Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Alabama Waterfall Report - Part I - The Undiscovered Country


If you've followed my waterfall website (http://waterfalls.szulecki.com/) for the past few years, you have probably noticed I haven't posted an update in a really, really long time. Let's face it, whenever you turn fun into a project, you destroy the fun. I got tired of the website, because getting material for it was ruining the fun of waterfall chasing. I worked on a redesign, and got all the design work done, but quit before I got any of the content put up. Since I originally put up the current website, I've amassed a huge amout of information about Alabama's waterfalls. Unfortunately, a lot of that is in my head, so I need to get it out before I lose it. Keep in mind that also means some of it is probably inaccurate. Over the next few posts, I'll be providing what I know about Alabama's waterfalls. Today's post will cover the areas where I do not have good information. As in, the areas where I think a waterfall hunter could have some fun. I'm not promosing there is a waterfall at any of these locations, nor am I suggesting that if there is one, it is on public property. I've made educated guesses on the probability in some cases, but keep in mind I'm just relying on instict, and I may be WAYYY off, or totally wrong. Research carefully to determine how difficult a search would be, who owns the property, and if visitation is allowed. You are responsible for your own safety and for ensuring that you are not trespassing.

A note on my terminology... I consider a waterfall to be any cascade, drop, or fall of water more than a few feet tall to be a waterfall. This is highly subjective. I consider a waterfall which is not published in on any internet source, or in any book, to be "undiscovered" for my purposes. The truth is, locals have been visiting these falls for generations, so chances are good you won't actually be discovering anything new. ;)

I will not be covering Bankhead National Forest, Sipsey Wilderness in this post. I've already discussed areas which I feel merit a good search on Alatrail.com here.

This is a work in progress.

Talladega National Forest (copied from one of my Alatrails posts)

Talladega National Forest has surprised me a few times, with Shinbone Falls and Hopeful Falls, and I'm sure it will bring more surprises.

The source of Salt Creek. (~ 33.502934,-85.798888) The stream has good flow most of the year, and the elevation drop is pretty good. However, not knowing the exact topography/geology, I wouldn't give this more than a 25% chance of harboring a waterfall more than 3'.

These creeks near Lanie Gap in the very far northern part of the forest (33.942933,-85.490327; 33.945638,-85.503674; 33.950231, -85.496593; 33.955215,-85.516334) all look suspicious. However, not knowing the detailed topography and the geology of the area, I wouldn't give more than a 25% chance that one waterfall is in this area of the forest.

These three creeks on Hurricane Mountain (33.869453,-85.667524; 33.863467, -85.675807; 33.863467, -85.675807) which are similar to some areas in the forest with waterfalls. I'd say 25% chance.

The two creeks on either side of this rise by Choccolocco Mtn. (33.816950, -85.714431). 10% chance?

I'm whinging it on these, as usual. I have a pretty good success rate, but I have trouble reading Talladega National Forest. For instance, I never would have guessed that there was a waterfall where Hopefull Falls is, near Camp Mac Lake. I was shocked by that one until I saw the location. The topos don't seem as useful for TNF for some reason. I think it is because there are large changes in altitude without a change in geology. I'd do serious research before considering any of these locations. I don't even know the property ownership, they may not be accessible.

The Fertile Triangle/Former Carter Properties (Walls of Jericho)

There is an area running roughly from Guntersville in the south, to New Market in the north-west, to Bridgeport in the north-east (depicted here), that remains heavily forested. There are numerous waterfalls on the fringes of this area, and I strongly suspect that there are a decent number still hiding here. It doesn't hurt that this is Cumberland Plateau associated geology, which is always good for waterfalls in Alabama and Tennesee. A good chunk of this land has been preserved as part of the Walls of Jericho preserve (12,510 acres in Alabama, 8,943 acres in Tennesee), but little information exists online to confirm the outline of the preserve, and how much of this land is open to the public. As the lands were closed for so many years, information is somewhat sketchy about the less visited areas, so waterfalls are likely to remain "undiscovered" for the waterfall chaser. Some will undoubtedly be found on public property, but some are also most certainly on private property, so careful research will be required.

