On Monday, April 26, we pulled out of Mom and Larry’s place around 9 AM, heading for the Rocket City. No, not Cape Canaveral, nor Houston, but Huntsville, Alabama. It was a beautiful day for a drive, as we headed through Rockmart and Cedartown, Georgia, both familiar territory. We’ve driven from North Georgia to Huntsville many times, mostly through Fort Payne, but today we looked for “fresh road”. At the state line, we picked up US-411 to Leesburg, followed by AL-68 to Crossville, AL-227 to Guntersville, and US-431 North. At New Hope, Alabama, we stopped in at Royal Roosters Antiques & Vintage to walk around a bit. I ended up finding a couple of movies and a little gift for my Mom. (Too bad; you’ll have to wait, Jo!) Next up was a little grocery shopping next door, then a lunch of sandwiches in Petunia. We finished the final leg of the drive and arrived at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center RV Park by early afternoon. After setting up and relaxing a bit, we headed over to have dinner and hang out with Peg, MW’s (Mr. Wonderful’s) step-mother, and her husband, Colin. Anytime you get to eat Peg’s cooking, you are blessed!
The next few days were filled with great family visits. We spent time with Peg and Colin over another dinner at their house and over lunch at Five Guys, and separately with Peg over lunch at Jason’s Deli. MW’s brother, Scott, joined us for dinner at Peg and Colin’s one evening, then invited everyone to his new house for barbecue on Wednesday night. Turns out he can COOK! (The house is beautiful and has a terrific, fenced back yard with a large deck.) We also worked in our weekly laundromat visit and a little shopping and sorted through stuff at Peg’s storage unit with Peg (leftovers from the sale of Windover and combining houses after the wedding) to help clean out.
Aside from the great home cooking, the one food place to fill you in on is the City Cafe Diner. While this place clearly can’t decide whether to be a cafe or diner, it is well worth a visit. We have been for lunch before, but this time we grabbed an early breakfast. Their menu has a great variety, and the service is very good. It is always reassuring when you go into a place and it is full of locals. The big draw, though, is the dessert counter that you pass on the way in. (That is just a darned smart way to get more sales.) We resisted on this visit, but the cakes, pies, cheesecakes, etc., are phenomenal and the portions will feed at least two, if not three, people! There are restaurants by the same name in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee, but they don’t appear to be related.
We pushed back our normal Thursday departure to Friday for the big event…Peg’s 85th birthday party on April 29th. The recent renovations to the living room came in handy as everyone gathered to celebrate. In addition to Peg and Colin, the crowd included their kids MW, Scott, Ann, Becca, and Eric; Scott’s sons Caleb and Noah, the latter flown in from Tampa to surprise Peg; Becca’s husband Jeff and son Harrison; Ann’s daughter Jamie, along with her entourage Eli, Faith, Hope, Micah, Noah, Joy, and mother-in-law Cheryl. (Dad Josh stayed home with Grace, who wasn’t feeling well, and an emergency placement. They are really amazing: Seven kids, four under three years old, and they still open their home to emergency fosters! I would be bat poop crazy in that chaos, but they handle it well.) I didn’t get pics of the entire crowd, but below are a few. After lots of good food and equally good company, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Petunia around 9 PM.
We typically stay at the U.S Space & Rocket Center RV Park (review) when we are in Huntsville to visit family. (Monte Sano State Park is also nearby, but we are almost always out and about with family, making the additional cost and the drive up and down the mountain unnecessary.) This time four nights cost us a total of $123.00, an increase over our last visit, but still not bad for full hookup. No road repairs as of now, but they are using an online reservation system instead of requiring you to call and a new fire hydrant was installed.
On Friday we set out around 9 AM heading east on US-72 to Scottsboro, then southeast on AL-35. The weather was very grey, but not raining. At Fort Payne we stopped to stretch our legs. It is a nice little town with a neat, downtown park to walk in. (Desoto State Park is a terrific option nearby for anyone interested in staying in the area.) We enjoyed the cool weather before hitting the road again.
For the non-country music fans out there, the band Alabama is from Fort Payne, and despite being mostly retired, their presence is still evident. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006, the group was started by cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry in 1969. Originally called Wildcountry, they were soon joined by another cousin, Jeff Cook. Although there were several drummers over the course of time, it was the addition of Mark Herndon in 1979, a former rock drummer, who rounded out their signature sound. The rest is country music legend. I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t familiar with at least one Alabama song. Please keep it to yourself if you haven’t heard of them. It’ll just make me feel sorry for you!
One pic I took in Fort Payne reminded me of a funny story. We were in Amsterdam in 2016 strolling down a street the width of an alley back home. In the windows were some quite risqué items, including a wedding dress that was so revealing that we weren’t sure how it was kept on. The street was a dead end with shops directly across. As we got about halfway down the block, I noticed something hanging in the window and was trying to figure it out. I thought is was sausage or socks maybe. When we finally got close enough to read the sign, it was CONDOMS!!! In all different sizes!! I guess the guy just comes in and points to the size he wants. Wow! Cracked me up!
