Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hike to the Largest Tulip Poplar in Alabama

There is a tree nestled in the deep woods of the Sipsey Wilderness that I've often heard called the "Largest Tree in Alabama". After digging around the interewebs for a bit I think that I can only confirm that it's the largest Tulip Poplar in Alabama and that the #1 tree spot might belong to a Live Oak at the southern end of the state...

...depending on how you measure "largest". The poplar is taller and the live oak is bigger around at the trunk. And then there's this cypress that's also in south Alabama. 

At any rate, this past Friday we hiked out to see one big damn tree and two really nice waterfalls.

One quick word about the Sipsey Wilderness- it is not a National Park but rather a controlled "Wilderness Area" maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Hunting is allowed- commonly for wild hog or deer. Make yourself visible. Make your pets visible. Wear bright colors, blaze orange if possible.

Bring water. Bring a map. Watch your time. Bring a flashlight.

Staying safe in wild hog habitats:
  • Just like other wildlife, feral hogs will be most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Wild pigs have great senses of hearing and smell and will generally avoid contact with humans.
  • If you see a pig on the trail keep a safe distance especially if piglets are present.
  • If you ever have a faceoff with a hostile pig your best option to defend yourself may be climb the nearest tree.
  • If a pig charges you can try to sidestep very quickly at to avoid the potential swing of its tusks before escaping up a tree.

Our hike starts at the Borden Creek parking area and runs along what used to be County Road 5 (including the paved derelict bridge) down to the East Bee Branch Falls and the canyon where the tree lives. According to the data on my GPS the canyon is called "Big Tree Canyon" and the tree itself is called simply Big Tree on most of the old maps I've seen.

Here's the tracklog to the map below:

The Borden Creek parking area is located the terminus of the current CR5/Bunyan Hill Road and is clearly marked. The hike starts by passing the gates that bar vehicle traffic further down the hill and then crossing the old bridge across Borden Creek.

At the far side of the bridge the marker for trail 224 is on the left side of the trail. This starts an uphill climb for about a quarter mile that will gain you about 150 vertical feet. Once you're past the climb it levels out considerably and is mostly even walking through a narrow corridor of pines. Aside from the actual steep assent the only real difficulty will be the occasional stump where the trail has been cleared. The stumps are small, only about the size of my arm, and are numerous early on. Esther and I both stubbed our toes when we weren't looking (or when I was watching the GPS and not the trail...)

There's not much in the way of color this time of year, and the bulk of the trail isn't incredibly diverse when it comes to landscape or views, but I did find a few things along the way.

Our route kept us on trail 224, past an unmarked trail (marked "no horses") until taking a turn left, off old CR5/Bunyan Hill Road and on to the marked trail 204. Here the trail opens up a little bit and we could see more sky than we had most of the day.

The path forks at an old marker that looks more like a rotting fence post. 204 is the left fork, 204A is the right. Our map was huge help here because the marker is useless these days. We took 204A to the right and started what was at first a gradual slope downward and then became much steeper.

The trail pauses at the top of East Bee Branch Falls with a view down into the canyon.

Those of us not carrying small children continued down the canyon wall to see the bottom of the falls and, of course, Big Tree.

Here she is

There are two falls that pour into the canyon, East Bee Branch and an unnamed fall to it's left that is only slightly smaller. The two pictures below are both of East Bee.

This is the other nameless fall that drops in front of a large overhanging shelter recessed into the canyon wall.

Two dorks

Four dorks

On the way back we had planned to stop just past the bridge and have a campfire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows but rain threatened so we "settled" for Mexican.



Total mileage for the hike was over 12 miles. Trip time was about six and a half hours. All the pictures are here.

Solstice Sunrise and Cliffs of Ruth

On the morning of the 22nd some of us that were feeling up to it popped up before the sun and drive to one of our favorite second homes to watch the sun come up.

There wasn't so much of a sun rise as there was a gradual brightening and gradually more bluish light through the fog of Monte Sano. The fire was warm, the food yummy and the friendship appreciated and much needed. It's amazing what a few moments of talking Pooh with a 6-year-old can do for an achy heart.


A few days later we took a Christmas Day stroll to the middle of this chunk of land we live on back to the cliffs that we've named for my late Aunt Ruth. This is basically the same path I took on the 29th of last month.

