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The Grand Canyon of the South: The Walls of Jericho
July 06, 2005
The Walls of Jericho in Jackson County, Alabama, is being called “The Grand Canyon of the South.” More than 10,000 hikers, amateur photographers, birdwatchers and horseback riders have explored this natural marvel since it opened in August 2004. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley officially dedicated the area in April 2005.
“On a nice weekend, 300 people a day visit the Walls,” says Greg Lein, assistant director of the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The response has truly exceeded our expectations. It’s one of the most popular properties we’ve ever had.”
In the late 1700s, Davy Crockett explored the area since his family owned land there. A traveling minister came upon the Walls of Jericho in the late 1800s and was so captivated by the cathedral-like beauty that he declared it needed a biblical name and the name stuck. Today, visitors continue to be drawn to the grandeur of the narrow gorge. You can travel to the bottom of its 50-yard-wide limestone bowl and look up at 200-foot-tall cliffs on each side. In a heavy rain, water shoots out of holes and cracks in the rock. Flora and fauna are abundant.
The gorge is just one piece of The Walls of Jericho tract, which was purchased by the State of Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust, with the help of The Nature Conservancy in 2004, as part of its mandate to acquire land for public use. The entire tract of land is comprised of 21,453 acres-12,510 acres in Alabama and 8,943 acres in Tennessee. The only public access to the land is in Jackson County, Alabama. The property adjoins the Skyline Wildlife Management Area. A 100-mile trail system is presently in the planning stages, expanding future opportunities to enjoy the tract's many features.
What to See
The upper Paint Rock River watershed, which harbors the Walls of Jericho, supports a diverse array of wildlife, including salamanders, 100 species of fish, 45 species of mussel and plenty of birds. Most notable:
- The rare Tennessee cave salamander, which can be found only in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia
- Five globally imperiled mussels and 12 globally rare mussels are found in the Paint Rock River and its tributaries.
- The pale lilliput and Alabama lampshell mussel-this is the only place in the world where they exist.
- The federally endangered palezone shiner is a fish confined to the Paint Rock River and one stream in Kentucky.
- Three globally imperiled fish, the sawfin shiner, blotchside logperch and the federally threatened snail darter are found in the Paint Rock River. (Source: Nature Conservancy.)
Things to Do
Approximately 10 miles of trails have been built to provide access to the Walls of Jericho and its waterfalls. Getting started is easy. It is a 2.5-mile hike one way, downhill to Clarke Cemetery, with an additional half mile remaining to travel into the Walls. That means the walk back will be mostly uphill and strenuous. Hikers should wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water. The trail is well marked and hikers have to cross several shallow streams. However, stream levels rise quickly during thunderstorms and crossing them can be hazardous due to swift currents. After a rain shower, the trail can be muddy for days. On dry days, hikers should plan on a minimum of six hours to make the round-trip, which includes a two-hour stay in the gorge.
A separate 8.3-mile-long horse trail leading into the gorge is also available. Primitive camping is allowed in designated areas, including the parking area for the horse trail.
The Walls of Jericho is also perfect for photographers. Some unique flowers and trees to capture on film or with a digital camera include the yellow lady slipper, pink lady slipper, showy orchid, nodding trillium, smoke tree, yellow buckeye and basswood.
Birdwatchers will enjoy seeing migratory songbirds, such as the cerulean warbler, and nonmigratory birds, such as the ruffed grouse.
Jackson County also has the highest concentration of caves of any county in the United States and is a well-known destination for spelunkers from across the United States.
Local accommodations can be sought through Jackson County Tourism. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Get There
The Walls of Jericho is located in Jackson County about 25 miles northwest of Scottsboro off of Highway 79.
- From Huntsville, Ala., go North on Highway 72. Take a left on Highway 79 to the Skyline/Hytop community. The Walls of Jericho tract is just north of Hytop; Highway 79 goes through the tract.
- From Nashville, Tenn., take I-24 east toward Chattanooga. Take Exit 127 on Highway 64 and turn toward Winchester. Stay on Highway 64 for about 15 miles and turn south on Highway 16. Just after crossing into Alabama, look on the right for a gravel parking area with a yellow gate and an information kiosk. Park there and follow directions on the map at the trailhead.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes the statewide stewardship and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy them. The department also advises the state government on management of freshwater fish, wildlife, marine resources, waterway safety, state lands, state parks and other natural resources. This includes the administration, management and maintenance of 22 state parks, 23 public fishing lakes, three freshwater fish hatcheries, 34 wildlife management areas, two waterfowl refuges, three nature centers, two wildlife sanctuaries, a mariculture center with 35 ponds and 645,000 acres of trust lands. Other departmental functions include maintenance of a State Land Resource Information Center and administration of the Forever Wild land-acquisition program.