Haunting Fort Morgan, Alabama

To get to Fort Morgan, you must first drive through about twenty miles of tangled vegetation and sand dunes to the very end of a narrow spit of land that stands guard across Mobile Bay. The peninsula is hardly more than a sandbar at some points, and remote–defenseless against storm, salt, and southern sun. It is hard to imagine how hundreds of people worked and survived out here while the fort was under construction between 1819 and 1834.

Fort Morgan, Alabama
Entering Fort Morgan

Battles fought and lost…

While battles had been fought on this sand since the war of 1812, the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War is the one the fort is most known for. Walking around, you can almost hear the footsteps of the soldiers as they run to load the cannons and brace for impact. The siege lasted from August 5 to August 23 of 1864. The walls of the fort still bear the scars of the cannons…

Fort Morgan was in service through WWI and WWII as well, but has been largely abandoned now for over half a century.

Fort Morgan Ruins and Salt
Salt formations on a mysterious bricked-over doorway in Fort Morgan

The fort is full of echoes–breezes–the sound of dripping water. It has suffered the ravages of two centuries of hurricanes, heat, and briney sea air. Years have woven moss, salt formations, weathered brick, and sand into a strange and colorful tapestry. The shadowy casemates of Fort Morgan sometimes open up into grassy courtyards or sometimes into dead ends.

Everything contributes to kind of an eerie ambiance.

Fort Morgan Sand and Shadows
Sand and shadows in Fort Morgan

A troubled history…

One room in particular felt ominous. The walls inside the room are covered in dark, sooty hand prints. One lone white hand print is eye-level on the interior face of the door. I couldn’t find any information about the origin of these hand prints on the internet, but one reviewer said they had been there since at least the 1970s. Common sense would say they’re just a bit of vandalism, but…..

Fort Morgan Mysterious Hand prints
Shadowy handprints on the walls of Fort Morgan

Let me just mention that the fort was constructed through leased slave labor. And the on-site museum contains artifacts from a freak cannon accident that blew a commander’s head to pieces (a twisted fragment of his upper denture remains on display)…and I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

Courtyards at Fort Morgan
Courtyards at Fort Morgan

If you go to Fort Morgan….

Fort Morgan is open to the public from 8AM-5PM daily with admission of $7.00 per adult (discounts for kids, seniors, and veterans). A gift shop and museum is on the premises with A/C and water, but the fort itself is very open to the weather so come prepared!

 

Visiting Fort Morgan Alabama
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Visiting Fort Morgan Alabama
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Visiting Fort Morgan Alabama
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Cannon Beach, OR

Adventures Around Portland Oregon

We’re going to zoom back in time a little bit this week. I lived near Portland, Oregon between 2004-2006 and the sobering news of the fires in the Columbia River Gorge has put me in mind of our family’s adventures driving around that area.

We didn’t spend much time in Portland itself because the surrounding area is actually so much more interesting! You have the Pacific Ocean just an hour and a half to the west, and the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade mountain range just an hour or so east. As you can see from this map, everything is within such easy reach!

Not to knock Portland, though. You could definitely spend a day drinking hipster coffee, walking around Powell’s–the largest bookstore in the world, and touring the International Rose Garden to fill up on Portland’s vibe. One thing I loved about this area was flowers. Due to the mild, wet winters, we still had roses blooming in our yard in December! Definitely consider visiting in April or May when everything is blooming and beautiful.

 

Portland Oregon Roses
There’s a reason Portland, OR is called the city of roses!

West of Portland, Oregon

When you’re ready to get out of town, you can’t go wrong by hitting up the Pacific coastline. Between Rockaway Beach and a little north of Cannon Beach, you will find some of the most iconic rocky coastal formations in the world. Ecola State Park is a great place to stop and take it all in.

