14/50: Cheaha Mountain, Alabama [2413’]

I’d arrived in Alabama late in the night, finally stopping at a chain motel when I couldn’t keep my gritty eyes open any longer. After too few hours of sleep the morning dawned a silvery grey and I blearily stumbled to the lobby to check out. ‘Bama “Crimson Tide” had continued their winning streak last night, and the parking lot was speckled with a fresh dusting of broken glass and a single Air Jordan. Lovelia at the front desk had trouble with the computer and tried the same sequence over and over again, clicking the mouse more firmly each time. I needed coffee.

I drove north through cities I’d only seen in Civil Rights era news photographs, jarred by the familiarity– it felt a little like passing through a movie set, at once both foreign and oddly recognizable.

Outside of the cities the streets were empty this early on a Sunday morning, but the church parking lots overflowed onto their lawns. Worn clapboard houses losing their battle with kudzu stood next to tidy pre-fab homes, the kind with whimsical mailboxes and tractor tires used decoratively, buried partway as borders or split at the rim into star-shaped planters for sunny geraniums.

Hank Williams statue Alabama      lake house Alabama

A mist floated over the road like a soft blanket, in the volatile weather it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a cool fog or steam rising from the southern soil.  Cheaha State Park appeared abandoned, and I dropped my entrance fee by a gate swinging with an ominous squeak.  It was the opening scene of every horror film I’d ever seen.

foggy road Cheaha Mountain Alabama      creepy picnic Cheaha Mountain Alabama

The wind had stripped the November trees nearly bare, and pistachio-green crusty lichen painted every surface.  The ground was covered with a shin-deep carpet of leaves the color of dirty pennies, and I shuffled through them slowly, the dry susurration the only sound in this forest muffled with fog.

creepy moss Cheaha Mountain Alabama

The highpoint itself is at the base of a stone lookout tower, built in the New Deal but rising eerily out of the mist like a musty remnant from the Civil War.  On cue the door swung open with a loud creak, and I hesitantly crept inside.  Cobwebs draped the corners and hung in torn streamers from the top floor’s ceiling.  The stone was chalked black with coal dust and dripping with white lime.

Cheaha Mountain Alabama    Cheaha Mountain Alabama    Cheaha Mountain Alabama

I peeked out the tiny fogged windows at the jade and copper forest down below, subconsciously searching the cloudy shadows for more of the slasher-film tropes I’d come to expect from Cheaha, but there wasn’t even the rustle of leaves under the damp grey sky.


About the beer: 

It was Sunday in Alabama, and I’d had to buy my beer at a state-run package store the evening before.  The night was cold and grey and I chose a hearty dopplebock, Intimidator from Straight To Ale.  I’m hesitant to review this one because I suspect I might’ve had a bad bottle– it was a little syrupy and overly boozy tasting, a cloying sort of orange juice flavor like an old school Brass Monkey, just not quite right in a way that I doubt it usually tastes this way– perhaps just another effect of the spectral tower in the mist.

Straight to Ale Intimidator doublebock - Cheaha Mountain - Alabama


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