We headed east out of Fort Payne over to the Little River Canyon National Preserve to check out Little River Falls. There is a nice parking area with an overlook off of the bridge, easy trails to the river views, a picnic area, and bathrooms. Although still cloudy, it was perfect walking weather. This area was once part of the vast Creek and Cherokee territory. In 1838, more than 1,100 local native men, women, and children were rounded up and moved to Fort Payne, where they were then led by Cherokee John Benge west over 798 miles to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) along what is now known as the Trail of Tears. The bridge at the falls is very near that original trail. Like the previous occupants, settlers to the area found the cool mist of the falls at Little River refreshing, and it became a place of respite.
It was time to think about lunch when we left. We headed across Weiss Lake on AL-68 to Centre where we found Centre Park, another great little city park. We made sandwiches and sat in the gazebo to continue enjoying the cool weather.
After lunch, we finished the final leg heading south on AL-9, zig-zagged over to the scenic route south of Anniston, Alabama, and found Cheaha State Park. After two weeks of visiting, it was time for some vegging! We got everything set up, then enjoyed the cool, beautiful afternoon.
Established in 1933, Cheaha State Park is the oldest continuously operated State Park in Alabama and home to the highest point in the state at 2,407′. Developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it encompasses approximately 3,000 acres that are surrounded by the 300,000 acre Talladega National Forest. I honestly didn’t expect these types of mountains in the middle of eastern Alabama, but the scenery is spectacular. The park has a lot to offer individuals and families alike. Lodging includes a hotel, chalets, a variety of cabin sizes, and four campgrounds, one on top of the mountain (43 full hookups, 2 bathhouses), one near the lake (30 full hookups, 1 bathhouse), one near the highest point (water only, restroom), and one across from the lake (primitive). Other facilities include an activity building/wedding chapel, group lodge, swimming beach, fishing in Cheaha Lake, picnic shelters and tables, miles of hiking trails, mountain bike trails, and access to off-road vehicle trails in the national forest. There is a well-stocked camp store and a restaurant near the upper entrance. We stayed in the Lake Campground, which was very nice. The facilities were reasonably updated and very clean. There were quite a few pull-through sites, but beware that some they call pull-through must be backed into. (We were in site 56, and there is no way we could have made the turn to pull in with our 31′ fifth wheel.) There is virtually no cell signal in the park, but wifi is available at the restaurant and store. Also, the wooded area surrounding the campground was covered up with poison ivy. In fact, we noticed it in a lot of areas in the park. I wouldn’t hike except on designated trails. Although we weren’t able to drive through the upper campground, both areas had recently been upgraded and paved and have security gates to keep out the looky-loos. We would definitely stay here again…four thumbs up!
On Saturday I spent the morning working on a project, and MW took a nice walk around the park. My plan was to make it a solid pajama day, but gave in just before lunchtime to go for a drive. This is pretty mountainous and rocky (for the south) terrain that makes for beautiful, scenic roads. We took the back roads through the Talladega National Forest west to AL-21, then headed north to Anniston. Why? To see the World’s Largest Chair, of course. Crowned by Guinness World Records in 1982 and modeled after an actual office chair built by The HON Company, this behemoth is 33’1″ tall, 19’7″ wide, made with 10 tons of steel, and can take 85 mph winds! Sadly, the record was surpassed in 1995 by a 7-story chair in Marzano, Italy. They, too, lost the title to the current record-holder in St. Florian, Austria, with a specimen that measures 95’5″ tall. Holy smoke! After that little viewing, we headed back to the park, cutting across to the scenic route we came in on. This time we were able to stop at the overlooks.
About a million years ago, when I was in my early teens, Mom and Aunt Helen loaded all eight of us kids up and headed west to “find some sun”. It had been raining for days, and they were exasperated with all of that kid energy bouncing off of the walls. I remember that we made it to Anniston before the big orange ball finally made an appearance. After seeing the overlooks along AL-281, aka Skyway Motorway, on the Talledega Mountain ridge, I think that might be where we stopped. I remember something about an older couple watching eight kids and two adults pour out of that station wagon. I’m sure it was a sight. They let us run around for a while, then loaded us back up for the drive home. It is a great memory from my childhood, as are all of the trips we took with Aunt Helen and crew. Dad was none too happy when he got home from work to no dinner, an empty house, and a note, but I don’t think Mom or Aunt Helen cared a whole lot. He had been escaping all of the chaos at work!
Back at the park, we stopped to check out the lake and play area before heading back to Petunia for a quiet evening.
Sunday we took a nice walk around the campground and down to the lake area. (Truth be told, MW took a good walk earlier, and came along with me for a second time.) Later we drove to the upper area to get pics and check out Bald Rock, which is a nice walk out from the parking area on either the boardwalk or natural trail. We chose the latter, which was an easy, but rocky walk through lots of wild berry plants (maybe blueberry or huckleberry). The view was incredible! Next we headed to the restaurant for lunch, which was pretty decent burgers. (The fare is typically home cooking, but they are still on a modified Covid menu with burgers, hotdogs, pizza, etc.) The main draw to the restaurant, though, is the view and the wifi! After lunch, I dropped MW back at Petunia (where I’m certain there was napping) and returned to get some work done on the wifi at the restaurant. By the time I got back, the campground had emptied out quite a bit. The forecast called for rain overnight, so MW brought in the chairs, table, awning, etc. Then we watched a little TV before turning in.
Next up…Prairie Creek, Crazy Storms, and Bro and Sis. See you on the path!
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