Saturday, October 22, 2011

Warrior Mountains

Interesting Places of the Warrior Mountains

Sipsey Wilderness

       Sipsey Wilderness is found in the southwestern portion of Lawrence County, Alabama.  Many people enjoy the beauty of the Sipsey Wilderness Area of Bankhead Forest that lies in the heart of the Warrior Mountains.  Sipsey River Picnic Grounds are located on Sipsey River near the Cranal Road, the south border of the wilderness.  You can not only hike in the wilderness, but also drive along Highway 33 and the Cranal Road to enjoy the fall colors and splendors of the Sipsey Wilderness.  Sightseeing, hiking, canoeing, and horseback riding are only a few of the many outdoor recreational activities available to visitors from all over the Southeastern United States.  The Sipsey Wilderness is the place for those who want to get away from modern conveniences without the sound of traffic, telephones, and TV’s, but instead listening to the songs of warblers, the hammering beaks of woodpeckers, the hoot of the great horned owl, the howl of a lone coyote, and the sound of water running over numerous falls crashing on rocks and boulders of the many streams flowing through this portion of the Warrior Mountains.  Avid outdoors men and women cherish the stimulating sounds, sights, and smells that only mother nature can provide to those who visit the Sipsey Wilderness.

       The U.S. Forest Service has designated and established trails for hiking, horseback riding, and horse or mule drawn wagons.  These trails and roads provide access to secluded sandstone cliffs, wonderful waterfalls, fantastic fall foliage, beautiful wildflowers, and tremendous trees.  Designated hiking trails begin at Borden Creek Bridge on the Bunyan Hill Road, Sipsey River Picnic Area, and at Thompson Creek Bridge on the Northwest Road.  A hiker can spend a few hours or a few days hiking the trail systems in Sipsey Wilderness.  McDougal Hunter’s Camp is a campground for those hunting or hiking in the area.  A system of horse trails begins at Owl Creek Horse Camp and contain many miles of connected riding loops.  The new addition to Sipsey Wilderness can be used by horse or mule drawn wagons.  The wilderness access to wagons could provide rides for young, old, and disabled individuals through the most scenic portion of our Warrior Mountains.

       In addition to various types of trails and roads in the Sipsey Wilderness Area, primitive wilderness camping is available to those who really want to get away without driving for hours.  Two sites which I would strongly recommend for wilderness camping is Bee Branch and Ship Rock which are isolated areas with great sandstone bluffs and shelters located on either side of the canyons.

McDowell Cove

       McDowell Cove of Bankhead Forest is located primarily in Section 4 Township 8 South and Range 8 West.  McDowell Cove is on the upper drainages of Flanagin Creek and is one of the most beautiful canyons in the Warrior Mountains.  The Cove lies between Mountain Springs Road on the eastern ridge, Gum Pond Road located on the western ridge, and the Ridge road on the northern ridge.  In the center of McDowell Cove, an Indian mound is found in the front yard of Jack McDowell’s old log house.  The flat level top of the mound actually lies immediately east of the dog trot style log cabin.  The sides of the mound only rise some four to five feet at the highest point.  Around the mound, numerous flakes of flint can be found.  Throughout McDowell Cove, flint provides evidence of long term occupation of the cove by Indian inhabitants.

       The area has been known as Wallis Cove, Wilkerson Cove, and after many of the other families that inhabited the area in the past; however, since Jack McDowell was the first Forest Ranger of Bankhead and one of the last to make the Cove his home, the area is widely accepted as being McDowell Cove.  Wallis Cemetery, named after some of the Cove’s first residents, contains the graves of four Civil War soldiers.  Two old houses still stand in the flat valley – Jack McDowell’s home and the Wilkerson home.  The old Sally Ann House was sold to Mr. Norman Tidwell from Winston County and moved during 1993.  Open pasture or farm land located in the Cove which is privately owned.

