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.
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Off The Beaten Path
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.
In this episode of American Anthology, Mike takes us on a romp through the cities, swamps and bayous of South Louisiana. First up, hear the story of the Rougarou, the legendary man-wolf that preys on Cajun children out past their curfew. Then comes the story of the German Coast Slave Revolt of 1811, the largest slave revolt in U.S. History. Next you’ll hear about the day the Civil War was put on hold so a Union officer could get a proper burial in a Southern cemetery, with officers from both sides in attendance. Then comes the fascinating story of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, the first of its kind during the Civil Rights Movement. Lastly comes the story of Fats Domino, a Creole kid from New Orleans who brought Rock and Roll to the world. Music for this episode comes from Teddy Johnson, owner of the legendary Teddy’s Juke Joint in Zachary, Louisiana
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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…
Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama was built by industrialist Rick Woodward, and opened its doors for Opening Day on August 18th, 1910, making it the oldest professional baseball park still standing in the United States. In its heyday, RIckwood saw the likes of Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron pass through its gates. In addition to being home of the Birmingham Barons, Rickwood Field was also home to the Negro League’s Black Barons. Local legend Willie Mays got his start with the Black Barons at Rickwood when he was just 16. The great pitcher Satchel Paige also spent several years with the Black Barons in the 1920’s. During the sixties, there was a minor league affiliate of the Kansas City (later Oakland) A’s playing at Rickwood, which included on their roster Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers. When the A’s left town, a new Barons team was brought in several years later, and played at the old stadium until 1987. Today, the Barons play one game a year at their historic stadium, called the Rickwood Classic. The field is still used regularly though, hosting local high school games, adult recreation leagues and even the odd corporate softball game or wedding. Since 1992, the stadium has been in the care of the Friends of Rickwood who not only maintain the stadium, but have attempted to restore it a little at a time to it’s 1948 appearance. The stadium has been used in several films including Cobb, Soul of the Game, and, most recently, 42. It is a wonderful place to visit and is full of history and nostalgia. I spent time just sitting in the bleachers and enjoying the quiet view. Next time you’re in Birmingham, go check out Rickwood Field. If you like baseball or just cool old buildings, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
You can find Gip’s place using your GPS these days. It’s probably on there, but at some point you’re just going to have to trust it and keep going. And you’re just going to have to trust me that it will be worth it. Gip’s is a special place, one of the last authentic Southern Juke Joints, and the very last in the whole state of Alabama. It’s only about a half-hour from downtown Birmingham, but it’s a world away. Henry “Gip” Gipson has been hosting people in his backyard since 1952, slowly adding this and that along the way until he had created a real music venue with a stage and lights and a sound system. He was a grave digger by day, so he needed an outlet in his down time and he found that outlet in the blues. Today, Mr. Gip is almost a hundred years old, but he still enjoys welcoming people into his Juke Joint, sipping a beer and listening to great music. Since he never had a business license, local authorities shut him down several years ago. He said he might not be able to run a business without a license, but nobody was going to stop him from throwing a party in his backyard every Saturday night. And that’s exactly what it is. Bring your own drinks and make a contribution for the band and the bills and then pull up a seat and enjoy. Feel free to get out and dance too. While Mr. Gip is in a wheelchair these days, I remember when he would dance the night away with any- and everyone that walked in the door. And everyone is welcome at Gip’s Place. If you don’t believe there is a place where young and old, black and white, American and international people can get along anymore, you’ve clearly never been to Gip’s on a Saturday night. When I was there this last weekend I even saw Elvis and Marilyn there. There were people in shorts and T-shirts, and others in business suits and ties. Out front in the parking lot, there were cars and trucks of all makes and models, and even a limousine. You really have to go, and go now, because Mr. Gip isn’t going to be around forever and once he goes, it’s unlikely that the community will allow this place to continue. Even if they do, it won’t be the same without the man himself holding court on the dance floor. This place is as iconically Southern as it gets. Be sure you see it before it’s gone.