Hike Twelve by leader6


									   Alabama/Mississippi/Louisiana Hikes: Table of Contents

Alabama Hikes
     1. Gulf State Park
     2. Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
     3. Chewacla State Park

Mississippi Hikes

Louisiana Hikes
     4. Poverty Point State Historic Site
Hike #1
Trail: Catman Road Trail
Location: Gulf State Park
Nearest City: Orange Beach, AL
Length: 5.6 miles out and back
Overview: A flat, easy hike on paved trail featuring coastal scrubland.
Trail Information: http://www.alapark.com/parks/feature.cfm?parkid=22&featureid=15
Note: At last check, this site had not been updated for the trail reconstruction after
        Hurricane Ivan; see below for details.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Orange Beach (east of the state park), take
SR 161 north 0.9 miles to Marina Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection. Turn
left to enter the parking lot for the Catman Road Trailhead. The other end of this trail can
be accessed at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. To reach the Sportsplex, continue north on
SR 161 another 0.8 miles to SR 180 and turn left on SR 180. Take SR 180 west 2 miles
to the Sportsplex entrance on the left. The trail leaves from the rear of the second large
blacktop parking lot.

The hike: For obvious reasons Gulf State Park is probably the most famous and most
popular state park in Alabama. While most of the Alabama Gulf Coast features
developed areas, the state park protects 2.5 miles of sugar-white sand beaches for
everyone to enjoy. The park draws large crowds, especially during the summer, so don’t
expect to comb these beaches alone.
         In addition to the main attraction, the park also has several campgrounds, a cabin
area, a lodge, and a golf course. All of these accommodations are usually booked many
weeks in advance during the summer, so make sure to make reservations well ahead of
time if you plan to use the park’s sleeping accommodations. Better yet, plan a visit in the
fall or winter when temperatures are still fairly warm but the crowds are much smaller.
         While the hiking trails at Gulf State Park will never be the park’s main attraction,
they do provide a nice alternative for those who do not wish to just sit on the beach all
day. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for all of recent history. In September
2004, the eye of Hurricane Ivan came onshore just a few miles east of the park. As a
result of the high winds and water, the mature coastal forest that once covered much of
the inland part of the park was obliterated along with the five nature trails that explored
this forest.
         Fortunately, the park chose to turn this adversity into opportunity, and upon my
visit in fall of 2007, a new, larger system of trails was under construction. While the
previous trail system consisted entirely of short nature trails, the new trail system will
link the state park with the nearby county recreation areas and provide the opportunity for
longer backpack hikes. The first section of the new trail to open is the Catman Road
Trail described here. Make sure to keep an eye on this park in the near future and watch
the new trail system develop.
         From the Marina Road trailhead, the blacktop trail goes around a metal auto gate,
passes an information board, and begins heading into the scrubby coastal forest.
Throughout this hike the canopy is dominated by a sparse scattering of various types of
pine trees including slash, loblolly, and shortleaf pines. The dense understory contains a
large number of palmettos along with some holly and magnolia.
         The first 0.6 miles of trail are dead straight, as the trail follows the old roadbed of
what used to be a westward portion of Marina Road. An old road sign can be seen to the
left of the trail about 200 feet from the trailhead. For the first 1.5 miles, wooden mile
markers will mark your progress at quarter-mile intervals. The trail stays in the shade
about half of the time and passes through the sun for the other half. The prevalence of
sun on this trail is another reason to plan your visit during the cooler offseason.
         At 1.6 miles, the trail comes to a picnic pavilion that appears to be in the middle
of nowhere. Actually, the trail you have been walking on is wide enough to get vehicles
to this point, and once the trail system is complete, this will be a major trail intersection
as the Rosemary Dunes Trail will exit left to form the backpack loop. The pavilion is
screened to keep out insects, and modern restrooms and a drinking fountain are located
just off the trail to the left. For now, the swing in front of the pavilion makes a great rest
stop for either your trip out or your retrace back.
         At 1.75 miles, the old Marina Road continues straight as an unpaved service road
that ends at the state park campground. The paved Catman Road Trail makes a pair of
right turns and crosses several marshy areas via wooden boardwalks. The name Catman
comes from a legendary half-wildcat-half-man creature that supposedly roams the coastal
marshland. I did not encounter any catmen on my hike, but I did see a lot of dragonflies
and some Spanish moss on this section of trail.
         The trail is more interesting after it leaves the old road because it features more
curves, newer pavement, and more marshland. At 2.75 miles, the Catman Road Trail
exits right for the Orange Beach Sportsplex. The Gulf Oak Ridge Trail continues
straight, but it is still under construction and, at the time of my visit, ends literally in the
middle of nowhere after another 0.75 miles. Eventually the Gulf Oak Ridge Trail will
proceed another 3 miles and provide the trail link to the golf course, campground, and
cabin area of the park. For now, you can decide where to turn around, but you should
continue at least to the next boardwalk, which is the longest boardwalk in the current trail
system. Once you have explored to your content, either find your car shuttle at the
Sportsplex, or turn around and retrace your steps back to the Marina Road Trailhead to
complete the hike.
Hike #2
Trail: Battlefield Nature Trail
Location: Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
Nearest City: Dadeville, AL
Length: 2.8 miles
Overview: An easy to moderate front-country hike passing many historic sites.
Park Information: http://www.nps.gov/hobe/