Bee Branch Canyon

       Bee Branch of the Sipsey Wilderness Area is located primarily in Section 26 of Township 8 South, Range 9 West.  Bee Branch is a deep canyon located east of Sipsey River.  The area is probably the most primeval site in the Warrior Mountains.  Most of the canyon was protected by the U.S. Forest Service as early as 1919.  Bee Branch is a forked canyon with seasonal and beautiful waterfalls in each fork.  The Bee Branch Falls plunge from 50 feet above the canyon floor.  Both forks are virtually box canyons forming a small creek that flows into Sipsey River.  The eastern fork of the canyon features the largest yellow poplar in the Southeastern United States.  The whole canyon is a botanical garden of a virgin gorge in the Warrior Mountains.

Tar Springs Hollow

       Located in the upper portion of Capsey Creek, once known as Capp’s Creek, is a place not found elsewhere in William B. Bankhead National Forest.  The creek begins at Cave Springs on Highway 41 and on the Leola Road at Basham Shelter and Spring.  The area, not noted for the two head water springs, is unique because of the two springs downstream in the middle of the big hollow.  These unusual downstream springs contained tar and the reason the site is known as Tar Springs Hollow.

       Capsey Creek is a tributary to Brushy Creek which empties its waters into Sipsey River on Smith Lake.  The Tar Springs Hollow on Capsey Creek contains two mineral tar springs which are located about once quarter mile apart in the southwest ¼ of Section 26, Township 8 South, and Range 6 West.  According to the Alabama Geological Survey as reported by geologist Jonathan Hunter, “These springs years ago were places of a resort for the afflicted who drank their waters and swallowed their tar or maltha, made into pills, and supposed that they were greatly benefitted thereby.  The hotel and cottages for the accommodations of the visitors to these springs are said to have stood on the hill just south of this lower spring.  Both of these springs, however, have been spoiled by blasting them for asphaltum.”  The article also indicated that barrels of tar were collected in holes made in the floor of the springs and shipped off.  In addition to the Tar Springs, oil wells were drilled in 1865 and 1867 that were between 700 and 800 feet deep.  The geological survey reports that Jonathan Watson probably drilled and got oil out of the wells in Tar Springs Hollow.

       Tar Springs Hollow Road was one route many settlers and visitors took to the Tar Springs Resort.  The early road lead from Melton’s Bluff to Oakville, then to Poplar Log Cove where the road forked.  The eastern fork was the main route and was the Black Warriors' Path or Mitchell Trace.  The south fork became known as the Tar Springs Hollow Road or Double Springs Road and traveled south up Wiggins Hollow.  The Double Springs Road crossed the High Town Path east of Center Church and passed down a long ridge into Tar Springs Hollow.

       From the 1800’s through the early 1900’s, prior to the establishment of  the national forest, many people lived in the area of Tar Springs Hollow.  Cave Springs Cemetery and Center Cemetery contain the remains of many who called the Tar Springs Hollow area home.  It appears from examinations of the tombstones in Cave Springs and Center Cemetery, that many of the people were descendants of the Creek and Cherokee Indians, the earlier inhabitants of the area.  Many of the family names of those who presently compose the Lawrence County Indian population are found in the old cemeteries.  The family names at Center Cemetery include Osborn, Smith, Williams, McVay, Hampton, Jackson, Steele, Holley, Looney, Wood, Eddy, Asherbranner, Poole, Burnett, Hogan, Rooks, Kelsoe, Johnson, Cooper, and many others.  These family names still persist in the southeastern part of Lawrence County.  

       In the area of Tar Springs, the forest seems eternal except for the occasional timber harvest activity.  In the late evening as the eerie sounds of a screech owl were emerging from the forest, it was hard to imagine how the area might have looked when the hotel and cottages within the rugged canyon were alive with people seeking the healing powers of the Tar Springs in the heart of the Warrior Mountains.

