Patient reader, Spring has sprung, so we must digress from our tales of adventure in Peru to visit a wedding chapel in the wilds of northern Alabama. Fear not, the Weazel and Dr. Ann are thoroughly pair bonded and have no interest in the chains of matrimony. This is all about a party, the 68th annual “Pirates of the Carabiner” Cave Carnival which was held in early May at the Lazy G Wedding Chapel at the end of a long dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
To get to the middle of nowhere one must pass through the outskirts of nowhere. “Outskirts” is an odd word. Why not say, “pass through the pantaloons” instead? Nevertheless it serves well to describe an odd place. How odd? This odd.
Unfortunately, the ectoplasmic chickens had done flown the coop! (Notice my use of the phrase “had done flown”. Y’all need to learn how to read right and talk good to be understood down here in Bamalama!
One rarely encounters even one two toned orange stretch limo, but in Chulafinnee there was a large pile of them!
Imagine the tragedy when a fire breaks out in the chicken house. So many lives were lost that the funeral director had to use an entire fleet of hearses to transport the unfortunate chickens to the great hen house in heaven.
But why are all the hearses/limos orange? Perhaps because the chickens were all leghorns?
One can only hope that when the inevitable day comes when we must transport our great leader, the Orange Orangutan himself, to the great dustbin of history that he will receive an equivalent sendoff. And may that day come soon!
Just down the road from the Haunted Chicken House one will find the Dixie General Store which serves up a heaping helping of Confederabilia.
We stopped by to see if we could purchase a bumper sticker that would express our desire for coexistence, mutual respect, and world peace. One like this.
Unfortunately none were in stock.
I explained to the proprietor, a friendly and reasonable person, that I have no love for the Great Orangutan, nor do I fly flags, all of which I consider to be an abomination, but I could use an appropriate tee shirt, something that combines my love of snakes with my desire for autonomy. Something like this.
The proprietor lamented the divisions in our society, and spoke fondly of the day when an actual Negro walked into his store and shook his hand. He would like to do the same with a Yankee if only he could find one. He had no hatred in his heart for anyone, and only wanted to celebrate his southern heritage. I concur with that!
When, oh when, will all the “woke” urbanites, leftist academics, and media manipulators realize that their personal inferiority and consequent failure in life is not the fault of someone else’s great great granddaddy?
Tommy’s Lazy G Wedding Chapel is relatively close to Huntsville Alabama, but it might as well be on the dark side of the moon. Huntsville is an island of pseudointellectuals surrounded by a sea of morons, much as is my hometown of Gainesville Florida.
Both towns benefit from the presence of large universities; plus, the people of Huntsville are the degenerate progeny of actual rocket scientists like Werner Von Braun (Who did not make the bomb but provided the means to deliver it.) Without old Werner there would be no photos of the man on the moon. But none of that matters at the Lazy G; which, as the entrance sign states, is paradise!
Getting there requires driving off the edge of the Cumberland plateau down a tiny road with steep switchbacks to Greenbriar cove, a marvelously green rich valley along the Tennessee river. Such valleys are known as either coves or hollers in the local lingo.
Note that the Lazy G is located in King Hollow. The current hardworking owner is Tommy Griffin (Not lazy!) who bought his 1200 acre spread from the family of old Ephraim King (1785-1845), one of the earliest white settlers in Alabama. It is a shame that any family which has held land for over 200 years should feel compelled to sell, but Tommy is a good man and no developer. He intends to keep it wild and free, and toward that end to run the place as a ranch. May he and his kin live long and prosper!
The problem with ranching is that the work is hard and the profits slim, so Tommy leases the land during hunting season, and also built a wedding chapel. This consists of a small non denominational chapel, a bar and banquet hall, and several very nice log cabins for guests.
But who would come to such a place to get married? I was astounded to discover that wedding chapels are a thriving enterprise in northern Alabama. During the brief time we were there we passed three other such facilities and I personally witnessed two marriage proposals, neither of which had anything to do with the Lazy G.
Tommy doesn’t appear to be an uptight Christian, much less a man devoted to wedding kitch. He is in fact a big strong extraordinarily friendly fellow who looks like he should be wearing buckskins and a coonskin cap. What could his angle be?
