Date Visited: 4/7/2019
If the kids are reading this they know that I have a little problem with heights. It’s not that I’m afraid of them, or of falling, or of the sudden stop at the end. My problem is that I have a bit of vertigo. No matter how hard I try, when I get to the edge of something my brain shuts down and keeping my balance is a monumental task. I get that sick in the gut feeling that you get when you know you are going over the edge, except I don’t actually have to go over the edge to feel it.
When I see Mr. McGee walk out to the edge of things I can’t help but cringe.
So when I explained to my mom that one of my goals is to go to the reachable high points in as many states as we could during our travels, she was understandably concerned for my well being. But by reachable I meant something we can access without a heart attack inducing workout and that is safely secured with a guardrail to keep me from falling to my death. Cheaha State Park in Alabama fit those qualifications exactly.
We drove up the long, windy, narrow shouldered, two land road without guardrails. Surprisingly I’m getting a little more used to this than I was, but not so much that I don’t wish I had a good dose of tranquilizer to make it as easy as it is for others. In my mind this was a scary, drive Mr. McGee said the drive really isn’t bad at all.
The mountain is not a huge one coming in at only 2407 feet. It’s just the process of getting there that makes my memories a little exaggerated, so if you choose to visit don’t laugh at me, remember I have issues!
Cheaha Mountain gets its name from the “Creek” nation word Chaha which means “high place” . The state park sits atop the mountain and is surrounded by the Talladega National forest.
The Cheaha State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and many of the original buildings are still standing within the park including Bunker Tower. A self-guided map is available to help you locate these historic features. The park also boasts a mountain lodge, restaurant swimming pool, camping opportunities and a decent trail system among other things.
We surveyed the trails and decided to take the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail out to Bald Point. If you are looking for something more challenging there are two trails with steep terrain. Pulpit rock which is .3 miles and Lake Trail which is 1.0 miles. If you’re really up to a challenge you can connect with the Appalachian trail via the Pinhoti trail by starting at the Cheaha Trailhead. If you have children in tow they might enjoy spotting the Bigfoot cutouts on the .5 mile LNT Bigfoot trail in addition to the boardwalk out to the Bald Rock Overlook.
Speaking of Bigfoot!
The parking area for the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail was surprisingly small and we were lucky to get a spot. Once you get there you can either walk the boardwalk, or take the natural path on either side. We did a combination of both so we could enjoy the beautiful lichens living on the rocks.
Lichens are fascinating organisms. They are superheroes, survivalists, and canaries in the coal mine. I call them organisms because that is what they are. Although they appear to be parasitic they are not. They are an organism created by fungus and algae. They grow on undisturbed surfaces like the rock you see above. They also grow on barren soil and the bark of trees.
Lichens are superheroes to the soil; collecting moisture and dust and converting nitrogen in the air into nitrates. When lichens die they fall to the ground enriching the soil. However, like most superheroes they have their weakness.
Although they are survivalist; capable of living in extreme heat, drought and cold, they are sensitive to air pollution. Because they absorb everything from the air (including carbon dioxide and heavy metals) they act as the canary in the coal mine. When lichens begin to die off in an area they are an early indicator of rising pollution. Healthy lichens = healthy air.
We made our way out to the view point learning about the forest animals and reptiles along the way. Although it was a cloudy day and the horizon was obscured the view didn’t disappoint. It is said that on a clear day you can see half way to Birmingham. We’ll have to take their word for it.
Because the terrain below Cheaha mountain is relatively flat and at a low elevation, the 2100+ foot view to the ground below makes this mountain feel much larger than it is.
Below you can see the famous Bald Rock Overlook which you can access by a short trail to the left side of the platform. We saw a man with a small child on the overlook and decided to see if if was something we wanted to do.
The narrow little footpath to the right of Mr. McGee in the picture below was the means of accessing the point. Yep, I said no way as I thought this was an adventure strictly for young goats and not dizzy old ladies like me. Surprisingly Mr. McGee walked away also.
The park and surrounding forest offers many spectacular views in addition to a few waterfalls. We skipped the falls on this trip leaving us something to return to in the future.
After climbing back in the SUV we drove through the campground and located the rental cabins before heading back out to the forest and down the mountain. On our way we stopped at the Turnipseed primitive campground and decided that if we were to return to the mountain this was a viable alternative if there were no spots left to camp at the state park.
A final note: The trip down the mountain was worse than the trip up and seeing the old rusted car that had been left in a gulch after it plunged over the edge did not make the experience any more enjoyable!
Next week we head south and spend our final night at a quiet little forest campground.
Cheaha State Park 19644 Hwy 281 Delta, AL 36258 256-488-5111 Website Alabama State Parks Online Reservation Tool