VIEWS: 6 PAGES: 9 POSTED ON: 3/1/2011
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 (none) 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 sparrows. 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 come. 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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