Sequoyah Caverns, DeSoto Falls and Old Union Bridge

Off to another photo adventure yesterday with my pal, Sue.  She is still on her mission of following in her brother’s footsteps (literally…the old Webster’s definition ;o) ) by visiting and photographing all of the covered bridges that Alabama has to offer, just like he did for his book he published as he was “Walking with the Cross”.  We went to Sequoyah Caverns and also planned to visit this covered bridge nearby, all in Valley Head, AL.  Any other shenanigans we got into were purely accidental…well, sort of.

We started out from Birmingham in the morning and got to Sequoyah Caverns mid-morning.  It’s about a 2 hour drive northeast of Birmingham, almost to the Georgia border.  Beautiful drive, as it becomes very mountain-ridge-like.  I love the scenery!  Much different than the flat, and sometimes, bowl-shaped Louisiana landscape I grew  up in.  Although, Louisiana’s landscape has much to offer and is beautiful in its own way.  Think Middle Earth bog-like with all of the swamps, Cypress trees and knees, and moss dangling off the trees like an old witch’s scraggly hair.  Anyway, that’s my own delicious view of the LA landscape.  Okay, back on topic…

The place was packed!  We got there just a little too late for the 10:30am cave tour, so we purchased our tickets ($15.95 per adult) and were scheduled for the 11:30 tour, so needless to say, we had some time to kill.  Ha!  Two chicks with cameras and time to kill.  We got some shots of the grounds.  But we were quite disappointed when we asked the ticket fellow if we could go on the nature trail while we waited for our tour group to start, and he told us it was closed due to tornado damage…THAT WAS TWO YEARS AGO!  This wasn’t the only disappointing news we learned during our visit to Sequoyah Caverns.

Around the Welcome Office, there was an old Homestead log cabin that we walked through and took some pictures, a pond, not much to see there, and there was supposed to be “grazing animals”.  We thought, “Perfect!”  Not so much.  There were a few goats in a dog pen.  Hmpf!  Oh, well.  We were about to start the tour, when we overheard some folks in line stating that this place was closing FOR GOOD after Labor Day.  That’s just a few weeks away!  We inquired as to why, and we were told that the old man, apparently the ticket guy, is getting up in age and wants to retire.  Oh, I should have mentioned that this landmark is privately owned.  It is not one of the wonderful Alabama State Parks.  He wants to keep it in the family…who can blame him…but none of his kids are willing to take it over.  How sad!  Again, another disappointment.  We supposed that’s why the place was packed, but were wondering how all these people knew it was closing for good, because their website hadn’t been updated with that information.  In fact, I had read a couple of Yelp reviews that mentioned it, but I didn’t realize it was FOR GOOD.  I figured, maybe to do repairs, to close for the winter season, who knows, but not for good.  But knowing this kinda made the trip that much more special.  Sue and I had been there just before this place might possibly be closed for good.  Whew!  Nick of time.

So on our tour, which was supposed to last anywhere from 35-55 minutes, lasted about 50, which was good, but I just felt rushed.  Sue is like me, we can wait an eternity to get a good shot, and not that much is moving in a dank, dark cave, we are both still learning our new cameras and the new technology built into many digital cameras, that we like to take our time.  There was one group of adults that were interested in taking photos as well, so they would keep saying to us, “After you.”  Sue and I were happy to be in the back of the tour group so as not to hold anyone up.  Ha!  I do that when I go diving, too.  I can sit and wait for a fish to get in the perfect position for me to snap my camera, plus I’m trying to keep my gear in check and not float all over so as to frighten the little specimens.  Anyway, I digress.  We were rushed.  Because a cave is a very tough landscape for every photographer, even super-duper pros.  It’s such a low-light situation that just trying to see your (new) equipment, buttons, controls, etc. is a challenge in itself, not to mention, the LCD review window, even at high brightness and zoomed in is difficult to see if your shot will turn out good or not, or if you need to make adjustments then and take another.  I err on the side of caution and try to change settings, exposures, etc. and snap a few shots while I’ve got the chance.  So I got some, but overall my cave photos leave much to the imagination.  So let me try to paint you a picture.  This place is a wonder!  So many reflecting pools, it looks like a lunar landscape inside.  The water is so clear and so still.  But this cave is very dark.  Hard to see much.  I have been to other caves and caverns that are owned by the State, and I have to say, they do a nice job of maintaining the equipment required to make these places enjoyable for the amount of foot traffic they get.  I kinda wish they would sell this park to the State and let them take care of it.  For $16 a person, we felt that was a bit much for just the cave tour, since the hiking trail was closed to pedestrians.  Another hmpf.