Dr. Ann figured it out. The other wedding chapels we passed were wretched metal or brick buildings suitable only for Baptists looking forward to lives of sober drudgery. Ceremonies in such a place must be as joyless as the consummation soon to follow. The damned fools don’t even dance!
But what if you wanted to have a fun wedding? What if you wanted to pick some banjo, swill some moonshine, pet a few hound dogs, shoot some guns, ride around in an ATV whooping and hollering, then dance until you drop? If so, then the Lazy G is just what you need!
We set up camp in a lovely spot next to a sawmill.
Our choice of site was strategic. The previous day we had arrived after dark to set up camp with fellow cavers in a poorly drained pasture. It is a well known fact that whenever cavers gather their gaseous outbursts often produce cloudbursts; furthermore, all were sinners, so we expected devine retribution in the form of a Noachian deluge. It was not long in coming.
Our brand new $300 Kelty tent leaked like a sieve, so in the morning we fled to the everpresent Walmart to purchase a $35 tent and tarp. That, plus a site on a well drained knoll, kept us dry. To the best of my knowledge we were the only celebrants out of several hundred who stayed dry. The others were all swept away by the inevitable flood.
The flood(s) didn’t stop the party which went on for several days!
Jody, the fine fellow you see above, is justly beloved for setting up a tent cafe well provisioned for a pirate afterparty. This has so endeared him to all that it has become a tradition if not kiss his ass then to at least sign it.
Alas (perhaps I should say avast), though a pirate at heart the Weazel possessed no pirate paraphernalia so the bar tender refused to serve him his portion of grog. A flourish of my very real machete quickly put an end to his objections!
But we came here to visit caves, right? Fergit it! Been there, done that! As a member of the underground emeritus I am exempt. Nevertheless, had I wished to do so there were many such opportunities, for the Lazy G is riddled with caves! The first cave one encounters is right along the entrance road.
Cherry hollow cave is right at the base of the mountain, and is thus a conduit for the waters of the many vertical caves that have developed far above on the mountainside. Such caves tend to be large, level, and wet. Did I mention water? Cold wet water? So Ann and I just enjoyed the entrance.
As for those vertical caves above, here is a good example.
I have no idea what the name of this cave is, one of several I found while wandering around on the mountain, so I will call it “Just another death trap cave”. Such caves form on “benches” about halfway up the mountain where water pours off an impermeable stratum into soluble limestone. Almost all feature vertical pits, and may or may not connect with the conduit caves below. The good news for the Weazel is that my injured shoulders give me a great excuse to never again dangle down a rope into a vertical pit!
I prefer to think that despite my loathing of vertical caving I am still a tough old man, but remember the aphorism that no matter how tough you are, be careful when you walk into a bar because you might meet someone even tougher. So it was that while wandering around alone on the mountain I met the toughest man alive.
Marion O. Smith, better known as the Old Goat, is legendary. At 77 he has found more caves and bopped more drops than any man alive. He was the discoverer of the vast Rumble room in Rumbling falls cave, and apparently cannot be killed. I’ve never been underground with him because years ago I was doing a solo trip in Rocky river, a big stream cave in Tennessee, when I discovered a rigged traverse that had clearly been placed by a fearless maniac. When I learned that it was Marion’s “handline” I decided to avoid him at all cost!
Wildlife abounded at the Lazy G, especially birds, but I found few snakes.
There were numerous other interesting objects to be admired such as old cars, antique farm equipment, and stone animals.
Note the lush grass, and behind that the cows. On the final day they could no longer resist, so all 400 of them decided to join the party. The grass really was greener!
After the party was over everyone went home but us. Tommy graciously allowed us to stay provided that we leave before the next wedding. It was bad enough that there were Mexican slaves, but they stayed hidden. What if the lapsed Baptist wedding guests discovered that there were Hippies lurking in the woods? These several extra days in paradise gave us an opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside.
Our first foray was to the nearby Guntersville dam on the Tennessee river. There is a lot of talk these days about a new New Deal, but the Guntersville dam was the result of the old New Deal when the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) decided to tame the river and bring civilization to one of the wildest and most recalcitrant parts of our nation.