Poplar Log Cove

       Poplar Log Cove of the Warrior Mountains is located primarily in Section 10 of Township 8 South and Range 6 West.  Poplar Log Cove is on the upper portion of the West Fork of Flint Creek in Lawrence County’s northeastern portion of Bankhead Forest.  Black Warriors’ Path traversed through the Cove and passed by the Poplar Log Cove Spring which forms the headwaters of West Flint Creek.  Based on archaeological evidence, Poplar Log Cove was utilized by Indian people as early as the Paleo Period.  A Paleo scarper and Decatur Point were found and identified near the center of the Cove.  Poplar Log Cove was settled in the early 1800’s by Indian mixed-bloods and white people.  The Cove was flat with broad fertile valleys which were farmed in patches of cotton and corn.  Today, most of Poplar Log Cove is privately owned but remains one of the most beautiful valleys of the Warrior Mountains.
Indian Tomb Hollow

       Indian Tomb Hollow is located primarily in Section 2 Township 8 South, Range 7 West on the northern edge of William B. Bankhead National Forest.  In the distant hollows of Indian Tomb, the wood hen can be heard as the evening sun sinks behind the bluffs.  Three gracious waterfalls of the southwest fork echo eternal sounds that formed the sandstone canyon containing vertical walls reaching to the sky.  Looking down the canyon toward the northeast sandstone bluffs on either side of the canyon causes one to be in awe of the area because of its beauty.

       Early settlers and Indian mixed-bloods settled to the north and west of the hollow’s southwestern fork.  Several folks lived for a while in the old High House located on a small knoll at the mouth of Indian Tomb.  Families of the Warrior Mountains would enter the hollow from Chestnut Ridge, Beulah, and High House Hill not only to view and enjoy the beauty of the area, but to dig roots, herbs, and hunt.  It was in this same tradition that I was first introduced by my granddad Arthur Wilburn, to the mysterious but beautiful Indian Tomb Hollow.

       Mr. G. H. Melson tells of experiences he had as a small boy in Indian Tomb Hollow and was a wealth of information concerning an Indian fight occurring near the mouth of the famous canyon.  He told of his father working on the old plantation and passing down stories through many generations about the Indians of the area, the black slave cemetery, and the early settlers who called the area home.

       Over many years, the Gillespie family has traditionally been drawn to Indian Tomb.  Not only does the family consider the area a sacred Indian burial site, but their ancestor, James Richard Gillespie, a veteran of the Creek Indian War, is buried in the Gillespie Cemetery.  In addition, Gillespie Spring and Gillespie Creek, which runs through Indian Tomb Hollow, are named after the Gillespie Family of Lawrence County.  The ancient beech trees of Indian Tomb are a record of family traditions which have spanned over 200 years of time.  From early Indian drawings and settler names, the beeches of Indian Tomb bear record of visitation.  The markings also indicate that much of the time spent in Indian Tomb was recorded in the numerous beech carvings located throughout the canyon.  In addition, the Indian Marker Tree in Indian Tomb Hollow is a symbol considered sacred by the descendants of those who once roamed the beautiful valley.

       A story called the “Battle of Indian Tomb Hollow” or “Ittaloknak” was originally printed in The Moulton Democrat in November 1856. The articles compose a beautiful love story that describes a fierce fight in Indian Tomb between the Creek and Chickasaw inhabitants of the Warrior Mountains.

Narrows Ridge

       Narrow Ridge is located in Bankhead Forest in Section 21 of Township 8 South and Range 8 West.  While walking south on a ridge from the Northwest Road, suddenly a high narrow strip of land emerges between two beautiful old growth hardwood valleys.  The valley to the east was the Borden Creek Canyon and the valley to the west was the Flanagin Creek Canyon.  The old settler road along the top of the ridge continued along the slender natural bridge of sandstone rock connecting the two mountaintop ridges which divided the beautiful creek bottoms.  To either side of the old road were the edges of bluffs which rose some 40 to 60 feet above the two hardwood valleys.  The narrow ridge runs in a north-south direction for approximately 100 yards narrowing to as little as some 12 feet wide.  The unique and beautiful ridge is known to most local people as the “Narrows Ridge.”  Narrows Ridge is now in the Sipsey Addition to the Wilderness Area which will provide protection for the beautiful hardwood valleys on either side of this natural ridge.

