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SIPSEY WILDERNESS AREA - JULY 2008

My brother, Richard, and I were going to drive from Oklahoma City to Birmingham, AL to go to his son's wedding. We would be going through north Alabama within twenty miles of the Bankhead National Forest and the Sipsey Wilderness Area. I had been there thirty years before during Forestry Summer Camp at Mississippi State University. As I looked up information about the National Forest I found out that there was a great botanical specimen located in the wilderness area. I couldn't resist, it had to be done, you don't get this kind of opportunity very often; we would have to make a stop and hike in to see this magical area.

I planned the trip so we would drive from OKC to Russellville, AL on Thursday, July 17th. On Friday, we would hike into the wilderness. If we survived and found what we were looking for, we would continue on to Alabama and the wedding. Following is a pictorial and written account of our amazing adventure.

*** CAUTION ***

The incredible beauty and wonder of this place may cause you to want to immediately head south to see what we found:

The Tallest Tree in Alabama

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After driving about ten miles through the backroads of the National Forest, we arrived at the Thompson Creek Trailhead.
It was a five mile hike to the tree so there was plenty to see along the way.
Maybe this hollow log is home to some critter at night.
Sometimes it appeared to be just a maze of rocks and trees.
This trail was at the bottom of a box canyon with limestone cliffs surrounding us.
The natural landscaping puts mine to shame.
If it wasn't so dry many of these drains would have been full of water.
About halfway to our destination we came to an interesting formation in the rock. The canyon formed a very narrow ridge with a hole in it. We climb through the "Eye of the Needle" to the other side and cut about a half mile off the hiking distance .
Here I am standing at the Eye of the Needle.
As we hiked, I usually went on ahead quite aways and then waited for Richard to catch up. Here he is coming up behind me in the dense overgrowth. Can you see him?
About a mile from our goal, the only way across the creek was this log. Here, Richard carefully makes the crossing.
We were shadowed by a dense canopy of tree cover for practically the entire trip. The size and variety of trees along the way was awesome.
I had latitude-longitude coordinates to the big tree and used my SporTrak GPS receiver to navigate. However, when we got to the coordinates there was not a really huge tree anywhere to be found. I thought maybe this tree could be it but was really not impressed.
After looking for another 30 minutes and walking another tenth of a mile down the trail we found it - The Tallest Tree in Alabama.
The tree was not only tall but also about 8 feet in diamter. Here I am at the base of the big tree.
By the way, the tallest tree in Alabama is a Yellow Poplar or Tulip Tree - scientific name Liriodendron Tulipifera. It is approximately 150' tall. It used to be taller but a storm knocked the top out of it.
Here is a great shot of Richard at the tree.
One final shot of me at the tree. As impressive as the tree was, I told Richard that I always reminded myself to worship the creator, not the creation. What an awesome tree this was but how much more awesome is the one who created it.
Another tree that impressed us along this 10 mile hike was the Big Leaf Magnolia. Here, Richard poses with a small one.
One of the other interesting sites were the limestone overhangs that were obviously used as camp shelters.
One of my favorite places along the trail was this hollow. It seemed like something out of a movie. Richard even commented that it looked like a setting from the Lord of the Rings movies.
This spider web also caught my eye in the same hollow. I had been walking through small webs on the trail all morning, which was somewhat annoying, but this one was quite beautiful.
On the return hike we once again passed through the Eye of the Needle.
It was a long, hot, sweaty hike but we made it. Here, Richard comes out of the forest with an exhausted, victory salute.

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Mission accomplished.

We found the Tallest Tree in Alabama. But, why would you hike ten miles, though? As Sir Edmond Hillary said, "Because it's there." Maybe this wasn't Mt. Everest and maybe it was a long way to go just to see a tree but it was a goal, a destination, something to strive for and we did it. And what is life without challenges and goals to strive for? Not much. Plus, it was a lot of fun, great exercise and great fellowship. So, the next time you are in north Alabama or anywhere else, take a hike. You never know what you might find.


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