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Gallery: Alabama - A Month in the Heart of Dixie

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Gallery: Alabama - A Month in the Heart of Dixie

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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Snapshots: Rural Alabama

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Snapshots: Rural Alabama

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!

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Snapshots: Little River Canyon

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Snapshots: Little River Canyon

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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Snapshots: Gadsden, Alabama's City of Champions

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Snapshots: Gadsden, Alabama's City of Champions

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.

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Snapshots: Birmingham - Alabama's Magic City

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Snapshots: Birmingham - Alabama's Magic City

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.

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This Week on the Road - May 2nd-9th

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This Week on the Road - May 2nd-9th

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…

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Snapshots: Selma - Faded Glory in the Black Belt

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Snapshots: Selma - Faded Glory in the Black Belt

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.

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This Week on the Road - April 25th-May 2nd

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This Week on the Road - April 25th-May 2nd

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…

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Rickwood Field: America's Oldest Baseball Stadium

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Rickwood Field: America's Oldest Baseball Stadium

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.

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Snapshots: Montgomery - The Heart of The Heart of Dixie

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Snapshots: Montgomery - The Heart of The Heart of Dixie

Montgomery, Alabama is a town full of history. Founded on the Alabama River soon after Alabama became a state in 1819, it became the state capital in 1846. Montgomery served as the capital of the Confederacy for four months following the state’s secession, and is where Jefferson Davis took his oath of office as President. Montgomery has also been the site of many Civil Rights battles, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. Martin Luther King Jr. served as the pastor for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for several years. Today, Montgomery is a clean and quiet city with some beautiful buildings, a great riverfront and lots of fascinating museums. I really enjoyed my visit to Alabama’s capital city and hope you enjoy these photos from my stay.

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This Week on the Road - April 18th-25th

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This Week on the Road - April 18th-25th

It’s been a busy and fascinating week out here on the road. Wildflowers are blooming everywhere here in Alabama and it is truly magical to see all the beautiful colors along the side of the road. We’ve had some pretty serious April showers here as well, but when the sun is out the temperatures have climbed into the 80’s. I’ve made a big loop this week from southeast Alabama to west-central Alabama, and gotten a lot of history to think about along the way. From the Civil War to Civil Rights, this part of Alabama is both fascinating and tragic. I spent a few days in the state capital of Montgomery and am winding the week up here in beautiful Selma. I’ve had my hustle on this week, but with the longer days I’ve been able to cover a lot of ground.

When I finished writing last week’s This Week post, I did, in fact, head on to Dothan, a small city which I really enjoyed. Dothan is in a region called The Wiregrass which extends into southwest Georgia and the Florida panhandle. The downtown area was compact and walkable and absolutely packed with beautiful murals and statues. I really enjoyed just wandering around and having a look and, of course, taking lots of photos. I love when I can explore somewhere that’s totally new to me and somewhere where I go in with no idea of what I’ll find there. Sometimes it’s a real treat, as was the case here. I strolled around until well after the sun was down, and then went for a wonderful dinner at the local and family run Hunts Seafood Restaurant south of town. I got a half-order of oysters there which was enough to feed me twice. It’s always a good sign when you pull into a small-town restaurant on a Wednesday night and the parking lot is completely packed…

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Snapshots: Dothan, Alabama - Murals and Magic in the Wiregrass

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Snapshots: Dothan, Alabama - Murals and Magic in the Wiregrass

Pulling into downtown Dothan, Alabama, I had no idea what to expect from it. I knew it was the seventh largest city in Alabama, and the “Hub of the Wiregrass” - a region which covers southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia and parts of the Florida panhandle. Other than that I was pretty much going in blind. What I found was a pleasant city with a compact downtown full of beautiful murals and statues. Dothan has an excellent art museum, a gorgeous opera house, and some wonderful cafes and restaurants all within just a few blocks of each other. It was a quiet and pleasurable place for a stroll, and I had a beautiful day to do just that. I spent several hours photographing this beautiful city, and you can see the results in this post. I really enjoyed my time in Dothan and I’m already looking forward to my next visit. If you’re ever in southeast Alabama, be sure you stop in and say ‘hello’ - you will definitely be surprised by what you find here.

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