Shelby County Waterfall Zone

There is an area with several waterfalls in close association to each other near and in the Cahaba WMA. This is not to be confused with the Cahaba River NWA, home of the Cahaba Lilies. There is a cluster of waterfalls that includes Davis Falls, several falls upstream from Davis Falls, Weaver Falls, all outside the WMA on private propety, plus Falling Rock Falls, Mills Falls on Savage Creek and Goggins Falls on Jessee Creek, in the WMA itself. And you thought Peavine was the only waterfall in Shelby County! Since those waterfalls in the WMA (besides Falling Rock Falls) came as a total surprise to me, I investigated further, and I strongly suspect that there may be at least one or two waterfalls in the area. I haven't done careful research on the geology of the area, so looking at the topographical maps, I only feel confortable saying that the likely search area should be in a chunk running from Aldrich in the east, down diagonally to the confluence of the Little Cahaba and Cahaba Rivers, west to West Blocton, north to Sand Mountain just south of Tannehill State Park, back east to Marlene, and back south to Aldrich. I know this is a huge area, but without better data, that is the best I can do. The area is interesting geologically, with coal and oil deposits. The Aldrich Coal Mine Museum is in the area, the proprietor of which is a big expert on Davis Falls.

Other Areas of Interest in North Alabama

Beyond what I've already mentioned above, there are several areas that I consider fertile terrain for new waterfall "discoveries" in North Alabama.

Having visiting Cane Creek Preserve (PDF flier), which has several waterfalls, I am interested in the area surrounding that Colbert County Preserve. The area of interest forms a rectangle from Newburg north to Tuscumbia, west to the Mississippi border. Unfortunately, I don't know of any areas in this rectangle that the public can visit other than Cane Creek Preserve. I'd say there is a 75% probability that there is a waterfall in this area that I don't know about. Hey, Big Bob Gibson's BBQ is close enough to make it worth the trip if you can get permission, or find some public property in the area. ;)

Looking at topographical data, a suspect there are one or two waterfalls in the Good Springs-Salem-Elkmont area near the Elk River. Some feature names, along with the topography, suggest it is possible. I'd say there is a 50% chance for finding a waterfall in this region. I'm pretty sure this is all private property, so it will probably remain unknown.

I'd say there is about 10% chance of finding a waterfall here in this ridge.

South Alabama

South Alabama is the real undiscovered country. Other than the two waterfalls at Gullett's Bluff, and Hidden Falls, the waterfalls south of Shelby County are very underpublicized, or totally unpublished. I hear rumors of more than half a dozen other waterfalls in the Lake Claiborne area, and property ownership permitting, it might be a good idea to search within about 25mi of the lake. Most of the property here is very private, some Scotch Oil land, but a lot is just residential. If you can find public property (Army Corps of Engineers owns some land there, consider contacting them, the local office is very friendly), it certainly might be productive. Plus, I'm told there are some famous quilt-makers in the area, the Gees Bend Quilters.

There is a USGS record near Mobile, but I've never seen proof of any waterfall there.

There are known waterfalls in the Selma area and in the Mongomery area. I know little about this area.

General Advice

My biggest recommendation for the waterfall chaser is to devote some time to just driving around and looking at the terrain. Talk to people in local stores, at local museums, and other venues, and you'll find things no map could ever show you. Also, look at the names on topo maps. Anywhere the word falls is used in a place name, like falls hollow, chances are good there is a waterfall. The most important things are to be safe in what you do, don't trespass, and have fun!

Next: Alabama Waterfall Report - Part II - Talladega National Forest and Environs

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Anonymous said...

Really like your research here. I'm trying to put together a plan to photograph all the waterfalls in Alabama. I think it would be a fun project! After looking at your pages there are a lot more waterfalls than I knew existed!

Great work!


The Dunns said...

I love your list!! We found 2 this morning. Your directions are very helpful!!

JPS said...

The Dunns...where about did you find them? Always like to keep in the loop on discoveries, even though I’m not in Alabama these days.

Britt Mitchell said...

Hi, I wanted to say that your work collecting and archiving this info. It has been incredibly useful to me. There's really nothing else like this available online, with as much detail. I have used your data to find quite a few falls, and I recently located one on Jesse Creek,AL, which I am guessing is "Goggins Falls" that you have listed. I found it at 33.1881, -86.9543, so I'm wondering if you know if that is the right one, or if I should keep looking! I also have photos of that one, as well as recent ones of Davis Falls if you are interested in updating your site. Again, thanks for keeping this information available, you can contact me at brittmitchell39@gmail.com

Britt Mitchell said...

Also, do you have any more info on the location of the Falls on Savage Creek? Thanks

JPS said...

Britt, yeah I’m pretty sure that’s Goggins. On a map, I see that area as the western tributary of Jesse Creek just below 260. Looks like a lot of logging or mining took place since the last time I saw an aerial of the area. My records just showed a falls in that general area, around undo the confluence of the two tributaries, but I’ve never seen photographic proof of a waterfall there, only secondhand written information.