Directions to the trailhead: From US 280 just north of Dadeville, take SR 49 north 11.3
miles to the park entrance on the right. The trail begins at the overlook parking area 0.25
miles from the park entrance on the left.

The hike: It was an unusually warm and muggy afternoon in December when I arrived at
Cholocco Litabixee, as this place is called in the Creek tongue. I imagined it might have
been a similar afternoon in March of 1814 when the respective courses of the American
and Creek nations would be changed forever. General Andrew Jackson (who would later
become the 7th President of the United States) led the direct American assault on the
Indian village, while Brig. General John Coffee lie in wait across the river to clean up any
enemy warriors who tried to escape. The hostile faction of the Creek nation, Red Sticks
as they were called, were led by Chief Menawa and had fallen back to Cholocco
Litabixee after defeats further north.
        On March 27, 1814, the American army united with some friendly Creek forces
engaged and defeated the outgunned and outmanned Red Stick army. Trapped in the
horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River, the Red Sticks chose to die rather than surrender.
Some died at Jackson’s hands, but others were killed by Coffee’s forces as they tried to
escape downriver. As a result of this battle, the Creeks would cede a large portion of
land comprising most of present-day Alabama and southern Georgia.
        A visit to the park should begin at the Visitor Center, which features some
exhibits, a short film documenting the battle, and restrooms. Next, to obtain an overview
of the park, you should drive the 3 mile tour road. Of course, you will see things on the
trail you will not see on the road, but in this case the opposite is also true, as the road
provides some nice views of the river. Finally, you should go back to the overlook
parking area and hike the nature trail, which forms a loop through the park.
        Contrary to the park map, the loop does not begin at the overlook but at the
overlook parking area. You will pass the overlook at the end of the hike, so to start, look
for the gravel trail as it leaves the right (south) side of the parking area and heads into the
woods. The trail is blazed with white paint blazes, but the wide gravel trail is hard to
miss. The forest here consists mainly of hardwoods such as oak and hickory with a few
tall pines. Many ferns inhabit the understory.
        The trail passes through a couple of ravines. After a short, steep climb out of the
second ravine, the trail arrives at a light blue cannon and the Congressional monument to
the battle. You are now standing on Gun Hill, so named because Jackson had stationed
his cannons here to attack the Red Stick defenses. A shelter with some interpretive signs
gives some information about this phase of the battle. The white posts below you mark
the log barricade which comprised the Red Sticks’ main line of defense.
         The trail crosses the tour road for the first of three times and heads downhill
toward the river. Before actually reaching the river, the trail curves left and passes
through the former barricade at roughly the point where Jackson attacked it. As might be
expected given the outcome of the battle, no visible evidence remains of the barricade.
Now in brushy forest, the trail maintains a fairly level elevation before angling left and
crossing the tour road for a second time.
         Now inside the loop of the tour road, the trail rises gently to arrive at Village
Overlook shelter at 1.3 miles. As its name suggests, this overlook sits some 30 feet
above the historic Red Stick village site, which was called Tohopeka and was located at
the very front of the horseshoe. Some more interpretive signs tell of village life before
the attack, and benches in the shelter make a nice rest stop near the midpoint of the hike.
         Past the Village Overlook, the trail becomes blacktop for a short section until it
reaches a parking area along the tour road. The trail does not cross the road here but
parallels the road for a few hundred feet before curving sharply to the right and crossing
the road for the last time. The areas near the road contain numerous termite and fire ant
hills. Of course, you are best advised to leave these nests alone.
         Across the road, the trail descends to the Tallapoosa River floodplain using one
switchback and begins heading upstream parallel to the river. This stretch of trail lies the
farthest from the tour road and hence offers the most solitude and best wildlife viewing.
The dense vegetation near the river makes a particularly good haven for birds. I did not
see any exotic birds on my visit, but I did see numerous cardinals, blackbirds, and
         Although you know the river lies only feet to your right, the dense vegetation
mentioned above blocks your view. Just when you think you may never get a clear view
of the river, a gap created by a fallen tree creates such an opportunity. Here you can look
for waterfowl, but you can also see across the dark, still Tallapoosa to where Coffee’s
troops lied in wait for fleeing Red Sticks.
         Just past this opening, the trail curves left to begin its ascent away from the river.
This ascent begins in a small ravine where the trail crosses a stream several times, each
one on a wide wooden footbridge. Soon the grassy battlefield comes into view ahead and
on the left as the trail continues climbing. At 2.7 miles, the trail arrives at the last
overlook shelter. This shelter sits at the highest point on this trail and offers wide views
of the entire battlefield. After taking in the view and reading the interpretive signs, a
final stretch of downhill blacktop trail remains to return to the parking lot and complete
the hike.
Hike #3
Trail: Mountain Laurel Trail
Location: Chewacla State Park
Nearest City: Auburn, AL
Length: 0.4 miles
Overview: A short, but very steep and highly eroded trail to the base of Chewacla Falls.
Park Information: http://www.alapark.com/parks/park.cfm?parkid=14

