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Alabama

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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Gip's Place: Alabama's Last Juke Joint

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Gip's Place: Alabama's Last Juke Joint

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.

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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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Iconic Mobile - Southern Charm Unleashed

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Iconic Mobile - Southern Charm Unleashed

Mobile, Alabama is truly one of the most beautiful cities in America. With a population hovering around 200,000, Mobile is large enough to feel like a big city, but small enough not to lose its charm. The downtown area is a colorful mixture of old and new, classic and modern, ornate and utilitarian. It seemed that each time I turned a corner, I found a scene which I just had to capture on film, and I spent three days doing just that. This post will show you the results and, I hope, the many different faces of Mobile. It is a city whose history stretches back over 300 years and yet is full of modern touches and recent additions which seem to add to, instead of detract from, that history. Still, the one characteristic of Mobile which stood head and shoulders above the rest is the one which cannot be captured on film: the kindness and friendliness of its people. I hadn’t been to Mobile in several years and was happy to find it as welcoming as ever. I must admit I was charmed by The Port City. I left a little bit of my heart there and can’t wait to go back and find it.

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This Week on the Road - April 11th-18th

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This Week on the Road - April 11th-18th

Hello everyone, another week has past and it’s time for another edition of This Week on the Road. It’s been a pretty great week out here in Southern Alabama, beginning with a much needed and well enjoyed visit to the Gulf Coast and a few minutes on the beach. I also spent some wonderful time in beautiful Mobile, a city which I really enjoyed. The week ended with a long drive across the south of the state heading east, through rural farmland and quaint little towns. It’s been a great first week here in The Heart of Dixie, and I’m looking forward to everything the state has to offer in the coming few weeks. HERE is this week’s map if you want to follow along as we go!

When I finished posting my This Week article last week, I did, in fact, get out of town. I love New Orleans, and it’s always hard to go, and it was particularly hard with French Quarter Fest starting the following day, but it was way past time for me to get out of Louisiana. I scooted down to the interstate, and took Route 10 all the way to Alabama. I hate the interstate and its never-ending monotony, but it’s great when you have places you have to be and a limited time to get there.

When I got to Alabama, I headed southwest on 188 to beautiful Bayou La Batre. You may remember the name from Forrest Gump, as it is where Bubba was from and where Forrest went to start his shrimping company. It really is a shrimping town, and if you’ve been following along with me on this journey, you know I’m a sucker for old shrimping boats. The fleet there was really beautiful, and I stopped off to have a look and take some photos. While I was stopped, a young man of maybe 9 or 10 named Matthew pulled up…

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Snapshots: Burnt Corn

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Snapshots: Burnt Corn

Burnt Corn, Alabama is a quiet community of about 300 people in the southeast of the state. It is actually a town that pre-dates the formation of the state of Alabama and traces its roots back to the early 1800’s when it was a stop on the old Federal Road connecting Washington D.C. to New Orleans. A post office opened in town in 1817 and operated there all the way until 2002. It’s a beautiful little town which I enjoyed stopping in to take these photos. To read the full history of the town and find out more about the different interpretations of how Burnt Corn got its name, check out THIS fact-filled website about the town. If you’re ever passing through the area, take a few minutes to detour to beautiful Burnt Corn, Alabama.

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