       It appears that early settlers in the area south of Narrows Ridge were also forced to use the connecting strip of rock to get to their valley farms and crops located near the forks of Borden and Flanagin Creeks.  The Henderson Family and Parker Family, whose descendants still live in the Moulton area, have roots in the Borden Creek portion of the area.  The Gooder Walker family had crops and farm land along the western portion of the area along lower Flanagin Creek.  The road leading to Narrows Ridge is about ¼ mile east of the Mountain Springs Road.  The log road runs south from the Northwest Road’s highest point between Borden Creek and Flanagin Creek.  About ½ mile west of Borden Creek, the log road turns south and runs ¾ mile prior to reaching Narrows Ridge.  Narrows Ridge is a unique but beautiful spot in the Warrior Mountains.

King Cove

       King Cove is located in Township 8 South, Range 9 West in Sections 22 and 27 of the southwestern portion of Lawrence County.  King Cove lies adjacent to the forks of Hubbard and Thompson Creeks which is the beginning of Sipsey River in the western portion of Bankhead Forest.  The King Cove extends up Thompson Creek to the forks of Tedford and Mattox (Thompson).  Ship rock is found at the southern end of King Cove and is just east of the forks of Hubbard and Thompson.  King Cove shows evidence of early Indian habitation.  Mortar Rock, located to the north across the creek from Ship Rock, contains five mortar holes and a huge nutting stone used by early Indian people.  Local folklore tells of numerous arrowheads and spear points picked up in the old creek bottom fields.

Parker Cove

       Parker Cove is located in Section 30 of Township 7 South and Range 7 West and is named from the Parker family who settled the cove long ago.  Parker Cove forms the headwater streams of Elam Creek on the north-central edge of Bankhead Forest.  The cove still contains three old log houses that were used over 100 years ago.  When going south on Highway 33, the main entrance to Parker Cove is along the first steep winding road turning east off of Wren Mountain.  The deep cove is visible east of the Wren Mountain portion of the Wilderness Parkway which runs through the center of the Warrior Mountains.

Blankenship Cove

       The lower portion of Blankenship Cove is still an active farming site and is located primarily in Section 2 of Township 8 South and Range 8 West on the upper portion of Borden Creek.  The cove was originally called Borden Cove, settled by the family of Christopher Borden.  The upper portion of Blankenship Cove extends through the northeast part of Sections 34 and 35 of Township 7 South and Range 8 West.  Some of the Borden Family originally settled along portions of the cove adjacent to Borden Creek.  The cove is presently owned by Glenn Whisenant, who bought the property from the heirs of his Granddaddy Willis Blankenship.  Two areas of the Blankenship Cove were known as the upper place and the lower place.  Willis Blankenship lived on the lower place.  Ownership of land in the early days of settlement gave priority in naming some of the Coves of Bankhead.  Many of the coves still found in Bankhead are beautiful isolated islands of open land nestled in the heart of the Warrior Mountains.

Ship Rock

       Ship Rock is located in the Sipsey Wilderness Area in Section 27 of Township 8 South and Range 9 West.  The large rock is located some 200 yards east of the forks of Hubbard and Thompson Creeks in the heart of the Sipsey Wilderness.  The site is known as Ship Rock, Herron Point, Boat Rock, Needle’s Eye, or the Windows.  The following text is a descriptive but symbolic version of the Ship Rock of Sipsey.  The mighty Ship Rock of the Black Warrior is sailing east dragging the mountains and canyons of unspeakable beauty through the universe.  In front of her awesome sandstone bow is the Tugboat Rock of the forest leading the way and breaking the bonds of time to allow the Ship Rock to meet her destiny beyond the knowledge of humankind.  The Tugboat Rock is always at her bow never allowing her voyage to be slowed by the forces of time. Near the stern of Tugboat Rock is the Needle’s Eye which focuses the last easterly flowing rays caught from the westerly setting sun to provide the brief sailing light toward the east before darkness again dims the mighty ship’s journey.  Thousands of years ago, the forces of time blasted the hole called the Windows or Needle’s Eye at the stern of Tugboat Rock yet undaunted the little sandstone tug maintains a true course guiding the mighty Ship Rock through the earth’s celestial sphere.  

