Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Hidden Secrets of Turkey Creek-Bankhead National Forest

 It's Not Just a Waterfall-It's a Community Long Gone
Turkey Creek Waterfall
One of the most confusing waterfalls on Turkey creek . It has no name (but is beautiful) and is mistaken by many as Turkey Creek Waterfall as people walk up the creek from Sispey Recreation Area for the first time. They don't bother to walk any further and miss seeing the true Turkey Creek Waterfall. This waterfall actually IS on Turkey Creek, but with it being smaller, most folks term the larger one up stream as Turkey Creek Falls instead.

There are so many places in America that hold a history of the past. As we walk the earth, we tend to think we are the only ones to be here. As we walk in places, we rarely tend to think about the past. Did someone else walk here in this same path? If so, what did it look like? Few even give it a thought. Today on this journey, there are a lot of neat finds, and a question of what this place looked like 80-150 years ago.

A large tunnel routes Turkey Creek under Cranal Road. Many local people have no ideal this exists.
Remains from the Mize Grist Mill Site
As you hike the woods in Bankhead National Forest, you must remember that a lot of what was there before it became a National Forest, is locked in time, undisturbed in many respects. When homesites were abandoned for the U.S. Forest  Service to come in, many things did not get cleaned up. They merely started the slow fading away process that time imposes. One of those areas we are talking about on this day is the Turkey Creek area of Bankhead National Forest. Many people have been here to see the small, but beautiful waterfall and also a small waterfall with no name nearby it.  It is a simple walk to get to compared to other places in the Bankhead. Some have even walked down and visited the old Ford 1936 car shell under a bluff. Those are really neat places to visit, but few have bothered to probe deeper on this creek for anything other than waterfalls and a wrecked car. On this simple day hike in Bankhead, it opens up new questions and lots of great scenes to see if you love this National Forest in North Alabama called Bankhead.
Remains of steps carved in rock at the old Mize grist mill site. The mill was located to the right of this picture. The steps probably helped support lumber for a dam to hold water for the grist mill.
More Steps carved into the rock at the old Mize Grist Mill Site above Turkey Creek Waterfall. Again, they probably were used to help anchor lumber to support a dam structure for the mill.

My hiking and camping buddy Thomas, another friend Tom and myself head out for an all day adventure in two areas of Bankhead. First is Turkey Creek, and second on tap for the day is the Kinlock area. To start off with, Turkey Creek is first.  We head west on Cranal Road off of Alabama Highway 33 in Bankhead, passing the well known Sipsey Recreation area. After we pass the "rec area" and proceed on about a half a mile, topping a tall hill and going down, we pull off to the left side of the road and park at a small parking spot that is the entrance to an old logging road. It is considered by many to be the "shortcut" to get to the Turkey Creek Waterfalls. Many people enjoy parking at Sipsey Rec area, walk under the overpass over Sipsey River, turn left, and head up Turkey Creek. Others that want to just see the falls, take our route.

As we park and head down, Thomas takes me on a separate path I have not been before. This is typical of Thomas, and as a result of a non-typical route many times, he discovers a treasure trove of interesting items on our journeys exploring.  It is a route he had taken about a week before with his aunt, and I am glad he lead the way. He already knew of some of this, but obviously wanted to surprise us with his find. In that respect, he certainly did!  Instead of crossing the road from your parked vehicle on the south side of Cranal Road, we exit out and go off to the south side of the road into the woods. As you do, move west (to your right) and you will come across your first surprise. There is a massive double concrete tunnel for Turkey Creek to flow through. Thousands of people have traveled on Cranal Road (myself included) over the years, but very few know of such a large structure under the road about 20 feet down. We walk through it and take pictures of it. If you do the "little kid thing"and yell or try some crazy sounds, you will hear some very interesting sounds out the other side! The acoustics of this tunnel are really weird! As we move down through the tunnel and Turkey Creek towards the main waterfall, Thomas points out some interesting things he spotted on a previous trip. There are large poles in the ground as if something was situated on the creek. Further inspection reveals some really neat features I had no idea we would come up on. He points out steps carved in the rocks, as well as holes that reveal the classic signs of a grist mill on this creek. As we cross the stream, Thomas finds the foundation of an old building beside the creek. It must be a grist mill! We snap photos and keep exploring. As you keep looking around, we discover that the foundation for the grist mill is on very flat ground, about 15 feet above Turkey Creek. We notice an old road bed that led up to this apparent mill site. Research later shows that this was the site of the Mize grist mill, just off of Cranal Road, that is the OLD Cranal road route. More on that later.  There was a residence nearby this mill, and even a Post Office not far from there. The mill site is really interesting in that it is truly hidden in the leaves and deep foliage. Most people would never have a clue of the history being hidden at this special place in time.
The foundation to the Mize Grist Mill, just above Turkey Foot Waterfall.
 The Old Cranal Road Route

