The Midnight Train to Birmingham

After a few weeks of noticeable silence on our part, you will be pleased to hear the hiatus is over – we’re back!

Though I’m sure you are living in suspense as to what shenanigans occupied our time during the months of October and November, rest assured that nothing too nefarious took place *insert wink.

Rather than regale you with stories of autumn past, allow me to spin another tale. A story unique and solely our own – the journey and happenings of our time in Birmingham, AL.

Like all great adventures, this particular odyssey began at the crack of dawn. After having driven 8 hours from Corpus Christi the day before, we woke up groggy but well-rested on my parent’s property in Tyler, TX. All members of the Bentley family (my family) happened to be in town, and before we took off, Joe and I, along with all other subsequent family members were treated to pancakes and bacon.

Bellies full and cups of coffee in hand, Joe and I began the 8 hour drive to Birmingham. Naturally, 8 hours ended up being more like 10 hours, but we burned the midnight oil and traversed through state lines until we arrived at our destination, Oak Mountain State Park, the largest state park in Alabama.

After traveling approximately 950 miles in one weekend, it’s safe to say we were exhausted upon arrival.

Despite the long journey, Birmingham quickly became a favorite destination. Every day Joe, the dogs, and I enjoyed hikes along the park’s trails and the peaceful silence of the forrest. In the evenings, we ventured out to various places around the city and winded down by watching the new Netflix series, Wednesday.

The weekend was when our true exploration took place.

Friday night, Joe and I partook in the city’s offerings by tasting the local brews and appreciating its fine cuisine. We went brewery hopping and gelato hunting. One of our favorite breweries we visited was Good People Brewing Company, Alabama’s oldest and largest brewery. After our patronage to this historical venue, we began our late night jaunt in search of good gelato.

1 mile later, we found the pièce de résistance of gelato, Cannella Gelato. I chose the lemon, lavender, honey and goat cheese gelato, and Joe enjoyed a butternut squash, pecan gelato that tasted like a slice of pecan pie. Needless to say, we ate well in Birmingham.

Although it’s clear we appreciated the city through our stomaches, we also took time to acknowledge the city’s deep history.

One of our most profound stops took place at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I’m not often at a loss for words, but I find myself lacking in trying to describe the emotion we felt as we visited this national monument.

It’s impossible to pin-point the most impactful exhibit, but certainly some of the most powerful displays are the ones featuring Kelly Ingram Park and the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Prior to reaching these exhibits, the museum walls are enclosed without windows. However, as soon as you reach the Kelly Ingram Park exhibit, which details the brutality civil rights protestors faced by Birmingham police and firefighters, one of the walls disappears. In its stead, panes of floor-length windows face Kelly Ingram Park.

Looking out at the park across the street, I immediately felt chills.

Continuing on in the museum, the walls close yet again until the 16th Street Baptist Church exhibit. Suddenly, a window appears, this time facing the 16th Street Baptist Church where white supremacists detonated a bomb killing 4 young girls and injuring 22 people.

Any words I could use to describe the affect of these exhibits are inadequate, and although each exhibit in the museum was difficult to see, Joe and I are grateful for their existence.

Finally, not only did we appreciate a key cornerstone of human rights history, but also we enjoyed the world’s motorsports history. After all, to know Joe is to know his love for motorcycles!

To bask in the glory of all things motorsports related, Joe and I visited the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. This museum consists of 5 floors and a race track. Upon entry, it appears as if someone brought their childhood, hot wheel dreams to life!

There are vintage motorcycles and cars everywhere! Joe genuinely didn’t know where to look first. He continuously skirted from one motorcycle to the next, vacillated between which motorcycle was his new favorite, and took/sent pictures of each favorite motorcycle to his brother, Rick. I was 100% the third wheel! Ha!

Clearly, this destination was a hit! In Joe’s words, “This would be my aquarium. I would 100% own an annual pass to this museum if we lived here. I wish we lived here.”

It’s safe to say, we enjoyed our time in Birmingham and can’t wait until our next visit! There were several attractions we didn’t have time to see. After all, Birmingham was just a pit stop on the way to our final destination aka Savannah, GA. Stay tuned for more adventures – until next time!

Going Down is Optional. Returning is Mandatory!