Directions to the trailhead: Take I-85 to US 29 (exit 51). Exit and go south on US 29.
Take US 29 only 0.3 miles to Shell Toomer Parkway and turn left on Shell Toomer
Parkway. Take Shell Toomer Parkway 1.6 miles to where it enters the park. Pay the
nominal entrance fee and continue straight on the main park road as it bends around
Chewacla Lake, passing numerous picnic areas along the way. Park at the Upper Picnic
Area at the very end of the main park road.

The hike: The tall, stately, mature trees, elaborate stone picnic shelters, and narrow,
winding park roads give away this park’s 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps history. At
only 696 acres in size, the park packs numerous recreation opportunities into its small
package. These opportunities include 6 cottages, a 36 site campground, a group camp,
and fishing and swimming in 26 acre Lake Chewacla. Even better, all of these facilities
are located within a few miles of Auburn University and I-85.
        The park also features 7 hiking trails of various length and difficulty, many of
which feature excellent CCC construction. Unfortunately, I arrived at this park only 45
minutes before sunset, so I only had time to hike the first part of the Mountain Laurel
Trail to the falls. Even worse, of all of the well-engineered trails in this park, this trail is
definitely not one of them. Still, this trail is quite popular because it provides the shortest
route to the falls.
        The trail starts in front of the picnic shelter at a red, wooden sign that says “Trail
to Falls.” The trail drops straight down the steep hillside over a jungle of protruding
roots and rocks. Honestly, this is one of the worst designed trails I have ever hiked. Still,
with slow and careful stepping, most people can get to the bottom without incident.
        Once at the stream, you will have to take a couple of steps onto the rocks in the
stream in order to get a clear view of the falls. If the 34-foot waterfall looks man-made,
that’s because it is. The waterfall is created by water flowing out of Chewacla Lake over
a CCC stone wall before continuing down Moore’s Mill Creek and, very shortly, flowing
into Chewacla Creek. Nevertheless, the waterfall is scenic, and the boulders downstream
from the waterfall create some nice (natural) scenery and cascades as well.
        After viewing the waterfall and surrounding areas, night had almost fallen, so
rather than continue around the Mountain Laurel Trail, I was forced to retrace my steps
back up the steep hill to the parking area. The climb back up was no more pleasant than
the climb down. On the bright side, the low ridge on which the picnic shelter sits
provided some nice views of the coastal plain and a spectacular place to watch the sunset
on the partly cloudy evening of my visit.
Hike #4
Trail: Poverty Point Walking Tour
Location: Poverty Point State Historic Site
Nearest City: Epps, LA
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: An easy hike through and over Indian mounds that mark one of the earliest
settlements in Louisiana.

Directions to the trailhead: In northeast Louisiana, take I-20 to SR 17 (exit 153). Exit
and go north on SR 17. Take SR 17 north 11 miles to the town of Epps. Where SR 17
intersects SR 134 in the town of Epps, turn right to go east on SR 134. Take SR 134 east
4.25 miles to SR 577 and turn left on SR 577. Take SR 577 1 mile to the signed entrance
for Poverty Point National Monument. Turn right to enter the monument, and park in the
only parking lot.

