As you all know by now, A and I set off for adventure last week – looking for anything that struck our fancy.
Okay, we had a list of things we wanted to see and we set out to find out just how many of them we could cram into our week. I can honestly say I was glad to be leaving Atlanta on Wednesday morning and heading to greener pastures. Or greener mountains. Leaving Georgia we were excited to find the Talladega National Byway – and along this byway, Alabama’s highest point, Mount Cheaha (2,407 feet above sea level.)
Our first stop in Alabama, however, turned out to be a welcome center where we met a lovely woman named Shirley Jean. I tell ya, I would have packed that lady up in the car with us because I guarantee you, she would have been a hoot.
A and I pulled into the welcome center and went inside to grab a few travel brochures. The place had a nice little back porch with crepe myrtle trees blooming pink, so we walked outside. That’s when we met Shirley Jean. She approached me and asked if I wanted her to take our picture. She said folks just loved getting their pictures taken with the Sweet Home Alabama sign. A and I didn’t want to tell her we were FROM Alabama, and before we knew it, we were taking pictures in front of crepe myrtle trees, alongside a lovely rock wall, and of course, underneath the infamous Sweet Home Alabama sign.
She told us how sweet we were, and how precious A was. Turns out she had lost her own daughter to leukemia years ago when the girl was just thirteen. She said it never goes away, the loss, but she knew where her baby girl was and that made her happy. She talked about road trips, best friends, her husband that worried about her when she got too far away from home, and all the wonderful people she’d gotten to meet working at the welcome center. She talked especially fondly of a family of five generations that she got to talk to out on that back porch and she was quite proud of the fact that she’d taken their photo and gotten a hug from each and every one of them, from the oldest to the smallest.
Our road trip truly began that morning, there at the Alabama welcome center with Ms. Shirley Jean, who hated her name, but figured if her mama had cursed her with the most boring name ever given, that she would be bound and determined to make sure her personality at least was unique to make up for it. I think she did a fine job. She was one of the most genuine and delightful people I’ve ever met. As we were leaving, she was bent there at the sidewalk pulling stray weeds, but she gave us a wave and wished us a safe trip.
Soon we were on the Talladega scenic byway. This lovely stretch of road is 26 miles long along State Route 281 stretching from just west of Heflin, Alabama to the intersection of two unpaved roads in the Talladega National Forest. And of course, at the road’s highest point, you are on Cheaha Mountain.
I’m telling you, I don’t need the Rockies, although I know they are beautiful. I am just as content with the green of the Applachian mountains. Just getting near them gets me feeling all happy inside.
A took gobs of pictures as we wound our way toward Mt. Cheaha, and we pulled over at each and every scenic overlook, jumping out of the car and giggling like schoolgirls. At some point, I even think I was sporting a wildflower crown. 🙂
The drive was just gorgeous, and I’d only been to Cheaha once, long ago, so it was kind of fun to be there again. There had been an observation tower you could climb, and I was kind of surprised to see it still there.
My knees were a bit stiff afterward, (okay, it wasn’t THAT high up, but still, my bum knee was not impressed.) The stairwell itself was dark, musty, and just plain smelly. The observation deck was hot, but it’s a nice view.
The outside of the little building was pretty darned cute though.
After the tower we found our way to Bald Mountain. Here is where you can really look out and see the mountains. Hawks make slow, lazy circles in the air below you (yes, below) and you can just soak up all the scenic awesomeness. You can choose a trail through the forest to get there, or there is a wonderful accessible walkway that takes you to the lookout.
Going in, we met an elderly gentleman coming out. He stopped to say good morning and he was just a delightful fellow, with his jaunty little sun hat and smiling eyes. He told us that he lived fifty four miles away and came here twice a month. He said he appreciated the gifts nature had given us and was determined to enjoy them. But what he seemed to REALLY enjoy that morning was the fact that the lady at the gate recognized him from his many visits and only charged him $2 that morning instead of the customary $5 park entrance fee. I don’t think she will ever know just how much that made his day.
Now do you want to hear a story about these mountains? Of course you do. Who doesn’t love a little mountain lore?
