see and do in this part of Alabama, be sure to save some time for a stroll around downtown Florence, “Alabama’s Renaissance City”. You’ll be glad you did.
Birmingham is Alabama’s most populous city, and was, from its very beginning, an industrial town. Founded in the wake of the Civil War, Birmingham got its name from its British cousin, the UK’s industrial center. One of the only places in the world where large amounts of iron-ore, coal and limestone are all naturally present, Birmingham was destined to become a steel town. The city would become a major producer of rail lines and rail cars and a major railroad hub itself. As the steel industry grew, so to did the town as some of the South’s earliest skyscrapers were built. Birmingham grew so fast during the Industrial Revolution and was so well suited to emerging industries that it became known as “The Magic City”. For many of the same reasons, the Great Depression hit Birmingham particularly hard, and with its residents fighting for work animosity grew, especially along racial lines. Birmingham would rebound during and after World War II, but as the Civil Rights Movement took hold, it became a primary battleground in the cause. It was obviously where Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and police violence against peaceful protesters garnered international media coverage. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls, was one of the final straws that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and had many newspapers refer to Birmingham as “Bombingham” or “The Tragic City”. Today, Birmingham is a mid-sized but somewhat sleepy city. There are some beautiful old buildings and plenty of modern ones too. Birmingham has taken ownership of its role in the Civil Rights Movement with the excellent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and a number of signs and statues around the city. With a great Minor League Baseball stadium, a vibrant University district and some excellent breweries, live music venues and restaurants, Birmingham is definitely a city on the rise. I really enjoyed my stay in town, and would definitely recommend you visit, especially in the spring when baseball is in the air and the flowers are in bloom. Enjoy these photos I took during my stay in The Magic City.
Hello everyone! It’s starting to get warm here in Alabama which means it’s about time for me to start heading north. And I guess I have! It’s been a great week here in Northern Alabama which started with music and history in The Shoals and is ending in the beauty of nature in Little River Canyon. I’ve jammed out in FAME Studios, been moved by the actions of the Freedom Riders and swam in a clear mountain river. This has been my last full week here in Alabama, and it’s about time to turn my headlights towards home for a while. I must say that Alabama has been one pleasant surprise after another. It’s clean, friendly and I’ve had a great time here. Whatever preconceived ideas I had or stereotypes I bought into have, as they have everywhere else, been shattered by the time I’ve spent here. And that’s really been the point of this whole trip - to see things with my own eyes and interpret them with my own mind and heart and come away with my own understanding. And it’s been amazing.
After I posted last week’s This Week, I worked until the library closed at 7, trying to get some photos edited and published and a few other things done. Afterwards, I went to downtown Florence and had a nice walk around the city and took some photos. Then, in the mood for some live music, I went and saw Katlyn Barnes sing at The Boiler Room in the basement of The Stricklin Hotel. The show was good and Katlyn really has a soulful voice and personality. When she was done, I headed out to Swampers Bar and Grille at the Florence Marriott to see Hank Erwin play. They’ve done a really great job with this bar which is full of old guitars, photos and memorabilia from the glory days of Muscle Shoals. Hank was great and this was a good place to round out my evening…
Demopolis is a beautiful town in the heart of the Canebreak region of Western Alabama. This part of the state was once covered with thick stands of a native bamboo-like species called Arundinaria. While much of this cane was destroyed to make room for cotton plantations, the area is still called the Canebreak, and Demopolis is the region’s biggest town. Demopolis was founded by a group of French expats in 1817 and given its name from the Greek for The People’s City. It would become a major transportation hub, sitting at the confluence of the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers, a status which would only grow when the railroad arrived. Today, Demopolis is a quaint and quiet town of around 7,000. I really loved it there and kept thinking it’s what a Norman Rockwell painting would look like if it aged a few decades. The old brick buildings have stood up well to the tests of time and the town has a lot of charm to it. While I wish I had had a little better weather to take these photos in, I still think they show the beauty of Demopolis, a small town which is the heart of the Canebreak.
As I was driving through Double Springs, Alabama I saw in front of the courthouse what looked like the ubiquitous small-town war memorial which I have found pretty much everywhere I’ve visited on this journey in both the North and the South. But this one was different because unfurled behind it were both Union and Confederate flags, so I hit the brakes and went in for a closer look. What I discovered was a Civil War memorial to The Free State of Winston. The plaque on the memorial read as follows:
The Civil War was not fought between the North and South but rather between the Union and Confederate armies. Perhaps as many as 300,000 Southerners served in the Union Army. The majority of the Appalachian South, from West Virginia to Winston County, was pro-Union. Winston provided 239 Union and 112 Confederate soldiers, 21 of whom shared last names.
Selma, Alabama is a stunning city. Rarely have I driven into a place on this whole journey where I have been more eager to jump out of my van and start taking photos. The downtown area is packed with historic buildings reminiscent of days gone by. The neighborhoods are full of old Victorian-era mansions that hark back to better days in the Queen City of the Black Belt. As in most of the Black Belt of Alabama, cotton was king during the antebellum period and Selma’s position right on the Alabama River made it a prime place for a thriving city. During the war, Selma was a major shipbuilding center and manufacturing town for the confederacy. The post-war years were difficult on Selma and race relations were strained way past the point of breaking as lynchings and intimidation were common occurrences. Selma became notorious during the Civil Rights Movement, especially on the topic of voting rights, and was the jumping off point for the Selma to Montgomery March. Driving or walking around Selma today, it is apparent that the city has seen better days. Buildings are crumbling and many of the old homes are boarded up and falling apart, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture what it once was. As in so many parts of the country, the economy in Selma is struggling and there aren’t enough jobs or money to go around. I hope for the best for the future of this beautiful city. You should definitely go for a visit, spend some time in the wonderful Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail visitor center run by the National Park Service, walk across the Edmund Petus Bridge and then just go for a ramble and see what you can find. While at first glance you may think that “Queen City” is a bit grandiose, but the deeper you look the more appropriate you’ll find it. I hope you enjoy these photos from The Queen City of the Black Belt.