While visiting Hunstville with my two boys, we met Hallie Porter, the Development Director for Land Trust of North Alabama. She took us on a tour of two Land Trust properties, and spent a few hours teaching us about the biodiversity of Huntsville and the surrounding areas. We loved Huntsville…we enjoyed the museums and such….but THIS experience was the highlight of our trip. My boys were in heaven, and I learned so much! And guess what? It’s free!!
ABOUT THE LAND TRUST
Monte Sano Nature Preserve is different than the state park with the same name. It is managed by the Land Trust, as is 6,500+ acres covering five counties in North Alabama. There are over 50 named trails, 31 known caves, and 10+ miles of creeks and river frontage on the Land Trust acres. You can also enjoy two fishing ponds, three picnic pavilions, and thousands of geocaches. Whew!
What I love about the Land Trust is their dedication to connecting people with nature – a personal passion of my own. Hallie showed us two properties; I’ll tell you more about them below. The first was Three Caves, which is not available to the general public. The second, Wildflower Trail, is open to everyone. But here’s the deal…you can request a guided tour from their office. They love taking people out and educating them about the land. You too can enjoy a guided tour of Three Caves, or get an in-depth understanding of Wildflower Trail, as we did. Just ask!
Jazz at Three Caves is a regular event (more for adults) that can also gain you access to this acoustic marvel. And Tuesdays on the Trail programs offer awesome opportunities as well. June 2014 events include such fun activities as fishing, a fossil hunt, stories at Three Caves, learning about bats, and much more! See the website for details.
Three Caves is not a trio of actual caves, but a former limestone quarry. It was only a short walk up a few stairs (behind a locked gate) to get to the mouth of the quarry. We could immediately feel the temperature change! At the opening of the quarry were the mouths of three entrances (or caves). As we walked closer to them we could feel the temperature cool down even more!
Because of falling rock, visitors are not allowed inside the cave, but we could walk up to the mouth of the opening and peer inside. We could see pillars inside, holding the roof up. Hallie told us that the opening (and rows of pillars) go on for over 600 yards!
We could also see flowstone within the caves. Hallie also gave my oldest some cave pearls she collected from the caves. They look like rocks, with a smooth sandpaper finish. Actually, they are much more awesome than an average rock. Calcium salts form around a spec a dirt or sand in concentric layers because of water dripping within the cave. Needless to say, this cool fact, along with the analogies to Minecraft (limestone mining, etc) sealed the deal for a lifelong friendship between Hallie and my oldest.
We took a drive only a few moments down the road to the Wildflower Trail, also on Monte Sano Nature Preserve. This trail is open to the public at all times, although you will be missing out without an educational tour!
There is a parking lot here, so it was easy to access. Hallie told us the trail was given its name because of the plethora of wildflowers there, although we missed out by visiting a little late. Still, the greenery was breathtaking. The trail follows a creek, and that is where we went – straight to the water.
With Hallie’s help we uncovered a smorgasbord of creatures. We found fossils, crawfish, snails, fish, and salamanders!! Side note – did you know salamanders demand pristine conditions, and finding them gives indication of a high quality environment? Cool!
It was heaven for the boys and me! We walked in the creek, carefully uncovering rocks, and keeping our eyes peeled. Hallie told us about each creature, letting us gently touch it before she placed him back in his home.
After a long while, Hallie had to head back to the office. We walked further down the trail, enjoying the water and the forest. We found a puddle of tadpoles at one point, and finally settled on a pile of flat rocks for a snack and dip in a shallow pool. We stayed for hours!
You cannot visit Huntsville without exploring the wonders of the Land Trust. I highly recommend the Wildflower Trail (and I cannot wait to return to Huntsville to try the other trails.) Go explore on your own, or give them a call if you want to explore a little deeper. This adventure was the cherry on top of our trip, and I am left only wonderlusting for more! Thank you Hallie and the North Alabama Land Trust for memories that will last a lifetime!