The hike: As you drive the rural northern Louisiana roads into Poverty Point, it is hard
not to notice the persistent flatness of the land. The Indian mounds at Poverty Point
provide a stark contrast to the flat surrounding landscape. Even the smallest mounds on
the site, which were originally 5 or 6 feet high, stood out to early white explorers as signs
of an earlier civilization.
         Unfortunately for us, the practical needs of frontier life take priority over
historical preservation, and in the mid 1800’s many of the mounds that comprise the site
today were disturbed by the plow in an effort to make this land productive. In fact, the
name Poverty Point comes from the name of a farmstead that was built on this site in
1843. Names like Poverty Point and Difficulty Creek more often than not provided
accurate descriptions of the lives pioneers found as they tried to work the land.
         Today the mounds protected by the state of Louisiana as Poverty Point State
Historic Site and serve as a monument to one of the earliest mound building civilizations
in North America. For those who have difficulty walking, a paved route through the site
is traversed by a tram several times each day, allowing everyone access to the site. The
rest of us should consider the walking tour described here. Since much of this trail passes
through sunny fields, this is not a hike for a hot summer afternoon. In season, the trail
provides a pleasant 2.5 mile hike that passes every point of interest in the site.
         After stopping in the Visitor Center to view the movie on the mounds and pick up
a trail guide, walk out the front door and angle left, heading for the picnic tables near the
parking lot. The trail is marked by white wooden posts with blue caps, two of which can
be seen from the trailhead. Although two of these posts can be seen from the trailhead,
the first post is actually out of view over a small ridge along the river. You reach this
first post by following the mown grass trail over the ridge, staying near the scrubby forest
on the left. This first post gives a nice view of Bayou Macon, the waterway that
originally brought Indians and later settlers to this site.
          The trail curves right and climbs gently to Sarah’s mound, the first stop on your
tour of the mounds. This small, round, flat-topped mound is about 5 feet high and
features several tombstones on its top. In the days of early settlement, it was common
practice to bury dead people in the same location where Indians had once buried their
dead. If you are not too impressed by this mound, don’t fear: the bigger ones are yet to
         The trail heads west passing post #4, a slave cemetery. When I hiked this trail in
mid-March, grape hyacinths covered the surrounding field in this part of the site. Cross
SR 577, then proceed to walk through the six concentric semicircle mounds that, on the
trail map, appear to form an amphitheater. While these mounds were once several feet
high, the plow has taken its toll here more noticeably than anywhere else, and today they
are virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding field.
         Near post #7, the trail enters a young broadleaf forest with thin canopy. Post #7
talks about the causeway, a “mound” in the sense that it was built by Indians moving
basketfuls of dirt from nearby locations to this one. At the time of the settlement, the
causeway connected the main area to the outlying areas and created a small pond that
could be used for drinking water or food storage. Today, the causeway and a short
wooden boardwalk take us to the same areas without getting our feet wet.
         At post #8, the trail emerges from the woods and reaches the western boundary of
the site, beyond which is a fence, a dirt road, and an active farm. The trail curves right,
following this boundary for about 300 feet, then curves right again to reenter the forest.
At post #9, display boards give information about Mound A, the largest mound on the
site, and some benches provide a nice place to rest provided the sun is not too hot.
         The trail curves left to follow the paved tram path for a short distance then leaves
the pavement on the right side and begins climbing a series of wooden steps up the
southern side of Mound A. Viewed from above, Mound A looks like a bird with
outstretched wings. The head is the highest point and once stood about 100 feet above
the surrounding landscape. Again due to the effects of the plow, the current height is
about 70 feet. The view from the platform atop the mound is quite nice, though
somewhat obstructed by trees. Take some time to observe the mound and the
surrounding landscape from this birds-eye vantage point.
         More wooden steps take you down the mound toward the east, so you ascend the
mound along one of the wings and descend over the tail. At the base of the mound, the
trail turns sharply left and passes a borrow pit, the source of the dirt that now comprises
the nearby mounds. Upon reaching the tram path for the second time, angle left and head
for Mound B, the other large mound on the site. While not as impressive as Mound A,
this flat-topped mound is 20 feet high and measures 180 feet in diameter, making it well
worth a visit.
         The trail curves right as it leaves the mound and heads into some more mature
lowland forest. Spanish moss hangs from the trees here, and Harlan Bayou can be seen
through the trees on the left. While some parts of the trail could be a little wet,
boardwalks and bridges carry you over the worst part.
         2 miles into the hike, the trail crosses SR 577 for the last time and angles left to
reenter the forest. This section of trail is marked with blue blazes painted on trees. The
trail passes back through the six concentric ridges; they are a little more noticeable here
because this land was not farmed for as long as most of the rest of this site was. At 2.3
miles, the trail intersects the tram path for the last time.
         Shortly after this intersection, the trail passes an interesting point with Mound C
(now a small hump) on your left and the remnants of Floyd’s Trace, an old wagon road,
on your right. Soon the picnic area is reached, and a short level walk remains to return
you to the parking lot and complete the hike.

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