In 1935 the South was still reeling from Reconstruction (of which there was none) and electricity was a distant dream. The Guntersville dam, and others like it, changed all that for better or worse. Some may argue the benefits of paved roads, electric lights, schools, and jobs, but these were the means whereby America became homogenized and the wilderness lost.
Even today Alabama is considered backwards by Yuppies elsewhere, the recent anti abortion legislation is evidence enough, but consider how wild and wonderful it would be if the federal gubmint had never decided to “help”. Without such intervention Alabama and much of Appalachia would still be a veritable Albania!
The good news is that the TVA owns much of the land along the river, and that land is open to the public.
Cave mountain is so dinky that it can barely be seen in the above photo; nevertheless, it is an interesting place, and the trail to the cave is sufficiently confusing that visitors often get lost.
Cave mountain cave is perhaps the easiest cave to explore that I have ever visited, the perfect cave for a couple of old geezers. As you can see from Ann’s attire neither helmet nor kneepads are required. The inside is well decorated, but not with speleothems.
The Weazel is an equal opportunity offender, so allow me to offend my fellow cavers, most of whom imagine that caves are somehow sacred, by saying that I am rarely offended by graffiti and don’t much care about trash. Such words are anathema to the self appointed guardians of Gaia’s grotto, but I consider that to be heresy, for Pluto is the rightful ruler of the underworld.
Since the dawn of time people have entered caves to appease the demons of the unknown. Those with the courage to do so have often left their mark; and I, for one, consider the paleolithic cave paintings of France and Spain to be among the greatest aesthetic accomplishments of mankind. I would not wish to see these be defaced, but the motivations of the teenaged Rednecks who vandalized Cave mountain cave are not substantively different. They all say, “I, despite my fears, am here!”
The Weazel cares about both wildness and wilderness, and both are in short supply. Wilderness can in theory be set aside, but who will speak for wildness, the ability to throw off the contraints of civilization and release the beast within to do as it pleases? It is true that the beast is often ugly and destructive, but it dwells within all of us, and I would not wish to see its spirit be extinguished. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of the South, and why I am unconcerned when Bubba marks his moment of freedom with a can of spray paint. He will never descend a 200 foot deep pit, nor crawl for a mile on his belly, so the sanctum remains secure.
Speaking of bestial Bubbas, right down the road from Cave mountain is the microberg of Neighbor’s mill which features a beautiful waterfall and some very scary people.
We parked by the general store next to the falls with the intention of following Shoal creek from the waterfall at the top of the plateau all the way down to the bottom. The raging flood put an end to that ambition, but aside from that we were afraid to leave our car unguarded. All the store patrons were odd, but the worst was a meth whore with crazed eyes who stalked the parking lot and wanted to “help”. Her twitching mechanical movements made her appear to be some sort of deranged automaton, so we fled.
The following morning we set off on back roads for the Bankhead National Forest about an hour west of camp. Our circuitous route took us past beautiful Hughes spring, the final resurgence of the waters from nearby Newsome sinks, a vast karst complex with no fewer than 72 recorded caves.
Ann and I were walking along the dirt road by the spring when an ancient pickup truck screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. We thought perhaps we were in trouble for trespassing, but the shotgun rider rolled down his window on Ann’s side of the road and angrily asked, “Y’all seen a man on foot carrying a guitar case?” Meanwhile three huge bloodhounds tried to leap out the window to eat her, but the old man repeatedly beat the dogs to keep them in the truck. When Ann replied, “No, we haven’t seen anyone” they roared off without further explanation.
The more we thought about this strange encounter the more romantic it seemed. These were the most picturesque Hillbillies we had yet met, and they were men on a mission. It was clear that they intended to set the hounds on the man with the guitar case, then lynch him or shoot him after the dogs bit off his balls. No need to get the law involved!
What had the mystery man done? Stolen the guitar? Run off with the farmer’s daughter? Whatever it was I wouldn’t want to be him with bloodhounds on my trail!
We continued west to the Bankhead National Forest. We had previously explored much of the Sipsey Wilderness, a popular hiking destination in the Bankhead, but this time we wanted something more obscure, so we aimed for Capsey creek, a little known tributary of the Black Warrior river.
Along the way we found a nice, but not particularly pretty corn snake.
