Hauling our backpacks out of the Cotton Pickin’ Little Farmhouse, a new friend came to say hello and wish us luck on our travels. Waddling up the driveway with his tail shyly between his legs was the neighbor’s dog, ready for a good pet. Lucky for him, I was ready to give him just that.
Sprawled out on the deck, taking a big morning stretch, he rolled over and gave me some side eyes, as if asking what was taking so long. Approaching the little guy with my arms wide open, I gave him some love before he ran a record-breaking lap around our car and back across the field to his home, tearing up a dust cloud behind him.
Okay, Lightning McQueen, no need to go THAT hard; my dog at home’s gonna get jealous. As we drove off, I glanced at my rearview mirror to see our new friend sitting at the end of his driveway with sad puppy eyes watching us leave.
“It’s not even eight a.m. and I’m already experiencing heartbreak,” I thought to myself.
Just thirty minutes later, we had arrived at Noccalula Falls. Being built essentially into the parking lot, we weren’t here too long. However, I could’ve spent my whole day watching the picturesque landmark. Tons of gallons of water poured over the edge each minute as birds swooped down, skimming the falls. The sun was shining bright, making a shimmering rainbow appear at its foot within the clouds of mist.
Like I said, I could’ve stayed here ALL day. However, we had bigger plans to execute.
Feeling the need to fuel my caffeine addiction, we stopped at The Spot, a local cafe along the way. If falling in love with hipster cafes is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Groovy artwork patched the walls, hanging above uniquely shaped furniture. If I’d taken a picture of each of the four corners of the cafe, you’d have through they were all from different places. I think that’s what I loved most about the place–it was so ferociously unique that you couldn’t duplicate it if you’d tried.
Little River Canyon was a scenic stop along the way which turned into a series of scenic stops. After our fifth lookout, I began to wonder just how little Little River Canyon was, as it felt pretty endless to me. Maybe this was like that whole naming-the-real-greenland-iceland-so-nobody-comes thing and they’d downplayed their town to keep it to themselves. Either way, I was impressed, but the views weren’t the only amenity in Little River Canyon.
Driving down the backroads, a sign reading “Pier 33 Antiques” begged us to pay it some attention. This small local shop was filled to the brim with tokens of the past: Dusty coca-cola bottles, ancient kitchen appliances and, best of all: Records. I decided on the “Walk on the Wild Side” record and continued down the dirt road.
The next park we visited required me to register online beforehand: Not to secure a day pass, but to sign our lives away. Receiving my confirmation email, Stephen’s Gap gave me two important numbers:
- The code to the entrance gate.
- The address I should give the ambulance after falling to my death.
How reassuring. I was surprised they didn’t just write “Death Wish To Go” in the subject line.
I watched my step as I swiveled my way through the vines, under fallen trees and over misplaced boulders. After what seemed like forever, we’d finally made it to the entrance of the cave. The first landmark I’d noticed, however, was the gravestone outside noting the death of someone on the site, accompanied by a warning to hike safely.
I took a big breath in and began my descent into the cave with zero equipment whatsoever. Seeing the shadows dance around me, I began to regret not bringing a headlamp. Convincing myself that these shadows were just pools of water, rather than spiders, snakes and slugs, I continued until I could no longer see the ground in front of me. I pulled out my iPhone and shined the light down at my feet, and I realized that I was standing right in the middle of a small stream.=
“What the–how did I not feel that?!”
Inching across the slimy rocks, the natural light from the crater above began to make itself visible. Ginormous pools of water sloshed through the ceiling, falling into the abyss below me and I prayed I wouldn’t land the same fate.
I felt a flash of envy when I looked down, seeing I was not alone in Stephen’s Gap. A couple was far below me, strapped in with professional equipment, slipping deeper and deeper into the portal to the underworld.
You can’t really blame anyone for risking their life to see something like this.
Stephen’s Gap was a different world; it was glorious and despite the cold, the dark and the possible critters, it felt safe–natural. Climbing back out of that cave, I felt as if I’d been reawakened when the cool air dispersed, leaving my body to soak in the hot and humid Alabama summer air.
Smudges of dirt and clay coated my arms and legs, which I felt a bit sorry for when greeting our Airbnb host. This sweet, little old lady was actually from Wisconsin herself, but now lived in one of the most beautiful places on Earth: Cumberland Falls. On the desk, she left a small, empty tissue box that read “Tips/Suggestions,” however, her Southern hospitality left me without a word to say.
Cheers to a peaceful night in the mountains (if you’ve been reading my last few posts, you know what I mean).