 

beaches near portland oregon
Surf and sand against the backdrop of the Pacific Coast…

East of Portland, Oregon

But my fondest memories of the Pacific Northwest are of driving up and down the Columbia River Gorge. The rock walls of the gorge loom up on either side of you, and the river runs below. Sometimes we drove through it on misty days when fog made a nebulous ceiling overhead and the scenery looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. Prehistoric looking boulders like Beacon Rock sit perched on the water’s edge. It is sad to think that a place so timeless is being ravaged by fire and won’t look the same for many, many years.

 

Beacon Rock
Beacon Rock – a public domain shot found on Flickr by ForestServiceNW
multnomah falls
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge – photo from ForestServiceNW on Flickr

 

At various points along the river gorge, waterfalls spring out of the rocks. Multnomah Falls is the most iconic one in the area. If you go, make sure you catch breakfast at Multnomah Falls Lodge — we talked about their bacon for years! Not to mention, the building itself is truly beautiful. It was built in 1925, so is teeming with architectural ambiance from that era. Please note, the photos of Beacon Rock and Multnomah Falls are public domain shots I found on Flickr from the U.S. Forest Service. I always strongly prefer to use my own photos, but it’s been about a decade now since I was in Oregon, so I didn’t have the best materials to work with. 🙂

 

The Cascade Range

A final highlight from the Portland, OR area is the Cascade Mountain Range — I would really like to go back and do some hiking around Mt. Ranier in particular. But what I remember most from our last trip is Mt. St Helens. We visited the Johnston Ridge Observatory which is perched on a cliff overlooking the infamous 1980 explosion. Even 30 — now, 40 — years later, the devastation is overwhelming. A wealth of information is available in the observatory in the form of videos and displays, and it’s well worth the price of admission. In the photo below, you can see the riverbed like furrows leading away from the crater, and in the foreground a tree that was flattened and entombed by the flow of volcanic debris.

 

mount st helens
Mount St. Helens – the devastation is still evident.

 

I guess Mt. St. Helens might be a somber note to end upon, particularly in light of the headlines this week about the fires destroying the Columbia River Gorge. But in another sense, maybe it’s a little hopeful, too, because here we see the endurance and the resilience of nature. The lay of the land may change, may be scarred for decades to come, but its rugged beauty will endure.

What do you love about the Pacific Northwest?

 

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adventures portland oregon

 

 

 

Stephen’s Gap Cave – What You Need to Know

So last week I said that we took a quick weekend trip up to Huntsville, Alabama to check out this cave I found on the internet.

We’ve never been caving before — we haven’t even done much hiking as a couple — so I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect. Imagining a cave, I tend to think of mazes of dark, narrow, claustrophobic tunnels — headlamps, ropes, getting lost, dying. You know, that kind of thing.

Stephen’s Gap smashes all those ideas to pieces. It is like an underground cathedral.

What’s encouraging about Stephen’s Gap is that you don’t need any special knowledge or gear. An experienced spelunker can rappel into the cave through one entrance where a waterfall plummets straight down. . .

But for the rest of us, there’s a second entrance that you can just walk right down into.

Now, here is the most important thing you need to know about Stephen’s Gap if you visit:

 

Request a Permit

Stephen’s Gap is owned by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy (SCCi) which strives to maintain and preserve caves all over the southeastern United States. The permit is actually free, and it’s really easy to apply and be approved. You just need to fill out a form on the internet and then electronically sign a waiver. — In return, they’ll give you a wealth of information about what to expect at the cave itself, where to park and find the trail leading to it, and “clean caving” procedures to protect the bat population.

What to Bring

All you really need is water, shoes with really good traction, and clothes you’re willing to get muddy.

We brought headlamps but didn’t end up using them. The two entrances to the cave are large and let in plenty of light.

It’s less than a mile to get from the road to the cave, but it’s a fairly strenuous hike and

took us longer than we expected. We went after a week of heavy rains, so the trail was pretty muddy, rugged, slippery, and narrow in parts.  I was expecting slippery conditions at the cave, but the trail was probably the bigger challenge! The descent into the cave is a little steep, but not to the degree where you actually have to “climb,” and once you’re down into it, the surfaces are fairly large and flat.