       Out of Hubbard Creek Canyon, and through the middle of King Cove, she sails leaving a deep botanical trough and solid standing waves of sandstone which begin to close at the falling waters of Parker, Quillan, and Kinlock.  The waterfalls of the Warrior Mountains send the melodious sound waves of the true wilderness lapping at her sides.  At the bow of Ship Rock, the crest rises high, creating vast depressions of beautiful valleys through which the Sipsey and Thompson waters flow.  Forever eastward toward the rising sun, dawns a new day for her forested sea.  She plows and pulls the high bluffs as she churns constantly through the land of a thousand waterfalls.  From the botanical gardens of the limestone valleys, to the hardwood ridges of the sandstone slopes, she has sailed from before the time of the dinosaurs toward eternity with the timeless canyons of the Warrior Mountains lashed firmly to her stern.

       Ship Rock has a great deck nearly 1,000 feet in length and over 100 feet wide.  Her bow is a sharp rising crest which rides high in the waves of the air reaching nearly 60 feet above first contact with her timbered and stony sea.  Her stern is broad with the great force of Mother Nature driving her through the mountainous sea, always leaving the beginning of Sipsey in her wake.  Her sides, adorned with big flowered trillium, Virginia bluebells, blue cohosh, and Dutchman’s breeches, rise some 50 feet to the mountain laurel and Virginia pine covered deck.  Ship Rock is a moment in time and a symbol of persistence before the age of the great reptilian dinosaurs, the age of the gigantic mammals, and the age of the red man who once inhabited her great forested seas.  No time, force, or age is her master, for God is her pilot and only he knows her true destiny.  As God spins the eternal swirl of the universe, Ship Rock holds steady while dragging the Warrior Mountains along with the rest of the world.  

       Where is the huge Ship Rock, the Tugboat Rock, and the Needle’s Eye?  These geologic wonders are woven into the fabric of Lawrence County’s Warrior Mountains.  The magnificent weaver left his Needle’s Eye as a guide for those who may think they are lost to the great ship and the little tug.  Now for directions: From the Byler road, turn east on the Northwest Road and go to the dead end at Thompson Creek Bridge.  Take the wilderness trail which turns south down the east side of the beautiful Thompson Creek Canyon.  You will hike about one and a half hours before you see a large hole in the face of the bluff just prior to reaching the forks of Thompson and Hubbard Creeks.  You have arrived at the Ship Rock of the Warrior Mountains.
Kinlock Rock Shelter

       Kinlock Rock Shelter is located in Section 31 of Township 8 South and Range 9 West.  The shelter is one of the largest of its kind with an overhang of sandstone rock some 250 feet wide, 30 to 100 feet deep, and 30 to 150 feet high.  The Indian shelter is a premier petroglyph site of prehistoric Indian occupation.  The sacred Indian shelter is still actively used by American Indians for ceremonies.  Presently, Kinlock Bluff Shelter could be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Pine Torch Church

       The oldest original log church in the State of Alabama is located on the Pine Torch Road in Bankhead Forest in Section 29 of Township 8 South and Range 7 West.  The old poplar log church was originally moved from Holmes Chapel, east of Brushy Lake, and reassembled.  The log church is 24 feet wide and 27 feet long, and is over 170 years old.  The first logs were hand hewed in the early 1820’s by the Holmes and Nicholson family (1820 Census of Lawrence County).  It was originally used for worship services by the congregation known as “Hard-shell Baptists.”  Blazing pine knots were used to light the church at night.  Thus, the church was named Pine Torch.  Dr. Charles Borden comments on the protection of the historic Pine Torch Church: “The Pine Torch Preservation Society, of which I am president, was formed in 1981 to preserve and perpetuate the historical attributes and uses of this memorable part of our heritage.”


  1. Butch,

    The poetic description contained in the 4 paragraphs of "The Ship Rock" is the most beautiful I've ever read.
    Always enjoy your writings.


  2. I have a webpage . I am in the area of Decatur Alabama and would like to explore the mts with an experienced guide if possible . If you see this can you send me an email ? I saw your book at the mounds and I think the history you share is amazing . Best wishes , Walter Adams

  3. Thank you for documenting the local history and all you've done for the forest.