Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Traveling West [CCR]

This weekend I returned from a rather lengthy trip out west that took me across the expanse of South Dakota. The trip included a close-up view of the interesting texture and color of the Badlands and the various rock formations of the Black Hills. But the sights came at the price of driving across the wide open prairie lands. Here I am driving through flat open land hoping the next bump in the road will awaken me when I came upon the one thing I least expected. That sight triggered my memories of home and a slight reminder that this was my first Fourth of July trip home I missed in many years.

The rocks of the Black Hills were rather interesting and evidently proves resourceful to carving since it hosts two of the three major mountain carvings in the United States, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument. But have you ever taken the hike to the top of Red Rock? During my teen years we made several pilgrimages to the pentacle of Red Rock in western Colbert County. The visit offers sights of interesting rock formations and a rather nice view of the countryside. My last trip there was well over twenty years ago, but it is not forgotten. I am not quite sure who owns the property now, but if you can’t get access to Red Rock there are several areas along those hills that provide the same sights and sounds and beautiful scenery.

If you think finding a comparison to the Badlands in the Shoals would be more difficult then you haven’t taken a closer look at some of the rural routes. During my early years Colbert County underwent several road improvement projects that included the route from Barton to Mountain Springs now known as the Mountain Mills road. Those projects required a source of gravel and dirt for which there were two locations we called a gravel pit along the road. I am sure you may know of several others. Those areas might not have had the depth of the Badlands, but they had the variation of colors and even some fossils. Those pits included one of the special attractions you find in the Badlands. When parking at one of the rest stops on the Badlands loop road you see a sign warning of rattlesnakes. I guarantee you could find some equivalent rattlesnakes in those gravel pits, except the snakes in the gravel pits weren’t protected by the National Park Service and were subject to the wiles of our dog, Butch. You might recall Butch’s hatred for snakes.

The Badlands had a rather extensive exhibit of prehistoric life and fossils. Paleontologists probably find that a very attractive feature of the Badlands, but I can still find something near home that is attractive to paleontologists. I could always call up Bobby Stanfield and schedule a trip down to the Stanfield Worley Bluff Shelter, a famous local archeological dig in Colbert County. The University of Alabama maintains many artifacts from this site that span across 9,000 years of history. Of course the findings in the Badlands do dramatically predate the Stanfield-Worley artifacts, but you don’t drive 3,000 miles to see them.

Don’t mistake my intentions. If you have the opportunity to make the trip out west you will see some historic sites and wonderful geographical formations. But don’t forget that you have some wonderful places to explore right in your own backyard. And I know other people are hearing about our home and considering a visit. Why? About halfway across the open prairie is a large billboard proclaiming the beauty of Alabama, particularly focusing on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. That sign triggered a small sigh and a longing for the beauty of home.