Monday, December 27, 2010

Sometimes The Best Kept Secrets Remain a Secret

If you travel or live around North Alabama, you will hear many times about the natural bridges of Winston county, Alabama. Most people have no ideal of anything else around this area that has a natural bridge. By natural bridge, I mean a large rock that branches out and forms a bridge. There are at least two or more to gaze at in Winston county, Alabama. They are all over tourist brochures and talked about all the time as destinations for tourists. Sometimes though, the best kept secrets of an area, remain just that, a secret. My buddy Thomas called me one night and said "Let's go check out a natural bridge with Indian rock carvings over in Franklin county. A camping friend of mine shared a GPS waypoint of the area." I told him to consider it a plan! He came over to the house one night, we programmed the GPS position he had been given in to my topographic software on my computer. We pinpointed and mapped out the roads to get to this place we had heard about.
With the holidays in full swing, and both of us off from work, we tore out on December 27th. We headed out the old two lane highway once called "Highway 24". It parallels a new four lane Highway now that is the official Alabama Highway 24. We proceeded west towards Russellville, Alabama. At county road 81 at Newburg, we turned left and headed south. Fresh snow from the weekend still dotted the country landscape, creating an awesome scene as the crystal clear blue skies and sun blanketed the area. About 3-4 inches of snow fell on the area on Christmas day. An event that has not been duplicated with this much snow since 1963! Heading south on county road 81, we come up to the intersection of county road 81 and county road 38, just north of Oak Grove. At this intersection is one of the strangest things I have seen in years. Right in the middle of the road of county road 38, where it intersects into 81, is a fifteen foot high monument. It is decorated in flowers and is surrounded by 2 foot high walls. Upon stopping and closer inspection, we find it is a World War II monument, built around 1949, and dedicated to a sailor who died while the vessel he was on sunk off the coast of Cuba. How bizarre for such a monument out in the middle of no where! All I can guess is that the family must have lived around this area. It might have been a private road at the time and so the family paid for this elaborate monument to be built to honor there son! Several pictures are attached of this monument and more can be found on my facebook. The link is provided at the end of this article. As we proceed on, we turn onto Highway 81 and continue down to Highway 243. There, we park the truck and head out. Using our GPS units with the waypoint loaded into it, we walk up to the area where this natural bridge is supposed to be. When we come up to it, our jaws hit the ground! Unreal! What a site! An extremely large, perfectly arched rock is before us! Below, a massive shelter! As we snap pictures approaching this, we can see right away that as far as the locals go, it is WELL known. There are signs of fires, the dirt wore down all around the shelter, and graffiti everywhere! Some in the form of spray paint, some in the form of carvings on the rocks, and others from just about any form you can think of to write with.

Upon closer inspection of this amazing place, we realize just how massive it really is. We also find what we were told about. Near the north end of this shelter, we find a massive rock with tons and tons of graffiti. Upon close inspection of some of these, you realize that not ALL of this is graffiti. It is the intricate carvings done by Indians deep into the rocks! How do you know this Rex? Well, for one thing, there about 8 carvings of circles (pictures attached to this blog) that would take hours to carve into the rock. Why would someone take this kind of time to do this? Well, it can be debated that this is "pure de old" graffiti and has nothing to do with Indians. That may well be the case, but what supports this theory is that nearby under the shelter, are two very large Indian Mortar Rocks, or deep holes carved into the rocks that are the classic signs of Indians living here. Also, Thomas, my camping/hiking buddy noticed that a few of the carvings in the rock are very similar to the ones that are in rocks at the Indian Shelter in Bankhead National Forest. A plus pattern, and some other carvings are the same ones found and known to be Indian rock carvings in Bankhead National Forest. Upon further inspection, we find what appears to be an Indian Marker Tree, or a tree very similar to the ones seen in Bankhead. The place has some "intense fascination" to anyone that visits this area. Now, we have no ideal if this is National Forest Property, Tennessee Valley Authority government property, or private property. We took a chance on this and just went! What truly amazes me though on this two findings is this. I have lived in this part of north Alabama for 50 years, and Thomas and I had no ideal of the natural bridge secret pearl. I had no ideal of the World War II monument as well!

Winston county can pride itself on natural bridges for tourists, but Franklin county holds the "gem pearl" when it comes to natural bridges and Indian artifacts. This strange World War II monument still standing just added to and topped the day off!

After all that we found, what could finish out the day? We chose to head to Bankhead National Forest and explore Payne Creek. An incredible canyon of hemlocks, bluffs, old beech trees, and beauty I once again, had no ideal about! We only had a couple of hours to explore Payne creek before getting out before dark (this was a day trip only), but we will be back!

Below is a link to view more pictures of the monument and shelter, and be sure and check out the video at the bottom of this post that gives you a tour of the natural bridge. I hope you enjoy it! Until next time in the outdoors! You will be there!

To view pictures of the World War II monument and the natural bridge, click here or copy and paste this address in your web browser: