When I tell you that I once had no concept that Alabama could be the slightest bit interesting I mean every word of that sentence. It’s sad really – I’ve always been bored living here – all the things I want to see and do lie elsewhere. I suppose everyone feels that way at some point when they’ve never left the place they were raised (save for the occasional vacation). Today I have a different outlook on my home state.
While taking a lunch break at the Moundville research lab a couple of weeks ago, I was exploring Google Maps and noticed a place called “Alabama’s Rock Garden”. It was a relatively small dark green area off I20 and it was on my way home, right between Vance and Woodstock. So I marked it and decided I’d leave a bit early to check it out.
The ‘park’ is not visible from the road. In fact, you must turn off of Rock Garden road onto a gravel drive and find a place to park. NOTE that the park is owned by Tuscaloosa County and is not open to the public, however people do still go in the climb and explore at their own risk. As a student of archaeology (and a nosey one at that), I decided the risk was worth it and as long as I wasn’t planning on leaving traces or destroying the natural beauty, that hopefully I wouldn’t be kicked out if seen wandering. I just really felt the need to see what was left and how big the boulders were – because I LOVE big rocks.
According to a 2015 news article (located here) I found online (and a local 2017 article on Alabama Heritage ), this used to be a recreational attraction in the 1950s. People would come here to climb boulders and spend time outdoors in what was then a more well groomed landscape in the middle of the woods. It shut down and was forgotten in the 80s but since then has still been known by some locals looking for a private place to explore and climb. It seems it also was known as “Eight Acre Rock”, referring to the size of the sandstone mass that makes up most of the terrain in the park. It has proven difficult for me to get any further updates or information other than these few breadcrumbs on the internet. Perhaps my fellow historians/archaeologists at UA and Moundville could help me out here.
First I noticed several small and scattered concrete blocks on the ground in various places, as though something was built (or going to be) but was no longer intact. I followed those into the woods and found a couple of structures, both of which the roofs had caved in.
I walked though the arch of the fallen tree and through a grove of bamboo, and found an small pond-like area, which was surrounded with remnants of walls and elevated platforms. On the ground (under all years of accumulated pine straw) was a large area with pea gravel.
I continued through the woods (making a straight shot to the marker on my GPS) and found the main path which led from the old parking area into the rest of the park. From the main paring lot (which was mostly grass and some old concrete slabs) I took another path into the main feature – lots of boulders.
This rock shelter was about as far as I went before it was time to turn around and head home. Inside the rock shelter there were fossil imprints from the trunks of Lepidodendron (an extinct scale tree from the Carboniferous Period 359-299 million years ago)
This was such a peaceful and mysterious side trip – I plan to return soon to finish the hike and see the rest of the park. I would love to see if Tuscaloosa Country still intends to renovate and reopen the site. I think it would be a shame not to.
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon