We had seen several interesting parks on the map of Alabama but Cheaha State Park seemed like one of the best since it was deep inside Talladega National Forest – and the only place to camp inside the forest. We were excited to arrive, managing to show up at a decent time this time, but finding out on the drive through the mountains, that we were unlikely to have internet for the work week. When we arrived we still had no internet so we paid for just 2 days and tried to stay in a good mood while we setup camp. Again we had a hard time parking, ending up at some terrible angle because of the uneven lot, but closer to the hookups this time and able to have our awning fully out.
The forest was awesome and every moment of setting up and wandering around camp was a little more torture knowing we only had one and half days to spend in it. Susa and Chena were excited to go for a walk so we took them to the area just behind camp, pretty much forest for the next 500 feet up, where the top of Alabama is. It was a much different forest than Oak Mountain. In the area of Cheaha, the ground was rocky and covered in thick pillowy moss and the rocks were covered in layers of grey lichen. There were tons of young healthy trees, none of them very large yet throughout the forest were perfectly laid out larger dead trees, suspiciously looking like the rangers put them there for looks, but obviously much too large (sorry seems I took only film photos and they are yet to be developed).
The first day, after taking the animals out for a while, we decided to drive to the lake at the bottom of the mountain followed by lunch at the “lovely” restaurant at the lodgings near the campgrounds. The lake was busy with families barbecuing and swimming. The lake itself, only a few hundred yards at the longest, seemed more like a pond but it was equipped with a floating dock and floating rope to signify the swimming area. They had hauled in some sand and there was tent camping nearby so it was officially a fun place to be but too many kids to swim. We stayed long enough to walk to the water and back to the truck, navigating through running kids and waddling parents as we went.
We had lunch after than then just drove and wandered around the park, just before dusk planning a hike to the mountain tower, the highest point in Alabama. We looked at the map for the best way to go and saw a trail just behind our campsite that went all the way there uphill. We found what looked like a trail head and did our best to stay on track but because of the forest floor already being clear, it was nearly impossible to know where it went. We ended up traversing over rocks, trees and tall grass, passing a cave and the mountain’s telephone pole service road before finally getting to a random place on the road next to the tower. After already climbing quite a ways, we had to walk up 6 flights of stairs to the top to get a decent view of the coming sunset. It was pretty cloudy but there was some interesting rays from behind the clouds and some Vietnam war movie quality reds. Now we had to get down the mountain after dark, the trails are “closed” at dusk, but we wouldn’t have found it anyway. We decided to walk down the road that wrapped the top down to the campground, of course taking the wrong way – then half way down, when there was another split, we went the wrong way again and ended up walking a mile or 2 in the dark. After my feet didn’t hurt anymore, it was more fun to remember the unnecessary parts of the walk.
Sunday we decided to see as much of Talladega National Forest as we could. We brought a little water (we’re bad about that) and headed west into the forest towards the thickest an.d least road filled part. After a few miles the road sort of split into a dirt road and a continued paved and there was a parking lot with a trail. We haden’t had internet nor gotten any good whole park maps at the camp office (our usual unplanned selves). We found an great little trail where the road split and wandered down it a bit, finding two ants we’d never seen before but nothing else much to speak of animal wise. The trees were mostly pine and covered in vines and bitter berries. After about 1/2 miles the trail split into 2 more trails, one 15 miles and the other 6, neither of which we had enough water for in 90 degree weather. We headed back to the road and decided of the two roads to take we would take the dirt one. We figured it wouldn’t be open if it wasn’t meant to drive on or in a bad condition. It was 15 miles of fairly well kept dirt road through the middle of Talladega forest. Somewhere in the middle we even found someone living there, with a house and newer cars. I was jealous but at the same time, I always imagined having a place like that only if I had a helicopter – but I imagine they adapted just fine and maybe even have satellite TV and internet to keep sane.
Strange Ant (the least strange of the 2 that stood out as odd)
After our drive we haded back to camp to break everything down to leave. It was sad because there was so much to do in the park, trails we hadn’t seen, paddle boats we hadn’t really wanted to rent but might have because we could… When we were leaving camp late at night, we came across two girls and a little boy who had been locked out of their cabin and needed a ride to the office. We gave one woman a ride who said she had come to the park because of some great Waterfall we didn’t even hear about, but sadly there had been a fire and the waterfall was closed. One more thing we missed but wouldn’t have been able to see anyway I guess.
Onto Walmart in Chattanooga we went.