The weather is dong funny things. It's cold, but not as cold as it was last year about this time. It's been just rainy enough and warm enough that the mushrooms are making a run for it and some of the green has returned for a confused sneak-peek of Spring.  

There's a tree around the corner from the cliffs that grows on a table of stone with it's big round tree-butt hanging over the edge. I'd love to see the supporting roots in a cross-section of the hillside. 

One must keep a sharp eye out for cliff goblins

We don't have any spectacular waterfalls on the land, but the creek makes a good effort in wet weather.

A few more pictures are here and here.

A Farewell

I've been trying to come with a way to type this out that wasn't brief and impersonal but that also didn't dredge up the totality of my sadness. The fact is the pictures that I took of our sweet puppy Kaiju in the last posting are the last that I'll ever be able to take. Days after that hike she became sick and was lost to us soon afterwards. Not to be over dramatic or to draw forth sympathy, but every animal we've seen go to the clearing at the end of the path I've viewed as some degree of a personal failure to that soul. Kaiju is forever the puppy that she was and will never be the dog that she could have been. Our little duck hunter dog (an irony in this household of bleeding-heart hippies) never saw, never smelled a real duck. She had just started to get over her fear of water, but had never really swam. My only hope is that somehow, somewhere she's running with our Zephyr and all the other dogs that have lived and died on this farm throughout the years.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sipsey Wilderness Area- Thompson Creek, Needle Eye, Ship Rock

A couple of weeks ago in November we made attempt to hike a trail that we have walked before, but from the opposite end of the trail. This went well until the trail crossed the creek- without an actual crossing. It's too cold now for wading and after a little wandering to find a shallow spot we gave up before the sun set on us. Regardless, it was a decent hike and the two smaller dogs had some fun being wild wolves.

The trail is along Thompson Creek in the Sipsey Wilderness inside Bankhead National Forest. We started from the south end of trail #202 and continued on #202 until we met the creek. I didn't record a track log on my GPS that day and the trails are not visible on Google maps, but they are on OpenStreetMap if you click this link to the parking area.

Carry me?
Nia climbed up this leaning tree at least six different times, often taking the shorter route to the ground.

Talents include superior balance and agility.

Talents include BUT I'M THE BABY
I swear I'm not consciously humping Esther in this next picture. Sometimes trying to take group shots with the timer just results in awkwardness and unintentional weirdness. This is one of those times. Esther's response to me pointing this out will either be "if you didn't say anything nobody would have thought that" or "GAH! Why did you upload that?!"  


Flash forward a couple of weeks we're back in Bankhead/Sipsey for a few small hikes with extra people- some old friends and others new acquaintances as well as two extra dogs. The first stop was at Kinlock Falls

Past the falls and on the the other side of the Forest Service road is both Kinlock Springs and Kinlock Shelter.

Marker near the springs
Pictoglyphs from inside the shelter

The "big" hike of the day was from the north end of Thompson Creek back to and through Needle Eye and then a quick snack on the bank of the creek. This is the opposite end of the same trail we ventured down on the previous trip. 

The path up to Auburn Falls
Ship Rock and Needle Eye are two formations in the cliffs that are found near the end of the trail that we hiked. "Ship Rock" because it resembles the prow of a ship jutting out over the forest and "Needle Eye" because of the small aperture through the rock itself that you can pass through to get to the other side. I didn't get a picture of Ship Rock on this trip, but Esther has one on her page for Thompson Creek. I'll note that I've seen different sources call it either just "Needle Eye" or the longer "Eye of the Needle". 

Chan, threading Needle Eye
The forest on the other side of Needle Eye are what I think of when I think about Bankhead and the Sipsey Wilderness in particular: fir trees, mountain laurel, huge boulders, and blue-green waters. Some of the trees defy the need for soil and perch on top of the large rocks like giant spiders. The quality of light is different, it holds on to the setting sun a little bit longer than the trail leading up to it and the whole place has a strange sort of diffused glow to it like if sunsets were made of leaves. I've seen more than one person remark that passing through the Eye is like stepping into another world and I'm inclined to agree.

Setting sun on the cliff wall

Persistent tree and hiking dog

Esther through a portal near the Eye

I did manage to record track logs of our hikes on this day. Here's the hike from Kinlock Shelter back up to the parking area. and here is the whole trip at Thompson Creek.

These are two of the same links from the last post, but all the pictures from the two days are here and here.