Last Wednesday, my 15-year-old nephew and I participated in a Wild South Wild Wednesdays visit to the Kinlock Historic District in the Sipsey Wilderness Area of the Bankhead National Forest in Lawrence County, Alabama. Davis and I both enjoyed the day.
I’ve been wanting to do some hiking in the Bankhead National Forest for the past few years but it’s always seemed rather overwhelming to me. I’ve heard the trails aren’t always marked well, so I’ve been wary about venturing in on my own. I’ve wanted to join someone who was familiar with the trails and a skilled hiker. I’ve never been able to coordinate my schedule with organized Sierra Club or other group hikes into the Bankhead either.
Janice Barrett, of Wild South, led the outing and shared lots of details about the geologic and more recent history of the area.
We parked about 1/2 mile from the columns marking the entrance to Hubbard Plantation. The Plantation house burned many years ago but was used as a headquarters by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) unit that worked in the area during the Great Depression. A marker describes some of the historical significance of the area.
Barrett pointed out the “old buffalo trail” that later was developed into a formal road John Byler and was designated Alabama’s first state road by the Alabama legislature a few days after statehood. I asked if this was the same road referred to as “Byler’s Old Turnpike” on the Franklin/Lawrence County line. She said yes.
We walked about 1/4 mile along a gravel road and then entered the forest to make our down into the canyon to visit the Kinlock Shelter.
The hike is moderately-steep in one section, but it’s not very far from the forest-entrance to the shelter.
The large Kinlock Shelter is part of a sandstone bluff that’s been used by humans (and animals) for thousands of years. Native Americans in the area still use the Shelter for ceremonies.
Turkey track petroglyphs and other ancient carvings or marks adorn the sandstone boulders and walls. According to our guide, Janice Barrett, we don’t know the meaning of these petroglyphs. They are called “turkey tracks” because of the shape, which resembles the footprint of a turkey.
Other markings indicate places where tools or weapons were sharpened. At some point in the recent past, Barrett told us, Auburn University’s geology or anthropology department performed excavations in the shelter. I’m not sure what they found. (I was busy exploring another section of the shelter when I overhead this snippet of information and forgot to ask).
The Kinlock Shelter is home to the rare
Taylor’s Bosch’s filmy fern and a variety of other plants and creatures that thrive in the damp, dark cave-like environment. We were lucky enough to see a relatively rare—and certainly unique—spotted Green Salamander crawling along a ledge near some of the Bosch’s filmy ferns.
We spotted deer tracks and another larger pair of tracks that my dad identified as a bobcat track. In one indentation, the claws appear to be extended but in another, adjacent track the rounded pads were most prominent.
A third track looks to me to be most-likely a coyote. Notice the pads aren’t rounded as they are in the first set.
We didn’t venture to the very back of the shelter, which appears to narrow into what might be a cave entrance. Without a flashlight, it was too dark to see into the innermost portion.
After spending a half-hour or so exploring the Kinlock Shelter, we hiked back out of the canyon and returned to our cars. We drove over to the nearby Kinlock Falls on Hubbard Creek. Here’s my post on the Kinlock Falls portion of our July 20, 2011 outing.
Kinlock Falls on Hubbard Creek, Sipsey Wilderness
Janice Barrett’s (Wild South) account of the March 7 hike to Kinlock Historic District
The June 6, 2010 edition of Wild South newsletter (page 6) includes an article by Janice Barrett on Alabama’s Filmy Ferns. Download the newsletter here in PDF.
Records of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the U.S. National Archives
National Forests in Alabama (US Forest Service site)