Then it was on into Huntsville and up Monte Sano, literally the “mountain of health” in Spanish, which rises 1600 feet above sea level.  In the 1800s, before the development of treatments and vaccines for diseases like cholera, yellow fever, and diphtheria, victims were often sent to mountain retreats to recuperate. The historic town of Viduta (from the Spanish vida meaning “life”) began life in 1827 as a small health colony established by Dr. Thomas Fearn and his two brothers who were drawn up the mountain by the cool air and medicinal springs.

In 1887, the North Alabama Improvement Company built a three-story, 233-room hotel/health resort on the mountain. For a number of years, the Hotel Monte Sano catered to high-end clientele like the Vanderbilts and the Astors who paid a whopping $11 for a one- week stay, including not only a room with a view but also croquet and lawn tennis, bowling, and horseback riding. Before the hotel went bankrupt around 1900, there was even a railway line to carry guests up to the hotel. At some point, a family purchased the old hotel for their summer residence, and I suppose they must have had a large family to fill up 233 rooms! The building was torn down for salvage during WWII.

Since all that remains of Hotel Monte Sano is a brick chimney, TOR and Ginny and I, with Gracie in tow, opted to visit the North Alabama Japanese Garden for our mountain walk on this beautiful afternoon. We weren’t disappointed. Robert Black, who was looking for a hobby to enjoy with his children, started the garden back in 1988 in an undeveloped area of the park. There is a traditional torii gate at the beginning of the path. Torii literally means a bird abode but these gates, often found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine, symbolize the transition from the mundane to the sacred, or in this case, the transition from gravel parking lot to tranquil, shady sanctuary.

A traditional tea house was added in 1991, and the first Japanese Spring Festival was held in the garden in 1992. Today, an enthusiastic team of volunteers maintains the garden. It is full of graceful Japanese maples and azaleas native to the area, with pleasant winding trails among the many lush plants and trees.

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