We pulled into Oak Mountain State Park late last Saturday, an hour after they closed but we were still able to check in for one night with the guard at the front gate. From the map we decided to go to the least crowded area of the campground and make our first attempt at backing the trailer into a spot, unfortunately the first time would be in the dark with no flashlights or 2 way radios – or any way at all of communicating the parking job into success. Luckily, as happens often, there was a guy waiting for his wife outside the bathroom who had a flashlight and at least one time more experience backing a trailer in than we did. I stood at the back of the trailer, feeling completely useless, knowing I couldn’t be seen – having no experience helping someone back in a 32 foot trailer is nearly as bad as having no experience doing the backing in. I couldn’t decide on hand signals and it didn’t matter because Ross couldn’t see my hands. The guy who offered to help used his flashlight to guide Ross into a reasonable position and Ross managed not to hit any trees, tables or drive off any cliffs. So although we were about 4 feet too far to the left, leaving us almost no front porch, we considered it a success and started setting up.
The next day, we wanted to settle in, knowing we would be staying here a couple weeks, so even though there was no room for the awning to come all the way out with our parking job, we half mast carported it (I made that term up myself), which means we took the awning arms off the trailer and staked them into the ground with the awning only half rolled out. It covers about 4 feet of ground, enough for us to park the bikes and motorcycle under and hang out with the animals while they sniff around.
The park is basically a huge thick multi tree’d (deciduous, coniferous and a few tropicals) forest with 3 large lakes. The forest has very little undergrowth, which is my favorite part, because although there are trails all over, you can go whichever way you want without having to turn back.. most the time at least. Because we are somewhere that is not an inner city trailer park (for once in months), we have made it a habit to actually get out of the trailer during the work day, both taking rides on our bikes (me motorcycle and Ross, bicycle) during our lunch breaks and trying to do as much as possible before dark. We also take the animals out regularly, and Susa is getting much better on her leash now that she has somewhere to go. The last place in New Orleans was always crowded or had traffic in and out so she barely left the 10 feet in front of the trailer. Now she takes us for walks down forest trails, climbs trees and catches crickets. Chena is about the same as anywhere, old and slowish but eager to walk in whatever direction she decides will get her the farthest away from the trailer.
This last weekend, we really wanted to look around while we were able to get away from work so we got up… ahem.. early.. (no we didn’t) and went for a 2 hour hike. On the map we got at the gate, there was a trail marked “Lake Trail” just next to us by Beaver Lake. We couldn’t tell from the map but assumed because it was called Lake Trail that it went around or at least next to the lake for a while. After less than a mile the trail branched off back to the campground but there was still a trail at the lake so we continued on. After another 100 yards the trail started to get harder to walk, definitely there, but unmaintained. First large trees fallen across it, then bushes and small trees and a fairly steep hill leading down to the water – not the lake at this point but the mouth of a creek. As we did our best not to slip in the mud to our splashy demise, we realized the trail in no way followed the lake because you would have to swim across the creek to do so, but we followed whatever seemed like a trail until we were just walking through forest again. It was hot, about 95, but the forest kept us fairly cool. The humidity kept us sweating and drinking water and by the time we made it to a road, the only place the trail lead after its migration, we were ready to head back to camp, still a couple of miles away by this time.
After hiking we went to an awesome place in Birmingham called Sloss Furnaces, an old iron mill that’s been closed since the 70s. The place is open to the public and throughout the industrial wonderland are safety rails and self guided tour phone numbers to call and get info about the machinery. In the pits and drains of the plant were little concrete ponds full of turtles, frogs and minnows and every wall was covered in vines and moss or just deeply textured corrosion and erosion. It was pretty great and I got just about 40 photos with my big medium format camera (all film to be developed whenever I can find a place that does 120 film). After that we desperately wanted food and found a great little vegetarian restaurant called the Bottletree Cafe, the only one in Birmingham, which just happened to be a couple miles from Sloss Furnaces. This was a relief after living in New Orleans for months where everywhere was at least 10 miles from us, everywhere – And we were technically in town.
Birmingham isn’t bad, although its pretty small for a city. They have a Whole Foods, an Asian Market, several restaurant options and Sloss Furnace so, although I don’t want to live here, I’m glad we’re nearby. It’ll be a nice transition for our belated leap back into the travel world in our new trailer. Next time we’ll be ready to head back to small town USA. There seems to be much less of that in the east so far – it’s so densely populated here compared to the southwest where we spent most our trip pre-NOLA.
Here’s a few photos from the park and trip. Soon to come: A video of Susa’s forest adventures and many more photos!