Alabama the Beautiful certainly lives up to that moniker, but like much of the Southeast, its scenic wonders can take a little searching out. Unexpectedly, one person has done more than any other to show me the often hidden beauty of my own home state, an engineer from just outside Philadelphia, aka my wife Bridget. In my years working in New Orleans, she moved here after graduating from school Boston to work at Redstone. By the time I returned here and met her, she’d hiked and ran and seen places I’d not even heard of, I’m ashamed to admit. (What can I say? I spent my youth playing video games and basketball.)
I’m proud to have seen more and more of Alabama’s natural and historic places with and because of my yankee wife, and Rocket City Local will be sharing a series of pieces on the topic in the coming weeks as the weather warms, with a focus on destinations in a range accessible to Huntsville area dwellers in the day trip format. First up, there’s Blount County and its historic covered bridges.
Isidro, a dear friend of mine I met in New Orleans but who’s originally from Huntsville (the son of wonderful local potter and artist Guadalupe Robinson) told me once that Blount County was, to him, the most beautiful part of Alabama. When I first met Bridget and we fell in love through a series of hikes, I told her I wanted to check out this county south of Cullman, seat of Oneonta. On a brutally hot late summer day we did just that, and saw the area’s three notable covered bridges, and more to boot.
About five miles north of Oneonta, Horton Mill is the first covered bridge in the region to be named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and is one of the tallest existing covered bridges in the nation, towering over 70 feet above the Black Warrior River. You can drive across this one, but watch out as there’s only one room for one car crossing in either direction at a time, and the speed limit is 5 MPH.
One of the longest in the nation is only a few more miles to the north of Oneonta, outside Cleveland. The Swann-Joy Bridge is closed to motor traffic but there’s room to park on either side and you can walk it for some beautiful views of the river through the lattice.
The Easley Bridge, just south of Rosa, is the oldest and shortest of the covered bridges in Blount County. It was reopened to cars in 2012.
After we visited the three bridges, we drove to a beautiful waterfall called Mardis Mills, which was unfortunately marred by a bad litterbug infestation. My wife and I try to haul out the trash we find in our beautiful natural spaces in our backpacks when space allows, but I draw the line at picking up used diapers. We can do better, Bama. Vandalism and littering in our most cherished natural settings is an education problem, in my humble opinion. Help the effortand speak out. Let’s keep these places clean for all to enjoy. Sadly, vandals burned down the county’s historic Nectar Bridge in 1993.
If the bridges and waterfall weren’t enough, we tacked on a hike through the winding, rolling bluffside trails of Blount County’s “best kept secret”, Palisades Park. There are pavilions for picnics and gatherings, scenic views, a tree lover’s trail with ID/info placards, and rock climbing opportunities.
Now I will say that we’re fairly active people in very good (her) and decent (me) shape. But the point is we did all this in a day, including the drive. So if you’re looking for a fun day trip out of Huntsville to get some exercise or do some sightseeing, consider Blount County. It's a world away, truly, and it's so close to home.
By: Stephen Locke
Stephen Locke grew up in north Alabama, and returned to find a beautiful wife and East Limestone mutt to call family, after years of toil and revelry afar, and having absorbed the lesson, "Don'tcha think, sometime's it's wise not to grow up?" His true loves include waterfalls, houseplants, architecture, photography, basketball, and whistling along to his favorite guitar solos.