Situated in Flagstaff, Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument is home to ancient cliff dwellings and incredible rock faces. Though the geological formations of the canyon itself are remarkable, what truly sets this site apart are the pueblos nestled into the curved canyon walls. However, visiting these pueblos is no easy feat.

In order to walk in the steps of those who came before, visitors have two trail options. You can either casually walk the easy 0.75 mile Rim Trail which provides you with a nice overlook of the canyon and cliff dwellings, or you can choose the more physical, strenuous Island Trail that takes you into the canyon. Guess which one we took?

“Going down is optional. Returning is mandatory” are the words emblazoned on the Island Trail trailhead at Walnut Canyon National Monument. With the steep one mile trail dropping 185 vertical feet into Walnut Canyon where the cliff dwellings could be explored, did we dare undertake the 273 stair step journey? Yes, yes we did.

Before beginning our descent, park rangers posted in front of the trailhead offered me and Joe water and assessed our physical prowess. Joking! Kinda. At the start of the Island Trail, there are signs asking you to consider your physical condition before hiking. As if the 273 stair steps into the canyon aren’t enough, the trail loop follows the cliff edge and has 190 stair steps spread out over its length, as well as a lack of continuous hand railings. It is definitely wise to take a moment of introspection before undergoing the descent. Remember, “Going down is optional. Returning is mandatory!”

Despite the 6,690 ft. elevation and the combined 463 stair steps, Joe and I were ready to conquer the Island Trail and explore its hidden treasures, and boy am I so glad we did! Pictures don’t fully capture the beauty and grandeur of both the canyon and its ancient pueblos, and as we were hiking, I couldn’t help but be amazed by what I was seeing and ponder the Ancestral Puebloan people who called the sheer cliff faces home.

From collecting and storing snow melt in preparation for the dry season when water was scarce, to farming various crops, this resilient tight-knit group of people adapted to the land and its environment. I am in awe of their culture, community, and lifestyle.

I think it’s needless to say that Walnut Canyon National Monument is a historical site worth visiting. It is a sacred place full of rich history, and we cannot recommend visiting enough!

Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier is a site that relays the story of nomadic-hunter-gatherers from over 10,000 years ago. Home to the Ancestral Pueblo people, evidence of their presence is still chiseled into the surrounding landscape – the effect is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

As if the scenery isn’t impressive enough, Bandelier offers patrons the privilege of climbing through ancient pueblos, traversing the sacred grounds of the Ancestral Pueblo people, as well as the opportunity to hike through an ecotone. Yes, you read that correctly, an ecotone!

For those unfamiliar, an ecotone is a transition area between two biological communities, where the two communities meet and integrate. For me, one of the most surprising aspects of Bandelier was its ecotone. One moment you’re scaling a cliff in the desert, and the next, once you descend, you find yourself situated in a lush forrest filled with pine trees. The image created by this dissonance is beautiful, and we found ourselves mesmerized by our surroundings.

Bandelier not only boasts a scenic and unique, historical setting, but also offers a campground, a café, a museum, and a park store! Be aware that you must park at the White Rock Visitor Center and take the 30 minute shuttle to Bandelier during the months of June-October due to lack of parking and high visitor volume unless you make the drive before 9 AM.

We tried our best to arrive before 9 AM, but with needing to walk our dogs (no pets on the hiking trails) and Bandelier being an hour away from our dispersed campsite, arriving before 9 AM just didn’t happen! Despite our lack of morning prowess, the shuttle was quick, easy, and runs every 20 minutes, so we did not lose much time traveling to our destination.

Once we arrived, we decided to complete two of the hiking trails – the Main Pueblo Loop Trail and the Alcove Trail. It took us about 2 hours to complete both of them, and though we walked to the end of the Alcove Trail, we did not climb up the 140 foot ascent to the Alcove House (the ceremonial cave). The site is eroding quickly due to wind and human foot traffic so no more than 15 people at a time can access it, and there was quite a line when we arrived, so we decided not to make the climb.

Despite not seeing the Alcove House, Joe and I relished our time at Bandelier. We were fascinated and amazed by its rich history and enjoyed the physical exertion, as well as the tranquility its hikes provided. We definitely plan on returning, especially since we felt like we needed more time!