Category Archives: State Parks

Cheaha State Park

Sometimes the hidden gems are found when you take your time…

For so many of our working years, our focus on the Michigan/Florida route was to get there…which involved only two overnights.  To us, Alabama was mostly flat, as we slid down I-65 to Montgomery, then down US-231 to the Florida line.  We knew there were many portions of the state we were missing, and that we were going to want to experience those at some point.  We had the time on this trip, so ‘some point’ had arrived!

We pulled out of Huntsville on Saturday, October 28th and headed south on US-431.  The first portion of the route took us through some beautiful waterside views of Guntersville Lake, which is actually the dammed-up Tennessee River.   The remainder of the highway to our next stop in Oxford passed through a secession of towns that had grown together to become a bit more congested than pretty.  Still, we found it far more interesting than I-65!  😊

We set up at CWGS (an acronym for Camping World / Good Sam) campground in Oxford, which is located right next door to the local Camping World.  Our first intention for this two night stop was to grocery shop, do laundry, and sit out the rainy, cold day that was forecast for Sunday.  With all tasks accomplished early in the day, and with clearing skies, we set out to do a little exploring.   Just south of Oxford, the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains terminates in Cheaha State Park.  This is Alabama’s highest point, a spot recently visited by our friends Debbie and Steve, on their quest to climb each state’s tallest peak.

After setting the GPS, we headed straight south out of Oxford.  Several miles up the mountain, we came to a cable across the dirt road.  Hmmm….it looks like Greta Garmin needs an update. Back down the mountain we went.  We found the correct road, a 13 mile scenic route off of US-431.

The first turnout revealed that this was going to be a pretty drive!  We continued on up to the top of the mountain and found a historic stone lookout tower, along with a sign declaring we were at Alabama’s pinnacle. 

The tower was constructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, along with most of the parks buildings, bridges, and trails.  They even constructed the dam that forms Cheaha Lake.  There is a museum adjacent to the tower devoted to the CCC, and the tower itself is open to visitors.  I asked the volunteer in the museum where the official benchmark was located…

…and it turns out that we had practically stepped on it on our way inside.  😎

From there, we checked out an accessible boardwalk out to Bald Rock.  

This very popular pathway parallels the old CCC trail that runs out to one of the best viewpoints in the park. Every so often, a stairway leads down to the original route.  

Coming around the corner toward the viewing platform, we catch our first glimpse of this amazing vista!

The view is absolutely stunning!  And the fact it is accessible to all just makes it that much better.

Even though we were chilly, we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at Cheaha State Park!  Be sure to stay tuned to see what we find on our next stop!

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Across the Middle of Minnesota

As we headed east into Minnesota from North Dakota, we made the decision to head towards Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as opposed to dropping through Chicago and under Lake Michigan.  Having some time to spare, we meandered our way across the Land of 10,000 Lakes and found some interesting surprises along the route.  

The first gem we stumbled upon was the Minnesota State Park system.  While they were most likely packed during the summer, they were pleasantly uncrowded and peaceful this time of year.

From our site at Buffalo River State Park, we watched as several deer munched on the vegetation.

We took a stroll along several of the park’s hiking trails.

We also discovered this unique swimming hole (available in the summer) that pumps in filtered river water.  It has a coarse sand bottom and a accessible ramp for people having difficulty walking over the sand.

The next day, we headed north a bit to Itasca State Park.  Our goal was to see the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

After setting up camp, we followed the signs to the visitor center.  From there, it is a few hundred yards to what is accepted as the source of the Mississippi River.



It was here in 1832 that Henry Schoolcraft declared that he had found the source of the mighty stream.  Of course, it was an Ojibway chief who brought him here, so Hank really wasn’t the first.  😉   The headwaters…which is the outlet of Lake Itasca…was ‘improved’ in the 1930’s to allow visitors a pleasant experience.  Previous to that, it was a muddy, mosquito infested area.

We waded across and didn’t even get our knees wet!  Definitely a fun place to visit…but something I saw on Google Maps had me wondering: is it the true source of the Mississippi?  After the river leaves Itasca, it flows into and out of several natural lakes.  That fact begs the question: are there any inlets flowing into Lake Itasca?  Well, as a matter of fact, there are two of them at the opposite end of the lake .  One comes in from Elk Lake, and the other comes in from Nicolet Lake.

Looking on Google Maps, the outlet from Nicolet Lake into Lake Itasca is listed as the Mississippi River!  What gives?  That’s upstream from the headwaters marker! And down below Nicolet Lake, there is a small inlet flowing into it.  Could that be the true source of the Mississippi?  My thought is that Mr. Schoolcraft didn’t paddle far enough upstream.  A quick internet search reveals that I’m not the only one to think that.  😊  Nonetheless, the fact that we were able to wade across the Mighty Mississippi was pretty darned cool.

From Lake Itasca, we continued on to Duluth. We spent a few nights there to do some laundry, grocery shop and check out the town.  We had been there several years ago when we were on a Lake Superior Circle Tour.  At that time, we toured the retired and meticulously restored freighter William A. Irvin.  

© en.wikipedia.org
The ship is still there, just as beautiful as ever.  We also spotted the Edward L. Ryerson on the other side of the harbor in Superior, Wisconsin.

© Duluthshippingnews.com
The Ryerson has long been known for its astetically pleasing lines, and is always a crowd favorite when it comes into port.

© Boatnerd.com
It also had an unusual situation when it was built in that it was too long to make the turn in Manitowac Harbor to get out.  They ended up having to carve out 50 feet of the sea wall to allow it to make the corner.  🙂   It was good to see this ship again, as I hadn’t seen it since I was a teenager in Detroit.

We also checked out some of the cool architecture in town.

The local Corps of Engineers building was beautiful…

…as was this old gas station turned ice cream and malt shoppe.

There were several young guys taking turns jumping off of this old structure into Lake Superior.  When someone asked one of them if the water was cold, he responded “It’s warmer than it was in May.”  That’s one way of looking at it.  😊

We also walked under the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge near the entrance to the harbor.  The 900 ton center span of this structure can be raised to provide 180 feet of clearance for the big lake freighters to pass under.  Many sailors have seen this structure as a beacon of hope as they come off the big lake in a raging storm.  If any structure is synonymous with Duluth, this is it.

We had an amazing time in our short dash through Minnesota!  We would definitely like to spend more time there in the future.  Next up, we arrive in our home state of Michigan.  Stay tuned to see what we find!

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