 Further walking and exploring yields some interesting things I have never known about, and I have lived around here most of my life of 53 years. It is the grown up site of the original Cranal Road! That was very interesting to me in that we found an old sign on the old abandoned road saying  "Black Warrior Management Area Bankhead National Forest. This was probably posted up on the side of the road in the 1950's.  Clearly, the current Cranal Road was moved up higher than what the original road was in places, and this sheds new light on the old car that has remained as a monument near the creek and talked about  for years by many. It shows that although this car came off a steep bluff and who knows the ture story behind how the car got there or if anyone was indeed hurt while driving it, but it shows that the car would not have had to go far off the old road to land at the base of the bluff. It did not come off from where the road is now. Supposedly, the old story passed down is that someone back in the late 1930's, lost control and went off the road. Nobody was hurt, but the car and horrified people on board supposedly plummeted off the bluff with those people in it! Also, according to what I have read, nobody was injured badly either. One note of interest is the fact that back then, nobody had the equipment to pull a car out of such a steep ravine, or if they did, nobody could afford to pay the steep price to recover the car in this extremely rural woods area of Alabama. Over the years, parts have all been robbed and taken off of it. Old timers in their 80's at the time of this writing say mules carried or pulled the engine and main parts out. Today, only a shell remains, and within the last 6 years, a tree fell and center punched the middle of the body, making it now a truly crushed and warped old car.
This old postcard shows the Sipsey Recreation Area. Notice that the road looks new. There are not even any Forest Service signs showing Sipsey Recreation Area. Also study the old wooden bridge to the right that is still there. You can see that Cranal Road truly has been changed entirely from what it used to be. The old road actually went around to the right side of the hill in the distance. Turkey Creek empties out here at Sipsey River to the left of the bridge.  The new road actually buries the old road on the west side of Sipsey!

This is a section of the old Cranal Road (elevated section), just north of the current Cranal Road. At one time, there was even a Cranal Road Post Office. Mize Mill and Turkey Creek Falls were just a short piece off to the right on the old road as you traveled west on Cranal Road.
Some things will not go away. A section of the old Cranal Road still is still telling it's story of a road long gone in usage.
It does not take a long time to explore more in this small canyon. Another hidden item in this small little canyon is a very small, but very deep Indian Mortar Rock up under a bluff. It is a reminder of a time when Indians lived in this place, and every day brought new challenges and adventures. Beneath the leaves of time in the ground all around Turkey Creek, is hidden evidence of a heavily used grist mill facility built along the creek above the falls, belonging to the Mize family. They owned vast amounts of acreage during that time.
A 1936 Ford treats you as you walk up from Sipsey Recreation Area. If it could talk! This car went sailing off the old Cranal road (with people in it) and dropped some 40 feet off a bluff to where it is today down near the creek.

Indian Mortar or Milling Rock along Turkey Creek
A recent trip to the Lawrence County archives has no mention of the Mize mill,  not a sign. It truly is a
place holding tons of history, long forgotten by those of us alive today. There are numerous books out by Jim Mannasco and Butch Walker that talk about this neat place if you are interested in reading more details about the area. This area actually had a post office (we are still searching for the exact location of it) and on down the road a little further, Turkey Foot Ranger Station built by the Conservation Corp back in the 1930's. It was torn down in the 1970's and the site is growing up in under growth. What a find, and right underneath us everywhere we walked. Buried somewhere is the hidden history of this place, but for most, it is just there telling a story that nobody seems to have records easily of. This place teaches us that just because a "road" is named a certain name, it does not mean the road has remained in it's current path over the years. Improvements and shortcuts are made on any road over time, so some roads change and so does the scenery. Places continue to tell stories long after most everyone has passed on. It's just that most people don't take the time to listen. The trash thrown out the window of a car in the 1930's may be a treasure for someone in the 21st century to find, all because a road changed paths, and locked the item in the leaves of time for someone to find.
After some lunch, we move on over in Bankhead to another very well known historical place, Kinlock. Another blog perhaps, and another day. Thanks for going along with us on this day.