Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute

“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is a “heartfelt tribute to the state of Alabama.” Adopted by Alabama tourism as its slogan the “catchy” phrase indeed speaks to the variety and comfort of this truly Southern Hospitality state.

On a hot and muggy September trip to the deep South, we experienced Alabama hospitality and diversity from north to south.

Surprising Diversity

The northern third of Alabama is rugged where the Appalachian Mountains swing in from the northeast and finger down southwest toward the center of the state. The Tennessee River flows from Knoxville, TN, then cuts northwest through Huntsville and Decatur and on into the Tennessee Valley Authority.  It’s wet there and tent camping is an adventure when the waters run high. We quickly learned that most of the waterways flow south and spill eventually into the Gulf. Planning our crossings was important because there are limited bridges from west to east.

Ferry crossing Ohio River at Cave in Rock, IL

Quick way to cross the Ohio

Further north we did ferry across the Ohio at Cave in Rock, IL. This working ferry gets local and distance travelers across the broad river. The sounds of the ferry clanging and moaning of chains and engines at night recalled Jurassic Park! Then we wound our way through Kentucky and Tennessee to Alabama following parts of the Natchez Trace and the Trail of Tears.

Geologically, the ancient Appalachians of northern Alabama boast caverns, natural bridges, and tumbling waterways with falls. Cooler mountain air and vistas delight weary travelers’ eyes.

Birders find diverse birding from the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker that thrives in mature pine forests to the Bald Eagles that seem to soar everywhere nonplussed by humans. Nearer the coast migrating birds rest from their long flight over the Gulf. The State promotes varied birding trails.

Culturally, The Poarch Creek Indians hold Alabama sacred and are the only federally recognized Indian Tribe in the state. The Helen Keller home in Sheffield and Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center are great stops.

Black Belt of Alabama

This unusual phrase refers not to martial arts but to fertile calcareous soils that span central Alabama. Here, farming in plantations dominated.  This region is also where the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s. Montgomery hosts the new Legacy Museum that powerfully retells the story of kidnapped Africans who became slaves on plantations and the unjust, centuries-long suppression and incarceration of people. Along with The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, this important, interactive museum holds accountable past injustices and opens the door for reconciliation and cultural change where we ALL can be better people.

The Coastal Shores

The drive through large swaths of timber-harvested pine forests revealed a source of the nation’s telephone poles. So, thank Alabama’s logging industry the next time you pass a pole.  Our destination was Gulf Shores State Park and Lodge where we explored for three days.  The Lodge is LEED certified and surrounding modern “cabins” and RV camping accommodate most budgets. How smart of the state to get this piece of Gulf land.  It is one of the few areas not privately developed and with views of the Gulf waters. With miles of bicycle trails, fresh, brackish, and salt-water areas, and white sugar sand beaches, it is totally enjoyable. The habitat changes in a short distance depending on elevation (yes there is elevation along the coast) and proximity to the Gulf. We bicycled past freshwater ponds, palmetto areas, oak knobs, and back to beach habitat.

Lots for most people to take in. Our favorite was walking after dark along the shore looking for the ghost crabs. Herons stalked nearby, also on the hunt. Dawn found us sitting quietly along with others watching the sun rise over the Gulf. Each day crews set out and took in beach chairs and umbrellas. Flags flutter in strategic places alerting visitors to water conditions.  During our stay, small yellow flags rippled in stiff winds. Rip currents are a thing to pay attention to.

Rich took in a day fishing trip out of sight of land learning more about Gulf waters, sea bed, and the fishing industry.  Marion took in oyster harvesting. Owners of Admiral Shellfish and Navy Cove shared the aquaculture techniques to raise oysters from pinpoint size to eating size in a matter of months.  In northern waters, it’s years before edible oysters can be harvested. We both enjoyed several meals of oysters – who got the raw end of the deal!

Lodging & FOOD!

Uncle Mick offers pecan pie with ice cream and bourbon sauce to a customer

Uncle Mick’s Cajun old town Prattville is THE place to eat Southern.

We can’t say enough about Sweet Home Alabama hospitality and food. The front desk staff at the Hampton Inn and Suites, Prattville, AL, are some of the most friendly, efficient, and kind service workers we have ever met. They guided us to Uncle Mick’s Cajun just down the road in old town Prattville.  The unique and tasty dishes and personal touches by the owner made the meal memorable.  Staff kept dishing up small portions of truly Southern food for us to try and then loaded on our choices.  Uncle Mick himself visited and drawled, “Would you like the pecan pie warmed up?” Well, yes.  “How about a scoop of our local vanilla ice cream?” Well, yes.  “And we’ll pour over warm bourbon sauce. If you’d like.” Well, YES! All at no extra charge. Amazing!

At Gulf Shores, the Flying Harpoon is truly local. Unpretentious, funky, and busy! Eating our po boys, and shrimp baskets, and sipping a local brew we chatted with servers and residents. Down the road tourists dined at the “recommended” upscale restaurants.

One of our most curious adventures was the luxury RV water park Tropic Falls at OWA. Not much natural there, but a great time watching huge buckets fill with water and splash down soaking nearby visitors. It was hot so that was fine! Tropical falls and dizzying roller coaster rides were two hits along with mermaids serving beverages and food. Quite the place. Be ready to spend money.

Back up through pine forests, skirting rivers, crossing the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and on into familiar Midwest terrain. We carry memories and stories with us.