Cheaha Mountain is in eastern Alabama, only about 100 miles west of Atlanta, Georgia and about 80 miles east of Birmingham (our starting point for the day). Most of the morning’s drive was along I – 20. This part of Alabama consists mostly of pine forest, but unlike the southern part of the state, it is very hilly.
We (notice I say “we” a lot – after all it is a team effort and there is no I in team) had plotted our course using Microsoft Streets and Trips. It’s set to give us the shortest, but not always the easiest route – as we would soon find out. The printed directions looked straightforward enough – listing a bunch of county route #’s and street names. Anyway, we get off the interstate and quickly find out that this particular area of Alabama is not real big on road signs. I know we have to go south and east. So……..I head south for a while and then, relying on my innate navigational abilities – dead reckoning, I head east.
Within a very short time, there was no evidence of civilization. Spanky gave me this, “Dad, do you have any idea where we are going?” look. I even started to question if we were in fact just plain old lost. We were heading deeper and deeper into pine forest. I figured it would only be moments before we ran into the Hatfields and McCoys shootin at each other. But……….the safe travel gods were with us that day!
We spy a couple of pickups parked down the road a piece. I slow down hoping that someone is around and lo and behold…….there are two guys (wearing camouflage, of course) locking up a gate that leads onto a dirt road. We stop, I roll down the window and the two hunters (I assume that’s what they were up to – one of em had on an orange hunting vest) walk up to the truck. Spanks jumps in my lap, wagging his tail like crazy and greats the two gentleman with his brand of good old southern doggy hospitality.
I ask, like a dumb ass yankee, “What road is this?” One of em gives me a name, using his best southern drawl, that doesn’t even come close to where I was hoping we were. I tell them that we’re trying to find Cheaha Mountain. The response is, “What?” I say it again – same response. Finally, the older of the two says, “Oh, Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeaw Mountain.” I guess my pronunciation was a little off for this part of the country. In any case, once we reached agreement on where we were heading, the older fella starts giving us directions. The other gentleman quickly jumps in and says, “No way he’s gunna find it! He’ll just get lost in these woods.”
Now remember, this is the south where people still help out strangers just because it’s the neighborly thing to do. The younger guy offers to put us on the right road, he tells us to follow him and he’ll get us there. This guy, who we never met before, and chances are will never see again, proceeds to drop what he’s doing and drive about half an hour (15 – 20 miles) out of his way to make sure we get to Cheaha Mountain. It’s stuff like this that restores my faith in humanity. Spanky and I owe this dude, we are extremely grateful! Thanks!!! Oh, and I must add that Spanky really liked following this guys truck. In the back he had a kennel full of hunting dog pups that kept Spanky’s undivided attention the whole way.
The hunter got us on the right road. He stopped just to make sure that we understood that we had to go to the end of this particular road and it would “T” into Cheaha Mountain Rd. Finally, on the right road, feeling good about the world and everything about it, we were ready for Cheaha’s summit.
Cheaha Mountain Rd is an extremely narrow, winding, twisting road. It’s billed as a two way road but when you encounter another vehicle, both have to slow down and make a concerted effort to hug the shoulder without going off into the woods or down an embankment. Fortunately we encountered very few travelers on the road that day.
After a few miles we saw a sign that we were entering “Talladega National Forest.” That’s right NASCAR enthusiasts, we weren’t all that far from Talladega Speedway. I know some of you will find it hard to believe but we had no intention of visiting the speedway. With all due respect (I love that statement, it’s actually pretty meaningless if you think about it – that’s why politicians use it all the time) to you NASCAR fans, that just ain’t our bag.
Our drive was a constant climb. This Cheaha thing was turning out to be a real mountain, not just some bump in the landscape. At 2,407 ft, it stood out distinctively from the surrounding hills. The approach on the road was slightly reminiscent of Mount Magazine in Arkansas. There were numerous exposed rocky bluffs surrounding the peak adding to the natural beauty of the scene. Unfortunately, the summit itself would turn out to be a little bit of a letdown.
The final summit approach put us into Cheaha Mountain State Park. We arrived at a gate where the sign told us that we should do the honorable thing and throw a $1 donation into the bucket – so we did. From the park gate, it was a mere ¼ mile or so up the road to the actual summit. No hiking required here.
The views, as you’ll see in the pics, were actually pretty nice. But…….the bad news is that this summit is developed. There is an observation tower and building. The tower is old and kinda quaint looking but right next to it is a bunch of antennas, a small tank farm, and a restaurant and hotel just a few yards away. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, and Spanky’s as well, these summits should be left the way were before the white man got here.
Spanky and I much preferred the hikes up Mount Magazine and Driskill Mountain to this drive up, Disneyland (I exaggerate) approach. It was much more enjoyable just to be surrounded by nature as opposed to parking lots, buildings and the other dubious accomplishments of civilization. Oh well, at least we were the only ones up there so we did get to enjoy our solitude. Of course we did our summit stuff to properly document our accomplishment and off we went.
Originally we had planned to climb Georgia’s highpoint as part of this trip. I did a little research only to find that park roads (where the mountain is) are closed this time of year – remember Rein, it’s winter still! Also it dawned on me, through a little more research, that Georgia’s, North and South Carolina’s, and Tennessee’s summits are all within spittin distance of each other. So that will be our next trip – at least the beginnings of it. Probably going out for a much more extended trip next time around.
So that’s about it for our first real “Road Trip.” We had a blast. Spanky behaved himself perfectly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he is the best dog ever! The poor guy had to endure 2,636 miles on the road in only eight days. He never complained once. Another few facts. We have now completed 5 summits – that’s a full 10% - I know they are the easy ones but it’s still 10%. Spanky, well his claim to fame is that he has marked his turf on each of those summits and…..in total, as a result of our Christmas trip to Canada and our summit expedition so far, Spanky has pee’d in 16 states and two countries. Bet that’ll create some jealousy amongst the canine population out there.
Thanks for reading about our adventures. We are gonna regroup, replan, do a little equipment and home maintenance, etc for the next 2 to 3 weeks and then head out for the open road once more. Stay tuned!
Spanky and Rein Nail One More
USGS Summit Marker
Cheaha Mountain Summit Observation Tower
View Into the Valley Below From the Summit Hotel
Go to http://picasaweb.google.com/rkrevald to see all our pics!