Pro Tip: Use the address provided in the permit when you’re trying to find the parking area. I just searched “Stephen’s Gap” in Google Maps and it led us astray.

 

 

 

A Note on Safety

The SCCi keeps caves in an “untouched” state — you won’t find guard rails, stairs, pavement, railings, or any of that kind of thing. So yes, there is very real danger in visiting a cave like this. It is wet, slippery, and there are very long drops. More than one person has died there over the years. So if you visit, be smart, and be safe!

 

A Weekend in Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama is a hidden treasure.

I found out about it kind of by accident — The Hubs and I had two days

off in a row on the horizon, so I was planning a short get-away for us and researching Mississippi day trips. All these really cool places in Alabama started showing up in my search results, though, and there were two attractions I really wanted to see.

Huntsville just happened to be smack-dab in between them, and so it was a logical place to spend the night!

And now I can’t wait to go back. We barely scratched the surface of what there is to see there. Hopefully next time, we’ll be able to check out some of the more mainstream attractions like the Rocket Center and Monte Sano State Park.

As it is, we explored secret caves and canyons, visited a fun little brewery, and had a really great dinner all in under 24 hours!

From Southern Mississippi, it was a 4-5 hour drive which is probably about the farthest we would attempt for a weekend getaway. Starting from anywhere in Tennessee, Georgia, or the Florida panhandle would also probably be do-able on a 3-day weekend.

 

Our first stop was Dismals Canyon located 1.5 hours west of Huntsville.

 

Dismals Canyon, Phil Campbell, AL

It’s privately owned and the admission was a little steep at $12 per adult, but it is so well maintained, family friendly, and truly epic that we found it worthwhile.

After paying admission in their large gift shop/eatery and receiving your trail map, you descend stairs upon stairs down into the canyon. The stairs are actually pretty strenuous and may be unsuitable for those with certain health conditions, but aside from that it was a really low-key trail and many people had their kids and puppies in tow.

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The trail brings you past waterfalls and between looming mossy boulders that line a small stream and loops back, about 1.5 miles round trip. A map is provided that makes the trail seem kind of like a scavenger hunt for all their creative place markers and pieces of local trivia.

👌

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The canyon is otherworldly and a little eerie even in the daytime. They also do guided tours at night featuring a local glow-worm population!

 

Where to Eat, Where to Stay

From there, we ran up the road to Huntsville and found our motel for the evening. Knights Inn Huntsville was a great deal for us; I think only about $60 for the night, and it was clean and comfortable.

Dinner at Connors Steak and Seafood where the lights were low, the staff were awesome, and everything was delicious. I had grilled salmon and the hubs endorses their steak which was perfect with the Cigar Box Malbec.

We found breakfast the next morning at the Blue Plate Cafe, which had a fun, retro ambiance. I have never really understood the southern country fried steak thing, but I had a bite of Hubs’ here and it finally made sense — that crispy batter and perfectly seasoned gravy….Try the cheesy hash-browns, too.

 

Stephen’s Gap Cave

Our primary objective on this trip was to visit Stephen’s Gap.

It. Was. Amazing.

It also happens to be very accessible, even to the novice cave explorer with no gear. I’m going to write a separate post with all the details, but will leave you with this taste. (Update: here’s that post!)

#stephensgap #cave

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Brew Scene

Huntsville is a bit of a brewery hub, so we had to check it out. Our final stop before heading out of town was Below the Radar. Their website doesn’t seem to be working right now, but we were lured in by descriptions of some of their dark beers.

We tried a flight of six that piqued our interest. I don’t think we discovered any new favorites, but some of them were pretty unusual! The Gravel Road Saison tasted like candy. I had high hopes for the 300 Blackout Smoked Porter, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Huntsville! Recommended for the:

  • Outdoorsy
  • Craft Beer Enthusiasts
  • Budget Travelers