Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.
The Eighth Day Escape Contest began January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information. Be sure to enjoy previous monthly adventures also: January, February, March, April
Relaxing on a Creek Bank and Exploring Underground
This month's Escape(s) took me to two parks in the northern half of the state, each with their own adventures. Rickwood Caverns State Park is located in Warrior and is home to one of Alabama State Parks' two great cave tours. Joe Wheeler State Park is situated on the banks of Wheeler Lake, a reservoir of the Tennessee River, and offers lakeside recreation at its finest. I'll be sharing my experiences from both parks during the month of May, and the next Eighth Day Escape giveaway on June 8 will be a prize pack featuring gifts from both Rickwood and Joe Wheeler. In Part I of this month's series, I'll tell you about my favorite things to see and explore at Rickwood Caverns State Park. Part II will feature memories from my recent family fishing vacation to Joe Wheeler State Park. Follow along, and then plan an adventure of your own!
Field Trips and Cave Tours
Visiting Rickwood Caverns brings out the kid in me, every single time. I’m not sure if it’s the amazing playground that makes me reminiscent of elementary school or the Olympic size swimming pool that makes me count down the days until Memorial Day, but I get such a thrill from my visits to Rickwood. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the park several times in the last couple of months. April 1 marked the park’s grand reopening from its seasonal closure this winter, and the sight of campers, hikers, and cave-goers is such a welcomed one. My most recent visit was just last week, and the park was full of energetic 1st graders experiencing their first cave adventure. Several classes made the trip from a Birmingham area school, and they all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their hands-on learning in Alabama’s beautiful outdoors.
Field trippers weren’t the only people enjoying the park that day, though. I met a couple folks who were in Alabama on a business trip and were seeking an adventure before their flight back to New England. Haley Newton of Joe Wheeler State Park was also at the park for a meeting, so the four of us and our guide, Robert, enjoyed a cave tour of the Miracle Mile. As we started the tour, Robert explained how the cave was formed by the movement of water millions of years ago. Throughout the tour, he pointed out fossils of the aquatic life that once inhabited the area and encouraged us to see how many fossils we could see in the cave walls during the tour.
Robert also took time to share with us stories of the boy scout leader Mr. Eddie Rickels, the man whose dream and hard work helped turn Rickwood Caverns into the attraction it is today. Robbert tells of how Mr. Rickels would share lunch with his boy scouts on this ledge pictured, and how he told those hard-working scouts that the cave would soon be open for the public to explore and enjoy. In just over a year from the time the scouts "discovered" the cave, the park was indeed open to the public.
Another interesting detail to note about the cave is that it was designated as fallout shelter in the 1960s, so we talked of the cave chamber that held supplies in case the cave was ever used for refuge. Some of the supply containers still remain. Along the way we also talked about the interestingly shaped formations and light effects, like the Whale’s Mouth and the beaver conversation (pictured below).
One of my favorite things about exploring at Rickwood is that there is always something to see I never noticed before – maybe a formation or a fossil, or maybe a different species of bat calling the cave home that I didn't see the last time. If you ever never been to a cave, please make plans to visit Rickwood. The park is beautiful and the cave is full of exciting things to see. When you finish the cave tour, make plans to stay in the campground, stick around and take a hike on one of the two moderate hiking trails through beautiful hardwoods, or maybe just enjoy a picnic before letting the kids play on the playground. However you choose to spend your time at Rickwood, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed my spring visits!
EIGHTH DAY ESCAPE CONTEST WINNERS:
JANUARY WINNER (entries received 1/8 - 2/7): Cathy Struntz
FEBRUARY WINNER (entries received 2/8 - 3/7): Chelsea Gathers
MARCH WINNER (entries received 3/8 - 4/7): Cathy Goss
APRIL WINNER (entries received 4/8 - 5/7): Lamar Johnson
MAY WINNER (entries received 5/8 - 6/7):
JUNE WINNER (entries received 6/8 - 7/7):
JULY WINNER (entries received 7/8 - 8/7):
AUGUST WINNER (entries received 8/8 - 9/7):
SEPTEMBER WINNER (entries received 9/8 - 10/7):
OCTOBER WINNER (entries received 10/8 - 11/7):
NOVEMBER WINNER (entries received 11/8 - 12/7):
DECEMBER WINNER (entries received 12/8/16 - 1/7/17):
GRAND PRIZE WINNER (all entries received 1/8/16 - 1/7/17):