You have repeatedly heard me mention the Cumberland plateau, an understanding of which explains the canyons to be found in the Bankhead forest, so here is the backstory.
The Cumberland plateau, which extends from eastern Kentucky through Tennessee and into Alabama, is actually an extension of the larger Allegheny plateau that begins in Pennsylvania. It is composed of sediments washed down some 350 million years ago when the Appalachian mountains were taller than the Himalayas are today. The sediments were deposited flat and have generally remained so until today. The top layer is usually erosion resistant sandstone with softer sediments beneath such as limestone. This configuration explains the numerous caves and waterfalls typical of the region.
Zoom way out into space and it will be evident that the North American continent has cracked in a number of places. The cracks we are concerned with here are the deep faults which contain the Mississippi river running north/south, and the Tennessee river which runs east/west.
The tail end of the Cumberland plateau crosses the fault that contains the Tennessee river. This part has broken off and is slowly slumping toward the southwest where it eventually disappears into the Mississippi mud.
This slumping (or dip if you want to be geologically correct) is due to the Mississippi embayment. So much sediment has washed down the Mississippi river that the accumulated weight has actually deformed the crust of the earth. That is why Florida is tilting on its axis, Louisiana is rich with oil, and why the headwaters of the Black warrior river have formed the magnificent canyons for which the Sipsey wilderness is famous. Because of the tilt there is no lip of the plateau for the waters to fall off, so the streams incise deep canyons rather than form waterfalls.
We parked by the side of a lonely road that crosses Capsey creek. There was no trail down to the creek, an unusual situation in a rural area where there is little to do other than play in the creek. Thus far we had seen no people other than a schoolbus carrying one small boy. Talk about lonely!
We geared up for a wet walk, ready for a swim if necessary, then waded downstream. It was easier than expected. We were surprised that there very few fish in the creek, probably due to high acidity and low nutrient levels.
We were surrounded by beautiful forest featuring bigleaf magnolia and blooming mountain laurel.
There were numerous waterfalls and tributary streams along the way.
As we proceeded downstream the canyon walls closed in to form magnificent shelter caves.
We had seen no sign of humans whatsoever, neither footprints nor rubbish, but you can be sure that the Native Americans considered such places to be vacation condos! It is an unfortunate fact that these shelters were looted by pot hunters long ago.
We had promised Tommy G that we would leave his personal paradise before the next wedding, so we moved to Monte Sano (Mountain of Health) which is a beautiful State Park directly above the city of Huntsville. There we set up camp next to a lovely Japanese garden.
Monte Sano has been protected for over 100 years, so the forest is beautiful, there are numerous caves, and over 70 miles of excellent trails. Huntsville is most fortunate to have such a backdrop!
Not far from Monte Sano is the Keel mountain preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. I have already explained that the Cumberland plateau is capped with sandstone, below which there are various layers of softer rock, some of which are impermeable and others of which are not. Wherever the softer strata are interrupted by an impermeable layer caves cannot penetrate so the waters must flow to the surface. If there is limestone below the impermeable layer the waters sink again. Lost sink falls on Keel mountain is just such a place.
There is no surface stream above this waterfall, the waters emerge from a small cave at the top of the photo, fall over the impermeable Hartselle formation, then disappear into different cave in the photo below.
We were feeling frisky so we continued around the mountain, then bushwhacked down a very rugged ravine. It proved to be the most arduous trek of our trip.
Meanwhile the torrential rains continued, so we decided to explore the city of Huntsville. It proved to be a disappointment. The putative presence of smart people does not insure good architecture, much less a viable community of intellectuals, so it was all a bit drab.
The most interesting place we found was the Botanical garden which had been transformed into a refugee camp for polar bears fleeing climate change. Huntsville is the most liberal place in Alabama, but being white helps too. For this reason the Great Orange Orangutan only wants to build a wall along our southern border.
It wasn’t just polar bears, climate change is affecting species throughout the world, especially those from China. Just like Walmart, the Huntsville Botanical Garden is filled with invasive Chinese imports, but such is the future of America.
Having welcomed the polar bears and met with the Mandarin ducks our work as ambassadors for world peace was done and it was time for the long drive home.
Next up, back to Peru. See you then!