The legend goes that many years before white man infiltrated the forests of Alabama, there was a tribe of Native Americans living in the central portion that is now the county of Talladega. The chief was named Choccolocco; a great and mighty chief. His only daughter, Princess Talladega, was the fairest maiden in all the realm, and Choccolocco treasured her above all his possessions. He began to search for a suitable partner for his beloved daughter. Chiefs old and young, powerful and rich, from far and near all set out to make offers to Choccolocco for his daughter’s hand. But Talladega asked her father for time. She wanted a love to come along that she could treasure.
Time passed and one morning, while fetching water, Talladega met a handsome young warrior. The two started meeting in secret, their love for one another growing stronger every day. One morning, Talladega approached her father’s cabin and heard voices. Her father was bargaining with Cheaha, an old chief from a neighboring tribe, for her hand. Talladega was dismayed when her father told her that Cheaha was his chosen suitor for her, and that soon she would be leaving to follow Cheaha to his home.
The next morning, Talladega snuck off to see her warrior, Coosa. He possessed no property and was helpless to win Talladega in the eyes of her father. Coosa was so overcome with sorrow at the thought of losing his love, that he plunged into the surrounding wilderness, wandering up and down the banks of the stream for days. His thoughts were solely on Talladega, and he could see her reflected in all that was around him.
He came out of the forest determined to win Talladega. He went to Choccolocco and stated his case. While he had no property or anything of value, he knew where valuable minerals were, and could direct Choccolocco to them, and Choccolocco would then be richer and more powerful than any other chief. Choccolocco agreed to give Coosa a chance to show him these riches. Unfortunately for Coosa, Cheaha overheard his plan, and knew he had to put a stop to it. Cheaha sent for two people. A warrior to follow Coosa, and his medicine man.
Cheaha’s medicine man had something very powerful. He had discovered an herb that could put anyone immediately to sleep; not to waken until the antidote was given, and he alone knew what the antidote was. That night, while Coosa slept, Cheaha and his medicine man crept upon him, the medicine man administering his herb. When Cheaha was certain that the desired effect had in fact been reached, he turned on his medicine man and killed him, so that no one would ever know how to wake Coosa.
Choccolocco, waiting for Coosa, became annoyed when the warrior did not appear, so he ordered preparations for the wedding of Talladegea to Cheaha to commence.
Talladega had discovered her sleeping warrior, and had made secret visits to him while he slept as the wedding preparations were being made. She became so unhappy as the wedding day approached, that Cheaha told her that Coosa could never be awakened.
When the day of the wedding came, Talladega was nowhere to be found. The area was searched, and finally she was found, lying dead on the breast of her sleeping love.
The drug, while powerful enough to keep Coosa always asleep, also had the power to make him grow. While lying there sleeping, he has grown through the centuries until he has become a great giant, a mountain many miles long. Mother Nature has blanketed him with earth, and given him trees, shrubs, and wildflowers to protect him. He lies there, dreaming of his beloved maiden.
It’s a great story – and forgive me if I did not get it exactly right. I’ve heard different versions, and this is what I remember.
Now you know I have to include some more photos from Cheaha, right? You’re welcome.
We ate lunch at the restaurant there, and the food, while mediocre, was made much better by the view. At lunch it’s a buffet, so A got a piece of cake. She sat there, trying to eat it, and I kid you not, this cake was so dry, when she put her fork to it it crumbled. She didn’t say anything, just kept playing with it, then finally said, “This cake tastes like forty year old Oompa Loompa poop.”
Now that, folks, if you don’t know, is some seriously bad cake! I told her to shift her chair facing the windows and see if the view improved it. She did so and said that yes, as a matter of fact it did, but she didn’t think it was safe to eat any more of it. Honestly, the food wasn’t THAT bad..although I steered clear of dessert. I had some grapes. They were delicious. The staff was friendly, like I said, the view was heavenly, and who knows? Maybe the food is better at night.
I would have stayed all day. Okay, all week, but it was soon time to move on. Leaving Cheaha I wound (and I do mean wound!) my way through the national forest on the way to our next stop in Anniston.
Funny thing about Anniston. We’d put it on our list because we read that there was a museum there that held Hitler’s silver tea service. Um, huh? I don’t know why, but this amused us to no end. Hitler’s dishes in Anniston Alabama? How? Why? It is listed on several websites as one of those odd places to visit, so we couldn’t wait to get there!
This post is getting longer than I intended, so guess what? You’ll have to wait until next installment for all the info on Hitler’s tea service. I know you’re sad.