My return from New Mexico has left me feeling slightly guilty that there’s so much of Alabama I haven’t seen. To start setting things to right, yesterday I traveled several hours north to Winston County, where can be found the Longest Natural Bridge East of the Rockies.
According to the signs, the ‘bridge’ was created by sandstone eroding out by water, leaving behind the more stubborn iron ore.
Going underneath the bridge is rather like being inside the lip of a cave, but without the smell of bat poop.
‘Ripples’ in the rock, possibly caused by water –there were many spots where water is still leaching out.
Nearby, in Double Springs, there is a curious soldier: a Civil War infantryman holding a broken saber, standing behind both union and rebel flags. The statue is a memorial to the mixed loyalties of Winston County, which declared neutrality, attempted to exist as the Free State of Winston, but sent soldiers from the same families to fight in both causes. This soldier was used as the cover of David Williams’ Bitterly Divided: the South’s Inner Civil War, which I read back in 2012.
The courthouse itself is small but attractive, far and away the biggest building in Double Springs.
Approaching Cullman to return to a major highway, I noticed magnificent spires in the distance. They proved to belong to Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic church. Noticing a sign for the Ave Maria Grotto, I decided to take a look there as well.
The grotto is attached to a monastery, which I’ve thought about visiting because I have an odd obsession with’intentional communities’, whether they be hippie communes, monasteries, or survivalist camps in the woods. (Also: these monks make bread and brew coffee.) One of the monks there, Joseph Zoettl, was a master of bricolage.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Over the years, he created hundreds of miniature buildings, as well as original abstract pieces. Most of them have a religious connection, being recreations of various Spanish missions
Zoettl’s model of the Mobile basilica, and a picture of the basilica itself. (Not mine –I’ve not yet made it to Mobile’s downtown.)
Not every project was a miniature, either: those stalactites are created from seashells.
There were scale models of St. Peters in Rome, of Herod’s temple ,of the Colosseum, of the wonders of the world, plus an uncountable number of smaller buildings that makes this stretch of hillside mind-boggling. No trains, though.
Here’s hoping for a few more interesting trips this year! A few possibilities: De Soto Caverns, De Soto Falls, and Mt. Cheaha, our highest point.