Leaving Kolomoki State Park, we began a 240 mile northwesterly journey. The first couple of hours we twisted and turned over a two lane country road. An on-again, off-again misty rain made it impossible to adjust the wipers causing me to constantly fiddle with the control. I hadn’t turned on the radio yet as I was focusing my attention on driving. Carefully we plod along putting the miles behind us.
Five and a half hours later we arrived at our next campground thirty miles north of Birmingham. Rickwood Caverns State Park is the smallest state park in Alabama and only has thirteen campsites. We were on site 4. A small site but level with water and 30 amp electric.
Don’t let the size of the park deter you though, as it has much to offer. There are hiking trails, a picnic area, gem mining, a gift shop, and an olympic size swimming pool with a high diving board. We had good cellular service and a quick check found several geocaches nearby. The main attraction however is the guided tours through a cave.
According to their website, Rickwood Caverns is a cave that was carved by water into an ancient sea bed 260 million year ago. Referred to as the miracle mile, it maintains a constant 62 degree temperature and descends 175 feet below the service. This is on our todo list while visiting this park.
It is starting to become a routine for us to sit outside with a refreshing cool drink after arriving and setting up. Packing up from one site then driving for several hours only to set up again is a chore, so we enjoy this time to relax and look over the campground. Our neighbor walking by stopped to chat and we were soon invited to join him and his wife for hors dourves. James and Kim were locals who lived only twenty miles away. They were camping this weekend trying out a camper they’ve been working on. James said he stripped the camper down to bare walls before custom building the inside. The four of us sat and talked until well past dark. Meeting new people during our travels is one of our goals and we certainly enjoyed their company.
The next morning we went on a short walk around the park to explore and get a feel for the layout. We searched for a couple of geocaches along the way, finding one but not the other. A couple of school buses arrived with children to spend the day at the swimming pool. The sound of the breeze passing through the trees and the birds singing their morning song were soon replaced by the squeals and screams of children jumping into the swimming pool. We stopped at the gift shop to buy our tickets for the cave tour. We received a discount because we were registered campers so they were only $13.00 each.
Our tour guide was Matt, a young man in his early twenties. He said he was a student studying to be a geologist but that was not the reason he was given the job of cave tour guide. He was given the job because he talks a lot and management felt that’s what was needed to be a good tour guide; and because he grew up in the area and already knew much about the cave and its history. I was very impressed with Matt. He was passionate and very informative.
We walked a path up hill for a short distance to a small building. Once inside, we found the entrance to the cave. Descending down a series of steps we came to the first of many formations created over millions of years. There were stalactites hanging from the ceiling and stalagmites reaching up from the floor. We saw columns that were formed when stalactites and stalagmites grow together. There was a formation that looked like a waterfall and another that looked like a slab of bacon. We continued our journey through the cave sometimes coming to narrow spots where we had to turn and squeeze past. Each turn offered a different perspective. My favorite thing was the many fossils embedded in the caves rock walls.
Matt explained how the cave became an attraction. Apparently a scout master ran across the cave in the 1950’s. Some of the local residents knew of the cave but it was not easily accessible. So he would bring his boy scout troop to the cave to explore and dig out the mud. They would use dynamite to widen the passages. I’m not sure if there was a merit badge for handling explosives back then, but I am sure that would not be allowed today. I can’t imagine having a group of teenage boys working with dynamite by lantern light inside a cave. The cave was eventually opened to self-guided tours in 1954. Unfortunately, people would break off pieces of the rock formations as souvenirs and they would write graffiti on the walls. The state of Alabama took over operations of the park in 1974. Matt said he and his co-workers spend many unpaid hours after work cleaning and restoring the cave.
The cave descends down to an underground lake. Although I didn’t see any, Matt said there were blind fish living in the water. Only a small section of the lake is visible, but we were told that divers have explored and found the lake goes well beyond the rocks.
Exiting the cave is no joke. A strenuous climb up steep steps left nearly all of us gasping for air. But the experience was well worth it and I recommend this tour for anyone passing through the area.
I’ve been wanting to get a new cooler. We carry a cooler in the back of the pickup for drinks. It’s not a very good cooler so we’re having to buy ice every day or deal with warm drinks. I’ve been looking at the Yeti but the four hundred dollar price tag seems a little ridiculous to me. My daughter has read the reviews and recommended the Lifetime from Walmart at a quarter of the price. So after the cave tour we drove to Walmart in Gardendale where we bought some grocery items and a new cooler. I’ll update you later on how I like the new cooler.
As evening came and the temperature started to cool, we took a short one and a quarter mile hike on the Fossil Mountain Trail. Starting not far from our campsite was a beautiful trail ascending two hundred feet through the forest with large boulders scattered everywhere. Climbing over the rocks under the canopy of the forest made this a very interesting and fun hike.
It was a short two night stop at Rickwood Caverns State Park. I’m sure we could of found more adventures in the area for a longer stay. We have always moved along quick when traveling because we had to be home for work and return to our normal lives. But now we are retired and this is our life. Hopefully we will transition into a slower pace where we thoroughly explore an area before moving on, but for now it seems we’re still on vacation mode with things to do, places to go and people to see.