Our next stop was to find the covered bridge, the Old Union Bridge.  On our way with Sue’s trusty map she printed, we were lucky to have cell signals up in those hills, so we navigated our way to this landmark.  Thanks, Google lady map voice!  On our drive, however, I spotted those telltale brown State Park signs for DeSoto Falls.  I’m a sucker for waterfalls.  So I think I frightened Sue, who was driving this time, when I shouted, “Ooh, turn here!  NOW!”  Sue made a sharp left up a steep hill road and we were off on another adventure.  We got to DeSoto Falls, not very crowded, and found easy parking.  Grabbing our cameras and light jackets (by the way, it was unseasonably chilly yesterday…for August…in Alabama), we walked the short distance past a very large lake, to a Dam.  What?  No Dam Tour Guide?  Pffft!

But the dam was only part of it.  Man-made, water spewing perfectly over a concrete wall.  Meh.  We snapped some photos.  Nothing special.  But as we walked down the path for safe viewing over the cliff, we encountered three beautiful, natural waterfalls, the tallest being 104 feet long.  It was gorgeous!  I trekked perilously to the absolute edge of the walking trail, climbed up onto a concrete slab of some sort, leaned over it (GULP!) and got a few shots of the tallest waterfall, flanked by a beautiful rocky wall.  See my photo gallery accompanying this blog post.  Great find!  Glad I shouted at Sue…ok, not really.  Sue’s nice.

So we spent a good bit of time there, but we still hadn’t seen Sue’s main reason for going to the caverns to begin with…her bridge.  We were back in her car and off to find this bridge.  It was a very short drive to this bridge from the Falls, but on our way, which included a gravel road for quite some distance, we stumbled upon these little chalets that could be rented.  This was all within a golf and ski resort.  Yes, skiing, as in snow skiing!  In Alabama?  I know!  As we approached this open area and a hill, I noticed a chair lift structure up this steep mountain side.  I blurted out to Sue, “Hey, there’s a chair lift, like for skiers!”  And Sue said that this golf and ski resort, Cloudmont Golf & Ski Resort, is the southernmost skiied mountain in the U.S.  Who’da thunk it!?!  I wondered if they pump snow up on the hill/mountain, because Alabama doesn’t see the kind of snow that would make for good skiing…okay, maybe once every 10 years!  I gotta look into this place!

Okay, back to the chalet.  It was this little triangular-shaped dwelling that I guess sleeps one or two, but it had a spectacular view of the covered bridge from afar.  As we walked up to it, thinking it was vacant, Sue saw a man moving in one of the windows.  I was already down the side of this little place, camera ready to snap whatever I desired.  Sue motioned to me that there was a man coming, and out the back walks this nice older man, who, as it turns out is a professional nature photographer.  He had a little name badge on with his name written in Sharpie, Gordon G.  He introduced himself as Gordon, and allowed us to take some shots of the bridge from the back of his chalet’s balcony.  We thanked him for allowing our intrusion then we were off to get closer to the covered bridge.  It was just down the road a bit.  This was not like the previous covered bridges, but basically just a roof structure built over a bridge over a gully with a deep drop.  So compared to the last two, it was a bit disappointing.  However, I love the history behind stuff like that.  It was built in 1863.  Not in it’s original location, I think, but much of it was still intact.  It is traverseable by auto, but mostly gets foot and horse traffic; there’s a dude ranch nearby.  We drove across it, but there wasn’t much else in the way of road left to go.  So we drove up the drive to the dude ranch, which was for guests only, and were turning the car around to leave as we were met with and chased away by a very large pitbull.  He barked and got so close to the car, we thought he’d jump on it.  Cujo!  Bad dog!

By this time, it was already after 4:00pm, we’d seen her covered bridge, had quite the adventure today, so we both agreed we were ready to make the journey home.  And off we went.  Laughing all the way back at how much fun the day was.

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