The entrance to Cheaha State Park has been transformed to accommodate THE VIRUS. The gate attendant wore gloves and a mask and was hiding behind a plastic shield, which she reached underneath to grab our $2 each and issue us a pass for the car. It was Easter Saturday, and a lot of other cabin-fever-afflicted people had chosen the same destination we had, but they kept their distance, even when passing on the boardwalk through the woods.
Cheaha Mountain was named Chaha (high place) by Muscogee Creeks who lived in the area up until the 1830s when President Andrew Jackson decided they’d be much better off in Oklahoma and sent them on a very long and tragic hike. I’ve always thought it ironic that Alabama, among many states east of the Mississippi, got rid of most of their Native Americans but hung on tightly to multitudes of the melodic place names they left behind.
Cheaha, at 2,407 feet above sea level, is just about the last gasp of the Appalachians and barely a mountain at all by comparison. Thunderbird Mountain in Tennessee rises 5,527 feet, and Clingman’s Dome, pride of the Smokies on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, registers 6,643 feet. Still, once you park and take the beautiful boardwalk out to Bald Rock, the view is spectacular and feels as if it’s at the top of the world.
We were meandering along that boardwalk when I first learned that my friend TOR has a thing for dead trees. She likes them, and I must admit they do have a certain weather-worn charm, kind of like gray driftwood grandpas peeking out from among greener relatives. “I can’t get over how many dead trees there are along here,” said TOR. “I love looking at them.”